Everyone wants to go into an interview confident and prepared, and What are your salary expectations? is certainly an interview question that you want to prepare for. Talking about money can be uncomfortable, but talking about salary expectations is an important and easy way to screen candidates at the beginning of the interview process. And unlike other common, open-ended interview questions where there’s no right answer, your response to this question could actually disqualify you from consideration for a job.
It’s important to note here that this question is not the equivalent of an employer asking you about your salary history, which can be illegal depending on what state you live in. Here’s how to decide what you think you should be paid, plus tips on how to best answer What are your salary expectations?
So, how do you decide what your salary expectations should be?
Don’t go into an interview and try to concoct a salary on the spot when asked this question—you’ll only set yourself up for unnecessary stress and anxiety. Use the following tips for your pre-work in order to answer What are your salary expectations?
Start with average salary trend research
Start by doing salary trend research online, and be mindful that salaries vary by career level, company, and geographical location. So when you do your research for the typical salary range for a position, don’t forget to consider where the role is located and what the cost of living is in that area. For example, a software developer located in New York City will probably be paid a higher salary than a software developer in Asheville, North Carolina. If you’re looking at a remote position, consider both your local cost of living, the cost of living of the company headquarters, and salaries provided by previous employees on sites like Glassdoor when creating a salary range.
Take advantage of your network
If you have connections in your network that you trust with sensitive information, you can ask what they’re making if they’re currently or were previously employed in a position similar to the one you want. Make sure to take into account any additional skills, qualifications, or education they have, plus the size of the company and location. This should give you a practical idea of what you might expect a company to offer you.
Take a look at your expenses and lifestyle
Before your interview, look into how much money you personally need depending on your current expenses and future goals. For example, if the job will require you to add a new expense like child care or taking the train into work everyday, you’re going to need a pretty significant budget shift. Similarly, if you’d need to relocate for the job, factor in moving expenses and the new cost of living in that area. If you keep your individual needs in mind, you’re more likely to advocate for yourself and not accept a lowball offer.
Consider benefits in addition to salary
Ask yourself what you value beyond money. This could be anything from paid time off to stock options, to fertility benefits to tuition reimbursement. For example, you might decide that unlimited paid time off is worth more to you than another $5,000 a year. However, major benefit gaps like no health insurance or no opportunity for remote work might raise your salary expectations.
Read more: How to Decline a Job Offer Due to Salary
Tips for tackling answers to What are your salary expectations?
Don’t ever lie about your past experience, training, education, or salaries. The truth can always come out— whether it’s through a reference, skills test, or once your employer sees your performance in the new job—and lying or bending the truth is never a good look for a job seeker. On the flip side, when asked about your salary expectations, only give a number or range that you’d truly be happy with. Accepting a job offer below your worth will only make you unhappy in the long run. Trust your gut, but remain open to negotiating.
You could say:
“I'm open to discussing what you think would be a fair salary for this position. However, based on my master’s degree, knowledge of the tech industry, and my understanding of this geographic area, I'd expect a salary within the range of $70,000–80,000.”
Offer a range
Even if you want to emphasize your flexibility and willingness to negotiate, most employers still want some idea of specific numbers from you. If you’re uncomfortable offering a hard number, provide them with a range based on your research.
Usually, it’s acceptable for the top and bottom of the range to have $10,000–20,000 difference. Keep in mind here that the employer might opt for the lower end of your range, so only begin with numbers you’d really be happy with. So, if you want at least $55,000, don’t set your range as $50,000–60,000, and be prepared to negotiate even when offered a salary within your range.
You could say:
Give yourself a raise
At the end of the day, you need an incentive to switch companies. Think about what would be a fair raise from your current employer, and use that as the lower end starting point in your salary expectation range for the new job. Being confident and assured in your answer shows that you know your worth and that you’re not going to accept less than what you deserve. If you sell yourself short, you could end up not making enough to support yourself in the long run.
You could say:
“Similar jobs to the one I’m applying for offer salaries between $60,000–70,000, and given my experience, expertise, and skills, I would expect to receive a salary in that range. Is that in line with your thoughts?”
Delay your response
If you’re not ready to give a range or you’d rather know what their expectations are, you can stall your answer. It’s totally acceptable to delay answering questions about salary expectations in the early stages when you’re still learning about the nitty gritty details of the position and what kinds of benefits the company offers. For example, perhaps you’d be okay with accepting a lower salary if you can secure more stock options, equity, or annual bonuses.
If you do go this route, emphasize that salary is important to you, but a well-rounded offer and opportunity are more appealing, and you’d rather share your salary expectations later on in the interview process.
You could say:
“A good salary is super important, but compensation isn’t the only thing that matters to me. Right now, finding a position with the right benefits package and a positive work environment is my top priority. I saw on your website that you all offer child care benefits, so I’d love to learn more about that before talking numbers, if that’s okay with you.”
Flip the question
You can also respond to What are your salary expectations? by simply asking what the company is looking to pay. You could say something along the lines of, ‘That's a great question—it would be super helpful if you could first share what range you have in mind for this role.’
But this route doesn’t negate the research you still have to do. Once the interviewer answers your question, they might expect you to confirm if that salary works for you or not. If they give you a number or range that’s consistent with what you expected or were hoping for, express your approval on the spot–you don’t have to wait until you’re replying to the job offer. If the response is lower than you want, you’ll have to come up with a respectful response.
You could say:
“Unfortunately, with my previous experience and current salary in mind, I don’t think I can accept anything for less than $80,000 a year. Do you think there’s any flexibility in the budget for this role?”
Or, if you’re okay with accepting a lower salary in exchange for better benefits…