How to Answer "What Are Your Salary Expectations?" in 3 Steps

Published Mar 13, 2020

Do we ask for a higher salary? What if our employer thinks we’re too expensive for them? What if our employer thinks we think we’re too expensive for them?

Do we then ask for a lower salary? What if the employer tries lowballing us?

Let’s take a step back. There are plenty of steps before ever giving the recruiter a number.

When asked for salary expectations, I would recommend starting with the following:

“Great question! I don’t have a number at the moment, but I’m open to discussing what you believe would be a fair salary for this position."

We’re flexible. We want to start here to establish that we are willing to negotiate. It’s a simple and effective way to start off this salary negotiation.

We can then follow up with these responses in order:

  1. Ask for the salary range
  2. Let the recruiter know that everything will be okay
  3. Give our minimum salary

Let’s go through one-by-one to examine the purpose of each response.

Disclaimer: Some applicants will always give their salary expectations because they are highly paid. It’s always a bummer going through a long interview process just to find out they don’t pay enough.

1. Ask for a salary range

“If I may, what is the standard salary range for this role?"

This is the first question to ask because:

  1. We want to get a realistic expectation of our salary, and
  2. We don’t want to surprise the employer with a number that is either too high or too low.

More often than not, the employer will answer this question honestly.

Even if we have a number in mind, it is always best to ask this question first.

  • For us, it confirms that our number is appropriate, even if we already know so.
  • For the employer, it confirms that we are attempting to be as reasonable as possible.

If the employer provides a range, we can either go to Response #3 and declare a minimum salary, or go to the next response to avoid giving a number.

If the employer does not provide a range, I would recommend making this next response.

2. Mutually agreeable compensation

“If this is a great fit between your company and me, I believe we can come to a mutually agreeable compensation."

The goal of this response is to not say a number, but it does show that we are realistic and willing to negotiate.

The real negotiation always starts when we have the written offer, so this is meant to put off the negotiation until that time.

That being said, it is possible that the recruiter prying for a number. If asked again for our salary expectations, we have to give something.

3. Minimum Salary

If we don’t want to appear opinionated, we can answer based on our own research.

“According to what I’ve read online, software engineers in this area earn between $X and $Y, so I would consider anything in that range."

If we want to appear more confident, we can state it like so:

“Given my experiences and knowledge of this area, the minimum salary I would consider is $X."

It is possible that the recruiter is just looking for a number to write down.

To ensure that we will be satisfied even if they do offer lower number, we need to strategically choose that minimum salary.

How do you choose the minimum salary, though?

Choosing a number

We can’t make it up on the spot. It’s possible that they force a number out of us, so we have to be prepared before walking into that conversation.

We can go onto levels.fyi, Glassdoor, Salary.com, Payscale, or Indeed and check the salary data other employees are given for similar roles. This should give us an accurate range of your salary.

Know our location. Remember to account for the different office locations our company may have. The pay for those in the Virginia office may be drastically different from those in California due to the varying cost of living.

Pick a higher number. We’ll want a number on the higher end of the spectrum (average salary and above) but not so high that it’ll scare the employer off.

Picking a number in the middle to upper half of the range will be good because we can give a little on the salary.

We just can’t say that the minimum we would consider is $100k when we know the job we’re applying for is estimated at $60k.

If they provided us with a range from Question #2, we can use that range as well as our own research to find a suitable number.


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