How to answer the salary expectation question (with examples)
There’s no need to fear this question.
What you’ll learn:
- How to answer the salary expectations question
- Why do interviewers ask the ‘what are your salary expectations?’ question
- How to research salaries
Generally, we recommend not bringing up salary in your first interview – your major objective at this stage is to make yourself the front runner for the position by showcasing your skills and experience.
However, sometimes you don’t have the choice, as the hiring manager might ask you the ‘what are your salary expectations’ question. Therefore, you need to have sensible and well-thought through answers prepared, so that you aren’t left flat-footed.
How to answer the salary expectations question
1. Show you’ve done your research
Demonstrating that you’ve done some research into your salary expectations is important for a few reasons. Firstly, it makes for a stronger case – it highlights to the interviewer that you aren’t just plucking a number out of thin air, and that there is some rationale to the figure you’re providing.
Secondly, it demonstrates desirable employee traits – research and preparedness. Showing that you know how to distil information from sources, (for example, our salary guide) and, perhaps, someone from your network, synthesise this information and come to an informed conclusion are all steps that show you’re a good decision maker.
You might want to start off by saying something like: “Based on my research of comparable roles’ salaries, and given my X years of experience, I would expect to be paid somewhere in the region of $X - $Y”.
You'll need to back up your salary expectations with solid research.
2. Talk in ranges, and start on the higher end
In an ideal circumstance, your expected salary, and what the organisation is expecting to offer will be broadly similar. While, of course, we always recommend that you attempt to negotiate the salary you’re offered, you want to start this negotiation process on roughly the same page.
One way to boost the chances that both sides’ expectations are within touching distance is to talk in salary ranges, rather than give a precise figure. This can also be useful if your research has thrown up a lot of variety for salaries for your role.
Importantly, you want to start by sticking to the higher end of the range you’ve been looking at. Now, we’re not saying that you should artificially inflate what your research has shown you, as that would render that research somewhat pointless. However, given that a negotiation is likely to take place, you don’t want to start on the low side, as that gives you less wiggle room in terms of getting what you actually want.
3. Ask for more information about the role
Sometimes, the salary expectations question will be asked very early on in the process – for example, during a phone screening where you’re talking to a HR staff member, rather than the hiring manager.
At this stage of the process, even if you’ve done your salary research, you might feel that you want to know more about the duties and responsibilities of the position before naming your expectations. Of course, you want to also make clear that you have at least a basic understanding of the job, but you’re perfectly entitled to ask for more information before answering this question.
“While I know that the job is focussed around delivering X,Y and Z, I’d love to hear more about what I’ll be doing day-to-day, and what you’ll be expecting from me before I provide a salary range.”
4. Turn the question around on them
We only recommend doing this if you’re feeling super unconfident about providing a salary range. Ideally, your salary research will mean you can avoid this, as it risks looking like you haven’t thought about how to answer this question.
“I was going to ask about this. I’d find it really useful to know what you think a person with my level of experience, skills and qualifications would expect to earn at your organisation.”
One option is to ask the interviewer what they think you should be paid.
Why do interviewers ask about your salary expectations?
When trying to come up with the perfect answer to a job interview question, it’s always helpful to understand why the interviewer is asking it in the first place. In this case, there are three main reasons why hiring managers might ask you about your salary expectations:
- To avoid wasting anyone’s time: while there’s always room to negotiate salary, if you and the employer are a million miles apart on how much you think the position should be paid, it might be a waste of both of your time to take things further. Realistically, if they’re offering much less than you want, you’re unlikely to take the role. And if you’re asking for much more than they want to pay, they’re unlikely to hire you. Therefore, it’s in everyone’s interests if they look at other candidates.
- To determine whether you’re at the right level: as well as the purely financial side to asking about salary, this question also offers the interviewer another opportunity to gauge whether you’re the right fit for the job in the first place. In particular, it allows them more of an insight into whether you’re at the right level of experience. If you answer with a salary that’s significantly below what they think the role is worth, this could be an indication that you’re too junior for the position, as your salary expectation will likely be based, at least in part, on what you’ve earnt previously. By contrast, if you come in with a seriously high expectations, this might tell them that you’re overqualified for the job.
- To understand whether you know your own worth: This might sound a bit strange, but there are a couple of reasons why it’s important. Firstly, it shows you’re properly engaged with your employment field, and understand the current employment market and what your skills are worth. Additionally, it shows that you back yourself. While, of course, hiring managers will likely be put off by someone who comes in with an unreasonably high salary expectation, good employers want staff who are empowered and who see the intrinsic value in what they do.
How to research salaries
By now, you’ll have realised that, to answer this salary question properly, you need to have a good grasp of what an appropriate salary is.
There are two major components to this, the role (and, therefore, the industry that role sits within) plus your skills and experience. It’s a fact of life that jobs in some sectors are better paid than jobs in others, and, of course, you’d expect someone with more skills and experience to be paid more than someone who is relatively new to a role.
Here’s how we’d go about it:
- Check out our free Salary Guide: This easy-to-use tool uses real-time data to track salary trajectories across all the different job categories we have on site. By having this up-to-date information at your fingertips, you can enter job interview discussions about salary, confident that you’re giving a reasonable expectation.
- Read sector relevant content: Staying up-to-date with sector specific news and events is beneficial for a whole host of reasons, with one of the most important being showing that you’re on top of pay trends, and what skills are in-demand. You might even be able to see an uptick in demand for your skillset coming down the track, meaning that you can factor this into your salary expectations,
- Talk to your network: Tapping into your network can also be of great use in determining how reasonable your current salary expectations are. You could either look to talk to people who are performing similar roles at the same level as you, or get in touch with more senior connections who are making hiring decisions. The more people you speak to, the more rounded a picture you’ll get.
- Reach out to recruitment professionals: Recruitment and procurement professionals live and breathe the job market. They have an almost unparalleled understanding of what the supply and demand is like in different sectors. This means they not only know the contemporary trends in salaries across a range of different industries, they’re also likely able to make very well educated predictions about what’s going to happen in the near future.
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