How to answer “What are your salary expectations?”

By Robert Half September 15, 2017 at 2:00pm

It’s the most dreaded question in any job interview: What are your salary expectations?

Unfortunately, before accepting a job offer, it can't be avoided, especially when online application systems make answering the question a requirement.

But keep in mind that the expected salary question is one you can prepare for. And by doing so, you'll come across as flexible and knowledgeable. Follow these five tips the next time you’re asked "What are your salary expectations?"

1. Do your research

To answer the crucial question, you need to know how valuable your skills are in today’s market. So take a look at the job market to see how it's performing, how saturated it is and where there’s demand.

If your area of focus is inundated with similar professionals, you may want to skew your salary expectations lower. Your assessment should also consider where a company is located, how many employees it has, and whether it is privately or publicly owned.

The ultimate goal of all this preparation, of course, is to find a job you enjoy that also pays a competitive salary. The last thing you want to do is spend several hours getting ready to make a good first impression only to be caught off guard by a salary-related question when you’re not expecting it.

2. Be confident

If the question “What are your salary expectations?” pops up in a face-to-face interview, don’t be evasive. It’s always better to put off a salary discussion until you’re well into the interview, after you’ve had the opportunity to explain what you can bring to the table and learn a little more about what’s expected of the job you’re interviewing for.

But if the interviewer insists, then give the salary range you’re comfortable with, based on what you discovered during your research.

3. Look at the bigger picture

When you work for a company, you’re not just receiving a salary. You’re also getting a full compensation package that includes vacation days and other benefits. If the salary is lower than you had hoped, you can ask for more benefits, from vacation time to flexible working arrangements to permission to occasionally work from home.

Once you’ve learned the possibilities — and if the company is the right cultural fit for you personally — then you can decide whether these extras make up for getting less money.

4. Make sure you're ok with the low end of your salary range

Whether the expected salary question appears in an in-person interview or an online application, it often asks you to provide a range. Before you answer, consider whether you'll be happy — or able to live on — the low end.

The chances are pretty good that the hiring manager will take you up on your lowest number. Don’t live to regret your answer.

5. Know when to walk

If your answer to “What are your salary expectations?” causes your interviewer’s eyes to widen, maybe it’s not the right job for you. You should know from your research, based on market trends and demand for your skills as well as the experience you bring to the table, what you should be getting paid.

When a company isn't willing or able to compensate you adequately, it’s probably not one where you’ll be happy in the long run.  

“What are your salary expectations” can be tricky question

If you go too high, you can take yourself out of the running. If the interviewer continues to push, don’t panic. This is where your research comes in handy. Cite a range so you don’t lock yourself into a concrete figure.

You want to leave some flexibility to negotiate if the employer’s offer is below your expectations. If you go too low, you may end up with a less-than-appealing offer.

Feeling good about your compensation package is as essential to your overall career satisfaction as starting each day with a desire to do the best job possible. And once the initial thrill of the new job has worn off, it’s hard to have one without the other.

By preparing for this question ahead of time, you just might land the job of your dreams, with a salary to match.

The article originally appeared as How to Answer 'What's Your Expected Salary?' on the Accountemps blog.

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