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How to discuss salary expectations

How to answer, “What are your salary expectations?” in a job interview  

Answering salary expectations


“What are your salary expectations?” It seems like a simple enough question, but the truth is that no matter how well you prepare for a job interview, many people find the salary expectations question daunting. 

Often, this is because they are uncertain how much money to ask for. On the one hand, selling yourself short could be interpreted as a sign that you doubt your abilities or lack the confidence to ask for what you’re worth. On the other, pitching too high could price yourself out of contention. 

In our experience, people who dread this question often try to give a vague answer. For example, “I’m negotiable.” However, failing to confidently provide a realistic figure only leads to dissatisfaction when the formal offer comes through. 

Ultimately, you know you’re going to be asked this question at some point, whether before, during or after the job interview. After all, it’s a key piece of information for both a recruiter and hiring manager. So, it makes sense to be prepared to answer this question in advance.

Why employers ask this question

Most jobs today 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 job candidate. They will then make a salary offer based on the unique experience and expertise of their preferred candidate. 

Of course, 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 fair 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 also 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

Next, consider how flexible you are willing to be. What other benefits do you consider vital that could potentially offset some salary? For example, continuous flexible working, bonus schemes, upskilling or career progression. During the interview process, you'll come to understand if the organisation has the resources to pay your desired salary – some may not, particularly if they are a start-up or not-for-profit. But perhaps they could meet your other career needs in terms of progression opportunities or work-life balance. The key is to assess your list of must-haves, then identify where salary sits on this list.

Again, remember to be realistic in how much your skills and experience are reasonably expected to attract.

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. 

After all, even though you have done your own research, your recruiter also knows the average salary for your role and level of experience. They also know what employers are offering in the current market. You may be asking for too little or too much – and its best you find this out sooner rather than later to ensure you ask for the most suitable salary for the position and don't harm 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. 

You therefore need to 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 their preferred candidates.

So, be prepared to discuss your case with conviction. To help communicate confidence in your answer, sit up straight, make eye contact and talk clearly. Avoid filler words such as “just”, “might”, “like” and “um”. 

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. While providing a range will not impact a job offer or the employer's decision to move forward in the process with you, 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 and 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 tougher. 

Remember, there is normally a margin for negotiation for most roles. Keep the discussions professional and ask about other benefits to bridge the divide if salary expectations are not aligned. 

Master this tricky interview question today

Some interview questions are trickier than others. Being clear on when and how to talk salary is essential to your career, whether this is when you are applying for a role with a new company or asking for a pay rise in your current one. Coming to an honest and reasonable assessment of what you’re worth and articulating it well takes practice, but you will soon find yourself able to confidently and assertively ask for what you deserve both now, and throughout your future career journey.

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