Potential employers can bring up the topic of salary expectations at any point in the interview process. Sometimes hiring managers ask this question as part of the application process, others wait until an initial phone screening, and others may way until the job interview.
While "What are your salary expectations?" is a straightforward job interview question, it can still be hard to answer. It isn't easy to know what to say and what not to say while maximizing your chances of receiving a job offer.
That's why it's worth preparing for salary expectation questions ahead of time. If you research the average salary range for the role and your experience level, you can confidently talk about your desired salary to potential employers.
Why employers ask, "What are your salary expectations?"
Employers ask about your salary expectations for three reasons:
- To see if it fits their budget: Hiring managers typically have a salary range budgeted from a role. If you ask for more than they've budgeted, they'll need a larger budget.
- To gauge how well you know your worth: The best candidates understand the value of their skills in the market and share their salary expectations with confidence. To determine approximate market value, factor in your experience, achievements, and salary history.
- To determine if you have the appropriate career experience: Applicants whose salary requirements are significantly higher than other candidates may be too senior. Inversely, asking for a low salary could indicate you are too junior.
How to answer "What are your salary expectations?"
It's essential to understand the best way to answer "What are your salary expectations?" so you can go into our interview with confidence.
If you aim too high, you risk putting yourself outside the job's salary bands. If your answer is too low, you leave room for the employer to go even lower and could end up underpaid.
It's also hard to determine a salary before you know what the job entails, which happens when interviewers ask you to disclose a salary range on your application before learning about the position during the hiring process.
Your answer to this question is the beginning of the salary negotiation process, so make sure you're providing a well-researched response by following the steps below.
1. Start with research
Preparing an excellent response to "What are your salary expectations?" begins with research. Unless you're applying for a company with location-agnostic pay, you'll need to understand what someone at your experience level in your industry and geographic area typically earns.
Researching salary information will allow you to determine what a fair salary range is for the role. You can use sites like Glassdoor, Salary.com, Payscale, Levels.fyi, and Indeed to find salary averages and estimates.
If you look at similar locations, experience, company size, and industries, salaries should be pretty uniform. Always look at multiple sources to get the best estimate.
Research should inform your answer but isn't the only criteria to consider. You should also factor in your seniority, experience level, educational background, relevant experience, and any unique abilities you have that can help you stand out.
You should also factor in non-cash compensation such as employee benefits, bonuses, equity-based compensation, and other perks the company may offer.
2. Get the company to share their budget for the role
It's best to get the company to divulge the approved budget for the role before you mention your salary expectations. The good news is this is increasingly becoming a legal requirement in many states and countries.
Unless required, do not mention your desired salary and compensation in your cover letter, resume, or application process. Sharing your expectations without knowing the company's approved budget puts you at a disadvantage.
If you are required to mention it, you can include something like:
"My desired salary is open for discussion during the interview process."
3. If you can't get the budget, choose a range
If you must share a desired salary, provide a range. However, understand that hiring managers can reject candidates if their expected salary is too low or too high, and they may opt for the lower end of the range.
If your desired salary is too low, it can raise questions about whether you have the skills and experience needed to succeed in the new job. If it's too high, recruiters may think you're too senior for the role.
If you provide a range, make sure your target salary is as close to the bottom number as possible and try to keep the range tight with a variance of no more than $10,000-$20,000.
4. Include negotiation options
In addition to your salary, there are other benefits, perks, or forms of compensation you might consider valuable. You can include these as bargaining chips in your negotiation.
For example, if the employer hasn't budgeted enough for your ideal salary range, maybe they could offer a four-day workweek, equity compensation, or more paid time off to make the compensation package more attractive.
5. Be realistic about your desired salary
You shouldn't expect a 100% increase from your current salary to the next (unless you were vastly underpaid).
Nor should you expect the same compensation if you're switching industries (e.g., from B2B tech to a non-profit). Always base your expectations on the industry, company size, location, and your skills, relevant experience, and qualifications.
If you want the job and the company's offer meets your expectations and living standards, take the role. If the offer isn't compelling, look for other opportunities.
Never accept an offer you aren't happy with, as you'll be dissatisfied.
Best answers to "What are your salary expectations?"
Example answer #1: Initial screening call
"I'm happy to discuss my salary expectations during the interview process. However, if you have an approved budget and information on benefits, professional development opportunities, and other types of compensation, I'm happy to hear about it. Then I can determine if my expectations match your budget."
Why it works: Most of the time, the recruiter will disclose the approved budget for the role and any other employee benefits you will receive. If they don't or push back, that's a red flag. If the range is too low, you can negotiate additional benefits if you want the job.
Example answer #2: At the beginning of the job interview
"I'm happy to discuss my salary expectations in the discussion. Before we do, I'd love to understand your approved budget, the job's responsibilities, who I'll be working with, your training and development program, and any other employee benefits you offer.
This information would give me a better idea of my value to the company based on my skills and experience. Providing any estimate now feels arbitrary and uneducated on my part.
Are you able to run me through those details first?"
Why it works: This answer is effectively a diversion. Still, it works because it allows you to learn more about the role expectations and total compensation before you divulge your salary expectations.
Example answer #3: At the end of the job interview
"I'm open to discussing what you believe is a fair salary for the position, so I'd love to know about the approved budget for this role, as well as the benefits, perks, and growth opportunities you offer."
Why it works: Most of the time, the hiring manager will be happy to reveal the approved salary range at the end of the interview.
Example answer #4: Hiring manager won't share approved budget
"Based on my current salary, knowledge of the industry, and understanding of this geographic area, I'd expect my salary to be in the range of $X and $Y. I'm open to discussing these numbers with you, particularly if this is outside your approved budget."
Why it works: The applicant has shown the interviewer that they've done their research and are aware of the market rate for similar positions. The answer also mentions a range, which provides room for negotiation. It's best to put your desired salary at the low end as employers start there.
How to answer salary expectations questions on your job application
Some job applications require you to list your salary expectations. One option is to skip the question. However, if needed, the employer may think you didn't read the application, or the applicant tracking system may not let you move on until you answer it.
In these situations, we'd recommend writing a phrase like "My desired salary is open for discussion during the interview process." Suppose you must provide a number put in a salary range. One you'd be happy with based on your research.
Tips for determining and answering salary expectations questions
- Do your research: You need to understand what someone at your experience level in your industry and geographic area typically earns.
- Find the company's approved budget: Don't mention your desired salary before learning about its approved budget, which puts you at a disadvantage.
- Offer a range: If the hiring manager doesn't share their approved budget, start by sharing a range based on your research (plus or minus about $10,000-$20,000). Sharing a range allows you to control the negotiation while still answering the employer's question.
- Explain your reasoning: While you don't need to go into too much detail, it doesn't hurt to outline how you arrived at your desired salary.
- Treat recruiters as partners: Finding talent is hard. Recruiters want to work with you to get you what you deserve, as long as you treat them nicely.
- Don't anchor on your current salary: While you can develop a salary range based on your current or previous salary, don't anchor to it too much. Compensation may have changed since you were last job hunting, so it's best to know your current worth in the market as it has likely increased.
- Give yourself a raise: Think about what you would consider a fair raise from your current employer and use that as the low-end of your salary range. A good rule of thumb is a 15-20% increase in your current salary.
- Get competing offers: You'll be in a much stronger position to negotiate if you have a few offers from similar companies.
- Only give numbers you'd be happy with: Only offer a salary range you'd be glad to receive, even at the low end.
- Highlight your skills: Always sell yourself and your skills in your answer. You should say something like, "Based on my relevant experience and track record, I would expect a salary between $X and $Y."
- Negotiate: Many candidates leave money on the table because they are concerned it could cost them the job. You should always negotiate as it can put thousands of dollars in your pocket. Don't forget you can also negotiate additional paid time off, equity compensation, or other benefits as part of your compensation package.
- Be confident: If you're confident in your answer, it'll show you know your worth, and you're not going to accept less than you deserve.
Mistakes to avoid when answering "What are your salary expectations?"
- Sharing your expectations early: You want to avoid mentioning your salary expectations until you know the company's approved budget for the role.
- Pricing yourself out: Don't ask for a salary that is too low or too high, as you may price yourself out of a job.
- Being negative: Even if the amount offered is low, respond nicely and ask if there is room to negotiate.
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