It's an awkward, uncomfortable question... and it almost always comes up in interview situations.
Inevitably, an interviewer or HR will ask, "What's your desired salary?" or something similar.
What's an interviewee to do when this happens? Obviously, you have to answer... but how?!
The goal, of course, is twofold: one, you don't want to provide a too-high number that'll take you out of the running for the job, but on the flip side, you also don't want to provide a number that'll cause you to leave money on the table.
This article gives you helpful information on why companies ask for desired compensation, tips on how to handle this nerve-wracking conversation and valuable resources to help you find out what you're worth.
Why you’ll be asked, “What's your desired salary?”
Companies usually ask about candidates' compensation expectations because:
1. They want to know the candidate's expectations and whether it fits the hiring budget.
2. They need a number to help them calibrate the budget for the role internally.
3. They're determining whether a given candidate is at the right seniority level for the position.
In the first case, companies that already have a budget set for a role want to know what a candidate expects so they can ensure that the candidate's within their budget. If a given role's applicants consistently ask for compensation above the budget for a role, a company may have to re-budget the role to increase its compensation.
When companies haven't yet set a budget for a role, they sometimes look to interviewees to help them set expectations by giving them a sense of what the market is looking for in compensation for the job. Finally, a company may be looking to determine whether an applicant is at the right seniority level for the role: an overqualified, too-senior candidate may ask for a significantly higher amount than other candidates, while an underqualified, too-junior candidate may ask for a significantly lower amount than other candidates. In either case, the candidate's response to the compensation question is a good gauge for whether they're at the right seniority level for the job.
How to answer.
When the compensation question comes up, you as a candidate have a few choices. You can tackle it head-on by giving a range, offer some additional negotiation flexibility by opening up the possibility of non-cash compensation in addition to salary, or try to deflect the question for the time being (based on where you are in the interview process).
Here are a few tips for any of those approaches.
1. Provide a range.
Giving a range offers flexibility to both you and the employer, and may feel more comfortable than giving a hard number. When you give a range, however, you should keep in mind that the employer may offer the low end of the range — so you'll want to ensure that your target number is close to the lower end of the range you offer. You'll also want to keep the range fairly tight, with a variance of no more than $10,000.
Example: If you're seeking an annual salary of $80,000, you might say, "I'm seeking annual compensation of $80,000-$90,000."
2. Include non-cash negotiation options.
Other non-cash benefits, perks or compensation such as work from home options, flexible hours, benefits, bonuses, equity, stock options, student loan assistance (an increasingly common perk as more employers seek to appeal to debt-saddled graduates) and grad school assistance may be options to help you and the potential employer come to an agreement that works for everyone.
Example: If you're looking for an annual salary of $80,000 but would be willing to be flexible based on other benefits, you could say, "I'm seeking annual compensation of $75,000-$80,000, but am open to negotiating salary depending on benefits, bonuses and stock options."
3. Deflect the question.
If you're still early in the hiring process and still learning the specifics about a role's responsibilities and expectations, you may want to deflect the compensation question for later in the conversation. However, keep in mind that you'll eventually have to discuss salary, and will want to have a well-researched number in mind down the line.
Example: If a potential employer asks about compensation expectations in an initial phone screen, and you're not ready to give an answer yet, you could say, "Before I answer, I'd like to ask a few more questions to get a better sense of this role. This will help me give a more realistic compensation expectation."
Why and how to do salary research.
When you're looking for a new job, salary research is of paramount importance, because it'll arm you with the information you need to make a well-informed, data-backed ask of a future employer.
Good job research will help you understand the roles you're applying to and interviewing for, as well as give you a sense of what you should expect to be paid for a given role. There are many resources for this research available, but here are a few to get you started:
Try Fairygodboss's own Salary and Bonus by Title and Company search tool, It allows you to search anonymous member submissions (and you can submit your own salary and bonus information here, too, to help other members!). Indeed Salaries has weekly salaries, low and high end figures, and typical tenure information, as well as the ability to sort compensation by geographical location.
Popular career blog Ask a Manager has a user-generated salary spreadsheet with nearly 30,000 reader-submitted responses, as well. If your role is on Ask a Manager's spreadsheet, you may find the additional information in it — including respondents' years of experience and specific job titles — useful.
Regardless of how you go about negotiating compensation, keep a few general pointers in mind: aim high, be confident, and be prepared to back your numbers up. As long as you can confidently assert your value and give potential employers a reason to pay what you're looking for you, you're sure to find a job you'll love that pays you what you're worth!