Answering the interview question “What are your salary expectations?” is usually the most complex “dance” in the whole interviewing process. It can also be the most dangerous. The best strategy is to do your research in advance, know the minimum you can accept (your “walk away” number when the job is no longer worth it for you), and have your answers ready.
Why do employers ask what your salary expectations are?
This question may also be stated as “What are your salary requirements?” or “What do you expect to be paid?” There are a few different reasons why companies ask about salary expectations. First, they want to make sure that your expectations are within a range they can actually meet. If you give them a single, immovable number or a range in a bracket that they know they can’t agree to, they’ll be able to release you from the interview process, saving both parties wasted time and energy.
Another reason recruiters and hiring managers might ask this question is to identify whether you’re the type of candidate who does their research and can share specifically the value that they would bring to the role.
The way you answer this question can also signal to the hiring manager whether you are overqualified or underqualified for the position. Salaries tend to align with years of experience, so it can help them gauge whether you’re in their target experience range.
Here are four ways to answer and prepare for the salary expectations question.
Deflect the question
Rather than answering the question directly, you could respond with:
I would prefer to know more about the job and your expectations of the employee first to give you a realistic number.
If you go with this approach, be prepared in case the interviewer presses you for an answer about your compensation expectations.
Provide a salary range
The employer will very likely want a specific number, so another strategy is to give them a number or a range. Assuming your target salary is $47,000, you could say:
I’m looking for a position which pays between $45,000 and $52,000 for a 35-hour work week.
Understand that if you offer a range, they will usually choose the low end of the range in their initial offer, so maybe bump up the range a bit. For example, in this situation, the range could be $42,000 to $52,000. Unless you are very experienced (years in the job, working very successfully), do not expect to be offered the top of the range.
Offer a salary range plus some options for negotiation
To give yourself more room for negotiation, add some options which would be beneficial to you:
I’m looking for a position which pays between $45,000 and $52,000 for a 35-hour work week, but that number can be adjusted based on my ability to work at home, vacation time, bonuses, tuition reimbursement, and other benefits you may provide.
With this answer, you are offering a specific salary range, but also indicating some flexibility based on the benefits provided. Include options that are important to you and will, effectively, be an increase in your pay by reducing some of your out-of-pocket expenses or giving your salary a boost.
Ask the interviewer about their budget for the role
If you don’t feel comfortable with the three options above or want to try to get some more context on the position of the company, try turning the tables and asking them the question. The truth is, every company has a certain budget in mind when hiring for a new position. The budget range varies depending on the size, success, and values of the company.
Politely asking about the budget range the business has set for the role in question can help you better understand the situation, make last-minute adjustments to how you want to answer the salary expectations question, and signal to the hiring manager that you’re a strong interviewer.
Research to prepare for the salary expectations question
Guessing at the salary range is very dangerous! If you guess too high, you could disqualify yourself from consideration. If you guess too low, you are setting yourself up for a long period of being underpaid.
Research the salaries paid for the job you are seeking so you have a starting point for this discussion and be prepared to negotiate your salary if needed. It’s a good idea to research the national average salary for your role, the state and city averages, and then the range within that particular company. Unfortunately, fewer than 15% of job postings contain a salary ranges, currently. Fortunately, today, several websites offer salary information.
Sites like PayScale, Salary.com, Glassdoor, and LinkedIn offer salary information. The information used is largely self-reported by the people using the service (as you will need to do to see their data). Since they cannot verify each individual’s salary or benefits, consider this salary data to be estimated rather than exact. Also, understand that job duties may vary widely even though the job titles are the same.
Two other valuable sources that are not mentioned often include Indeed’s salary estimates and RobertHalf.com’s salary guide for job postings.
Start with Indeed to get an idea of what the jobs you want are paid. If the employer doesn’t provide the salary data, Indeed estimates the salary by comparing the posted job with other similar jobs. Bonus: you may even find the real – or estimated — salary range for the employer and job you are interviewing for.
RobertHalf.com provides very complete information in their salary guides based on the RobertHalf job openings. Scroll down past the registration form to the Salary Calculator and complete the form to see the salary estimate.
How do you answer salary expectations at the entry-level?
Just because you’re a fresh graduate or applying for your first job ever, doesn’t mean that you should walk in to an interview willing to accept any salary offered to you. Many businesses, unfortunately, expect this type of behavior, which can often result in them feeling validated in underpaying entry-level workers across the company. Be sure to follow the steps above to do your research on the salary standards in your industry.
It’s also important to consider your financial needs. If you haven’t yet, figure out your monthly expenses and the income you would need to make to live comfortably so you walk into your interview prepared.
How to answer salary expectations in an email?
In some scenarios, you might be asked to share your salary expectations in an online application or via email. There are several ways to navigate this scenario based on your comfort level.
If an online application includes a question about salary expectations, you can choose to include one of the answers that you would use in an interview. Or, you can make a note sharing that you prefer to have salary discussions verbally or in person, once you’re able to understand the nature of the role.
The same philosophy applies to a request via email. If you don’t feel comfortable having your answer in writing before learning more about the job, feel free to mention this to your contact.
What does the interviewer want to hear?
Whether you’re still trying to land the interview or want to review your top talking points before the big meeting, run a skills analysis with Jobscan. Paste your resume and the job description below to see a breakdown of the top skills a hiring manager asked for in the job description.
The original version of this article was published on February 27, 2018. It was written by Susan P. Joyce, publisher of Job-Hunt.org. Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on LinkedIn. The article was updated by Alison Haselden on June 23, 2021.