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 not worth it for you), and have your answers ready.
This question may also be stated as “What are your salary requirements?” or “What do you expect to be paid?”
Here are a few different 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.
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 to 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. 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.
I like two other sources that are not mentioned often: 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.
Susan P. Joyce, publisher of Job-Hunt.org since 1998, has been observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. A veteran of the United States Marine Corps and a former Visiting Scholar at the MIT Sloan School of Management, Susan is a two-time layoff “graduate” who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. Since 1998, Susan has been editor and publisher of Job-Hunt.org. Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on LinkedIn.
What does the interviewer want to hear?
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