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

Mar 13, 2020 6 min read

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It’s a common question.

It’s most definitely a confusing question.

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

Do you ask for a lower salary? What if the employer tries lowballing you?

All great questions.

Let’s take a step back, though. There are plenty of steps (well, two) before you ever need to state a number.

When asked, “What are your salary expectations for this job?", I would recommend always starting with the following:

“Great question! I’m open to discussing what you believe would be a fair salary for this position."

And then following up with the following responses in the following order:

  1. “If I may, what is the standard salary range for similar positions?”
  2. “If this is a great fit between your company and me, I believe we can come to a mutually agreeable compensation.”
  3. “Given my experiences and knowledge of this area, the minimum salary I would consider is $_____.”

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

1. “I’m open to discussing”

I'm open to discussing

We want to start here to establish that you are willing to negotiate.

You are a flexible candidate for the job and aren’t stubbornly making any demands before you even have the job.

That’s about it!

It’s a simple and effective way to start off this salary negotiation.

Afterward, you can go on to ask the employer about the salary range.

2. “What is your salary range?”

What is your salary range?

This is the first question to ask because 1) you want to get a realistic expectation of your salary and 2) you 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 you have a number in mind for your salary, it is always best to ask this question first.

For you, it confirms that your number is appropriate, even if you already know so.

For the employer, it confirms that you are attempting to be as reasonable as possible.

If the employer provides a range, you can either go to Statement 4 and state a number or go to Statement 3 and try to hold off the negotiation until later.

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

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

Mutually agreeable compensation

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

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

This statement displays a sense of maturity that encourages the employer not to worry about this issue.

Starting with “If this is a great fit between your company and me” is an indicator that you understand realistically where you are in the interview process.

You don’t officially have the offer yet.

You haven’t officially accepted anything yet.

The employer will understand that you are aware of this.

Ending with “I believe we can come to a mutually agreeable compensation” is an indicator that you are flexible.

You understand the needs of the company as well as your own needs.

For the compensation to be “mutually agreeable” means that both parties’ needs are met, which again is a sign of maturity.

That being said, it is possible that the employer is looking for a number and asks a third time for your salary expectations. Now we’re at Statement 4.

4. “The minimum salary I would consider is $______.”

Minimum salary I would consider

By this point, you’ve asked for their salary range and maybe stated that you have hope that there is a mutually agreeable compensation for you.

It is possible that the employer blows all that off and is just looking for a number to write down.

Well, you need to give a number.

You have to give them something.

The most important parts of the phrase are “given”, “minimum” and “consider”. Be sure to use these exact words.

Given your experiences and the location, this number is the bare minimum that you can live on as an employee. This is the impression that you want to give.

They can still bargain down, but they are less likely to.

To ensure that you will be satisfied even if they do offer lower than the minimum you provide, you need to strategically choose that minimum salary.

How do you choose the minimum salary, though?

Choosing a number

You can’t make something up on the spot. That’s why you have to be prepared before walking into that conversation.

Go onto Glassdoor, Salary.com, Payscale, or Indeed and check the salary data other employees are given for similar roles. This should give you an accurate range of your salary.

Know your location. Remember to account for the different office locations your 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. You’ll want a number on the higher end of the spectrum (average salary and above) but not too high that it’ll scare the employer off.

It will establish your value as an applicant.

Picking a number in the upper half of the range will be good because you can give a little on your salary (negotiate your salary down) and still be okay with it.

But don’t say that the minimum you would consider is $100,000 when you know that the job you’re applying for is estimated at $60,000.

If they provided you with a range from Question 2, use that range as well as your own research from the sites above to find a suitable number.

Conclusion

The points you want to get across are:

  1. You are flexible and willing to negotiate (open to discussion)
  2. You understand the industry standard (salary range)
  3. You are a valuable applicant (minimum salary)

If you are offered a low salary, try not to take it negatively and ask if there is room to negotiate. More often than not, everything is negotiable.

I hope this gives you a clearer, simpler picture of how to answer this question.

I wish you best of luck in this endeavor :)