Interview Question: "What Are Your Salary Expectations"

Image by Emilie Dunphy © The Balance 2019 

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 a straightforward question and yet the answer is so complex. It's difficult to know what to say (and what not to say) so that you receive a job offer that's a win for both yourself and the company.

What the Interviewer Really Wants to Know

Why do interviewers want to know your salary expectations? Employers may ask this question to get a sense of whether or not they can afford your help. They might also ask you this to see how much you value yourself and your work.

By researching and preparing an answer ahead of time, you can demonstrate to the employer that you're not only flexible with your salary, but you also know what you're worth.

Why Salary Questions Are Tricky

There are a number of ways to answer interview questions about salaries, and it’s important to determine how best to answer this question so you can go into your interview with confidence.

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 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 difficult 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 about the position with any depth.

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

Determining Salary 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's listed as a required question and you skip it, the employer might think you're bad at following directions. Some online applications won’t let you move on to the next page until you answer all the questions. In this case, here are some options:

  • Put in a salary range based on your research.
  • Write a phrase like “negotiable” to demonstrate your flexibility.
  • Avoid putting down one specific salary. This will make it seem like you're unwilling to budge.

Answering Questions About Salary Expectations

To prepare a response, you should have a sense of what someone in your industry, and geographic area typically earns. This will allow you to determine a reasonable salary range for the job.

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

Salaries should be fairly similar across the board, but there may be some differences based on location, experience level, or company size. If you have time to look at more than one source, you should.

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

A little research will help you come up with a reasonable salary range to suggest when asked about your expectations, but remember to follow 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.

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Examples of the Best Answers

Example Answer #1

My salary range is flexible. I would, of course, like to be compensated fairly for my decade of experience and award-winning sales record. However, I'm open to discussing specific numbers once we've discussed the details of the position.

Why It Works: This response works well for the candidate because it mentions that the applicant is well qualified for the job, but is also flexible regarding salary requirements.

Example Answer #2

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.

Why It Works: Asking for more information before committing to a salary range is a good way to avoid mentioning compensation before the hiring manager does. You could follow up with a question about what the company anticipates offering the candidate who is hired.

Example Answer #3

I'd like to learn more about the specific duties required of this position, which I look forward to 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.

Why It Works: With this response, the applicant lets the employer know that he or she is aware of what similar positions pay. The answer also mentions a range, which provides more room for negotiation than stating a set salary requirement.

Example Answer #4

I'm 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'd expect a salary in the general range of $X to $Y. Again, I'm open to discussing these numbers with you.

Why It Works: As with the other answers, it's always a good idea to note that you're open to discussing a reasonable salary for a job.

Tips for Giving the Best Answers

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'm sure we can come to an agreement on salary.” This will show that you're willing to negotiate.

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're making a lateral move in the same industry. Unless your last company was known in the industry for its low wages, assume that your current salary is in line with market expectations. Of course, if you're 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. 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%, 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. Only offer a range that gives you the means to support yourself and your family.

Highlight your skills. In your answer, you can subtly emphasize why you're 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. Hold off on asking until you actually have an offer to consider.

What Not to Say

Avoid giving a set amount. If you can avoid mentioning a specific salary until after the employer mentions it, negotiation will be more in your favor.

Don’t price yourself out of a job. Don’t ask for a $100,000 salary if your research shows the job is worth half of that. You may price yourself out of a job offer it you come in too high.

Don’t be negative. Even if the amount you’re offered seems insultingly low, respond gracefully and ask if there is room to negotiate.

Related Interview Questions

Key Takeaways

Research salaries. Before your job interview, take the time to research salaries, so you’re prepared to answer the question.

Know your bottom line. Calculate how much you need to earn to pay the bills, and what the minimum salary you’d accept would be.

Be prepared to negotiate. Many employers expect candidates to counter offer, so be prepared to negotiate once you’ve received an offer.