How to discuss salary expectations

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

When it comes to job interviews, some questions are harder to answer than others. “What are your salary expectations?” is a simple enough question, but no matter how well you prepare for a job interview, many find this salary expectations question tricky to answer.

Often, this is because they are uncertain how much money to ask for. 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. However, pitching too high could price you out of contention. 

People who dread this question often offer a vague answer such as “I’m negotiable”. However, failing to provide a realistic figure only leads to dissatisfaction when the formal offer comes through. 

Ultimately, you’re going to be asked this question, whether before, during or after the job interview – so get prepared to answer this question effectively. 

Why employers ask about your salary expectations

Few advertised jobs list a salary range, rather than lock themselves into a figure, employers prefer to 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, existing internal salaries and external typical salaries, 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 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 and then factor in your own experience, qualifications and skills. 

2. Consider the complete compensation package

Next, consider how flexible you are willing to be. In today’s world of work, a competitive salary offering is just one part of the value exchange between employer and employee.

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 your career goals, so take into consideration the full range of value that any one role offers, encompassing both salary and benefits, to help you decide what’s right for you. 

3. Verify the figure with a recruiter

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, be 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 understand your salary expectations, so be prepared. The good news is that if an employer is asking you this question, either in an interview or afterwards, you are probably one of their preferred candidates.

 So, be ready to discuss your case with conviction. 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 expectations clear with as small a range as possible. 

It can also be helpful to frame your answer in terms of the value you’d bring to the team. Focus on your skills and experience and explain how they could contribute to the organisation’s success. This not only shows your enthusiasm for the role, but also helps to justify your salary expectations.

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 stall. 

Remember, there is normally a margin for negotiation. 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

Being clear on when and how to talk salary is important to your job seeking journey, whether this is when you are applying for a role with a new organisation 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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