How to answer: « What is your expected salary? »

The job interview is going as you had hoped. You meet the requirements, you have a rapport with the interviewers, and those practice sessions you and a friend did helped you present smoothly and confidently. You have a real chance of landing this job.


Then you hear that embarrassing question: « What is your expected salary? »

Many candidates dread this question about salary requirements. There’s the concern that if you lowball a number, you’re leaving money on the table. But if you give too high a number, you could cost yourself for the role. No matter where you are in your career, it’s a hard calculation.

The good news is that when discussing compensation expectations, there are strategies for coming up with numbers that will be right for you and within the employer’s budget. Timing, tact, and research are all key to your success when discussing money with a potential employer.


Here’s what to do:

1. Research market and salary trends
No matter what type of position you’re looking for or at what level, the job interview is your opportunity to convince the hiring manager that you deserve the best price. At the end of the interview, you want the potential employer to think, “This is what I want to hire. Now, how do we convince them to join our team? »

Compensation expectations may well come up during the first formal interview – or even during the initial phone check-in. That’s why you should start preparing your « expected salary » answer the moment you apply for the job. And that means you have to do your homework.

Consult reputable sources such as the US Bureau of Labor Statistics for federal wage data in your industry. Also see the Robert Half Salary Guides 2021 to get the National Average Salary for the role you are looking for, then use our Salary Calculator to customize the figure to suit your market. Glassdoor is another great source: go there to see if current or former employees of the company you’re interviewing with have shared their paycheck details. (Remember that salaries posted anonymously on review sites are unverified).

This is a crucial first step. Never, ever discuss salary expectations before researching the market.


2. Consider giving a pay scale, not a number
Job seekers should not ask about salary when submitting their application or during the phone review. Bringing up the subject of money too soon sends the message that you’re more interested in the paycheck than the position.

But this does not mean that the employer will not ask about salary requirements during the first contact.

If a position asks applicants to state their expected salary when they apply for the position, provide a range — not a specific number — that you are comfortable with. Responses like “Negotiable” can work, but they can also make you look evasive. If you’ve done your homework, you’ll know what a fair pay scale will look like.

If the question of compensation came up during the initial phone call, you can always give a range – and cover it some more:

“From what I know of the post, I think somewhere between $XX and $XX.”

This kind of wording demonstrates flexibility, which employers appreciate. It also allows you to adjust the numbers, if you find it necessary, once you learn more about the position and the employer’s expectations of the new employee.


3. Flip the question diplomatically
When it’s still early in the hiring process, there’s nothing shy about hedging yourself with a pay scale, as discussed above. An employer who asks about an expected salary before discussing the job in detail may not require a more specific answer.

But at this early stage, you also have the option of reversing the question. Whether the salary demands come up during a phone review or at the start of your first video interview with the employer, you can smile and say:

“I would like to know more about the position and the tasks, and what the team is like, before discussing money. But can I ask what salary range you envision for this position? »

Delivered politely, you will demonstrate that your priority is whether the position is

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