How to Answer the Question: “What’s Your Salary Expectation?”

For those in the middle of job interviews, one of the toughest questions to answer is “what’s your salary expectation?”.

You see, many people mistakenly believe they are entering into a negotiation in which they start high and eventually move lower. In reality, negotiated adjustments are minor. Hiring managers ask this question to ensure expectations are aligned with what can be delivered.

Unfortunately, good candidates might lose their standing based on how they answer this question.

Hiring managers ask this question to ensure expectations are aligned with what can be delivered.

Let’s say the pay range for a Senior Manager job opening at Company XYZ is $80k-$100k, depending on experience. This means that the hiring manager is restricted to this range and doesn’t have magical strings he can pull to go higher.

Candidate A is an 8/10 and states his salary expectation is $90k.

Candidate B is a 10/10 and states his salary expectation is $125k. Candidate B – despite being much better – likely just destroyed their candidacy. Despite being the better candidate, Candidate B just indicated to the hiring manager that they believe they are worth $125k. For the hiring manager to go back to Candidate B with a $100k offer would seem inadequate to both parties – so they simply won’t. Even if Candidate B later suggests he might be fine with a lower number, he’s already created an anchor number in the hiring manager’s mind. That hiring manager (if he’s got any brains) will worry that if Candidate B accepts a much lower offer he will remain unsatisfied and will soon seek another higher paying job that more closely aligns with his original expectations.

Candidates must understand the pay ranges that companies operate within. They are restrictive – it doesn’t matter that you have 20 years experience. The range is the range. So try to figure out what that range is before you get asked about your salary expectation.

Moreover, hiring managers want to hire people in the middle of the pay range so staff have upward salary potential while employed. A manager doesn’t want their staff hitting the ceiling in year one.

If a job is truly below your target salary, then don’t go for it. Perhaps it’s time to strive for more advanced roles.

Alternatively, if you truly want the job then state a salary expectation you know the manager can work with.

Whatever number you give, make sure it’s truly what you expect (not some multiplier of your expectations). Yes, there might be some negotiation but in my experience it tends to be quite minor. For a new hire to work out, expectations must be closely aligned with what can actually be offered. And that’s precisely why employers ask the question: “what’s your salary expectation?”.

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