How to answer “what are your salary expectations?”

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One of the most common job search conundrums is how to answer the “what are your salary expectations?” question. This question might come up at any time. For example, when submitting your application, if the employer has given instructions to, say, “submit your resume, cover letter, and salary expectations to (email address).” Or it might come up during the interview.

What are your salary expectations, anyway?

Lots of people struggle with how to answer this question. It helps if you do your research and understand what it is that the employer is really asking. But it’s still a tough one, because stating a number that is too high might put you out of the running, while stating one that is too low might leave you with a lower offer than you could have gotten.

The employer wants to know if your salary expectations are commensurate with what they can afford to pay someone for the position. But they also often want to know how little they can get away with paying someone, which is counter intuitive to hiring great people, but just the way many companies operate.

First, you should research exactly what you are worth on the job market. Find out what people with your level of experience are making doing similar jobs. Then, you have a couple of options as to what to say.

Some ways to answer the question

If the question is asked during the application submission process, and you’re not comfortable stating a number before knowing what the job entails and meeting the hiring manager, you can always be a bit vague. If they have specifically asked for your salary expectations, don’t skip the question, as they might immediately discard your resume for not following directions. Rather, say something like “My salary expectations are negotiable and we can discuss this further if I am a good fit for this role.” Or you can say, “My salary expectations are in line with industry standard for my level of experience.”

Be forthcoming and communicative

You can be similarly cagey during the interview, but this isn’t my favourite approach. I think of it as being helpful and providing the information someone wants. You might think it’s smart to avoid the question, but you’re not actually moving the conversation forward. I liken this to when I am using a service with which I am unfamiliar and I ask about tipping practices. They often say it’s entirely up to my discretion whether to tip or not, and how much. This is totally useless information. I want them to tell me whether I am supposed to tip and what the usual amount or percent is. “I want them to say, “Yes it is customary to tip and people usually leave about $10.” Or, “No. We don’t usually get tips because we are well compensated and it’s not expected or required.” That is helpful and useful information.

So, while you might be scared to clearly state your salary expectations, doing so adds value to the conversation that not doing so doesn’t. Also, “confidence” is extremely important to hiring managers, and being clear about your expectations shows confidence (don’t be overconfident, however. As that is a turn off).

You could say something like, “The industry standards for someone in this position are between $60,000 – $75,000 and I would expect something in this range.” You can also say that this may be negotiable based on the overall compensation package. There may be bonuses, for example. Also consider benefits, perks, opportunities for learning and advancement, and whatever else you might be willing to factor in. For example, would you take $10,000 less for a job that allows you to work from home three days a week and offers four weeks of vacation time?

Don’t state something lower than the minimum you will accept. That’s a waste of everyone’s time. Find out what you’re worth, think about what you want, then give a salary range and explain why that’s what you’re asking for.

Be smart, reasonable, and fair to yourself. Hopefully everyone will get what they want.

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