Salary expectations: How to answer this question in a job interview

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Why employers ask about your salary expectations

Most advertised jobs do not list a salary range. Rather than lock themselves into an exact figure, employers prefer to firstly gain a complete picture of the value of a particular candidate. They will then make a salary offer based on the unique experience and expertise of their preferred candidate.

As part of this process, they need to gain an understanding of your salary expectations. So, they ask the money question. Based on your answer, skills and experience, as well as their budget and typical salaries for the role, they’ll make an offer, then negotiate from there.

Employers also ask this question if they are unsure if you’re at the right level for the job. Low or high expectations can indicate that you are either under- or over-qualified for the role.

Tips for confidently discussing salary expectations

When an employer asks about your salary expectations, your answer will ultimately form the beginning of the salary negotiation process. So, it’s important to prepare and confidently ask for the salary you deserve.

1. Research typical salaries

Your first step is to determine your ideal salary before meeting with a recruiter or hiring manager. If you are unsure how to put a numerical figure on your skills and experience, there are several factors to consider. Think about your desired job title, location, industry and organisational size. Consider your current salary. Then use the Hays Salary Checker to ensure your salary expectations are in line with current market rates.

Remember, salaries can vary by location, so consult a guide with a geographical break-down of salaries, such as our Hays Salary Guide. Try also to remain impartial when you compare your skills and level of experience with the data presented in a guide. Look at the salary range to give you an idea of the minimum and maximum you could expect to receive for this role.

2. Consider the complete compensation package

Employees are often motivated by more than money alone. Consider whether the organisation offers a flexible work environment, learning, a purpose that aligns with your own and positive working relationships that would allow you to succeed and thrive.

Also consider what benefits are more, or just as, important to you as the dollar figure. For example, additional annual leave, continuous flexible working, bonus schemes, upskilling, mental and physical health and wellbeing programs or career progression.

Only you know where you are on your career journey, and taking into consideration the full range of value that any one role might offer, whether that’s an opportunity to earn more money, or learn more skills, will help you decide what’s right for you.

3. Verify the figure with a recruiter

Then, arrange a meeting with a recruiter who can provide career advice and put you forward for suitable roles. In your meeting, your recruiter will ask about your salary expectations. When they do, it’s best to be completely open and honest.

Even though you may have done your own research, your recruiter knows the average salary for your role and level of experience, and what employers are offering in the current market. You may be asking for too little or too much – and it’s best you find this out sooner rather than later to ensure your expectations are realistic without harming your job search prospects.

4. Prepare and practice your answer

When it comes time to attend a job interview, the hiring manager/s will want to gain an understanding of your salary expectations. But very rarely will they discuss this directly with you in the first interview.

Instead, these conversations typically happen via your recruiter or, if you are not working with a recruiter, at the end of the first interview, during the second, or in a separate telephone call.

Therefore, be prepared to discuss your salary expectations whenever the topic is raised. The good news is that if an employer is asking you this question, either in an interview or afterwards, you are one of most probably one of their preferred candidates.

For instance, don’t answer with, “I feel like I want $X amount ideally, just because of Y and Z. What do you think?” Instead, provide a clear and positive answer, such as, “Based on my research of current typical salaries for this role, along with my expertise, I am looking for $X as the starting salary. I believe this is a competitive figure given the responsibilities of the job”.

It’s also perfectly acceptable to provide a salary range when you answer this question. However, some people find that providing a salary range is still too vague for them and leads to a low first offer, which can weight salary negotiations. If you do elect to provide a salary range, try to make your salary expectation clear with as small a range as possible.

5. Negotiate

If the interviewer decides to make you an offer, they will do so via your recruiter. Typically, you’ll receive a verbal offer first; when you hear this offer, do not accept it if you are not happy with it. Instead, talk to your recruiter about the offer and ask if there is room to negotiate. Your recruiter will then negotiate on your behalf without jeopardising the offer, so make sure you fully utilise their service.

As mentioned earlier, you could also give your recruiter some bargaining chips in case your salary expectations can’t be met. For example, perhaps you would consider training, additional annual leave or development opportunities?

If you are not working with a recruiter, always keep your desired target salary firmly in mind during the negotiations. Give serious thought to what you consider to be your lowest acceptable salary and prepare justifications for this should negotiations become difficult.

How to determine your salary expectations

If you follow our tips on how to determine your compensation expectations, you will be well prepared for any upcoming salary negotiation during the hiring process for your new job:

⒈ Research the industry average

In order to determine your own market value, you need to have a look at the job market. It is best to base your salary expectations on solid data. Salary figures can come up very soon in the interview. That’s why you should already start researching salaries in your industry from sources like the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics when applying to various companies. By the way, there may also be a good online salary calculator that you can use to determine an appropriate figure.

Career advice: The company size matters when it comes to compensation! Larger firms may be able to offer higher compensation than employers with only a few workers.

⒉ Set a salary range for yourself

Now is the time to set a reasonable salary range for yourself. Many candidates only look at numbers when it comes to salary data and simply write down one or two figures. However, it’s important to determine a fair salary range that you want to go into negotiations with. That said, it’s also important to define a specific number. Do this for your ideal salary and then set a floor: What is the lowest salary you could live with?

⒊ Decide if you want to disclose your salary history

Some employers still ask about salary history or how much you earn in your current job during the hiring process (read more about where a salary history ban does and does not apply). What you should consider for yourself: Your worth definitely does not depend on how much your previous employer paid you. So, if you are asked about your salary, you may refuse to provide this information. It’s best to consider disclosing your salary beforehand. Be aware, however, that you are not obligated to do so, and that it probably won’t make you any less money if you don’t tell.

⒋ Think of the benefits you can negotiate during the interview process

Always remember: Salary is not just the number in your bank account. For many professionals, compensation also includes perks such as health benefits, retirement plans, paid time off or even tuition reimbursement. Typically, you have some freedom of choice in these benefits and can select just what you need. Perhaps you can get extra vacation time or the right to work remotely this way.

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