How to Answer: “What Are Your Salary Expectations?”.

salarynegotiationsHere’s a scenario many of us are familiar with:

You applied for a job you want and, after days of anxious waiting, you land an interview to discuss the role and your qualifications. During the discussion, you go over your professional background, why you’re interested in the position and what the job entails. Then, some variation of this question comes up: “What are your salary expectations?”

Another common situation is when you’re going through a job application, and again, you come across a question about desired salary.

Whether it’s during an interview or on an application, no one wants to answer this question, however it’s one that must be asked. Firstly, it’s a quick way for employers to eliminate candidates with overly high expectations. It also lets the employer know what they will need to offer you if they decide you’re the person for the job.

Answering this question is tricky. If you say a figure that’s too high, you’re likely out of the running, but if you give a number that’s too low, you have undervalued your work and your potential contribution to the company. So how do you answer this question?

On Job Applications

Applications are tough because there’s no way to skirt the question, and if you leave it blank, some employers may not even consider you. In this case, it’s always best to write something down. A few tips:

  • Consider how competitive the market is for your skills and let that inform the number you put down. If the market is saturated then you don’t have as much to leverage. Do your research to understand how in-demand your skills are and what the typical compensation package looks like.
  • Look at your current salary and typical salary progression for the industry you’re in. If you’re switching industries, look at the progression within the new industry. You may have to aim lower or higher depending on what you’re looking to transition into.
  • Determine your walk away number and put down a salary 10-15% higher. That way, you know you’ll be okay with the lowest salary offered to you.
  • If there is an opportunity to list a range, do so but make sure the lower end of the range is a number you’re comfortable with.

During Interviews

In an interview, postpone answering the question by focusing on asking the interviewer for more details about the position and scope of responsibility. You should try to determine which goals you’re responsible for, whether you’re bringing in revenue, if you’re doing something that’s never been done before, whether you have direct reports or manage a budget and any other information that may influence compensation. If the interviewer keeps pressing you for a number, here are a few things to consider:

Similar to doing market research before writing down a salary expectation on a job application, you want to do your homework for interviews as well. In particular, look up salaries at the company you’re interviewing for. Sites like, and, to name a few, provide detailed information on salaries for either the exact position you’re interviewing for or comparable positions.

  • What is the total compensation package? Try to find this information out before giving your salary expectations. Compensation is more than salary and you may find that you would rather focus on negotiating more vacation days or a flexible work arrangement than your paycheck.
  • Typically in an interview, you can and should provide a range instead of an exact number. But again, don’t say any numbers you’re not comfortable with because if the employer offers you a salary at the lowest end of your range, you don’t have much to negotiate with when it comes to getting a higher salary.
  • Don’t be too stubborn or cagey at this phase of the interview process. It may communicate to the interviewer that you’re too much of a hassle to be bothered with. Instead be confident but flexible until you reach the stage where an offer has been made. By then you will know what’s most important to you and what you can leverage to get your ideal compensation package.

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Melissa Llarena

Melissa helps movers and shakers up to those in the corner office rediscover what makes them unique so that they can land their dream job in a forward-thinking company where their ideas are listened to, valued, and supported.

She brings insights from having worked in 16-business units (including Human Resources) in NY, Paris, and London. Additionally, in her former corporate career, she worked on billion-dollar brands for P&G and on IBM for Ogilvy & Mather. Later, as the founder and CEO of Career Outcomes Matter, Melissa created a 3-step “sellable strengths” process which has been the centerpiece of her clients' results.

Melissa applies this method consistently to support mid-level professionals up to the c-suite to get into Fortune Global 500 organizations and agencies. She studied Psychology at NYU and earned her MBA from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth.

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