In a job interview, the question about salary expectations is a loaded one. Talking about money is awkward at the best of times, but in an interview situation, it can be particularly tricky.
In a nutshell, while honesty is important, it’s better to avoid giving a specific figure. Give one that’s too high and you’ll quote yourself out of the role, too low and you’ll shoot yourself in the foot.
To navigate the question successfully and minimise embarrassment all around, there are a few steps you can take in advance of the interview.
Understand the question
First, you need to know the multitude of reasons interviewers ask this question. The obvious one is “to know the amount they’ll need to pay you”, but it’s not as straightforward as that.
What they really want to know is whether they can afford you. If you give the impression you’re too expensive, you might get yourself knocked out of the ring prematurely. But they also want to know how much you value and assert yourself, so if you price yourself too low, it could raise doubts about your self-worth or confidence level.
Some employers will also be looking to find out the minimum salary they’ll need to pay, perhaps because they don’t place as much premium on the role as other employers.
Do your research
Finding out whether your expectations are realistic, or even what your expectations should be, is vital if you want your answer to be well received. Other job descriptions may give you some idea of the salary for similar roles. But you can also look online to get a more general idea of market rates. Sites like Payscale, Indeed and Glassdoor will give you an idea of the overall range, as well as how salaries differ by location.
However, salary by itself isn’t everything. You should also weigh the relative value of benefits and perks – particularly how those you’re getting now compare with those you’re likely to get in the new role. If you consider these alongside the salary amount, you’ll have a much better idea of what, for you, constitutes a fair offer.
Prepare your response
By now, you should have a good idea of the salary you’d be delighted, or at the very least comfortable, taking. But even when you’ve got a ballpark figure in mind, it’s better not to cut to a specific figure too soon.
At the interview stage, you’re still being pitted against other candidates. The value in having done your research is that you’ll know what to say to avoid being eliminated too early.
Deflection is a good initial strategy – try saying something along the lines of:
“I’m sure the salary you’re offering is in line with the current market. What I’m most interested in is finding a job which is well suited to my skills and experience.”
You can also turn the question back on the interviewers and ask:
“What is the range being offered?”
This is a great answer for demonstrating self-confidence and good negotiation skills and gaining the interviewers’ respect.
But if they persist on trying to squeeze a number out of you, try this tactic:
“My understanding is that £50K-£60K would be the typical salary for this role.”
This answer doesn’t commit you to a specific number, although you could use it as an opportunity to demonstrate your competitive qualifications or skills by adding:
“Given my experience with … I would be looking to receive something in the range of ….”
Ultimately, your goal should be to sell the interviewers on your worth so that they are willing to make you a job offer. That’s when the real salary negotiations can start.
Check out the Heat Recruitment Career Tools section, where you can find a wealth of information to help with your career/job search, including our industry-specific Salary Survey:
Written by Chris Birtle at Heat Recruitment.