How to Answer “What Are Your Salary Expectations?” (Example Answers Included)

By Mike Simpson

What are your salary expectations? It’s one of the most challenging interview questions to answer. Not only does it put you on the spot, but it also serves as a starting point for salary negotiations. If you don’t get this one just right, you might end up making less than you could have or even take yourself out of contention for a job. Crazy, right?

That’s why it’s so important to figure out how to answer salary expectations questions. The right approach means you can get the salary you deserve without risking the job offer.

So, how do you tackle salary expectations questions? We’ll show you.

What Is Salary as It Pertains to a Job Interview?

Alright, before we get into the nitty-gritty of how to answer “What are your salary expectations?” let’s take a step back and look at another couple of important questions.

Why do salary expectations questions even matter? Does your answer really impact whether you’ll land a job? Why is salary so important during a job interview?

Well, to answer the first two, yes and yes. These questions matter a ton, and how you answer them makes a huge difference in whether you’ll land a job. If you make the wrong move, the hiring manager might decide not to give you an offer simply because you didn’t get this question right.

Scary, huh? Even more so since there isn’t technically a “right” or “wrong” answer in the first place. So, knowing that, how could you possibly get it right?

Well, the third question we presented plays a role in that. Ultimately, your answer determines whether you and the hiring manager are on the same page when it comes to salary.

With salary expectations questions, you are asserting what you think you are worth. If you and the hiring manager aren’t seeing eye to eye on that, and the hiring manager believes you are so far apart that getting to that point isn’t possible, you’re out of contention.

But don’t panic. It’s possible to navigate this tricky money topic correctly. So, let’s keep digging.

Why Does the Hiring Manager Ask This Question?

Alright, as we mentioned above, the hiring manager asks salary expectations questions to determine what you’re looking for financially. It’s a way for them to gauge if you both agree about compensation, as well as whether the company could actually afford you at all.

However, it’s also a bit tricky on the hiring manager’s part. You see, the hiring manager is starting the salary conversation by passing the buck. They aren’t the one that has to put their cards on the table first. Instead, they try to put that burden on you. How dastardly!

Plus, the hiring manager is probably hoping – at least a little bit – that you’re going to offer up a number that’s lower than what they were willing to pay. It’s essentially a bargain shopping technique. If you undervalue your skillset, they’ll take advantage of that low number.

At times, the “What are your salary expectations” question also lets the hiring manager gauge your attitude. Are you giving a number with confidence, or are you hedging? Depending on how you respond, they’ll learn a lot about your mindset.

Common Mistakes When Answering This Question

As with many job interview questions, simple mistakes can really hurt your chances of landing the job and getting the pay rate you deserve. Luckily, by learning about them, you have a great chance of avoiding them.

First, aiming too low is always a bad idea. While giving a number below what you’d actually want (or feel is fair) may increase your odds of getting an offer, it means you’re earning less than you should. That can actually hurt your earning potential through the rest of your career. That’s why it’s a horrible move.

But aiming too high isn’t wise either. If you come in with a number that’s far above the going rate for the skills required in the role, the hiring manager isn’t going to counter; they’ll just move onto the next candidate.

A lack of confidence when answering also doesn’t work in your favor. Any uncertainty on your part may make the hiring manager question whether your position is reasonable and may lead them to wonder if you have doubts about your capabilities. That’s no good.

MIKE'S TIP: When you’re figuring out how to answer salary expectations questions, don’t assume that demanding a particular salary makes you seem confident. If you’re too forceful, you effectively shut the door on further negotiations. Plus, you may come across as overly rigid, high maintenance, or even a bit of a pain. Confidence isn’t about drawing a hard line in the sand from the get-go. Instead, it’s about being prepared and knowledgeable, allowing you to present your expectations with professionalism and self-assuredness.

Ideally, you want to make sure your number is reasonable based on the role and your capabilities. Additionally, you need some confidence when you reply. That’s all important when dealing with salary expectations questions.

Tips for Answering This Question

Do Your Research

If you only do one thing to get ready for the “What are your salary expectations?” question, do your research. Dig into the company’s compensation structure. Head to salary-tracking websites like Salary.com, Payscale, and Glassdoor to find out what the going rate for that job is in your area. Check out the Bureau of Labor Statistics for more helpful salary data.

You can also check competitor job listings for similar roles. If another company is hiring for the same type of position and includes a salary range in the post, that’s helpful information that you can use when discussing pay with the hiring manager.

Ideally, you don’t just want to give these resources a quick glance. Instead, learn the figures and make note of where you found the information. That way, if the hiring manager has doubts about what you share, you can back up your expectations with cold, hard facts.

Try to Delay

Generally, you don’t want to through out the first number. If you can, sidestep the question. Tell the hiring manager that you are more interested in the value of the total compensation package, not salary alone.

You can also state that you’d like to find out more about the role if you don’t think you have enough details to present a fair, accurate number. This approach can work if you haven’t had a chance to really discuss the ins and outs of the job.

Offer the Right Kind of Number

If you can’t avoid giving an answer, reflect on your research and aim at a number near the top of the averages. You’ll be leaving room for some negotiation that way.

Also, don’t give a rounded-off number. Instead, go with a precise figure. By saying $82,650 instead of $83,000, you make it seem like you really know what your skills are worth. As a result, your odds of getting what you want may be higher.

If you aren’t comfortable with a single number, you can also present a range. However, if you go that route, you are injecting the lower number into the discussion along with a higher figure. Unless you are okay with potentially taking a salary near that lower end, you may not want to use this approach.

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

When you answer any job interview question – including “What are your salary expectations? – you want to target your response to the position. How do you do that? By embracing the Tailoring Method, of course.

With the Tailoring Method, it’s all about crafting a compelling answer that’s relevant to the role you’re trying to land. By using that strategy, your responses have more weight, and that works in your favor.

Are you looking for some great example answers for salary expectations questions? We’ve got you. Here are three sample responses that you can use frameworks when you create your own.

1. The Sidestep

As we mentioned above, sometimes your best bet is to try and not give out a number first. Here’s an answer that may help you do just that:

EXAMPLE ANSWER:

“While salary is certainly a factor, I’m more concerned with finding a job that’s a great fit for my skills and preferences. Based on the job requirements, I feel that my past experience aligns with what you’re trying to find. However, I’d like to learn some additional details about the role, particularly the day-to-day duties and any major projects that are in the works. That way, when it comes time to discuss salary, we can work together to reach a fair, competitive figure.”

With this response, you’re creating an opportunity to learn more about the position while coming across as cooperative without underselling yourself. Its tone is confident but prevents you from having to give a hard number, and that can work to potentially delay the salary negotiation part of the equation.

2. Flipping the Script

If the hiring manager has already shared a lot of details about the role, so trying to sidestep it using the approach above won’t work, that doesn’t mean you have to give a straight answer. Instead, you can try to flip the script, increasing the odds that the first number entering the discussion comes from the hiring manager.

EXAMPLE ANSWER:

“That’s an excellent question. To help me provide a figure, could you share the salary range that your company usually offers with this position?”

With this, you’re passing the buck back to the hiring manager. In some cases, it’s enough to get a general figure or range out of them, giving you a baseline for further negotiations. That way, you’ll respond to their number as your starting point instead of handing the first one over yourself.

3. Research-Focused

If you can’t sidestep the salary expectations question or flip the script, a research-focused approach can be a great alternative. It lets the hiring manager know that your figure isn’t arbitrary. Instead, it’s based on facts and data.

EXAMPLE ANSWER:

“According to my salary research, my understanding is that $74,950 per year is competitive and typical for a position that requires the skillset you are after and the responsibilities you’ve shared with me thus far.”

This allows you to present a number confidently without being demanding. Additionally, it opens the door for additional discussion. You’re openly admitting that you’re basing the number on what you know about the job now and that there may be details they haven’t shared yet that could impact the figure.

Putting It All Together

Ultimately, answering “What are your salary expectations?” is always a bit of a tightrope walk. Luckily, you have all of the tips above. Use them to your advantage. That way, when it comes time to answer salary expectations questions, you have an approach that can leave you in the best position possible.

Good lucks as always!

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About The Author

Mike Simpson

Co-Founder and CEO of TheInterviewGuys.com. Mike is a job interview and career expert and the head writer at TheInterviewGuys.com. His advice and insights have been shared and featured by publications such as Forbes, Entrepreneur, CNBC and more as well as educational institutions such as the University of Michigan, Penn State, Northeastern and others. Learn more about The Interview Guys on our About Us page.