Those notorious interview questions about strengths and weaknesses or long-term goals may not be anyone’s favourites. However, if there was ever one question that consistently throws even the most confident interviewee – it’s the salary expectations question. Given that remuneration goes hand-in-hand with work, why should it be so difficult to answer? Social codes around discussing finances can contribute to a feeling of awkwardness. However, the act of declaring your hand when so many elements are unknown, understandably feels unwise. So what answer should you give when the interviewer looks you in the eye and asks, “What are your salary expectations?”.
Some people feel that they need to ‘go in low’ to ensure their place in the pool of prospective candidates, their thinking being that this figure can be negotiated up at a later date. Others choose to pitch high so that they have room to manoeuver later on. Both strategies are flawed. Too low and it will be hard to increase; too high and you may be considered too expensive.
We always recommend that wherever possible a specific figure is never quoted. Here are some tried and tested methods to help you with your response:
Sidestep the Salary Expectations Question
Politicians are well-practiced at sidestepping an answer: they are masters at providing an answer without giving a direct reply. The important thing is not to avoid the question or give an on-the-fence reply, but to transition your answer into a positive statement that moves the conversation forward. For example, “I’m sure if I were to be the preferred candidate you would make me a competitive offer. At this stage, I’m really keen to find out more about the role, how I can make a contribution and whether there is a good potential match for both sides.” This statement also creates a pause in the interview’s flow and provides a valuable opportunity for you to ask a question. Asking about the company or department plans and initiatives, for example, links back to your desire to explore how you can make a contribution.
Offer a Salary Range
Most jobs have a salary range quoted on the job advertisement or by the recruiter. If so, use this to your advantage. Confirm the known range and say that it’s in line with your thoughts for this career move. If you want to provide a more specific guide and position yourself at the higher end of the range, then state that the upper end of the salary guide would meet with your expectations. If no remuneration range has been given, then quote the industry’s salary range for this type of position. Research salaries by looking at competitor salary levels in job advertisements, speaking to recruiters and using online resources like Glassdoor for salary survey data.
Discuss in Terms of Percentage Increase
This is a useful additional reply when asked about salary expectations, if the sidestepping approach doesn’t satisfy the interviewer. Career move salary increases depend on a multitude of factors: current salary, experience, market trends, location, urgency, specialization, and promotion, to name but a few. Without any exceptional factors, however, the average job move increase is between 10% and 25%. Take time to consider a salary level that feels right for you and work out the percentage increase. When quoting this in your interview, once again, try to make sure nothing is cast in stone. Say something along the lines of, “I would be looking at an increase of around 20%.”
Look at the Whole Package
Depending on a company’s ownership and an individual’s circumstances, answering the money question may simply be too complex for a relatively quick answer. (For example, in instances where equity is given instead of a full salary, or when sought-after candidates seek compensation for a loss in bonus.) Share options and long-term incentive schemes aside, benefit packages vary greatly. Highlighting this difference provides another approach to successfully evading the money question. Respond with “I understand there is a benefits package with this role. It would be useful to know more about this at an appropriate stage. Today I’m keen to find out whether it feels like a good fit for both of us.”
Give a Clear Answer, but Pitch in an Explanation
For roles where money is very much part of the job culture, for example, a sales or buying position, the lack of a clear answer may raise reservations in the minds of the interviewers. If you sense that this is the case or they are insistent, then state your current salary, the salary you are ideally seeking and provide an accompanying explanation. Giving an objective, considered response with a succinct reason is the best approach for this scenario.
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When confronted with the salary expectations question, choose the approach that feels most comfortable. Practice makes perfect, so do rehearse your chosen response. Complete refusal to answer may be tempting, however, it really isn’t an option. At all job levels there are times when challenging situations arise; whether it’s a customer complaint or a lively boardroom debate. Answered well, your response will demonstrate that you can handle difficult conversations. Whichever answer you choose, it’s important that it is delivered with confidence. This will reflect well on you and create a further positive, professional impression in your interview.
by Jenny Hargrave
Jenny Hargrave is the founder of InterviewFit, a CV writing and interview coaching service.