The interview is here, and you don’t want to screw it up. You’ve already put the work in to create a fantastic cover letter, an exceptional resume, and now you’re facing the questions.
One of the most challenging questions to answer in an interview is the dreaded, “what is your salary expectation?”
It’s nerve-wracking because you don’t want to undersell yourself for fear of appearing as though you don’t value your own skills. At the same time, you don’t want to request pay that is too high because they’ll bypass you.
The best way to be ready to answer the question is to prepare for it ahead of time. Do your research to figure out how you need to reply to reduce the risk of losing a potential job offer.
Why is the Salary Expectation Question Such a Big Deal?
It’s a simple question that can change the entire tone of an interview in a heartbeat just because you think one way and the person interviewing has an entirely different thought process.
It’s true that some employers are looking for a bargain for the work that they want to get from you. You know what you’re worth, they know what you’re worth, but they still want to pay less to save money.
Another reason that employers ask for your salary expectation is because they want to know if you value your work. They want to see if you are confident in your abilities to be able to demand what you’re worth or if you’d be more likely to accept whatever offer they gave you.
How the Salary Question Gets Asked
You’ll be asked the question in a couple of ways. They’ll either ask you, point-blank, what your preferred salary is, or they’ll be more discreet and ask you what you’re currently making.
It’s better to get the question than to not get the question because it doesn’t usually come up unless the company is seriously thinking about going forward with the interview process. If you don’t get the question, it doesn’t mean you’re automatically off the list, but it’s a good marker as to whether or not you’re in the running.
If you aren’t ready to answer correctly, you risk not answering the question in a way that will make them want to go to the next step.
How to Answer the Salary Question
There’s a good way to answer the question, and then there is a better way to give them what they’re looking for when they ask. Intrigued? You should be.
If you tell them what you want too early, you may weed yourself out unintentionally, although this does depend on the job role that you’re after. Depending on where you’re at in your career, you may have salary expectations that are well worth your experience.
As an example, if you’re starting an entry-level position, you need to expect an entry-level salary. If you expect or request anything else, then you’re probably going to turn off the employer from going further with you as an option.
In another example, if you’re already established in your career and currently making $120k per year, you know you didn’t get there because of luck. You got there through hard work, and you likely know you deserve a given amount. In this scenario, you may very well tell the person up front that you won’t accept anything less than you’re currently making.
Letting the recruiter or interviewer know up front that your salary expectations align with your experience and expertise is helpful to both parties. If you’re the $120k a year guy and the job only pays an annual salary of $60k maximum in Manhattan, then there’s no point in wasting anyone’s time by moving any further.
Don’t Sell Yourself Short
Individuals without as much experience in the workforce are more likely to sell themselves short because they’re just trying to break into the field. Even though some companies want that bargain, there are others that know what they should be paying you for your work.
If you offer a low ball number when they ask you the question, they may choose to bypass you because you come across as overly eager. How is that a bad thing?
Well, if you’re willing to lower your standards to be able to get the job, the potential employer may also worry that you’re going to set low standards for yourself in other areas, too.
Something else you need to think about is whether or not you want to work for a company that is only willing to pay bargain salaries. Most people would agree that better-qualified candidates should get the job, not the candidate that is willing to take the lowest pay.
Do Your Homework Before Answering the Question
There are several sites that can help you determine what a fair rate is for your work experience compared to the job that you’re after.
At Payscale.com, you can access a Negotiation Guide that will assist you in negotiating your salary expectations. They’ve taken expert advice along with information provided by finance experts to come up with a range of salaries in almost every situation.
The site is easy to use, too. You can navigate fairly easily to determine what you should be paid with a variable set of circumstances that you can change as needed.
It’s a great way to see what you should expect to make in the position that you’re interested in applying for. You can adjust the fields as well to determine the expected salary growth you will see over time.
You can do a quick search with a keyword and a location. Once you input the query, it will come back with several different possibilities that will answer what you searched for. You’ll have to click on each one and request to see the free report to get a complete answer.
Each of these sites has a range of accepted salaries that range for the position you want. There are also options to choose from to narrow down what you can ask for based on region, company size, and personal experience.
They do sometimes conflict with each other, but most often, they’ll give a fair range of what your salary expectations should be. Use these sites as tools to create a reasonable range for your salary request, and you should be spot on with what the employer would agree to.
Five Ways to Face the Salary Expectation Question
There are a few ways that you can answer the question without hurting your chances of getting the job, or at least to minimize risk.
1. You can deflect the question.
By telling the interviewer that your answer depends on the responsibilities that will be expected of you, you can attempt to postpone answering the question. This may not be the best way, though, because it is possible for the interviewer to insist on a price range.
2. Give a range that contains a number you’d be happy with.
In other words, if you think you deserve $50k per year, you should answer with something like, “I would expect something within the range of $45k to $60k annually.” The only drawback with this technique is they could go for the lower end if you don’t have the experience to go with the higher end.
3. Leave yourself room to negotiate.
This technique expands a little on giving a range, but then adds a cushion for you. In other words, you say something like, “I would expect my salary to be between $45k and $60k,” and then follow it up with, “but it depends on bonuses, the ability to work at home, and other possible benefits.” This gives you room to negotiate your salary all the way up through the end.
4. Research the range and quote it.
If you come to the interviewer with a salary range after doing some research, it says a lot about you and the way you conduct business. It tells your potential employer that you want to be informed which can actually go a long way to pushing you forward through the interview.
5. Be upfront about your salary expectations.
This was discussed briefly earlier, and it still is an entirely plausible reply. Remember, this particular reply only ever really works if you have the experience to back up the demand of a higher salary, so you may want to save it until you’ve got some time under your belt.
A Few Final Thoughts
Do your research to have your salary expectations set ahead of time so you’re not blindsided by the question when it gets asked.
Decide on what you feel would be fair prior to getting on the phone so that you have an answer if you’re pressed for a number.
Above all, be confident in your answer, and be realistic in your expectations. With that kind of combination, you’ll be able to feel like you aced your interview.