How to Discuss Salary Expectations 101

Before talking money, you must establish your salary range and your worth. Remember, any offer you accept should be a reflection of what you have to offer. So let's get ready for that interview.

At some point in the interview process, the question “what are your salary expectations?” will inevitably come up. The majority of the time, it’s not the most comfortable question for anyone. In turn, the more certain you are of the answer, the easier it can be to make it known.

Generally speaking, it’s common to worry that you’ll say a number too high and lose the opportunity or say a number too low and lose the chance to make more. That’s part of why being prepared is so important. And the better prepared you are, the less anxious you’ll likely be. Not to mention, saying the “wrong” number isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker.

Ask any recruiter, and they’ll likely lay it out for you: the main reason most companies ask about salary is to gauge a candidate’s expectations. Unlike the interviewee, however, they’re fully aware of how that desired figure falls in line (or doesn’t) with the funds available for that particular role. And so, it is possible to miss out on opportunities if your salary expectation is way off from what they’re willing to pay. If that’s the case, it might be an opportunity you’re better off without.

Before you discuss salary expectations, you need to establish what your salary could and should realistically be. So first things first, it’s time to do some research.

Do Your Research Before The Interview

It’s important to come to your interview fully prepared. That preparation should include your salary expectations. No matter how you’re asked or how you respond, know what your ideal salary is going in. Whether they need you to state a number first or they give you a figure upfront, knowing the average wage for someone in the position you’re applying for will help navigate the conversation. You’ll be able to establish your ideal wage in a reasonable, informed way.

Most hiring processes don’t move forward until they know if someone is a good fit salary-wise. Generally, the starting salary you’re asking for should align with what they typically pay a person in that role. In other words, always aim high, but not too high. Knowing what’s reasonable for the company and fair for you is the salary sweet spot. You don’t want to be ruled out immediately simply because you failed to do your research.

focused young woman researching on laptop

You can learn a lot through various free resources like the Department of Labor,,,, and 81cents. Whether you reach out on LinkedIn or meet up for coffee, talk to people in your network to gain insight. The more sources you involve, the more well-rounded of a perspective you’ll have about the going rate based on the company’s size, the industry overall, the geographic location, and any additional skills that are deemed worthy of a pay bump.

By doing your research, you’ll have a good idea of what they’re going to offer you before you walk into the interview. Also, it might help to draw up a budget. Only you can decide exactly how much money you need to survive. Knowing what you need to be making before negotiations will not only alleviate some pre-interview anxiety, it’ll help you establish your true bottom line.

Choose Your Strategy Wisely

person in interview sitting in front of a panel of four people

During the interview process, there are different strategies you can use when it’s time to answer the big question: What are your salary expectations? Recruiters and financial experts tend to advise the following three: give your salary range, flip the salary question back on the interviewer, and don’t answer the question immediately if you don’t have to.

No matter which strategy you go with, be sure to establish what will work and what won’t. This way, no matter how they approach salary expectations or what curveballs might be thrown, you’ll know what number you’re looking for and what you can realistically accept.

Tell Them Your Salary Range

Whatever you do, don’t give a single number and leave it at that. With one inflexible figure, you limit the possibility of potentially making more money. You also run the risk of being ruled out based on your unwillingness to be flexible.

When it comes to successfully negotiating, it’s always better to approach the situation with a desire to collaborate and be of service. Giving a salary range lets them know that you’re someone willing to work with them. And in an interview process, that’s always one of the key messages you must send.

With that said, being flexible doesn’t mean leaving your fate entirely in their hands. When you vocalize a salary range, you’re letting them know that you not only have some idea of how much they’re willing and able to pay, but you’re aware of your value. Setting a range shows them that you’re confident about what you bring to the table. And it shows you did your homework.

target with coins on it stacked higher and higher towards the bulls eye

Also, consider the timing. Setting a salary range in the first round of interviews might be a bit premature. So be sure to read the room. For instance, waiting until you have a job offer (or at least a second interview) could give you significantly more leverage. By that time, you’ll know their interest in you is growing. You’ll also better be able to avoid going too low or too high with your salary range. Again, that’s what the research is for. First interview or last, always find out what’s in the company’s budget before you start rattling off ideal figures.

Obviously, your salary is a big component of any job, but it’s still only one component. If you lead with money too early on, it may come off like compensation is the only thing that matters to you. Think about it this way: if you are to be hired, the company will be investing in you. Setting a range will establish how much your time, skills, and contributions are worth, but all of that will hard work will fall on deaf ears if they don’t have a strong sense of who you are and why they should invest in you.

Make sure they know what a great asset to the company you will be before you start talking about money. Learn about the company, the work environment, the benefits, and the expectations. Show off your experience and your expertise. Be personable and honest. If you think you’re a good fit, say so. Once everyone is on the same page and you feel ready, tell them your salary range.

Flip The Question On The Interviewer

If and when you’re asked “What are your salary expectations?,” you can respond by asking the company what they’re looking to pay. You can say something like “That’s a great question. I’m open to negotiating. If you don’t mind my asking, could you tell me the salary range for the person you plan to hire?” Or simply, “What is the salary range for this role?”

While you don’t have to be the first to answer, you need to show that you’re prepared. Once you know the interviewer’s answer, it’ll be your turn to state your desired salary. If they’ve given you a higher range than you anticipated, figuring out how to proceed will be a piece of cake. You’ll be able to tell them that’s exactly what you’re looking for. If it falls in line with your range, perfect! But if the number turns out to be lower than what you expected, you’ll need to be prepared for that too.

male interviewer answering female interviewees question across desk

If you were hoping for more, let them know. If the offered salary is not a deal-breaker, follow it up by saying that you are open to negotiating and still interested. This is a great time to ask about the benefits that matter to you. If you’re still interested, ask about their 401k options. You’ll get a better scope of how much money they’re willing to invest in an overall sense while simultaneously letting them know you’re willing to work with them.

However, if their range is too low, it might be best to pass on the offer. But don’t pull the plug too soon. You can say something like “I appreciate your time, consideration, and I’m flattered by this offer. Unfortunately, with my current salary and level of experience, I’m unable to accept anything for less than *insert lowest possible desired salary* a year. Is there any flexibility in the budget?”

Don’t Answer Money Questions Immediately

Even if they ask you about your salary expectations immediately, it’s okay to take your time when answering. Financial experts often advise against divulging this information too soon, noting that job seekers should only do it when they’re ready. For starters, you’re still learning the scope of the position and the potential benefits. It’s perfectly reasonable to not announce your expected salary until you’re fully informed about the company. So take your time and don’t feel rushed.

If the ‘holding off’ strategy seems more your style, you may let them know that while salary is important to you, it’s not nearly as important as the opportunity itself. Tell them you’d love to learn more about the job, the company, and their expectations of someone in this role before discussing money.

outstretched hand of businessman waiting for handshake of agreement during interview

Word to the money-wise: don’t use this strategy out of fear of saying the wrong thing. If you’ve done your research, stating your worth or your salary range shouldn’t cost you the position. When we are job hunting (and especially while unemployed), it’s natural to jump at whatever we are offered without thinking it through. Any salary is better than no salary at all, right? Still, that doesn’t mean you should settle or sell yourself short. If they’re interested in hiring you, you already have some leverage to work with. So walk in ready to negotiate.

Remember, you’re valuable. If they want to hire you, you’re not just going to work with or for them, you’re making valuable contributions to their company. By establishing what you should be making and letting it be known, you’re allowing potential employers the opportunity to ultimately pay you the wage you deserve.

Also noteworthy: steer clear of questions about your salary history if possible. Per Payscale, “some employers still ask for salary history during the hiring process. This is a bad idea for them and a bad idea for you. Your worth isn’t determined by how much your previous employer paid you. In fact, some cities have even enacted legislation making this question illegal in order to protect candidates (especially those who are female or people of color) from getting boxed into a low salary for their entire careers.”

Know Your Worth

excited female celebrating good news in front of laptop

One important thing the interviewer and interviewee have in common is that they’re looking for a salary match. Chances are, you both have a certain amount of undisclosed wiggle room, but everyone can only budge so much. The sooner you discuss salary, the sooner you both can decide if you should continue pursuing the opportunity or not waste any more time and move on. But don’t jump the gun.

Compensation is always about much more than just salary. When it comes down to it, the main question you’re being asked in an interview is “why should we invest in you?” And it’s always the first question you should focus on answering, no matter what they ask. With enough preparation, you’ll be fully prepared to answer salary questions; you’ll know the going rate and what your contributions are worth. And if you’re willing to negotiate (and you should be), you’ll find out how much they’re willing to pay and maybe even get exactly what you’re looking for.

Read more: How to Ask For a Raise 101

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