Your job interview will have plenty of tough questions you must learn to navigate. But perhaps the toughest of them all involves money – the interviewer might drop the question ‘What are your salary expectations?’ on you and you have to be ready.
Talking about money is not easy. In fact, just 38% of employees feel like negotiating it even though you have to do it in order to get paid what you’re actually worth. But you can’t really answer an interview question with ‘No comment’ or blow your chances with “I need a lot of money”. Or can you?
In this guide, you’ll be able to read about:
- The reasons behind the question about salary expectations.
- Why you shouldn’t reply with a single figure.
- What you need to know about your salary prospects.
- The best strategies to use to provide a great answer.
At the end, you’ll also find example answers to help you prepare for this tough question. So let’s get started!
WHY IS THIS QUESTION ASKED?
There is always a reason for interview questions. The interviewer is paying close attention to what you are saying because everything you say shows how well you’d perform in the role. That’s why it’s important to prepare for each job interview question.
So, what’s the purpose of ‘What are your salary expectations?’, as on the outset it might seem like a pointless question to ask. There are two main narratives at play here. The interviewer is checking to see if:
They can afford you.
You understand your value.
In fact, these points reveal a lot more than that. By asking what your expectations are and hearing what your answer is, the interviewer will check if you also understand the company and the market.
If you give an incredibly high figure and the company is a small start-up, then the interviewer will probably think you have no understanding of the company’s finances or hiring capabilities.
Likewise, if you value your talent high but you don’t have a lot of experience, the interviewer will think you’re not being realistic. You can’t expect to land on the moon without first building a rocket – your salary must always reflect the value you bring to the table.
On the other hand, asking for too little isn’t just going to harm your chances of getting a good salary. If you are undervaluing your talent, the interviewer might have some concerns too regarding your understanding of your talent and its value on the current market.
The whole point about asking your value is to check if you have a realistic understanding of your worth and value, as well as the industry and market. You have to convince the interviewer that your talent is worth a certain amount and that this figure aligns with what the company is able to pay and what the market thinks you’re worth.
As you’ll read in the following chapters, it’s important to approach the question right. Your answer will not only reveal a lot, but it will also have a huge impact on what you can expect to earn if you do make the cut.
YOU NEVER WANT TO GIVE A DIRECT, SINGLE FIGURE
The shortest advice you can receive for answering this question boils down to this: you should never answer with an exact figure.
This isn’t a trick or a complicated piece of information. You simply shouldn’t ever reveal your actual salary expectations. It’s the biggest mistake you can make because it has the obvious problem of:
Cutting the interview short if the interviewer doesn’t like what you’re saying.
If you give a bad answer to one question during the interview, you always have a chance to redeem yourself. You might not give the most eloquent answer to the question ‘What’s your biggest fear’ but you might recover by showing your talent when answering ‘Why should we hire you’, for instance.
However, when it comes to giving an exact figure to your salary expectations, you can’t really recover from it if the interviewer doesn’t like it.
Let’s say your figure is too high and the company can’t even consider it. You’ve now given the interviewer the feeling that they can’t pay you – so they will start considering someone else. Your figure might also seem too high and out of touch with what the interviewer thinks you’re worth or what the market conditions are. Again, you’ve lost his or her interest because they’ll feel you have unrealistic expectations.
Losing your bargaining power because now the interviewer knows where you stand.
You are essentially giving away your stance. The interviewer now knows what you think is acceptable and they can simply start negotiating from this point – perhaps even slightly lower than what you’re asking. You’re not going to be able to go higher because the company would never offer you more than you’ve said you expect.
You are, therefore, most likely selling yourself short. You know the problem of going too high here so you might be realistic and end up going too low.
Now you won’t have any chance of getting a beneficial salary – you simply don’t have the negotiating power for it. How could you suddenly go into the salary negotiations and ask for $50k when in the interview you said you only expect $44k?
So, your answer shouldn’t be about figures. By avoiding an exact figure, you will keep all opportunities open and you have more power to negotiate if you get an offer from the company. You’ll also avoid upsetting the interviewer and instead, will keep them interested in what you have on offer.
YOU HAVE TO KNOW YOUR WORTH AND THE CURRENT MARKET RATE
So, you shouldn’t give an exact figure to answer the question ‘what are your salary expectations’. What should you say? You can’t just say ‘No comment’, can you?
Well you can’t and before we look at the things your answer should have, it’s important to understand one thing. You do have to walk into a job interview with an idea of what your salary expectations actually are. Even though you’re not going to give a figure to the interviewer at this stage, knowing your value is crucial in dealing with this question professionally.
As mentioned earlier, it’s important to know your value. You have to be realistic – both in terms of avoiding asking insanely high salary or by valuing your talent excessively low. You have to do this by also keeping in mind what the company could realistically pay and what the industry is like in terms of salaries in similar roles.
When you’re researching your salary, remember the different parts that can influence it. Not only is your expertise and experience important but also things like location and your educational history can impact your salary. So, be mindful of these little factors as you start thinking about those realistic expectations.
The great thing about many online salary calculations is that they allow you to input things like skills, education and experience to help come up with a realistic and accurate figure.
You can then reflect this figure in terms of what you are aiming for – if you’re disappointed by it, you should consider if another role might offer a better value-match for your talents or if there are ways you could improve your skillset and improve the salary expectations.
Now, you need to take this time to understand your salary expectations and worth prior to your interview for two reasons:
- You have better negotiating leverage.
- You don’t end up selling yourself short.
As mentioned above, you’ll have a realistic idea of what the company could potentially offer and what your worth is like. You won’t end up making a mistake of giving out a bad figure because you have a good idea of the real answer to this question – even when you don’t say it aloud, you still know what it is!
But what if the interviewer just keeps pushing on?
THE BEST TACTICS TO USE TO AVOID GIVING AN EXACT FIGURE
So, you should be able to know your worth and realistic salary expectation, yet avoid from giving an exact figure as an answer. What are you supposed to say then?
There are three main strategies you should consider using when answering the question ‘What are your salary expectations’.
These will help you avoid being too evasive but also maintaining control over when and where you start really talking about money.
Maintain focus – emphasise your excitement over the role and willingness to further negotiate
You’re at a job interview right now and the employer hasn’t promised you the job. Therefore, there is no need to talk about money right now. The truth is the interviewer knows this but they are testing to see if you fall for the trap of revealing your salary expectations.
The most important strategy to use when responding to this question is to maintain your focus and keep your eye on the ball. You don’t need to talk about money and salary right now – in fact, you can showcase your enthusiasm by pointing out how you’ll love to discuss it further.
In short, you can deflect the question and tell the interviewer that your main focus right now is not money but figuring if you’re the right person for the role.
This does two things. First, you, of course, take the focus away from throwing around figures and keep the conversation going.
But by saying you want to focus on learning more about the role and how your talent would best serve the role, you show enthusiasm and desire to succeed.
You show interest towards performing well in the role rather than just hoping the pay is good.
So, when the interviewer asks about your salary expectations, you can simply say that your mind is not thinking about that at the moment. You want to make sure you’re the best person for the role and that there will be time to talk about money later.
A good way to further direct the conversation beyond money at this point is to ask follow-ups. If you have a question regarding the role or a specific task you’re supposed to perform, don’t be afraid to move the discussion towards it.
Here’s an example of what you could say:
“I think salary should reflect the value the person provides and I believe we would be able to reach a beneficial figure for both of us. Right now, I’m most passionate about making sure I’m the right person for the role and if possible, I would like to ask a few things about where you think the role is heading in the future.”
Keep it vague enough – provide a salary range rather than a figure
If you’re being pressed and the interviewer seems keen on a figure, you can use the strategy of keeping it vague. You don’t need to provide them with an exact number but rather, focus on a salary range.
When it comes to providing a range, you have to remember a few golden rules:
- Base it on actual research.
- Keep it realistic.
- Keep the bottom range as close to what your ideal salary is to ensure you don’t sell yourself short.
Let’s say your research has shown the salaries in a similar position to range from $80,000 to $120,000. Based on your expertise and background, your ideal salary would be $95,000. In the interview, you should then mention that your ideal salary is around $95,000-$105,000.
If you end up stating $80,000 as your bottom range, you might have a harder time struggling to get your ideal salary. This is because the company is likely to start negotiating the price with your lowest acceptable figure, as discussed earlier – you simply don’t want to sell yourself short at this point!
In addition, don’t make your salary range too broad. You want to stick to a figure with $5,000 to $15,000 in variation. If you make it broader than this, you make it seem unrealistic and not well thought out.
Variation in salaries usually reflects things like location, the person’s background and education, as well as simple differences in the role. It’s your job to understand these and reflect them in what you’re asking for.
Aside from just providing a salary range, it’s also important that you justify the figures you’re throwing in the air. While this isn’t the time to start the salary negotiations, you should make it clear you know what you’re talking about.
You want to show the interviewer that you’re well aware of the current market in terms of salaries and your own worth. This doesn’t mean you have to name the sites you used for research but simply state that you have done research.
For example, you could say:
“From my research into the field and the role, I believe a good salary would fall somewhere between $45,000 and $60,000.”
Broaden the conversation – Talk about other possible benefits
You could also direct the conversation slightly away from the issue of money and instead talk about other perks. These can be monetary or non-monetary benefits that are often discussed when final salaries are discussed.
Instead of giving a salary figure, you can mention that you’re interested in good work-life balance more than money, for example. You can also just give a broad example that highlights your understanding of salary as a comprehensive package that includes everything from retirement funds to healthcare options.
Talking about other benefits shows that you’re not just after money but that you’re also not pretending it doesn’t matter. We all work for money as well as passion and other factors like it.
By talking about the importance of getting the right benefits without mentioning an exact figure, you stay authentic and realistic in your answer.
A good way to answer would be to say:
“For me, a good compensation is not just about salary but also the option of flexible work. So I would be willing to negotiate salary if other benefits are also part of the discussion.”
3 EXAMPLE ANSWERS
With all that in mind, it’s time to examine what good answers to this question look like. The below three example answers bring together every point mentioned above – you should use these as inspiration for drafting and thinking about your own answer.
However, remember you should never copy an answer or learn one line by line – simply use the ideas and tips to create your own authentic version.
“From my research, I’ve found the average salary for this position, with my education and experience, to be between $100,000-115,000. To me, this sounds like a reasonable figure.”
This answer ticks the box of sticking to a salary range and highlighting the fact that you’ve done research. You also mention your understanding of your experience and education in determining this figure.
You throw the ball in their court and ensure you aren’t selling yourself short.
“I am looking for a position with competitive pay but to me that’s more than just a salary. I am more than willing to negotiate the salary if other benefits are on the table, including bonuses and stock options. It’s the package that matters more to me.”
This avoids giving an exact figure, shows your flexible approach to salary, without dodging the issue completely.
You keep your cards hidden while providing the employer with the opportunity to consider tempting you with additional benefits.
“Of course salary is important to me but I feel that it can be negotiated to reflect the chosen person’s value in this role. Therefore, right now my mind is on ensuring I am the best possible candidate for the role. For example, I would like to delve deeper into the expectations to get a better idea of how I could be of value.”
Again, you’re avoiding on giving an answer without dodging the question. You mention that salary negotiations must happen and how you’re going to approach them – matching salary with the value you provide.
But you also make a good point about it being slightly too early at this point to talk about it. You move, essentially, the discussion back into how you can perform in the role.
Talking about money is never the easiest thing to do. When an interviewer asks about your salary expectations at a job interview, it can be especially tricky to know just what to say.
But you don’t have to give an exact figure to survive this question – in fact, as the above shows, you want to avoid this as much as possible.
It’s important to go into a job interview with an idea of a realistic and reasonable salary. You don’t want to apply for a position without thinking about money.
Even though you won’t be providing the interviewer with the exact figure, you’ll come across as informed if you’ve done your research – you’ll also feel more confident in talking about possible figures.
You can then use the three strategies – to focus on learning more about the role instead of money, to stick to well-researched salary ranges, and to focus on the other benefits that to you constitute a good salary. This will impress the interviewer and maintain your strong negotiating position once you’re offered the job!