Interview Questions About Your Salary Expectations

Job interview discussion
•••

Thomas Barwick / Getty Images

No matter how great the job interview goes, an interview question about your salary expectations can stop you short. “What are you looking for in terms of salary?” is such a straightforward question and yet the answer is so complex. It's also difficult to know what to say, and what not to say, so you get a job offer that's a win for both yourself and the company.

Why do interviewers want to know your salary expectations? Employers ask about your salary expectations to get a sense of whether they can afford you. They might also ask you this to see how much you value yourself and the work that you do. By doing some research and preparing an answer ahead of time, you can demonstrate to the employer that you are flexible with your salary, but that you also know what you are worth.

Why This Question Is Tricky

There are a number of ways to answer interview questions about salaries, and it’s important to determine how best to answer that question because more than likely, it will be asked at your next interview.

While you want to aim high, you also don’t want to aim so high that you put yourself out of the company’s salary range. If you go in the opposite direction and your target compensation is too low, you leave the employer room to go even lower and you could end up feeling miserable with the lack of proper compensation.

It’s also very difficult to try to decide what you want for a salary before you even know what the job entails. This often happens when you’re asked to disclose a salary range requirement on an application, before you’ve learned enough about the position.

This is not an easy topic, and while there may be no right answer, there is a way to think about the question and get what you want.

Research Salaries

To prepare a response, you should have a sense of what someone in your field, and in your geographic area, typically earns. This will allow you to answer with a reasonable salary range.

Use one of the many websites that offer salary averages and estimates. Sites like Glassdoor.com, Salary.comPayscale.com, and Indeed.com all have salary data you can review.

They should be fairly similar but there may be some differences. Therefore, if you have time to look at more than one source, you may get a better perspective of salary range.

Also, remember to narrow your research to your region. Salaries for a job in Austin, Texas, may be different from those in New York City, for example.

From this research, you can come up with a reasonable salary range to mention to the employer when asked about your expectations. However, if the research numbers seem off to you, just go with your gut. You don’t want to go to the hiring manager with a salary range that is way too high or way too low.

What To Do on an Application

Some paper and electronic applications require you to list your salary expectations. One option is to simply skip this question. However, if it is listed as a required question and you skip it, the employer might think you don’t know how to follow directions. Some online applications won’t even let you move on to the next page until you answer all the questions. In this case, you can do a few things:

  • You can put in a salary range based on your research.
  • You can also write a phrase like “Negotiable” to demonstrate your
    flexibility.
  • Avoid putting down one specific salary. This will make it seem
    like you are unwilling to budge on salary.
0:36

Watch Now: 3 Ways to Answer Questions About Salary

Tips for Answering Interview Questions About Salary

Say you’re flexible You can try to skirt the question with a broad answer, such as, “My salary expectations are in line with my experience and qualifications.” Or, “If this is the right job for me, I am sure we can come to an agreement on salary.” This will show that you are flexible.

Offer a range Even if you start by emphasizing your flexibility, most employers will still want to hear specific numbers. In this case, offer them a range (plus or minus about $10,000-$20,000). This will allow you to remain flexible while still giving the employer a clear answer. You can create this range based on research or your own experience in the industry.

Think about your current salary In addition to researching salaries, you can come up with a salary range by using your current or previous salary as a starting point, especially if you are making a lateral move in the same industry. Unless your last company was known in the industry for its low salaries, assume that your current salary is in line with market expectations. Of course, if you are making a geographic move, keep in mind any changes in the cost of living. It's always a good idea to know what you're worth in the current job market.

Give yourself a raise What if you believe it’s time for a raise? Think about what you would consider a fair raise from your current employer and that could be a good low-end starting point for the new job. Or ratchet up your current pay by as much as 15 to 20 percent, which gives you an incentive to switch companies, and is still within a reasonable range for your industry and level of experience.

Only give numbers you’d be happy with Remember, only offer a range that you find acceptable – one that gives you the means to support yourself and your family, if you have one.

Highlight your skills In your answer, you can subtly emphasize why you are a good fit for the position. You can say something like, “Based on my 10 years of experience in this field, I would expect a salary in the range of $Y to $Z.” Before mentioning any numbers, remind the interviewer why he or she should offer you a salary in the first place.

Be prepared to negotiate Many candidates are hesitant to ask for more money because they are concerned that it could cost them a job offer. However, you may be able to negotiate your way to a higher starting salary. But hold off on asking until you actually have an offer to consider.

Sample Responses

  • My salary range is quite flexible. I would, of course, like to be compensated fairly for my decade of experience and award-winning sales record. However, I am very open to discussing specific numbers once we have discussed the details of the position.
  • My salary requirements are flexible, but I do have significant experience in the field that I believe adds value to my candidacy. I look forward to discussing in more detail what my responsibilities at this company would be. From there, we can determine a fair salary for the position.
  • I would need to learn more about the specific duties required of this position, which I look forward to learning more about in this interview. However, I do understand that positions similar to this one pay in the range of $X to $Z in our region.
  • With my experience, skills, and certifications, I would expect to receive something in the range of $Y to $Z.
  • I am open to discussing what you believe to be a fair salary for the position. However, based on my previous salary, my knowledge of the industry, and my understanding of this geographic area, I would expect a salary in the general range of $X to $Y. Again, I am very open to discussing these numbers with you.