There’s always a point in the job process when you are asked the dreaded question: what are your salary expectations? This might be a line to fill out in the initial application, a standard part of the phone interview with HR, or a conversation with the hiring manager after the pool has been narrowed down to a few candidates. Regardless of when the question arises, you need to be prepared to give an appropriate answer that won’t undervalue your worth or jeopardize your chances of advancing in the interview process. Before you hit “submit” on that job posting, keep these tips in mind for answering the “desired salary” question whenever it comes up.

Deflect the question as long as possible.

Ideally, the salary discussion should be a signal that an offer is on the way. But not all companies have that perspective. Sometimes hiring managers will ask early on in the interview process for your salary expectations, perhaps even before you’ve met anyone in person. The last thing you want to do is be caught off guard and blurt out a random number, especially when you don’t really know yet what the position entails. 

In reality, the best time to discuss salary expectations is at the end of the process, after you’ve had an opportunity to learn about the position and demonstrate how your experience is a good fit. If asked for your desired salary toward the beginning of the recruitment cycle, you can reiterate your interest in learning more about the job before giving a concrete answer. Similarly, if your desired salary is asked on the initial job application, you can write “negotiable” or “commensurate with job expectations.” 

Not to mention, is extremely important to reiterate how excited you are for the chance to work at the company and the position itself. As a candidate, it’s important to never let it look as though you’re only after the money the job provides. Companies want candidates that are invested and passionate about the work, so remind hiring managers that you are!

Don’t give away your salary history

Sometimes rather than ask for salary expectations, a hiring manager will ask you what your current salary is. Often, the tactic behind this is so that the hiring manager can offer you a slightly higher salary than what you’re currently making, but the offer might still be below market rate or what the company is really able to pay. Not to mention that is some states, asking about past salary is illegal.

On the flip side, many people switch careers or industries over time, and sometimes this involves taking a pay cut. If you are moving from a more lucrative industry (like engineering or financial services) to a typically lower-paying industry (like nonprofits), you might be comfortable taking a lower salary–but the bigger numbers in your salary history could scare a hiring manager away. 

To avoid these issues altogether, focus all discussions instead on the salary data you’ve collected (more on this in a minute), how your qualifications meet the job description, and what you expect your salary to be for the new position.

Be prepared with research

It’s not just enough to want a specific salary. You need to see how your work experience and the job itself fit into larger market trends. Online resources like Glassdoor and Salary.com provide insight into salaries for specific positions, companies, industries, and locations. You can also use one of the salary calculators offered by PayScale or LinkedIn to get a more personalized look at your worth in the job market. These will also take into account your educational experience, location, and other factors that would statistically affect your potential salary.

One additional factor you should consider is if you will be an exempt employee (which means you are not eligible for overtime) or nonexempt employee (which means you are eligible for overtime). During the interview process, learn what your expected hours will be and if working nights and weekends will happen a lot. Armed with this additional information from the company itself, you will be better equipped as you conduct salary research to determine a fair wage.

Give a range rather than a single number

So you’ve done the research, deflected the question until it’s almost offer time, and now you are ready to share your desired salary. Rather than lock yourself into a specific number ($50,000), it’s better to offer a range ($50,000 – $60,000). When determining your range, the higher number can be aspirational; it’s possible that the company can offer you the upper range, but if not, the lower range looks much more “affordable” by comparison. Of course, make sure the lower number in your range is still high enough that you would be comfortable taking the offer. 

Remember to negotiate

If you receive an offer that’s lower than you expect, it never hurts to ask for a higher salary or what additional compensation opportunities (bonuses, merit raises, commissions, etc.) are available. In addition, you might consider negotiating other benefits such as vacation time, tuition assistance, and remote working options. Remember, you can say no to an offer that does not match your desired salary, based on your industry research, work experience, and job responsibilities. The job that deserves you is out there somewhere, and it’s okay to keep looking.

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