The interviewer asks, point blank, “what is your salary requirement?” And there you are, trying to present yourself as forthright, easy to work with, and clear about what you need. It’s a tricky business, refusing to answer without looking rude, unprepared or both. With thoughtful preparation, a little online homework, and careful scripting, you can navigate your way through these discussions masterfully.
Step 1: Understand The Intent Behind The Question
If you are being asked your salary requirements early in the interview process or even as a question in an online job application before meeting the hiring manager, this is a good thing. The company is showing that they are committed to not wasting your time, or the time of their hiring manager. If the company is trying to fill a junior-level position, and fell in love with your resume in part because you are so experienced in your area of expertise, you may find yourself excelling all the way through several rounds of interviews only to find out that they can't afford you, or that you would have to make significant sacrifices in order to accept the position. Even worse, you might accept the position initially and end up moving on in a year to a better financial opportunity, and we all know that reducing employee turnover starts with hiring right-fit candidates.
So do your research when applying for new opportunities. There are several sites where you can find out the typical salary for the job title your are applying for in your geographic area. Glassdoor.com and salary.com are two great places to start. If your potential employer is large enough, you’ll likely find specific information on their salary ranges. If you can get a good idea of the job’s fair market value in your geographic area before your first interview, you've positioned yourself well for the salary requirement question.
Step 2: Know Your Range
Does your desired salary fit within the range you found in Step 1? If it does, it’s time to come up with your own range. Commit to three numbers:
- Your minimum: the rock-bottom lowest salary you would accept for this job.
- You midpoint: a number that is higher than A, seems fair, and would make you feel that you were being well compensated.
- Your maximum: the highest possible salary you could request without losing credibility with the employer.
- Reality Check: Does your range have some overlap with the fair market value range that you researched online? If not, tweak your numbers until it does.
Step 3: Prepare multiple responses to the salary question
Just because you have your numbers doesn’t mean you want to use them until the employer extends an actual offer. Your goal during interviews is to delay actual salary negotiations until closer to offer time. But in all likelihood, you’ll be asked. So look at these sample responses to the question, “what are your salary expectations?” Practice saying them out loud and customize them until you can say them with total, steely-eyed confidence.
- I’m sure my needs are in line with current salaries in this market but I would love to know more about the range you’re prepared to offer. Could you tell me the salary range for this position?
- Compensation is certainly an important aspect of my career but I wouldn’t be able to state a number until I have a firm grasp of the responsibilities as well as the growth opportunities that come with this position.
- I’m looking forward to discussing compensation and benefits after I have a better idea of the job and whether this is a great fit.
If they really need a range or a number and you feel like you're being tested to see if you can answer an uncomfortable question directly, you've got your range in your back pocket from Steps 1 & 2 above. Just remember to approach salary questions in the early stages of your interview as screening questions to see if it's worth going further in next steps. Avoid any actual negotiations until it's offer time.
Step 4: Practice answering confidently
Sometimes a recruiter isn’t satisfied with a range. That puts you on the spot for a specific figure. Give a number that is somewhere between your minimum and your midpoint. Be sure to give yourself room to negotiate later by tacking on a sentence like, “of course, I’d like to understand the total compensation and benefits package before I could commit to a salary.”
Keep in mind that a salary negotiation is an opportunity for you to demonstrate your understanding of the industry and the market, your willingness to be fair, and a healthy dose of self worth. Follow these steps, practice talking about money with a balance of confidence and compromise, and next time, you’ll be ready to do the dance of the dollars with grace, skill and confidence.