Questions on salary expectations can be really tricky. Here’s a guide to make sure you don’t get caught out at your next interview.
Get this right and it will pass without incident.
Get it wrong and it could change the entire course of your interview.
As with everything though, there are ways to handle it professionally and keep control of the process.
5 essential things you need to do PRIOR to your interview
Step 1. Define what salary you need.
You know your basic monthly expenses but are there any changes that are imminent such as a mortgage increase, a new baby, a new car, a big holiday or a change in school fees?
Further, if the new job involves relocation or travel, factor this in as well.
Step 2. Find out how much you are worth
Do some research on what the average person in your position in your industry earns.
Step 3. Factor in locations
This may or may not be relevant to you but some locations definitely pay a premium whilst others can get away with paying less.
Step 4. Be realistic
Don’t artificially hike up this number.
This is your bottom line figure which will only be shared with you and your partner or family.
Step 5. Define your range
Come up with a sensible salary range based on your level of experience, industry, the current job market and your location.
And , if you are working with a recruiter, ensure they know this range so that they forward your details for positions that match your salary parameters.
This makes the salary discussion with the hiring manager a whole lot easier at interview.
3 reasons why you should avoid answering salary expectations questions at interviews
However, salary questions are different.
Your goal is to avoid answering salary questions until the end or, better still, till after the interview.
Wondering what the big deal is?
You need to get them to want you first
At the beginning of the interview they won’t know what you can offer them, why you are better than your competition and how you will fit seamlessly into their organisation.
Towards the end, you will have far more bargaining power.
You might aim too low
In the early, more uncomfortable stages of the interview you might crack under pressure and sell yourself short in the process because you lack the confidence to say what you want.
If you go too low, the interviewer may sense your lack of self-worth and see this as a cause for concern or take the opportunity to offer you a lower starting salary.
And what if you put yourself in the uncomfortable situation of receiving a low offer that you can’t accept because in reality you need more?
You might pitch too high
If you set a figure that is too high and out of their budgeted range then there is little point in continuing the interview.
They won’t stop then and there but mentally they will have.
So, here is the thing.
Whatever you say will elicit a reaction and you don’t want this to affect your interview.
Your goal is to provide professional answers that veer away from actual figures at least until the final stages of the interview but preferably till after the event.
Examples of how to deflect and avoid salary expectations questions
Now you know what to aim for, how do you actually do it?
In the heat of the moment it is so easy to say the wrong thing.
Here are some example answers to help you handle the different types of questions about salary expectations that may be thrown at you.
Asked what salary you are looking for in the early stage of an interview?
“I’d much prefer to talk about the job requirements of the role first, if that’s okay? Simply so I can get a sense of what is a reasonable figure”
When asked about a salary range try this one
“Based on my research and experience, similar positions are currently paying between $x and $y. Is this also the range for which you’ve budgeted for this position?”
“If I’m the candidate you’d prefer for the position, I’m sure we’ll be able to reach agreement on the salary, as I’m willing to be flexible. What is the budgeted salary range?”
When they ask you what your current salary is, or was
There is a growing trend towards employers not asking this question directly due to research that clearly proves pay inequalities are perpetuated when applicants reveal their salary history.
This Harvard Business Review article argues that CEO’s and hiring managers can take one simple, immediate action to substantially reduce pay disparities: Stop asking job applicants about prior pay.
Knowing that a job applicant is currently underpaid gives an employer the opportunity to also underpay or simply offer a slight increase. In other words, to attain cheap hires for their organisation where applicants continue to be paid less than their worth.
Within the 14 states in the US that have banned the practice of asking about salary history, substantial pay increases have been recorded for Black (+13%) and female (+8%) candidates who took new jobs. (Bessen, Denk, Kossuth HBR July 14 2020)
However, if you do find yourself being asked this question at an interview reply with something along these lines.
“This position isn’t exactly the same as my current/last job. Can we discuss the responsibilities of this job first?"
And if they say they need to know in order to make an offer say this
“I would really appreciate it if you could make me an offer on what you have budgeted for this role. I’m sure the salary you have in mind is consistent with the rest of the market and industry. What is the salary range being offered?”
If they ask if you would consider taking less pay then you made in your last job try this
“Opportunity is valuable to me. I am always willing to look at the bigger picture. I would want to be paid according to what I bring to the position, but would be willing to be a bit flexible for the right role.”
Using these answers shows that you have done your research and know your market worth, that you are seriously considering options in a professional way and that you will be flexible within reasonable boundaries.
Tips on salary negotiation
Your desired salary
As I said before, it is important to be grounded and realistic.
Just because you want $100k, doesn’t make the $80K job you apply for worth it.
It doesn’t matter how good you are, sometimes budgets are budgets.
If you receive a job offer within 10% of your desired figure, that is the desired not bottom-line figure, then take it.
Haggling for that extra 10 % could lose you a great opportunity.
Or, if you do get them to up their offer, this may start you off on the wrong foot.
Instead, opt to say thank you very much and earn that extra 10% once you have joined
“ideally I would have liked 10% more but I am happy to accept your offer and prove my worth to you”
If an offer is more than 10% off your desired figure, then keep positive and look at the whole picture before you make a counteroffer.
For example, do benefits such as performance bonuses, vacations, shift patterns, healthcare, future prospects or location still make it a viable proposition?
If you really do need to make a counteroffer, then start with a simple question.
“Thank you so much for the offer. Is the salary open to negotiation?”
It is important to establish their response to negotiating as some will be open whilst others will not.
If they respond favourably or at least curiously, then frame your response with the research you conducted before your interview and talk about the range that you would be looking at.
Expand on something like the following.
“I am very excited about this role and really appreciate your offer, but unfortunately the salary mentioned is not within the range I expected. Based on my experience and research, the current salary range in this market is between $x and $x. Could we please discuss how you came to this figure so that I can fully understand this opportunity?”
By providing a range it shows that you are confident of your worth but also flexible.
Just make sure that the bottom-line figure is one that you can live with if they offer it to you.
Know when to walk away
Of course, this option is only available to those who are in a strong position of being able to wait for the right opportunity - rather than needing to pay the mortgage right now.
However, if you can, it is better to continue your job search rather than accept a role that is not worthy of your skills and experience.
If the salary truly is the only sticking point you could try the last option – informing them that you have an higher offer on the table.
If they have it in the budget and do want you but were just playing hard ball, things might still work out.
But only use this tactic if you are prepared to lose the offer as it is a very risky move.
Preparation is everything.
Don’t just think that questions on salary expectations might come up.
Instead, expect them to and have a plan in place to handle them well before going into the interview.
This means researching and understanding your market worth, the size and type of the organisation and where it is located.
This will also help you keep control of your job search process by applying for the right positions in the first place.
Do you have an experience to share about salary negotiation or have a question? Please leave a comment below.