Employers may bring up the topic of pay at some point in the interview process. Sometimes recruiters ask this question during an initial phone screening, or they may hold off on discussing salary until you’ve met face-to-face. You may be asked for your salary expectations directly, on an application form, or in response to a pre-determined salary range offered by the employer.
While a question about your salary expectations is one of the more straightforward things employers ask during a job interview, it can be stressful to talk about money. You can manage this stress by preparing your answers to salary-related questions ahead of time. If you do research on average compensation for both the role and your experience level, you can have productive and informative conversations about pay with your potential employers.
Why employers ask about salary expectations
When an employer asks about your salary expectations, it’s usually for three reasons:
- They have a budget. The interviewer wants to make sure your compensation expectations align with the amount they’ve calculated for the job. If they find most candidates are asking for a great deal more than anticipated, it might mean requesting a larger budget for the position.
- They want to gauge how well you know your worth. A good candidate knows how much their skillset is worth in the market and can share it with confidence. To determine appropriate market value, factor in your level, years of experience and career achievements.
- They want to determine whether you’re at the appropriate professional level. An applicant who asks for a significantly higher amount than other candidates may be too senior for the role. Alternatively, answering with a salary expectation on the low end could indicate you’re at a lower experience level than the job requires.
Your answer to this question can be the beginning of the salary negotiation process. As a result, you want to make sure you’re providing a well-researched response.
How to research job salaries
When preparing an answer to a question about your ideal salary, it’s crucial you provide not only a number you feel comfortable with but the appropriate compensation for the job based on real data. Luckily, it’s easier than ever to find this information.
Start by using Indeed's Salary Calculator for a free, personalized pay range based on your location, industry and experience. You can also use Indeed Salaries to find the average pay for the position you’ve applied for. These salary estimates come from data submitted anonymously to Indeed by users and collected from past and present job advertisements on Indeed.
In addition, Indeed Company Reviews includes salaries by company reported by current and former employees. Searching for job titles through Indeed Job Search can also help you get an idea of what other employers are offering for similar roles—75% of new jobs posted directly on Indeed include salary information.
Keep in mind that salaries vary not only by career level and company but also by geographical location. When researching the typical salary range for a position, remember to consider where the role is located and the cost-of-living in that area. For example, a job located in a big city like Los Angeles will likely pay a higher salary than the same position located in rural Texas. When using Indeed Salaries, be sure to select the location from the drop-down menu.
This page will tell you how the salary for the position in your geographic area compares to the national average, the salary for the job at various companies nearby and the average salaries in other cities near you.
This data can help inform your answer to questions about salary expectations, but this isn’t the only criteria to consider. Your salary expectations should also factor in your seniority, experience level, educational background and any specializations or unique skills other applicants in the field may not have.
How to answer salary expectation questions (with examples)
When a recruiter or hiring manager asks, “What are your salary expectations?” there are a few ways you can answer. Here are some suggestions, with example responses:
- Provide a range: If you don’t feel comfortable providing a single number, you may choose to offer a range instead. Keep in mind, however, that the employer may opt for the lower end of your range, so make sure your target number is as close to the bottom number as possible. Also, keep your range somewhat tight with a variance of no more than $5,000 to $10,000.
Example: “I am seeking a position that pays between $75,000 and $80,000 annually.”
- Include negotiation options: In addition to your salary, there may be other benefits, perks or forms of compensation you consider just as valuable. Including these as possible opportunities for negotiation is an option, too. For example, while the employer may not have budgeted enough for your ideal salary range, they may be willing to offer equity in the company to make the compensation package more attractive to you.
Example: “I am seeking a position that pays between $75,000 and $80,000 annually, but I am open to negotiate salary depending on benefits, bonuses, equity, stock options and other opportunities.”
- Deflect the question: If you’re still early in the hiring process and still learning the specifics about the job duties and expectations, you may want to deflect the question for later in the conversation. However, keep in mind you’ll still eventually have to discuss salary expectations. Either way, it’s a good idea to be prepared with a well-researched number in mind—even if you’re still factoring in additional information.
Example: “Before I answer, I’d like to ask a few more questions to get a better idea of what the position entails. That way, I can provide a more realistic expectation.”
Example answers for “What are your salary expectations?”
Here are a few more examples to provide you with more context as you research average salaries and determine what response is best for you.
“While I am certainly flexible, I am looking to receive between $83,000 and $87,000 annually. Due to my skill set and experience level, I feel that this is a comfortable and appropriate range for my work.”
“My baseline salary requirement is $94,500. I feel that the value and expertise I can bring to this role supports my compensation expectations. Is this in line with your thoughts?”
“Let me start by reiterating how grateful I am for the benefits this job offers such as generous paid time off and health benefits. That being said, I am expecting my salary for this position to fall between $45,000 and $50,000 annually. My rich background in client services specific to this industry can play a role in strengthening the organization.”
“Thank you for asking. I feel that an annual salary between $67,000 and $72,000 is in line with the industry average and reflects my skills and experience level well. I am, however, flexible and open to hearing about the company’s compensation expectations for this position.”
Tips to determine and communicate salary expectations
Sharing salary information with an interviewer can feel uncomfortable, especially if you’re not accustomed to being asked this question and are discussing your ideal compensation for the first time. To help the conversation go smoothly and make sure you get a fair salary, here are a few additional pointers:
Aim high: Once you know the average salary range for a position, consider padding your expectations. In most cases, employers are going to start you off at the lower end of the amount you provide. By aiming higher, you can make sure that, even if they offer the lowest number, you’ll still be making your target number. For example, if you want to make $45,000, don’t say you’re looking for a salary between $40,000 and $50,000. Instead, give a range of $45,000 to $50,000.
Be confident: Some employers are interested in your answer as well as your delivery. If you’re confident and self-assured, it will show you know your worth and, while you might be open to negotiation, you’re not going to accept less than you know you deserve. Don’t sell yourself short in an attempt to move forward or you could end up making too little.
Explain your reasoning: While you don’t need to get too detailed in explaining how you arrived at your salary expectations, it doesn’t hurt to share how you arrived at that number. Highlighting your experience or educational level can add justification for your salary, especially if you’re aiming above the local average. Be careful not to overshoot the amount too much or you could be considered overqualified. Here’s an example of how to apply this tip:
“The average salary for this position in this area for a professional with my level of experience is between $110,000 and $115,000, so that would be my salary expectation for this role.”
When an interviewer asks about your salary expectations, having a well-formulated, data-backed answer will ensure you’re not undercutting yourself or aiming over the market value. By giving an honest, informed response, you can help the interviewer better understand whether your expectations align and, if things go well, what sort of salary will be attractive enough to get you on board.