It’s perhaps the most dreaded question of the interview process. Bid too high, and you could cut yourself out of the running entirely; bid too low, and you’ll cost yourself thousands – perhaps hundreds of thousands – of dollars over the course of your career. So what’s the right answer?
In short, it depends on the situation. Here are the options:
1. DON’T ANSWER.
There are ways to get around this question, if you really don’t want to give a number right off the bat. One good tactic is to say that you want to learn more about the job first, before you think about the salary that would go with it.
One downside to this, as Alison Green of Ask a Manager points out, is that many employers will want to know what your salary expectations are right up front, before they’ll even consider your application.
“In fact, many online applications won’t even let you apply if you don’t include a number,” Green says.
2. GIVE A RANGE.
If that’s the case, do your research. PayScale’s Salary Survey gives you a free salary range based on your experience, education and skills.
Once you’re negotiating, remember to include benefits in your salary calculation. For example, if the prospective employer offers better health insurance that would save you money in the long run, that’s worth money.
One final note on salary ranges: be sure to name a lower number that you’d be comfortable with, since that’s probably where the hiring manager will start your offer.
3. IF NECESSARY, GIVE ONE NUMBER.
Can’t name a range? At LinkedIn, Careerealism founder J.T. O’Donnell advises job seekers to be conservative, and prepare to negotiate.
“If you can’t give a range and have to provide a single salary, choose the middle of your range, maybe even a little bit lower,” she says. “You’d rather be lower than their target rate than over it.”
Just remember that naming a rate doesn’t lock you into accepting it. At the vast majority of companies, you can still negotiate after getting an offer. In fact, negotiating for a bit more might work in your favor, since companies will see that you believe in yourself and have done enough research to know the value of your work.
This article originally appeared on PayScale.