When you’re in the middle of a job interview, a question like “What are your salary expectations?” can make you panic. You don’t want to say something too high and price yourself out of a job you want or need, and you don’t want to say something too low and end up not getting paid as much as you could or should be making.
You might also be afraid that the interviewer will judge you harshly if you price yourself too high or too low, but that generally isn’t the goal. This question is more about finding a salary match.
Discussing salary early on ensures neither the candidate nor the company will “waste time and effort on several rounds of interviews to find out that the salary is wildly off from what you want.”
Depending on where you are in the interview process and your personal situation, there are three main strategies for answering “What are your salary expectations?”
Responding to questions about salary with a single number limits your ability to make something work with the company. The secret recipe for successful negotiations is to “come from a place of collaboration and service.” By giving a salary range, you show that you’re willing to be flexible and work with your prospective employer.
And by giving any numbers at all you’re “voicing the value you bring to the table”. Showing that you’ve done your research and you know what you’re worth tells an interviewer that you’re serious about your skills and what you can bring to their company.
Of course, there are some drawbacks to giving salary numbers in an early round interview. Waiting until you have a job offer could give you more leverage to negotiate. You might also fear leaving money on the table by going too low or losing the opportunity by going too high. But if you’ve done your research, going too low is less likely and going too high means the job wasn’t right for you.
You can also respond to “What are your salary expectations?” by simply asking what the company is looking to pay. “You could say something like, “That’s a great question—it would be helpful if you could share what the range is for this role”
Once the interviewer answers your question, they’ll expect you to say if the salary works for you. So, you still need to do your research, but now you’ll be able to tailor your response to the budget the company has. If the interviewer gives you a number or range in line with what you expected or higher, great! You can talk about how that sounds perfect for you. But if the response is lower than you’re happy with, you have to come up with a plan to respond.
For example, if the interviewer says a job pays R30,000, and that’s a bit below where you were hoping to make, you might say something like:
“I was hoping for something more in the R35-to-R40K range, but I’m definitely open to negotiating based on the entire compensation package.”
But if you’re looking for a lot more than R30,000, you might have discovered an impasse:
“Unfortunately, with my experience and current salary, I don’t know if I can accept anything for less than R40 000. Do you know if there is any flexibility in the budget for this role?”
When you’re still learning the scope of a position and what benefits the company offers, you might prefer to delay answering questions about your salary expectations.
If you choose this strategy, you might say that salary is important to you, but a well-rounded offer and opportunity are more important, and you’d prefer to share your salary expectations later on.
This could sound like:
“Right now, finding the right position for me is more important than salary. I’d love to learn more about the job, the company, and the entire benefits package before we talk about numbers.”
One warning: Don’t default to this strategy just because you’re afraid of missing out on a position. When you feel like you really need a job, it might be tempting to take whatever salary you can get, but you’re ultimately doing yourself a disservice.
Remember that you bring value to any company you work for. Figuring out what that value is and telling potential employers will only help you ultimately get the pay you deserve.