Fifty-seven percent of respondents to PayScale’s survey have never negotiated salary in their current field. For the most part, that reluctance is based on fear — or at least a strong discomfort around discussing salary. It’s no wonder, then, that so many workers cringe at the thought of being asked for their salary expectations during a job interview.
Why is this question so dreaded? Well, for one thing, it demands that you discuss what you might prefer not to discuss: money. But beyond that, there’s a sense that the wrong answer might tank the interview entirely. Ask for too much, and you could price yourself out of a job. Ask for too little, and you could get the job, only to be lowballed into a salary that will make you wish you’d kept with the job hunt a little longer.
So, how do you answer the question, “What are your salary expectations?” There are a few options:
Instead, buy some time by expressing your desire to learn more about the role.
This option isn’t about being difficult, but about a genuine desire to understand the job before you start throwing out numbers. After all, job titles aren’t the same from employer to employer. One company’s junior developer role might target candidates right out of school, while another’s might require two years of experience.
Duties vary from job to job, as well. Bottom line: you really need to know what you’ll be doing on the job, before you can determine a reasonable salary.
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2. Focus on the role in front of you.
For some hiring managers, the salary expectations angle is just a variation on the salary history question. What they’re really asking is, “How little do we have to pay you to get you take this job?”
This is not the right way to set compensation, but we’ll leave that aside for now. When you get the job, climb the corporate ladder and become a decisionmaker at the company, maybe you can change their compensation strategy. For now, you need to get paid appropriately for the job under discussion, and that means avoiding the trap of naming your price too early in the game.
At Quartz, interview coach Josh Doody offers one potential script:
“I want this move to be a big step forward for me in terms of both responsibility and compensation.”
Elegant, right? In one line, you’re now discussing your future, instead of your past. Plus, you’re telling the hiring manager that you plan to be worth the money.
3. Give a range based on data.
Some hiring managers won’t let you get away with dodging the question or refocusing it, and regardless, you’ll need to name your price eventually. (Even if it’s just as a counter-offer.) For this reason, it’s a good idea to come prepared with a salary range, even early on when negotiations may be a long way off.
Your numbers will change as you learn more about the role, but at every stage, they should be based on data, not on what you’d like to earn or what you’d be willing to accept or what your friend in the same field says he’s earning. Take PayScale’s Salary Survey and get a free report with a range based on the job and your skills and experience. Then, you’ll be prepared to negotiate an appropriate salary — whenever the conversation comes up.
Tell Us What You Think
How do you answer this question in job interviews? We want to hear from you. Share your tips in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter.