12 Aug 2020

Interview question: How to answer 'What are your salary expectations?'

During the interview process, the topic of salary is going to come up. The solution to avoid undercutting yourself or overestimating your value is a prepared answer that is backed by data and research.

What makes this question tricky

This question can be tricky for a number of reasons. If your target salary is too low, the employer may offer an even lower figure, which will leave you feeling undervalued. It can also be difficult to decide what you want for a salary before having an in-depth knowledge of what the position entails. 

The conversation is not straightforward and while there may be no right answer, preparing a response for pay-related questions will help manage any stress you feel towards the conversation. 

Why this question is asked:

  • The employer wants to know whether they can afford you or not

  • To learn how much you value yourself and your work

Preparing your answer

The first step is to get a sense of what someone earns in your industry and location in order to determine a fair salary range for the position.

To find the magic number there are a number of websites that offer salary averages. Check out:

Payscale.com

Salary.com

Glassdoor.com

Indeed.com

In addition to these resources, we also recommend visiting job boards and searching for similar roles to the one you’re applying for. It is quite common that companies will make salary ranges public on their job advertisements, so this information will help you determine a fair pay rate. 

During your research it’s important to note that salaries can vary due to the following factors:

• Location (due to living costs in the area)

• Company size

• Experience level

• Educational background

• Specialized knowledge/skills

When the question about salary is finally popped there are a number of ways to answer. Here are some suggestions: 

Give a range and include room for negotiation

If the interviewer forces the question, always give a €5k range - for example €40,000 to €45,000 per year. Follow up by mentioning you’re open to negotiation and incentivisation based on the growth and performance of the organisation. 

Negotiating benefits and incentives

If there is pushback on your target salary range try negotiating benefits to sweeten the deal. They may include:

• Performance bonus or commission incentives

• Flexible working hours 

• Health benefits

• Upskill opportunities 

• Work from home options

• Promotional opportunities 

• Additional annual leave

• Company stocks

• Gym membership

• Free home internet and phone

• Friday's off

• Dry cleaning

• Company car

Go for gold

When you determine what the average salary range is for the job, there is no harm bumping that number up to help with negotiations. By high-balling the employer it allows you to land on your target number in the scenario that the hiring manager offers the lowest number.

So if you want to earn €60,000 per year - say you’re looking for a salary range of €60,000 per year ('Willing to settle number') to €65,000 per year ('Ideal number'). 

If you’re currently employed, try requesting a salary increase of 10% - 15% which will act as a greater incentive to change jobs, while still being in a reasonable salary range for your level of experience. 

Confidence is key

Once you know your value - do not sell yourself short! Delivering your answer with confidence will show the employer you know you’re worth, while letting them know you’re not willing to accept a salary range that's less than your value. If you’re in a position to do so, be willing to walk away if you feel the offer is unacceptable. Waiting for the right offer will work out better for you in the long run. 

Back up your answer 

There is no harm in giving details about how you arrived at your target salary range. Within your answer focus on your level of work experience, education and any specialised skills that are related to the job. It can be as simple as: “Based on my 5 years of work experience in the industry and the average salary for this position, I would expect a salary in the range of € - € per year.”

What to avoid

• Don’t give a specific salary amount so you have room to negotiate

• Don’t overestimate your value or you could price yourself out of the job

• Negativity - if the salary offered is too low, respond with grace and ask the interviewer if there is any room to negotiate

• Don’t bring up the conversation about salary yourself - wait for the interviewer to start the discussion regarding your pay

Sample answers:

Answer the question with another question:

“I’m sure that a company such as XYZ pays its employees a fair market value for this job. What budget did you have in mind?” 

Put the pressure back on the interviewer:

“I am more interested in starting in a position that's a great fit for both my skills and personal values. I’m quite confident that your organisation is offering a salary that’s aligned with the market standard.” 

If pressed for an answer, show the interviewer that you’ve researched the market average and let them respond accordingly:

“After doing my own research, and taking my experience into account, my understanding is that €50,000 - €50,000 per year would be the average salary range based on the role and responsibilities.” 

Holding off on giving an answer (Useful in the early stages of the interview process)

“Before we start to discuss the salary I would like to have more information about the role. Perhaps you could tell me what is budgeted for the role?”

If pressed for an answer

“On the basis of my previous experience and skill set, along with the average market rate for this type of job, my salary expectations would be in the region of €70,000 - €75,000 per year. Is that a range you had in mind?”

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Best of luck with your interview!

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