How to Answer ‘What Are Your Salary Expectations?’ in an Interview

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Unsure how to answer, “What are your salary expectations?” It’s a question that could make or break your upcoming job interview. But how fortunate you stopped by here!

It’s a familiar scene: You’re in the final stages of interviewing for a new role, and now it’s time to negotiate. It’s your chance to turn your salary into something that reflects all of your hard work and experience. But how do you strategically ask for what you’re worth? 

Do you say it outright, or do you play it safe? Do you respond with an exact dollar figure or hedge? If you don’t fully understand what the job pays, will they offer you less?

You don’t want to appear overconfident or underconfident about your market value. 

It may seem like a good idea to start high, but naming an outrageous number right off the bat could cost you the job (and the sweet raise that could have come with it). But again, If you name too low a price, you’ll lose thousands of dollars throughout your employment.

So how do you play the game? 

Rest easy! This blog will guide you on what to (and not) say when answering the “what are your salary expectations” interview question. Also included are several sample scripts for your inspiration. 

Let’s do this!

Why Do Companies Ask About Your Salary Expectations?

Because knowing a job candidate’s salary expectations is one of the best ways to figure out how much to offer them.

The potential employer wants to know if they can afford you. It would be a waste of everyone’s time for an employer to spend hours interviewing you if you’re asking for a salary incredibly higher than the market average or what the company pays its employees. 

For example, if you’re asking $150,000 and they only have a budget of $70,000 for the position, they’ll know right away that this isn’t going to work out.

The second reason is that they want to see how much you value yourself and your work and how willing you are to fight for those values.

If you’ve been a big earner in the past, but now all you want is a $35K gig, it’ll be clear that you’re underselling yourself. It implies you’re less confident in your abilities or someone who barely understands their skillset’s market value. 

Because companies, just like you and me, want to maximize their profits, the employer may lower their offer so they can pay you less than what’s fair for the position. After all, nearly 6 in 10 (56%) employees don’t negotiate for better compensation when extended a job offer. 

I’ll admit that I was caught off guard a couple of times in my early career when asked, “What are you looking for?” My response was something along the lines of: “I’m not sure. I’d like to make a lot of money, but I know that’s not realistic.” I wasn’t lucky, and so are many candidates who come in without a solid understanding of their worth.

Next, let’s focus on how to answer the question about your salary expectations.

How to Answer the “What are Your Salary Expectations?” Interview Question

When asked “What are your salary expectations?” in a job interview, it’s essential to give an answer that shows you’ve thought about what you deserve. Here’s how to work around this tricky situation:

  • Don’t undercut yourself with a low number
  • Don’t ask for too much, either
  • You want to be paid competitively for your experience and skill level
  • Giving a range works well too

You don’t want to undercut yourself with a low number

If you ask for less than market value, you could be missing out on thousands of dollars each year that would make your life more comfortable and enjoyable.  It could also make you appear unambitious or just plain cheap.

Before answering this question, review the job description to determine the pay range. 

If the ad posted online doesn’t specify a salary, do some research on sites like Glassdoor and PayScale. These sites collect data from employees who report their salaries anonymously. That can give you a sense of what others in similar positions make at other companies in your area.

You don’t want to ask for too much, either

Your instinct may tell you you’re leaving yourself plenty of wiggle room to negotiate by asking for more money than you want. 

But what if your employer doesn’t see it that way? 

The hiring manager might feel like they’re being taken advantage of if they think you’re asking for something that goes way beyond the average person in your position. You risk pricing yourself out of the running by naming an outrageous number.

There’s more to this. Setting a gift-giving limit takes the thoughtfulness out of gift-giving and replaces it with arbitrary rules and regulations. Similarly, starting too high when negotiating your salary can remove the human element from negotiation and bring distrust and dishonesty.

You want to be paid competitively for your experience and skill level

Be ready with an answer that considers all your facets: experience, skills, strengths, education, responsibilities, etc. 

But of course, it’s a delicate balance, and it can be tricky to communicate your value as a candidate. 

A key strategy is to identify the market rate for someone in your position in your area, then convey how you are an ideal candidate for that rate. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) tracks national median salary data by industry and occupation. Use the website to determine the most appropriate salary in your field. 

If the BLS doesn’t have data on your particular job title or location, try resources like Indeed or Salary.com, or Payscale. 

You can also get inside information from people within your network who work at companies similar to yours.

If they ask what you want in terms of salary and benefits, remember that money isn’t the only thing that matters when deciding on a new job. Think about what other perks might offset a lower salary offer, such as more vacation time or more time off during the year. 

Giving a range works well too

It’s safer and perfectly acceptable to provide a salary range in response to the question “what are your salary expectations.” It could be like “Between $100k and $120k,” or “$40–$60 hourly.” 

A range gives you more flexibility; it says that you’re interested in accepting an offer within a particular price band but don’t want to lock yourself into one specific number until you’ve had time to think more about all your options. 

Use the average market figures as a starting point for creating your range’s low and high end. 

As a rule, keep the bottom of your range toward the mid-to-high point of what you’re looking for. For example, if you’re aiming for $55,000–$70,000because that’s what you believe is fair value for your experience level, you could start at around 62,000. 

You’re better off targeting a narrow salary range not exceeding $10,000. 

What Not to Say for the “What Are Your Salary Expectations?” Question

Salary negotiation can be intimidating, and even the most qualified candidates can find themselves unprepared or asking for too much money. Unfortunately, the former is one of the biggest mistakes you can make during a job interview. 

Here’s what not to say when asked about your salary expectations:

“I don’t know.”

That’s an honest answer but the worst thing that you can say. Say this, and it may be a deal-breaker as the employer will see you as someone who doesn’t care about money. It also suggests that you haven’t taken the time to research your industry and see what others in similar positions make. 

“I want $X.”

The answer to the “what are your salary expectations?” question shouldn’t be a specific number. Instead, you could say, “I’m looking for a competitive salary based on my experience and skills.”

Or, if you’ve already researched the market value averages for the role, you can say something along the lines of, “Based on my research of salaries in my field, I’m looking for somewhere in the range of $X – $Y.”

“I’ll take whatever you’re going to pay me.” 

Saying something like this tells the interviewer you’ll work hard for as little as possible. Plus, the employer might think they can get away with paying you less.

For more help with interview etiquette, here’s a resource for you: Job Interview Etiquette: Top 15 Rules

Sample Answer for “What Is Your Salary Expectation?

Are you struggling to formulate a solid answer to the salary expectations question? Derive inspiration from the samples below: 

Example 1:

“My salary expectation is $52,000-$60,000 per year. I believe this range is fair for my level of experience and all that I can bring to the role, as well as the company’s budget.”

Example 2:

“Based on my research, I believe that my skills and past accomplishments position me for an entry-level job with an annual salary in the range of $35,000 and $45,000. This range is flexible depending upon what I learn about your future plans for growth, as well as my potential contribution to those plans.”

How to Answer Salary Expectations for an Entry-Level Job

Enter a trickier situation: an interviewer expects you to provide salary expectations for an entry-level job. It’s a critical negotiation point that can make or break an offer. And while it’s a dreadful conversation for many beginning their careers, having a realistic expectation of what you’re worth is the key to fruitful negotiation. 

But how do you figure out how much to ask for? If you ask too little, you’ll earn less than your peers. Ask too much, and they might think you’re not worth the cost.

To successfully answer “What are your salary expectations?” for an entry-level job, you must have an idea of what the job pays in the first place. Do your research first, be honest about what you’re willing to accept(as a beginner), and try not to name a specific number.

Example Script

“Thank you for the question. So I conducted some research and saw that the average salary range for this position is between $X and $Y. I would be very happy with a salary in that range, but I’m flexible and eager to find a number that works for both of us.”

How to Deflect the Salary Expectation Interview Question

There are ways to get more out of this question than simply naming a number or range. By deflecting it away from salary and toward other factors that are important to you, you give yourself greater negotiating power. You may be able to sweeten the deal, so it’s more attractive to you.

You might want to hold off on the specifics for now if you’re still early in the process.

Example: “Before I answer, I’d like to learn more about the position and what it entails. That way, I can provide a more realistic expectation.”

Alternatively, consider asking the interviewer if they can share an approximate range for this position. Then, use that information as a jumping-off point in your negotiation.

You can say something like:

  • “My asking salary is flexible and negotiable, factoring in the total compensation package.”
  • “I would like to learn what range you have budgeted for this position before we discuss salary.”

Don’t hold back if the figure or range provided is within or beyond your expectation. You can say that the figure matches your expectation and go ahead with the rest of your plans to accept the job.

Now comes the tricky part – how do you react if the number they offer is below your expectation?

Practice caution. Sometimes companies use lower salary offers to lure entry-level employees into their doors before understanding the job’s specifics. They promise to top up your salary after seeing results—but that could take months. So while a low offer isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker, carefully consider it when deciding.

Fortunately, most employers expect a counteroffer. A 2017 CareerBuilder report revealed that 52% of employers suggest a lower salary when extending offers to entry-level workers to create room for negotiation. 

You could say something like, “Well I really was hoping for more than that.” After which, make a counteroffer. You don’t want to be too aggressive, or they’ll think that you’re being greedy. 

But what if they turn down the counteroffer and you still want the job? Consider negotiating for other things that could offset the difference, like work from home flexibility, performance bonus, or stock option.

Summary

There are many angles to answering the “what’s your salary expectations” question. The above scripts should help put your salary negotiation on a solid footing. 

But if not, don’t fret: every interview situation is slightly different. Just keep in mind the tips shared here and think through your approach. 

However you address the situation, be professional, honest, friendly, and (mostly) confident when “selling” yourself to a potential employer. Show them what you’re worth, and make sure they know it without being arrogant. After all, it’s just business.

Best of luck with your upcoming appointment!