Emma Smith

Be prepared! How can you answer a question about salary expectations?

Pay & salary

Be prepared! How can you answer a question about salary expectations?

Artwork by: Katya Vakulenko

  • Why do recruiters ask for your salary expectations?
  • The concerns about wage transparency
  • How should I know what salary to expect?
  • So, how do you know where to place yourself in the range? 
  • “What are your salary expectations?” example answers
  • Salary expectations on an application
  • How do you negotiate salary?
  • Can you negotiate salary after the offer has been accepted?
  • How to turn down a job offer because of salary
  • Key takeaways

Discussing salary with a recruiter can be scary! You have to walk a fine line between self-advocacy and gratitude. But it’s worth putting yourself out there. You have the power to get a salary that represents your value, and we’re here to show you how.

Questions about salary expectations are a normal part of the job hunt. And yet it's a topic that can feel awkward and choppy to discuss. How do you demonstrate eagerness for a job offer while also staying true to your worth? How does one even determine their workplace worth? 

If you find yourself contemplating these questions, that means you are on the road to self-advocacy. If you’ve felt that you deserve more for the work you provide, then you probably do! Don’t be afraid to fight for yourself here, you’ll be happy you did in the long run. 

Keep reading to find the perfect way to navigate this situation so that you can feel confident and grounded the next time you’re in a position to negotiate your salary.

In this article, we’ll cover:

  • Why the question comes up

  • How to define your salary expectations

  • Examples of ways to respond

  • Negotiating salary offers

  • Turning down a job because of salary expectations

Why do recruiters ask for your salary expectations?

It would seem that a company wouldn’t post a job without first figuring out what they’re willing to offer for it. So why do recruiters even ask for the candidate's input on salary expectations? 

The idea behind this practice is that if all of the best candidates give a certain range, the company may need to make adjustments to its budget. Alternatively, if no candidates suggest a salary as high as the range the company was prepared to offer, they can meet the candidates' salary expectations while saving money on their overhead. 

Is it ethical? 

There is a rising concern over the ethics of negotiating salary. To offset this, some states are making laws about wage transparency. There are currently* 17 states in the US that make it mandatory for companies to list the salary range they’re willing to offer for a position. Of course, this still leaves room for negotiations and experience to determine where exactly on the range you will fall.

(*October 2022)

The concerns about wage transparency

How does wage transparency affect employees? In more ways than you’d expect. 

One big reason behind the call for wage transparency is to limit workplace discrimination. Ethics would tell us that any two people doing the same job should receive the same compensation. In reality, however, there are wage discrepancies in the workplace, where some employees are compensated less than others because of gender, race, modalities, and sexual orientation. 

We are even seeing a rise in location discrepancies, where a company will pay an employee significantly more or less depending on the average cost of living in that person’s region. While the intentions behind this move are well-meaning, a common argument against this practice is that if a company can afford to pay someone a higher wage, then that should be the wage associated with the position, regardless of location. 

How should I know what salary to expect?

The best way to determine how to answer questions about wages is to prepare yourself. That means doing research ahead of your interview. You should always enter the interview having a number in mind. 

To conduct research on wage expectations, first, look up the title of the position online. If the position you’re applying for is an administrative assistant, you can type into Google, “Administrative assistant average income”, and find out that the national average range is $38K-$49K. You can also narrow it down more and search for the average income for the positions in any given state.

Did you know Career.io offers a salary analyzer that offers you insights in how your salary compares to the market average. Want to find out more? Start now.

So, how do you know where to place yourself in the range? 

Next, look up the salaries of other positions in the company. You might not get specific numbers, but that’s okay in this case. If the average income for the position in your state is $38K-$45K, and you see that executives in the company are landing above $200K annually, you can probably assume the company makes enough to pay their staff on the upper end of average. 

You also need to take into consideration the qualifications you bring to the table. If you have paid out of pocket for your own certifications or coursework that is pertinent to the position, you should feel comfortable asking for a higher salary. Try saying something like, “Because of the expertise I will bring to this position, along with my professional certificates, I would feel most fairly compensated by X salary”. 

“What are your salary expectations?” example answers

Use the following scenarios as guides for how to answer questions about your salary expectations. 

If you’ve been given a salary range during the interview

“Okay great, that’s the range that I found during my research as well. Considering my qualifications, education, and prior experience, I see myself at the top of the range”.

If you were not given a range, give the interviewer one

“After conducting research on market averages for this position in this state, and given my qualifications and certifications, I believe a fair salary for me falls in the range of $65K and $75K”.

Oops, you haven’t done your research yet

“Now that I have gained a better understanding of what this position entails, I’d like to take a moment to consider a fair salary with regard to my experience and qualifications. I will follow up by the end of the day with a range”.

If you don’t feel qualified for the top of the range or feel like you’d be over-selling your abilities

“I’d like to give myself room to grow, so I believe mid-range is an appropriate base salary.”

Salary expectations on an application

It’s not uncommon to see a box on a job application prompting you to disclose your salary expectation. You wouldn’t want your answer to be an inhibiting factor, so do your research and find a number that matches the averages for your area. It’s also good practice to use a range.

An alternative route is to write or type in, “Open to discuss during the interview”. 

How do you negotiate salary?

For many people, the hardest part about negotiating salary is working up the courage to do it. It can be intimidating to advocate for yourself in a high-stakes environment, and oftentimes it doesn’t feel worth it to risk having the offer retracted. This is especially true for those who are newer to the workforce. However, understand that people are not typically offered more money out of the blue. You have to initiate the request. 

The counter offer

It is perfectly reasonable to respond to a job offer with a counteroffer. This should be maneuvered respectfully, graciously, and professionally. Don’t scoff, roll your eyes, or make the recruiter feel uncomfortable if what they offered you was well below what you had imagined. 

Try posing the question along these lines: 

“After doing research on market averages in this state for this position, along with my qualifications, the number I settled on for myself is $80K. I understand you have a bottom line as a company and I respect your needs. With that in mind, can you help get me any closer to my target salary?”

Benefits and bonuses

If the interviewer gives a final offer that is below what you were expecting, but you still want to pursue the job, ask to discuss benefits. Negotiate medical and dental insurance, employer retirement matching, vacation days, and employee perks such as free parking or a standing desk. Additionally, ask the interviewer if they are offering a sign-on bonus. 

Your previous salary

It’s hit or miss whether an interviewer will ask for your previous salary. To some, it instills the idea that the interviewer is going to base your salary offer on the financial abilities of your previous employer, rather than their own budget or your current skills. If you’re getting the sense that this is why you’re being asked, it’s okay to stretch the truth, as long as you are still making a reasonable request that is within the fair market range.

What if the interviewer doesn’t bring up salaries?

You might run into this scenario. It’s usually not intentional, just an oversight on the interviewer's part. It does however leave it up to you to initiate the conversation.

Typically, you should wait to bring up your salary until you have received an offer. If you make it to the offer and haven't discussed salary, you can say something like, “Before I accept, I’m hoping to discuss compensation”.

There’s a chance that the job posting had a specific salary listed. In this case, you can suggest negotiations by saying, “I reviewed the salary given on the job posting, and after comparing it to current market standards, I was hoping there might be some flexibility”. 

Can you negotiate salary after the offer has been accepted?

Although it is not typically a recommended route, yes, you technically can negotiate your salary after you’ve already accepted it. To be well-received, it’s important to follow these tips.

Give a reason

Giving insight into your thought process will be the biggest tool for opening the conversation.

Perhaps you were so excited about being offered your dream job that you excitedly accepted the offer prematurely. 

Maybe you accepted the offer and afterward were handed paperwork going into further detail about your responsibilities, and it’s a lot more than had initially been described to you. 

Whatever the reason, do your best to articulate the logic behind the request.

Steer clear of personal conflicts

Personal lives don’t have much space in the workplace, and negotiating salary is no exception. It’s great to have goals and dreams in life, but your salary doesn’t reflect that part of you. It reflects your ability to do a job. Your reasoning for wanting a higher salary should also strictly reflect your job, so leave out details of needing a new car, having unpaid debts, or your upcoming family holiday. 

Be mindful of the timing

If you choose to open negotiations back up after accepting an offer, it is imperative that this be approached before you actually begin the job. Ideally, this would be mentioned before even signing any paperwork. Not only could you be denied a salary increase, but it could also jeopardize the relationship with your team, or at least create an awkward atmosphere in your new workplace.

Better to avoid it from the start

Do yourself a favor and don’t commit to a job on the spot. You can convey your excitement and honor for being offered a position without actually accepting it. 

Try responding to a job offer with, “Thank you, I am so excited about this opportunity and honored to have been chosen. Let me review everything we discussed and I will get back to you today with my final answer”.

This way, you are giving yourself a moment to calm down and collect your thoughts, allowing yourself the space to review what you learned about the position and company and to open negotiations if it seems fit. 

How to turn down a job offer because of salary

If you come to the conclusion that your effort is worth more pay, that is totally valid. Many people feel this way, but few have the courage to advocate for themselves. 

The key to turning down a job offer is leaving the door open 

To do that, be gracious and understanding. 

“I appreciate you taking the time to review this opportunity with me. I’ve enjoyed learning about this company and everything you do to better the field. Unfortunately, at this time I have decided to go a different route. If anything changes in the future I hope you keep me in mind as I would love to work for this company”. 

By using this approach, you are not pointing any fingers or shaming the company for not being able to offer more. In fact, it completely side-steps compensation. When you are complementing the company and continue to suggest your interest in working for them, recruiters can read between the lines to understand there was an issue with compensation. 

This encounter at worst would result in you staying firm in your self-value and finding an employer who can match it. At best, the interviewer would conduct their own research, realize your standards are valid, re-work their budget, and offer you the position at your desired salary. 

Learn more about rejecting a job offer

Key takeaways

  1. It’s up to you to advocate for yourself. 

  2. Prepare ahead of time! Do your research before the interview.

  3. Negotiations are great but do them early on.

  4. Always practice professionalism, even when turning down an offer.

Emma Smith

Emma is a certified employment specialist and experienced writer. With a background in education and social services, she specializes in procedural writing and curriculum design. In 2020, Emma helped achieve Colorado’s first state-certified curriculum in employment training for people with disabilities. Emma is endlessly curious about the world. Although nomadic by nature, she maintains that the PNW is forever her true home.

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