Your interview is going well — they’re impressed with your background, you made them laugh and then, suddenly, they’re asking about your salary expectations. Your mind starts racing. What number should you give so you don’t look greedy, but also don’t lowball yourself?
Just because the interviewer asks for a number doesn’t mean you have to give one. Keep in mind location will play a part in this. Check out HR Dive's running list of state laws around salaries. While a natural response may be to go with your last salary, in many states, you don’t need to provide salary history (of course, you can if you’re comfortable).
In some states, if you ask the interviewer what the salary range is for the position, they need to let you know. If this applies to you — or even if it doesn’t and you want to give it a go — then the conversation could look like this:
Recruiter: What are you looking for in terms of salary?
You: I’d love to hear what your budgeted salary range is and then can let you know if we’re aligned. Can you share that please?
Recruiter: Sure, we have $x to $y budgeted for this role.
You: Sounds great, I’m looking for something on the high end of that range.
The key is to avoid stating a number, leaving more room to negotiate later. Companies usually have $5K to $10K set aside for a negotiation, depending on level, location, industry, and company size. Taking this into consideration, if the range the company provides is too low, you can choose to walk away at that point.
Note that this question is generally geared around base salary. Use pay sites like Salary, Payscale, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to research market data. It doesn’t mean companies have to pay within the ranges you see, but it will give you a benchmark. If the budgeted range is already on the high side, you may not be able to negotiate much more, and vice versa. You’ll also want to consider the whole compensation package, like bonuses, health benefits, paid time off, 401K match, etc. Do a Google search of “benefits at fill-in-the-blank company” for insights. If the base sounds low but the bonuses are high, it may even out.
If receiving a salary range isn’t an option, you can try to defer the salary expectations question by saying “I’d be interested in hearing more about the position and how I can add value, before discussing numbers.”
If the recruiter is really pushing you to say a number, it’s recommended to give a range rather than a fixed number. This allows more flexibility to negotiate down the line. It’s appropriate to use a $10K range because with anything less, you might be short-selling yourself. Anything more looks like you don’t know your worth. For example, “I’m looking for $75K to $85K.” If the position is eligible for commission or incentives, you could say “I’m looking for $190K - $200K total compensation.”
At this stage, your goal is to get to the next step, meaning another interview. It’s better to be more conservative with your range for now. If you ask for too much, the company will stop the process so they don’t waste your time or theirs, as you will likely not be able to compromise.
Know that you’re not going to get locked into the initial numbers you discuss. When you get an offer, you’ll have much more leverage to negotiate since they won’t want you to walk away. All of my clients who have asked for more money, got more money — regardless of what numbers they discussed during the interview process. That first offer is usually not the company’s best offer!
After deciding how you’d like to approach this question, it can pay off to practice your response out loud so you sound confident. If you can do a mock interview with someone else pretending to be a recruiter, you can hone your deflecting skills.
This question doesn’t have to be as scary as it seems. Take a deep breath, you got this!
This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of Fairygodboss.
After 12+ years of progressive HR experience in the entertainment and education industries, Anne pivoted to a Career Coach opportunity with Randstad RiseSmart. She’s passionate about crafting customized job search strategies for diverse clients and helping them navigate emotional highs and lows. She’s thrilled to see clients land at City of Hope, Dish, KCBS, Mattel, Salesforce, Workday, etc. and negotiate additional double-digit compensation. Feel free to connect with her on LinkedIn.
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