The question “What are your salary expectations?” can make many people squirm, but it is an important part of the job interview process. Anyone who is hiring will ask this question at some point, so it’s important to be ready for it.
The way you respond to this question can be a real factor in whether you get the role, and the amount that you’re paid if you do. Aim too high without backing it up and you may lessen your chance of landing the role, but go too low and you may send the message that you don’t know the value of your work.
SEEK has put together a guide to help you prepare your answer to salary or pay questions, so you can discuss money more confidently in your interview.
Why interviewers ask this question
Employers want to know how well you know your worth, level of skill and experience in the industry. They also want to ascertain if you are at the level that they are looking for. One of the main reasons employers ask about your salary expectations is to ensure that they’re not wasting anyone’s time, says Leah Lambart, career and interview coach at Relaunch Me.
“If this question is asked in the initial screening call, it’s likely that the recruiter is trying to gauge whether you’re at the appropriate level for the role. If your salary expectations are way under the range, then it’s an indication to the recruiter that you may be too junior for the role. In the reverse, if your expectations are way above the range, then this is an indication to the recruiter that you may be over-qualified.”
Therefore, it’s important to do some research to find out what people with your level of experience and expertise can expect to be paid.
How to research salaries
There are multiple factors that can impact how much you should ask for, including how long you’ve worked in the industry, your qualifications, your achievements, the demand for your skills and industry trends. So, it’s best to start with some research.
The first place you should go is to SEEK’s salary lookup tool, where you can type in the job you want and see the average salary range for that job, based on real job ads on SEEK. This allows you to explore average annual salaries across your industry and identify a ballpark figure to use or aim for.
“You can also do additional research by speaking with your industry connections and asking the opinion of recruitment consultants who specialise in placing roles in your industry,” Lambart says. The important thing is to be prepared; then you can answer with confidence.
Top tips on how to answer: ‘What are your salary expectations?’
Build up to it: It’s important to get the timing right and know when to talk about money in an interview. You don’t want to bring it up too early in the discussion or too late.
“Although you need to be prepared to answer questions about your salary expectations, I don’t recommend raising the money question in the first interview,” says Lambart. “The general rule in negotiations is that the person who asks the questions first about money has the least power when it comes to negotiations, so build up to it slowly and don’t be too eager to talk about the money.”
Instead of naming a number or range too early on, frame yourself in the best possible light and present yourself as the ideal candidate first.
Make a strong case: After you’ve built up to the topic by showing that you’re a strong candidate for the role, you need to ensure you make a strong case for the salary range you want to ask for.
It’s a good idea to understand how salary packages are calculated and what they typically include, for example, additional benefits, incentives or rewards, such as superannuation, annual and sick leave, car allowance or bonuses. Knowing what’s possible enables you to build your case for what you want and need.
Be flexible: “Making a strong case is important, but so too is demonstrating that you are flexible and keen to work collaboratively to get a win-win solution,” Lambart says. “By sharing a salary range that you would be comfortable with, this provides the hiring manager with some room to move and demonstrates that you are not too rigid.”
The power to negotiate comes with having specific expertise, industry knowledge or connections that the organisation wants a piece of. If they really want you, then they will be prepared to negotiate.”
Flip the question: “If you are not comfortable disclosing the salary range that you are expecting for fear of being screened out of the process, then flip the question and ask the recruiter what they are looking to pay for the role,” Lambart suggests.
The interviewer will either provide a salary range or give you more details on the role and then ask you the question again. Either way, you will have to indicate to them what your desired salary range is, and whether it is in line with what they are offering, so you will still need to your research.
Delay answering: Sometimes, as a candidate, you can be put in an unfair position when a recruiter asks about your salary expectations before they ensure you have a proper understanding of the job, Lambart says.
“If you need more time to research or understand the role, then think about delaying your response by responding that you would like to know more about the role and what it involves before confirming your salary expectations. For example, if a role requires working after hours on a regular basis or being on call, then you may wish to be compensated at a higher level.”
“To be a good negotiator, you need to know your own value and be prepared to articulate it in a confident manner. A good salary negotiator will prepare well and get clarity about the skills, experience and attributes that they can bring to the role.
Finally, you should also never accept an offer on the spot, either at the interview or verbally over the phone, says Lambart. “Instead, thank the employer for the offer and express your enthusiasm for the job. Then ask the employer when you can expect to receive the offer in writing so that you can evaluate the total package and other terms and conditions.”
Whether it comes at the beginning, towards the end or somewhere in-between, it’s a given that at some point in the interview process you’ll be asked “What are your salary expectations?” By being aware of what you can reasonably ask for and knowing how to respond, you’ll be prepared to negotiate a fair salary that meets your needs. Keep these tips in mind and you’ll be able to tackle this question confidently.