How to Answer the Salary Question

November 17, 2017

It’s a very exciting time: You’re in a job interview, and you feel like it’s going well. You feel like you have a real shot at the job. And then they ask the salary question.

Trying to decide how to answer the salary question can be difficult. You don’t want to ask for too little. If you don’t ask for enough up front, you could end up making less than you deserve for your education and experience. Plus, once you start behind with your salary, it’s hard to make up for that. Your salary influences how much you can set aside for retirement, as well as how much you make in your next position.

However, if you throw out a number that’s too high, you could end up being overlooked for the job. A company might not ask you back if they feel like they can’t meet your requirements. If you want the job and are willing to take a little less, you could end up blowing the whole thing.

As you get ready to go into an interview, here are some things you can do to better answer the salary question:

Start with Research

First, do some research. Look at what you can expect for your position in your local area, depending on your experience and education. Use websites like,, and to get an idea of what to expect. You can usually get a pretty good idea of what others are making so whatever you ask for is at least somewhere close to the market rate.

Try to Deflect Until Later

If the question comes up early in the interview, try to deflect by asking for more information about the position requirements and your responsibilities. Sell yourself as a good fit for the position so that the interviewer feels like they need to have you. That way, your salary requirements will seem more in line with your ability to do the job — and do it well.

You can also try to do your own probing. Perhaps you can ask what the budgeted salary range is for the position. Say something like, “From my research of the industry, the common salary range is between $X and $Y. Does your company budget for this position fall into this range?”

Use a Range Instead of a Number

Referring to a range instead of a set number can also help you. You can set the range according to what you want to make on the low end while leaving yourself room to get something more on the high end. But it’s usually best to try to get the interviewer to divulge their budget for the position before you share your expectations.

Signal Flexibility and a Willingness to Accept Less in Return for Benefits

You can also get around the direct salary question by talking about your interest in the total compensation package. When asked about your salary expectations, mention that you are interested in finding out what type of benefits are available. Let the interviewer know that your salary requirements are flexible if the company offers good benefits like healthcare, a retirement match, flexible work schedules, and additional time off.

Rather than just focus on salary, talk about the compensation package.

Try to Avoid Sharing Your Current Salary

Finally, do your best to avoid sharing your current salary during an interview. You don’t want to use that as a starting place since the hope is that a new job comes with a new, higher paycheck. Depending on your situation, you can sidestep by saying something like, “I know I’m switching industries, so I can’t expect an exact match, but my range is ….” Or you could say something like, “My last position provided me with opportunities to improve my abilities and acquire new skills. As a result, my salary range is …”

In the end, do your best to emphasize the value you bring to the company while trying to get them to throw out the first number. The longer you can hold off in the name of better information, the closer you are to matching salary expectations with your new potential employer.

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