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How To Answer “What Are Your Salary Expectations?”

Dive In
  • Writer's pictureThe CareerBeacon Team

Updated: Mar 25

Here’s how to best answer any question about salary expectations.

You’re 30 minutes into an interview for your dream job, and you’re crushing it. You know this is the position for you in your heart — you’re so close! As the interview goes along, you’re asked the usual questions about skills and experience, and you come across as confident but not overconfident. You even get a few laughs by telling a few of your classic office anecdotes — the most ideal situation – but now comes the question that you dread. “What are your salary expectations?”

*Gulp* Uh oh, this is it. You say to the interviewer, “My salary expectations are…” 

Wait. Hold on a second. Don’t answer that yet! You should know a few things before discussing your salary expectations or what you earned at your previous position.

What are salary expectations, anyway?

It may help to know you’re not the only person struggling with answering “what are your salary expectations?”. It is useful to understand what it is the employer is really asking. Yet, it’s still a tricky scenario because stating a number that is too high or too low may discount your chances of getting the job or create a lower offer than expected. 

Typically, the question around salary expectations is floated so the employer knows if your expectations are aligned with what they can afford to pay you for the position.

When it comes to discussing salary, there’s an important distinction to make between salary expectations and salary history. Instead of jumping right into what you hope to be paid, do a little research first. Your salary history may not always translate to your expectations, especially if you’re applying for a promotion.

The increase in pay for a higher position may not follow the same logic as a standard raise.

Additionally – past salary doesn’t necessarily need to come up in the conversation at all.

A great place to begin in deciding salary expectations is to competitively shop. Find out what people are making in similar jobs. This will allow you to find the average base salary as a starting point. If doing market research feels intangible or intimidating, check out these simple steps to help

As mentioned previously, knowing the average salary for a position across the board will help light the way to your best choice. Having a clear understanding of your true value and worth is crucial too –  as it can impact the level of comfort in proposing a desired salary. In this article about negotiating salaries, there are highlights about how stating your expectations goes beyond just money. If still unsure, this article recommends that it may be wise to suggest a salary range.

Additional strategies for salary expectations.

There are many ways to express a desired salary for any given role. When the question of salary is asked during the application submission process, it is ok to be a bit vague. This is especially true if there is uncertainty around what the job fully entails. 

It could benefit you to say something like “my salary expectations are negotiable and can be discussed further if I am a good fit for this role.” Alternatively, try “my salary expectations are in line with the industry standards for my level of experience.”

Of course, these questions don’t always come up only in the application process. Below are some great ways to answer them.

Provide a salary range. 

Knowing the average salary range for the potential role is always helpful. Based on your experience and the market value, don’t be afraid to give a range when setting your salary expectation. This could look like saying: 

“Jobs similar to this role usually pay between $65,000 and $80,000. My experience places me toward the upper end of that range, but that depends on the overall compensation package offered.” 

Providing a range of salary expectations can have multiple advantages. For example, suppose the job’s actual pay range is between $70,000 and $85,000, but your desired range is between $80,000 and $90,000. In that case, it may be prudent to suggest the range. By doing so, it is easy to find the common ground between you and the employer.

Turn the question around.

Instead of playing defence around salary expectations – try turning the question around. Ask the employer the numbers they had in mind when formulating the budget for the open position. For example – say “to ensure we’re both on the same page, could you provide a range of how much your team has budgeted for this position?” 

Know that once the employer states the salary, you should establish how the numbers fall in line with your expectations.

If the range is higher or on target, it may be clear and easy to say “numbers align.” However, if the range is lower than expected,  do not be afraid to offer a counter. Consider saying:

 “After researching the industry average salary for this role and factoring in my current skillset and experience, I find that the number falls below my initial expectations.” 

You can then segway into a conversation about other benefits, such as health benefits, paid time off, and 401K. Additionally, if the range is below expectation, perhaps asking about budget flexibility for the role could open up more conversations.

How do salary conversations usually happen?

Check out this video where we show you the dos and don’ts when it comes to negotiating your salary. Notice the different attitudes that the jobseeker assumes throughout the mock-up interviews. Do you see the different approaches there? We hope this video serves as a source of inspiration for your next interview!

Reminders for the process.

Be forthcoming and communicative.

Effective communication is essential, particularly when discussing salary expectations. Clearly articulating your desired salary adds value to the conversation by demonstrating that you have a comprehensive understanding of your worth in a competitive job market. 

By conducting thorough research, you can identify the appropriate salary range and confidently express your expectations. If the salary expectation does not align with the employer’s offer, it is necessary to engage in dialogue to negotiate an agreeable compensation package. Utilizing the previously shared examples can help navigate this negotiation process.

Be confident.

“Confidence” is extremely important to hiring managers, and being clear about expectations shows confidence. This doesn’t mean you should have a giant ego, but instead, be self-assured. Showing up confidently in the interview and expectations creates stability in your sense of character and perception. 

Be realistic.

It’s important not to state a salary lower than the minimum you would accept as this can ultimately lead to employee dissatisfaction. Underselling yourself in terms of salary can be viewed as undervaluing your worth. Instead, conducting thorough research to understand the market value for the specific role is crucial in setting realistic salary expectations. 

You can confidently ask for what you deserve based on your qualifications and experience. If necessary, back up your expectations with supporting data. If an employer is unwilling to offer a salary within the expected range, it may be an indication that the job is not the right fit for you.

confidence and transparency are essential

Ease the tension.

Answering questions about salary expectations can be hard. Using methods like flipping the question or stating a salary range can ease that tension. Researching the role is highly beneficial. Truly – this process all comes down to your willingness to be communicative, confident, realistic, and forthright. By being honest, both you and the employer can get what they want in the end.

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