The professional norms around discussing salary are shifting, with many companies implementing pay transparency policies that are meant to promote more equitable compensation. This is a good thing for job seekers, as it means you can go into the interview process confident that you’re on the same page with your prospective employer about salary. And yet, being asked how much you’re expecting to make is still one of the most nerve-wracking questions in a job interview.
The conversation about pay is one you’re going to have to have at some point, but maybe it came up sooner in the interview process than you’d like. Your answer could be a factor in whether you remain in the running for the job, and if they ultimately make you an offer, it will set the course for your salary negotiations. So, it’s important to have the right answer to the question of salary from the beginning.
Why do interviewers ask about salary expectations?
Interviewers ask about salary to find out whether the two of you are aligned with your expectations. If there’s a major gap between the amount you’re hoping for and what they can offer, it might not make sense to go any further in the process. If there’s not a lot of wiggle room on your side or theirs, it’s better for both parties to find out before you advance to the final stages of interviewing.
Companies may also use your answer when comparing you to other candidates. If two candidates are otherwise similar but one has significantly higher salary expectations, they may opt to make an offer to the more affordable option.
What hiring managers want to hear in an answer
In your ideal scenario, you’d probably prefer for the company to tell you how much the position pays before asking what you’re expecting to make (or even better if they put the salary directly in the job description). However, many employers prefer the opposite scenario, pushing candidates to name a number before they disclose a salary range.
Having a candidate lay their cards on the table when it comes to salary expectations is to a company’s benefit. If you state a number that’s at the middle or low end of their pay scale, they can make you a lower offer than if you asked for more money.
While a good employer will pay candidates what they’re worth regardless of the first number discussed, unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Many times, the initial salary request you make will be a defining factor in how much you’re ultimately offered–and how much the company says they can afford to pay you. This is why doing your research and being strategic with your salary conversation is so essential.
How to answer questions about salary requirements
Know your worth
It’s imperative to go into an interview–even an early-stage one–with a number or range in mind for the salary you would accept. To arrive at this number, you’ll need to do research on the position and your local market. Thankfully, the internet makes it fairly easy to find salary information for most cities and industries.
Delay your answer
It’s generally not advisable to sidestep an interview question, but this is one exception. If you’re asked about salary very early in the interview process, it might be in your best interest to try and put off answering as long as possible.
Deflect the question, then redirect the conversation back to the position, for example: “I’m very interested in the job and I’m confident that if you feel I’m a strong fit, we can arrive at a number that makes sense for both of us. Right now, I’m interested in learning more about the position. Can you tell me more about what the day-to-day responsibilities look like?”
Give a range
If you feel confident that your salary expectations are aligned with your skills, the job responsibilities and the standards for the location, offer a range that you’d be comfortable with. This gives your salary conversation a starting point and will allow you to find out if you’re in the same ballpark as what the company plans to offer.
Say you’re flexible
Sometimes, there are situations where you might be comfortable accepting a lower-than-expected salary or even taking a pay cut. An example might be if you’re looking to change fields and are starting from the bottom up. In this case, you can leave the door open with an answer like, “what’s most important to me is the opportunity to break into the field, so my salary expectations are flexible. Did you have a range in mind?”
How not to answer the question “What are your salary expectations?”
Naming a number too soon
Sometimes, stating your salary expectations right out of the gate can hurt your chances for the job (and unfortunately this can be the case even if they’re the ones who ask you to name a figure). Not only are you operating with less information than if you waited until later in the process, but you risk coming across as overly motivated by money.
Aiming too high
If the salary expectation you respond with is much higher than what the hiring manager can offer, many companies will move on to other candidates without even trying to negotiate with you.
Negotiating salary is essential to maximizing your earning potential. If the stars align and your salary expectations are the same as the hiring manager’s budget for the job, there’s no need to negotiate just for the sake of negotiating. However, this scenario is the exception rather than the norm. If the company comes back with a pay range lower than what you were anticipating, don’t walk away without at least giving them the opportunity to meet you at a higher number.
The most important takeaway is to do your research. If you come to your interview armed with a market-appropriate wage expectation and state your position with confidence, you’ll set the tone for a productive conversation about salary.