Interview Question: What Are Your Salary Expectations?

The current and expected salary question

Salary expectations questions – How should you answer them?

You’ve been job hunting for a while, and you finally hear back about a job you really want. The recruiter reaches out and asks if you’re free to chat for a few minutes so they can ask you a few questions. “Sure!”

Everything seems pretty straightforward—you talk about your background, how you found this job listing, stuff like that. Then the recruiter asks you a question that stops you in your tracks:

Your salary expectations are one of the few things you know that the company doesn’t. That makes them extremely valuable and sharing them can make your salary negotiations very difficult and even cost you a lot of money.

This will usually come up in the “pre-interview” or “pre-screen”, which is right at the beginning of the interview process. That’s why it’s such a sneaky question! It’s a salary negotiation tactic disguised as a gatekeeper-type interview question.

So when you hear the salary expectations question, you’ll be thinking “What do I need to say to get to my next interview? They asked for my current salary and salary expectations, so I’ll tell them that so we can move on.”

You intuitively know that sharing your current salary or salary expectations probably isn’t in your best interest. But you’re also really excited about this opportunity and you don’t want to miss out. Plus, you’re not sure how to not answer this question.

Here’s a short video with the basics of how to respond when asked for your salary expectations or current salary. Then I’ll tell you more about the nuances of this question and what to do when they don’t give up so easily:

How to answer salary expectation questions (with examples)

Provide a range

If you don’t feel comfortable providing a single number, you may choose to offer a range. Keep in mind, however, that the employer may opt for the lower end of your range so make sure your target number is as close to the bottom number as possible. Also, keep your range somewhat tight with a variance of no more than $5,000 to $10,000.

Include negotiation options

In addition to your salary, there may be other benefits, perks or forms of compensation you consider just as valuable. Including these as possible opportunities for negotiation is an option, too. For example, while the employer may not have budgeted enough for your ideal salary range, they may be willing to offer equity in the company to make the compensation package more attractive to you.

Example: “I am seeking a position that pays between $75,000 and $80,000 annually, but I am open to negotiating salary depending on benefits, bonuses, equity, stock options and other opportunities.”

Deflect the question

If you’re still early in the hiring process and still learning the specifics about the job duties and expectations, you may want to deflect the question for later in the conversation. However, keep in mind you’ll still eventually have to discuss salary expectations. Either way, it’s a good idea to be prepared with a well-researched number in mind—even if you’re still factoring in additional information.

In this video, we analyze the salary negotiation process from start to finish, providing key tips at each stage. You’ll learn strategies for developing your target range, communicating pay expectations and demonstrating your value to a possible employer.

Example 1:
“While I am certainly flexible, I am looking to receive between $83,000 and $87,000 annually. Due to my skill set and experience level, I feel that this is a comfortable and appropriate range for my work.”

Example 2:
“My baseline salary requirement is $94,500. I feel that the value and expertise I can bring to this role support my compensation expectations. Is this in line with your thoughts?”

Example 3:
“Let me start by reiterating how grateful I am for the benefits this job offers such as generous paid time off and health benefits. That being said, I am expecting my salary for this position to fall between $45,000 and $50,000 annually. My rich background in client services specific to this industry can play a role in strengthening the organization.”

Example 4:
“Thank you for asking. I feel that an annual salary between $67,000 and $72,000 is in line with the industry average and reflects my skills and experience level well. I am, however, flexible and open to hearing about the company’s compensation expectations for this position.”

Learn the Art of Salary Negotiation

  1. When negotiating a job offer, keep things positive – even if the offer is one you’re having a great deal of difficulty drumming up enthusiasm about. Show gratitude for the offer and enthusiasm about the potential of the position before you dive into negotiating mode.
  2. Make your counteroffer one that is fair, well-reasoned, and thoughtfully presented. CBS Money recommends providing a salary range as part of your counteroffer – indicating that companies will often avoid offering the lowest range in an effort to avoid seeming impolite. Though if you do provide a range, make sure the bottom number is one you can live (and work) with. Providing a salary range also gives the employer the impression that you’re flexible – a trait they often prefer in employees.
  3. The third tip, and perhaps the most important when it comes to your long-term career goals, is this: be willing to walk away if the offer isn’t right for you. It’s hard to do, especially in a competitive job market. If you’re not desperate to put food on the table or a roof over your head, it may be better, in the long run, to wait for the right offer, rather than simply taking the opportunity that’s available right now.
  4. Finally, keep in mind that some companies may have a limit on salaries they can offer, but that doesn’t mean they can’t offer compensation in other ways. If you get pushback on a higher salary, try negotiating for other benefits that could sweeten the deal for you:
  • Performance bonuses
  • Signing bonuses
  • Future pay raises
  • Additional vacation days
  • Company stock
  • Retirement contributions
  • Health benefits
  • Flexible work hours

The bottom line: You don’t have to live in fear of interview questions about money or even a salary offer that’s on the low side of what you want or need. Following these tips will help you navigate the tricky waters of salary negotiations while keeping your head above water.