As a job candidate, you’re prepared to answer all kinds of questions, from general queries about your background to more specific behavioral questions. There’s one question, though, that catches many candidates off guard: What is your salary expectation? Ideally, you will have an idea of the salary range for a position early on in the hiring process; it makes sense for the employer to offer that information so all parties are on the same page as things move forward.
However, that’s not always the case. And when it’s not, being asked about salary expectations can create a conundrum for candidates – you don’t want to lowball yourself in an effort to be a more attractive candidate, but you also don’t want to scare an employer off with a figure that is too high.
No matter how you decide to approach the “salary expectation” question, it’s crucial to do research ahead of time. Researching salaries will give you objective data to use when determining how much you should expect to earn in a particular position – and, these days, salary research is easier than ever. There are many online sources of salary data, including the Bureau of Labor Statistics (in the U.S.), Statistics Canada and Glassdoor, among many others. As you research, bear in mind that factors such as education, years of experience and locale often play a role in compensation.
Now that you have a good idea of what you could be earning (or should be earning) in the position you’re pursuing, you’ll need to decide on an approach to discussing your salary expectations, should a prospective employer ask the question. Here are three strategies to consider.
Strategy 1 – Provide a Range
Rather than providing a single salary figure, give the employer a range that you believe is fair – based on your research and the value you will bring – to all parties involved. As a guideline, some experts suggest that the lower end of the range should be 10 percent more than what you’re currently earning, and the higher end should be $10,000 more than that. It’s important to note that you don’t want the lower end of the range to be too low because there is a good chance that the employer will base any offer they make on the lower end of the range that you provided. Also, you don’t want the range to be too broad, which will create the appearance that you’re really not sure what you should be making.
Strategy 2 – Express Flexibility
While salary is certainly an important consideration when pursuing a job, there are many others, such as benefits and perks, company culture and mission, and development and advancement opportunities. If salary isn’t the be-all, end-all factor for you, it’s perfectly valid to express that to the employer. You could say that you’re more concerned about finding a good fit with an organization where you can grow, develop and make an impact, and that you’re open to learning more about those aspects of the position before talking about salary. Make it clear that if a position checks the boxes that are most important to you, you’re flexible on salary and willing to negotiate a mutually agreeable figure.
You can also express this kind of flexibility when providing a range, saying that based on your experience and the market, you’d like to be making between $X and $X; however, you’re open to negotiation if the other aspects of the job fulfill what you’re looking for.
Strategy 3 – Ask What the Employer’s Range Is
If an employer asks you what your salary expectations are, consider asking about their budget for the position.
“It’s OK to ask questions that put the onus on the employer to gather more information,” negotiation consultant Jeff Weiss tells Harvard Business Review. These could include, “What is the typical salary range for a position like this one? What do people with my same qualifications and years of experience make?”
If you like what the employer has to say, all you have to do is confirm that their budget falls within your expectations. If the numbers they give you are lower than what you expect, you can provide a range that you think is more appropriate (but be ready to back it up!).
Working with a Recruiter
One of the many benefits of working with a recruiter while searching for a job is that they can help you handle questions about salary. At TPD, we advise candidates to avoid discussing compensation during the interview process and, instead, focus on their fit for a role and organization. If an employer does pop the salary questions, we suggest that candidates working with a TPD recruiter reply with something along the lines of, “I trust that if we are both interested in moving forward, [my recruiter] will help us come to a decision that makes sense for both of us” and then reiterate that your primary interest at this point is to get a feel for the job and the company, and to determine whether there is a match.