How to answer the “what is your expected salary" question blog header

By Jane Riley

So you’ve seen the job advertised, you’re excited, your skills and experience align and you think you’d be a good fit for the position.

Then it’s either there on the application form – or the interviewer raises it once you get to the interview stage – ‘what is your expected salary?’

Be aware that this is a question that may arise so be ready to respond.

Where you might be asked this question

 

On an application form and cover letter 

If there is a section requesting this information on a written application form, leave it blank or write negotiable/flexible based upon role requirements.

In addition, do not provide a current salary or salary history if asked on an application form. This is inappropriate and in some locations it is now illegal to ask!

The same advice goes for any accompanying cover letter – don’t reference your salary expectations or current level of pay.

 

On the spot!

You’ve made it over the first hurdle and are invited to attend an interview. At some point during this process, you maybe asked…

‘What is your expected salary’?

Awkward! You don’t want to come across as uncooperative at this point in the process but at the same time don’t want to reveal too much. Doing so can put you on the back foot in any future negotiations as the potential employer then has more information about you (what you’d be willing to accept) than you do about them (in terms of what they would be willing to offer and what the role is worth).  You may inadvertently undersell yourself (when they would have happily offered more) or price yourself out with unrealistic expectations.

Even if you are asked to provide a salary range, try to avoid doing so – the employer is likely to be thinking the lower figure whilst you may have the top end of the range in your sights. Here are some things to consider:

  • Respond positively and that you are open to further discussions and flexible to negotiation and want to be paid accordingly to the requirements of the position and the skills and experience you bring to the role. 
  • Explain that you’d be happy to talk further once you have a full understanding of what the position entails in more detail, for example any direct reports, level of responsibility and financial delegations etc and have had a chance to consider these aspects, as this will enable you to make a more informed decision.

Another consideration is:

The total package

Find out what the overall value of the role is. Ask about training and development opportunities as well as how salary increases are calculated (and how often). Also ascertain what other benefits are offered (these may be things such as subsidised medical insurance, a  car park, additional leave). Also enquire about other factors that would impact upon your decision (such as flexibility around working hours etc). These may ultimately be of more importance to you than the dollar amount paid in salary. 

 

Know your value

Ensure the potential employer is aware of the significant and/or applicable experience you have and that you’d expect to be remunerated accordingly for this.  This is a good opportunity to highlight any unique and specific skills/ training you have that are highly relevant to the role especially if you know these are in short supply.

 

Turn the pressure off

If you are pressured to provide a figure, tell the person asking that you need some time to think and will come back to them within a given timeframe. This also gives you the chance to make a list of any additional questions you have and consult (or quickly start compiling) your research. If they continue to pressure you to make an immediate decision after stipulating this, think about whether or not this is the type of organisation you want to be working with!

Basically you’re making it clear it’s too early to state your expectations, as you need to consider the role and benefits in their entirety first.

This is much better negotiated down the track once you have the full picture. This may include whether you are aligned with the workplace values, does it feel like the best fit for you? Do you like the Management style of the person you will report to? You may decide it’s not for you in which case you won’t need to enter a salary negotiation at all!

You may also be asked what your current salary is at this stage. You are under no obligation to disclose this. You could respond that it’s not applicable as your current role is with a different organisation with a different pay and reward structure. So it wouldn’t be comparing like with like. Or simply state ‘I’d rather not say’ and leave it at that.

 

The Negotiation Stage

If you are offered the role and the negotiation stage does arrive – make sure you are prepared!

Together with the information you have on the specific job requirements and the total package on offer, research comparable jobs in the field. This can be done using information sources such as Glass door, Strategic Pay (who offer industry specific pay reports), Seek etc. See our article on “What Am I Worth” for more resources.

Bear in mind rates may vary by location and jobs in certain locations may be willing to pay more. 

Undertaking your research means you have a good idea of what others in the field are offering for similar roles and can decide if the offer you are made is fair and appropriate or you are justified in asking for more.

The #ShowTheSalary movement (of which Do Dood Jobs is a strong advocate) asks employers to show a salary or range for the position from the outset – in the job advertisement. This helps take away the guesswork all round and decreases the ability for discrimination based on gender, age, ethnicity etc and hopefully means one day you won’t need to worry about being asked this question!

In summary, the less information you reveal about salary, at the start of discussing a new role, the better. Ensure you know what similar roles are worth, and have a good understanding of the scope of this particular position. Be informed about how salary increments are calculated in the future and any other benefits offered. You can then factor these into your negotiations. This will help to ensure you receive a salary you are fully comfortable with and that accurately reflects the valuable contribution you bring to the workplace.

 

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Jane has over 15 years of experience as an HR generalist working in sectors including education, international development, local government, and television production. She has worked in HR related roles in NZ, the Fiji Islands, the USA, and the UK. She has also volunteered in the HR department of a wildlife conservancy in Kenya for three months.

Her areas of interest include policy and process development, supporting employees’ mental health and wellbeing in the workplace, and capacity building.

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