With the right tools, answering salary expectation questions in an interview can be easier than you ever imagined.

As you go on your interviews, you should expect to be asked about your salary expectations. Employers ask about salary to discover how much of a match exists between the money they'll be offering and a candidate's compensation expectations. The closer the match, the higher the probability that a company will feel good about extending an offer — and the better the odds the candidate will accept it. 

Most interviewers will ask one of two questions: “What are your salary expectations?” or “What are you currently making/did you make in your last job?” There's a different approach to answering each of these questions, but the overall goal is to not price yourself out of the job with your answers. The tips below will help you make a confident and successful start.

How to answer “What are your salary expectations?” in an interview

There are several strategies to use to effectively answer this question.

Research prior to your interview

Many organizations won't reveal the salary of the position they're filling. So, preparing for the “What are your salary expectations?” question requires good pre-interview research. Use sites like Glassdoor, Indeed, or PayScale to research salary ranges based on experience, education, and location.

Remember that geography plays a large role in determining salary, and you want to base your answer on the job's specific location, not on a small town or large city that's hundreds of miles away from where you'll work.

Understanding the value of your skills and experience will also help you determine your specific compensation requirements. The more experienced you are, the more you can potentially ask for. Finally, take into account other factors such as a change in commute, medical benefits, or company incentives that could affect your overall pay.

State a range of pay, not a single number

Come up with a pay range that's acceptable to you and — based on your fact-finding — also makes sense to your potential employer. For example:

“My research shows that based on my experience and education, a fair range for this job in this area of the country looks to be between X and Y dollars.”

This leaves room for negotiation on both sides and doesn't back the employer into a corner. Based on the response you get, you'll know immediately if you're in the employer's salary ballpark or if some negotiating is needed.

An important note: This is not the time to negotiate. That comes later. Instead, answering this particular interview about salary expectations is about putting a reasonable and confident offer on the table that you can back up with evidence. Done well, it lays a great foundation for any negotiations to come.

Answer without giving a specific number

If you don't feel comfortable answering this interview question, there are ways to (professionally) avoid it. Examples include:

“I'll be happy to discuss this once I receive an offer.”

“I'd like to know more about the specific requirements and expectations of the position first.”

If you're meeting with a recruiter versus a hiring manager, you can let them know you don't want to discuss it right now by saying:

“Right now, I really want to focus on what I can offer the company in this role rather than discuss my salary expectations. Since I don't have a specific number to offer, I'll look forward to hearing the possibilities when we reach that point in the interview process.”

Turn the question around

This is another situation where having done your research is critical because you can use actual numbers to ask the interviewer a question instead. For example:

“Based on my research, [job title] roles in this area and industry pay between Y and Z. Is that consistent with the range you'll pay for this position?”

If you haven't done your research yet or couldn't find enough detailed salary data, you can say:

“Since I don't know the specific requirements of this role or what the compensation picture looks like, I'd love to hear your general range for this position as well as any other types of compensation you offer.”

“I'd like to ask you a few more questions about the position requirements before I answer so I can give you a truly accurate picture of my expectations.”

The goal, if possible, is to have the company present you with a salary offer before you state your expectations so you'll know where they place your value on their scale. Then you'll be ready to negotiate if needed when that time comes.

Stating salary expectations in an online application

When it comes to answering the salary expectation question in an online application, some experts believe that you should not provide that information at all. Leave the question blank if you can or put in a zero if the field requires an answer. Putting "XXX" in the space will also work.

If you have to provide a number and it must be higher than zero, go back to your salary range research and use a number on the higher end of the range. This is because you don't want to lock yourself into a salary expectation that's too low simply because you haven't yet had the opportunity to directly ask about job and salary specifics in an interview. 

Summary

As you move through your job search and toward your next role, you are bound to come across this question in an interview. Just make sure you do your research so that when you go to answer, you are confident and accurate. 

Interview coaching can also be a huge help. With a professional coach, you'll learn all the best tools to confidently present your experience and value when discussing salary issues, so you get the pay you truly deserve. They can also point you in the right direction about whether to discuss it openly, turn the question on the interviewer, or deflect the question altogether. 

Feeling less-than-confident about your next interview? Our interview coaches can help. Learn more about our services today! 

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