March 30, 2022

How to answer ‘What are your salary expectations during an interview?’

By Jacquie Varkony

Interviewing for Job Opportunities is still significantly on the rise and with it comes a myriad of questions from employers about experience and expectations.  Our candidates tell us that the most challenging question they are asked is “What are your salary expectations?”

This topic gives rise to the dance of “What is the salary range for this role?” vs “What are your salary expectations?”  Each inquisitor asks this question to precisely define the right salary, without overpaying or leaving money on the table.

The alternative concern in negotiations is eliminating an excellent candidate based on presenting compensation expectations too early in the recruitment process, or from a candidate who disqualifies themselves because they offer too high (or even too low) of a salary expectation.

It is important to remember salary expectations do not need to be a disqualification tool, but rather a piece of the recruitment process.

When to Bring up Salary in a Job Interview

Frequently a hiring company or search firm will ask about your compensation in the first few minutes of the initial discussion, which may even happen over a phone call.  As formidable as it seems, it is likely the best way to tackle this often-confidential discussion to ensure that you don’t waste each others’ time.

It is common for interviewers to circumvent this question by asking “What is your existing total compensation?” –– which they hope will give them an indication of what a candidate’s salary expectations are, but this is not always the best indicator.

Another strategy is to wait until the Offer stage of the interview process.  This has given the potential employer a lot of opportunities to get to know you, your talents, and your fit for the organization, which can work to your benefit during compensation negotiation.  This strategy gives you the highest leverage because the company has invested much into the recruitment process with you and can clearly see you in the role and company.

What do the Experts Say?

We’ve pulled together some expert opinions on how to tackle the salary question, designed to create the optimal outcome for both employer and candidate.

  • Before discussing salary expectations, do your own market research, where available, to find out what the position pays. Ask colleagues, search online, or reach out to Executive Search firms for their input.
  • Many roles have a huge range in pay, depending on the level, breadth of knowledge, and years of experience. If this is a step-up opportunity to a higher title and level, you may be at the lower end of the scale to start.
  • Many companies have a higher compensation philosophy than others. You’re likely well aware of your company’s positioning on the compensation spectrum, so keep that in mind when citing your salary expectations.
  • Be sure to include all your compensation details: base pay, cash bonus, commissions, LTIP, shares, pension, parking, vacation allotment, mortgage subsidies, deal bonuses, flex time, personal days, perks, etc to ensure that they understand your Total Rewards package.
  • If the employer is persistent, you can try repositioning. Curiously ask, “I appreciate that compensation is an important aspect to the job, and the range needs to be in line for both of us. Given you’re the hiring for this role, and you’re the expert on what the company can offer, I’d like to hear what you have in mind for the salary range of this position.”
  • If you are the employer asking this question, often the concern is that if you state the range ahead of time, and the candidates’ expectations are lower, you’ve given away too much. Our philosophy is that if you deem that this candidate can do the role, and set expectation for their success, why short-change them on what this role should pay. Perhaps their previous employer doesn’t see this candidates’ value, and that is why they are keen to move to a company who values their experience and qualifications.
  • And remember, compensation is only one part of a new career opportunity, other factors such as learning and mentoring opportunities, corporate culture, workplace flexibility, corporate brand, location, leadership opportunities, executive team, growth opportunities, title or step-up in responsibility can be just as valuable, and then compensation will follow suit once you’ve attained a higher level of accountability.

What if the Recruiter or Employer pushes for a salary amount?

  • Reposition the discussion to a forward-looking approach, rather than a rear-view mirror. Focus on where you want your next phase of your career to be and what salary range you are looking for.  This takes the discussion away from what you’re making now and gives them an expectation that can be negotiated rather than a threshold that they need to overcome.
  • Be clear about your absolute minimum and put that number at the bottom of your range. Your target number should be on the lower end of your range. Identify a high enough ceiling to give yourself room to negotiate upward later on.
  • How wide should your range be? That’ll depend on how much you want the job, how much the pay matters to you and how much leverage you have at that point in the hiring process.
  • The wider the range, the softer your position will appear to be.
  • You can always follow up by saying these are your initial expectations based on what you know of the job and company so far, and that you look forward to discussing more concrete numbers as you advance through the hiring process.
Keeping these negotiation insights in mind will help guide you through the exciting, but formidable interview process.

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