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Interview Questions, Answered: ‘What Are Your Salary Expectations?’

Someone trying to figure out how to answer what are your salary expectations

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While a job can be a significant source of accomplishment and satisfaction in your life, it’s also the primary way you earn money. That’s money you use to pay your bills, save for the future, and spend on whatever you want. As a result, you may want or need a certain salary, one that an employer may or may not be willing or able to pay. As a result, it’s not uncommon for interviewers to ask, “What are your salary expectations?”

Though attitudes around discussing pay are changing, that doesn’t mean it’s not an uncomfortable topic — especially if you don’t know what your salary expectations are! If talking about pay makes you anxious or nervous, this guide will help calm your fears so you can answer with confidence. The guide covers:

Why Do Employers Ask, ‘What Are Your Salary Expectations?’

While some advice says you should wait as long as possible to discuss salary, times are changing. “What are your salary expectations?” may come up during early interviews (like a phone screen) or even on the job application. This may seem like a calculating move by the recruiter or hiring manager, but it really isn’t.

Discussing salary expectations early on improves the chances that neither you nor the employer wastes time. If you won’t accept the job offer because you can’t agree on salary, why bother going through the entire interview process?

Some may argue that the company is measuring if you know your value or worth. But ultimately, the interviewer is trying to figure out if they can afford you. If they can, it’s probably worth it to continue interviewing you, and if they can’t, they should move on to other applicants — and you should move on to other open roles.

Why Employers Ask, ‘Are You Comfortable With the Salary Range?’

Because views around salary are changing, you’re more likely to see the pay range posted on the job description then in the recent past. That alone may be enough information for you to decide to apply for the role (or not). That said, the hiring manager could still ask if you’re comfortable with the posted range during the interview process.

Keep in mind that a job description may not give you the full picture of what the position entails. After discussing the role with the hiring manager, you might decide the compensation is right on target or not even close to what you think it should be for this particular role.

Interviewers also ask because sometimes people think the posted salary range is a starting point and they can negotiate a higher wage than the top of what’s posted. While that can be the case, an employer asking if you’re comfortable with the salary range is likely signaling that while they might negotiate, they probably won’t go any higher than that top number.

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How to Answer, ‘What Are Your Salary Expectations?’

Whether you’re asked in an interview or as part of a verbal offer, at some point, you’ll have to answer the salary question. Here’s how to answer, “What are your salary expectations?”

Research Salary Ranges

First, start by researching the salary range for the job title. Bernadette Pawlik, senior partner at Pawlik/Dorman Custom Search and recruiting insider and career strategist at Coffee & Consult, points out that salaries for entry-level jobs are generally easy to find.

“Usually they are on the job posting in an aggregator like Indeed. You can search Indeed by company name and by title of a role and get a fairly accurate idea.” Glassdoor also has self-reported pay ranges by job title and company, and sites like Payscale and Salary.com have national estimates of pay ranges for job titles.

As you do your research, it’s important to note not just the pay range but the years of experience people in that range have. For example, you may see the average salary for the job title is $75,000 per year. However, that could be for people with five to seven years of experience. Someone with less experience can expect to make less, while someone with more experience could ask for a higher salary.

>>MORE: How to Use the STAR Method for Interview Questions

It’s also important to note that these pay ranges are often self-reported and cut across multiple sectors. Self-reported data can be a bit untrustworthy, as you’re relying on the reporter to be accurate. And because these ranges include multiple sectors, if you’re considering a role at a nonprofit, you’ll likely be paid less than at a venture capital-funded startup.

Consider Everything

As you’re determining your salary expectations, make sure you consider everything. While that includes ensuring you have enough after-tax income to cover housing, food, and utilities, there are additional expenses you need to think about.

For example, if you’re moving from a low cost of living area (say, Iowa) to a high one (like New York), you’ll need to cover the increase in expenses. That’s not just rent and food, but also things like clothing and transportation.

Likewise, you should think about everything you have to pay for yourself. While you may not have access to the specifics, consider how much you might have to pay for health insurance, contribute to a retirement account, or savings for an emergency fund. All of this will come out of your paycheck, and you need to make sure you have enough pay to cover it every month.

Turn It Around

When the question does come up, you can turn it back on the hiring manager by asking them what the budgeted salary range is. Sometimes they’ll give you a range, and if it meets your expectations, you can say something like, “That range is something I’m comfortable with.”

But if this is your first job, you may not have a good idea of what your salary expectations should be. If that’s the case, Pawlik offers this tip: “Say, ‘I’m new to the professional marketplace and I would appreciate your feedback. What is the salary band for this role?'”

Offer a Range and a Reason

Sometimes getting the interviewer to give you a salary range first is impossible. In that case, you’ll need to answer and include two things.

First, give a salary range, like $55,000 to $65,000. “By saying ‘salary band,’ you are signaling you are savvy about compensation, that it is, in fact, like a rubber band and has stretch,” says Pawlik. The bottom number should be the absolute minimum you are willing to accept, as that could be the employer’s top number.

Second, you’ll need to include a reason or reasons why you’ve come up with this range. That can include your unique skills, your experience, and the value you’ll bring to the role. It doesn’t have to be a long or extensive answer but should highlight the key reasons you’re expecting this salary range.

One note of caution: In a post-pandemic world, remote work is far more common than it used to be. And while considering the cost of living if you’re moving from a low cost of living location to a high cost one is essential, it’s also important to remember that your salary should be based on your value as an employee, not where you live. This can make salary discussions tricky, especially if you’re moving to a lower cost area or the job is a remote role. Your answer should be based on your value first and everything else second.

How Not to Answer, ‘What Are Your Salary Expectations?’

As you figure out what your salary expectations are, make sure to avoid the following in your answer.

Skipping a Range

It’s best to avoid stating a single figure. As Pawlik notes, a range or band is better as it can signal you’re open to negotiations and are flexible. Not using a range could indicate that you aren’t flexible, open to negotiation, or willing to consider other forms of compensation over money (like additional vacation time).

Not Having an Answer

Saying, “I don’t know” or “I hadn’t thought about it” sends the message that you’re not interested in the job. While salary is one aspect of the position you should evaluate, not having an answer to “What are your salary expectations?” indicates you didn’t prepare for this fairly typical question. 

And while that could make the hiring manager wonder if you’d show up to the job unprepared, it could also mean that you end up being paid far less than you could have if you had given the interviewer a salary range and reasons why you think you are worth it.

Going Too High or Low

Even when you offer a salary range, it’s possible your low number is too high for the employer. Remember to consider the industry and salary averages for people with similar years of experience to you as you create your range. The average pay on any aggregator is the average of everyone, and you may not have enough experience to earn the average salary.

On the opposite side, don’t go too low, either. The risk here is that you might end up grossly underpaid, and the employer may think you don’t value yourself or have confidence in your abilities.

What Are Your Salary Expectations — Best Answers

So, what does all of this look and sound like in an interview? Here are some of the best answers for the “What are your salary expectations?” interview question.

Example 1

I’m open to a salary range of $X to $Y. Given my three years of experience on the job and at internships, I feel that this is a fair range, and am happy to discuss it further.

Example 2

Given my experience and education, I think a salary range of between $X and $Y is reasonable. But the commuter benefit and on-site amenities are also important to me, so I’m open to discussing salary.

Example 3

I’m still early in my career and am learning about entry-level salaries. With that in mind, what do you have budgeted for the role?

Example 4

Salary isn’t the only thing that matters to me. I’d like to hear more about the benefits and the role before we discuss salary, since that will likely impact my expectations.

Example 5

My range is $X to $Y. Given my skills and experience, I feel this is an appropriate range, but am open to negotiations. Does this line up with your budget?

Prepare for other interview questions:

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Rachel Pelta is the Head Writer at Forage. Previously, she was a Content Specialist at FlexJobs, writing articles for job seekers and employers. Her work has been featured in Fast Company, The Ladders, MSN, and Money Talks News.

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