One job interview question that definitely requires some background research and preparation is "What are your salary expectations?"
By doing your research and preparing your answer ahead of time about your salary expectation, you can show your interviewer that you know your worth and that you're confident in the value you can bring to their business.
Why do employers ask about salary expectations?
Businesses usually have a budget allocated to human resources in each department, team, and job, and accordingly, a hiring manager will usually have an amount or a salary range in mind when they ask this question. Asking candidates about their desired salary allows interviewers to determine whether there's alignment between their budget and your salary expectations for the position.
The bottom line is, if your salary expectations are significantly higher than the amount allocated for the job, it indicates to the interviewer that you'd be unhappy in the role, or that you'll be likely to reject the job offer. On the other hand, if your salary requirements are much lower than what the company has budgeted, it can indicate that you lack confidence, or that your experience level doesn't match the job. This may seem like a double-edged sword, but don't let it put you off in giving an answer.
Gauging your confidence
This question also allows interviewers to gauge how well you know your worth and how confident you are in what you can bring to their business. A hiring manager will usually have an expectation of what you're likely to answer based on your experience and expertise when they ask a salary question. Going well above or below that will give an indication of over- or under-confidence in your skills.
Assessing your suitability
If your experience and skill set match the position you've applied for, your salary expectations should more or less match those of the potential employer. Alternatively, if you're at a much lower experience level, or you're too senior for the position, your desired salary will often indicate to the interview panel that the job is not such a good fit for you.
How to answer a question on salary expectations
Do your research
It's crucial that you spend some time researching current salary ranges for the position you're going for. Before the interview process begins, you should have a general sense of how much someone in your position can expect to earn in the job you've applied for. Basing your answer on real data is the best way to make sure you don't go too far above or below what's appropriate when asked a salary expectations question.
When researching job salaries, make sure to factor in the location of the job, the industry, the size of the company, and your level of experience and qualification. It's good to get in the habit of doing this research for every job you apply for, to get comfortable with the numbers you'll be discussing and to figure out what's both a realistic and desirable salary for your unique situation.
Part of your research should involve reflecting on your own unique needs, including your lifestyle, current salary and your career and financial goals. If you're making an upwards or sideways step in your career, your current salary can be an important indicator or starting point to determine what your salary requirement might be for a new position.
Consider the whole picture
A full compensation package doesn't just include a salary, but often comprises a range of other benefits such as vacation time, flexible work policies, and sometimes other perks like gym memberships, vehicles, or bonuses. Be prepared to factor these into the equation when preparing your answer to any questions on salary.
Most companies list employee benefits on their website, so take a look at what you might be able to expect and remember that these will often come into any future negotiations when you get asked a salary question.
Decide on your low end
Whether you mention your low end or keep it to yourself, it helps to know how low you'd be willing to go in order to accept a job offer. Never suggest a figure that's lower than what you'd be willing to accept if you were made an offer.
Provide a range
It's generally considered best practice to provide a range when discussing salary expectations. Giving a salary range demonstrates that you're flexible, and that you're aware that there could still be some unknowns about the job that you're yet to find out. A rule of thumb is to keep the range no larger than $10K. Any larger and it will seem like you haven't done your research, and you'll fail to narrow down a realistic idea of what you're looking for.
Be confident, yet flexible
Give your answer with conviction and be prepared to back it up by explaining your reasoning. If you've done the research, you'll be able to confidently state that you believe your salary range is on par with industry standards for your location. A confident answer will assure the interview panel that you believe in yourself and your skills.
It's also important to show that you're flexible, however, so mention that you are open to hearing about the company's own expectations for the role.
When salary expectation is asked in the application
Some online application systems make answering the question on salary a requirement of the application process. This helps employers filter applicants based on salary expectations prior to the job interview process.
When answering questions on salary during an application process, where possible, you should give a range based on your research, rather than nominating one specific figure, and include a note that your range is negotiable.
Should you enter into salary negotiation in the job interview?
It's best not to enter a salary negotiation until you've received a job offer. At that point, you're in a good position to push for the salary you want because you already know that you're considered a desirable candidate. During the interview process, you're still at a point where both you and the employer are determining whether it's a good fit, and it's not the time to bargain for a higher salary or for perks and benefits.
Phrases to use
Below are some great examples from which you can build your answer:
- I expect my annual salary for this position to fall between...
- While I am flexible, I am looking to receive between...
- I feel that an annual salary between ... and ... is in line with industry standards
Support your answer with a straightforward statement to back it up:
- I feel that this reflects my skills and experience
- My rich background in ... can play a valuable role in your organization
- The skills and expertise I can bring to this position support my expectation
Go with your gut
At the end of the day, only you can know what you are willing to accept. Giving a well-structured, informed answer will ensure you're going in with an honest representation of the salary range you'd expect for the role.