How To Answer The Dreaded Salary Question

By Gerald Walsh ©

What salary are you expecting? is perhaps the most sensitive of all the interview questions you may face. That is because most people find it difficult to talk about money—especially when it’s their own money.

They also know that answering too high can eliminate you from further consideration. And answering too low can result in earning less than you are worth.

Mistakes made at this point can be costly. Here are a few rules you should keep in mind.

Put off the conversation

If you can, try to delay speaking about salary until later in the interview process. That will give you more of a chance to talk about your skills and experience and how you can add value to the employer.

When asked, you might try to postpone giving a direct answer by saying that you are looking for a competitive package but that you would like to learn more about the job requirements first. Then, ask a specific question about the job or the company to steer conversation away from the salary question.

Turn the question around

In salary negotiation, the first person to quote a number is at a disadvantage. If you do, you are telling the employer what your threshold is.

If an employer asks, “What are your salary expectations?” try to toss it back by asking, "I am interested in this role. Has a salary range been set?”

Try to tip their hand first. If they state the range, you have gained the advantage.

A word of caution: If this back and forth goes on too long, you can turn off the employer. If they keep pressing for your expectations, you should be prepared to state a salary range.

Do your homework

If the employer persists and really wants to know your salary expectations, be prepared to discuss this in a professional, knowledgeable way. Good research will prove invaluable here. You will want to check other job postings, online salary calculators, and industry associations for reliable salary information. Professional recruiters can also help.

Quote a range

It is always wiser to state a reasonable range than a specific amount. I emphasize “reasonable” as some candidates believe (incorrectly) that there is plenty of room for negotiation and quote a number (or range) that is too high. 

You can get ruled out quickly by doing this. Most employers have an approximate number in mind of what they feel the job is worth. While you might be able to move the salary up a bit, it is probably no more than within the 5% - 10% range. 


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Gerald Walsh is an executive recruiter, career coach, public speaker and author. He is the author of “PINNACLE: How to Land the Right Job and Find Fulfillment in Your Career. You can follow Gerry on Twitter @@Gerald_Walsh