So What’s your Salary Expectation?

by Colm Cavey, Professional Career Consultant.

You just made through the interview, made a good job of answering all the questions asked and as it is almost at a close you are asked what is probably one of the hardest questions to answer;

So what is your salary expectation?

Which freely translated means, how much do you think we are willing to pay you?


Yes, it’s a hard one, especially if you have no idea what the job on offer pays. Answer by saying too little and they might well just offer you that. Later you will furious for selling yourself short. On the other hand say too much and they won’t believe you.

Towards the end of an interview it is quite common for the interviewer to ask if you have any questions, however if money is on their mind it is usually then, after all the interview discussions are complete that they will bring up the subject. So be prepared.

Research is the answer. As always in preparation for an interview you should research the company and learn as much as you can about all aspects of the business. It’s important you show an understanding and an interest in the company. Prepare in advance three or four reasonably intelligent questions to ask, questions that prompt an explanation or detailed response. Do not ask questions where the answer is just a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’. This does not give for a good flow of conversation. And by the way, how much do you pay should NOT be one of them.

To deal with the money question you need to first try to get a good idea of what you are likely to be offered. Log on to some of the larger or better recruitment companies, most of which carry salary surveys. They update these at regular intervals. These surveys will give you a good indication of the going rate for various job types in different sectors of industry. Now look through a few of these surveys and you will quite quickly work out a rough average of what would be a fair rate for the job applied for.

Be mindful of the fact that there are circumstances where they may offer more or less than the going rate. This would reflect the fact that you are perhaps more senior than had been planned for or indeed more junior than planned.

The rationale behind deciding what you are worth – what you want – and who wants you is a balancing act. Several things need to be considered.

1 – How much do you want this job? The work itself may seem O.K. but is the culture of the organisation the kind of place where you would be comfortable on a daily basis?

2 -How much do they want you? Don’t ever underestimate yourself. Skills you have acquired may have taken a lot of time and experience and maybe those skills are in short supply. A well practised skill can seem run-of-the-mill stuff to the one who carries out that particular task and without much thought. To someone else it’s an impossible task. If that is the case it’s a big plus in your favour, but don’t expect the employer to tell you your skills are in short supply. That wouldn’t be a good negotiation strategy.

3 -Your years of service. As a rule the salary scales give salary levels in bands of years of experience. As a result the more you have, the more likely is the salary to be at the higher level or even higher than indicated by the bands.

4 -Don’t be beguiled into believing that the huge profit companies pay higher salaries. They don’t. That’s possibly why they make huge profits.

5 -Don’t be guided by what your friends say you should be on comparable amount to them. They may be in a completely different industry or working in different functional areas. They are never the same.

6 -Don’t sell yourself short. You have been invited for interview and you wouldn’t be there if you weren’t of interest.

7 -Don’t be overly confident that they need you badly. Tread carefully, if you come across too demanding or even arrogant you could switch them off.

Weigh up all the above, use your best judgement and define what you believe to be a realistic salary. One you can live with. Add a small margin to allow for some wriggle room in negotiation and peg that figure firmly in your mind so when the subject comes up you have a clear idea of what you want and can respond confidently….. However:

When you are asked your salary expectation, do the unspeakable. Answer the question with a question. Respond by saying, ‘well I am not sure what way you structure the salaries here. Is there health insurance, a bonus built in somewhere, motor expenses, travel, holidays etc? This may prompt the employer to respond to you with an outline of how salaries are structured and what is on offer. If there is a bonus along with some or all of the above then maybe a similar of even slightly reduced salary would be quite acceptable to you. And don’t be afraid to negotiate, or at least try and negotiate.

With the wriggle-room in mind, state your salary expectation. Remember, it’s just your expectation not your demand and may be open to negotiation. Pitch a little above what you believe to be the going rate and be prepared to support your asking price with a reason/s. Back to those + and – considerations.

– Your experience would be very beneficial to the organisation.
– You would bring new ideas.
– You may have extra qualifications

Give the reasons in a sincere fashion; you’re in a ‘convincing mode’ at this stage. Even discussing salaries at this point of the process suggests they are interested in you. If that doesn’t budge them then, for example, you had asked for 40 and they said 35 suggest you split it down the middle and propose 37.5.

Again if there is no budge and if you are really confident and have the courage of your convictions you could suggest that ‘OK put me on a 6 month trial at 35 and after 6 months if you’re happy, I go on to 40. It sounds good and very confident. The chances are you will probably be on a 6 months trial anyway, but you get the suggestion in first.

If your salary expectation is more that the offer there in no harm done by explaining that you want to advance your career and hopefully not go backwards in your salary level. Here is where you can repeat the reasons why you believe you warrant that bit more. It’s all perfectly reasonable.

If after all is said they hold firm on their offer and you want the job, you always have the option to say you fully understand and you wouldn’t have forgiven yourself if you didn’t at least ask. Then smile and say “thank you so much, I will be delighted to accept and I really look forward to getting started and working with you”.

Don’t be afraid to negotiate or try to negotiate, I have never heard of anyone losing an opportunity by trying a little bargaining. Trouble will only arise if you insist on sticking to a salary level that they clearly will not rise to. Bear in mind at the time of job offer it’s your only and last chance to negotiate. Once you start there is no going back with your cap in hand looking for more.

Good negotiation will demonstrate that you are a bright spark with an active brain and by hiring you they are bringing that same bright spark onto their team. You could call it a Win – Win situation.

Good Luck