Money Talks

piggy bank for salary expectationsIf I asked you to pick one interview question that twists your stomach in knots, I’d bet good money that it’s exactly that: money. “So, tell me … what are your salary expectations?” It’s the question almost everyone dreads. Most mid-career working people today were raised in homes where our parents didn’t talk openly about what they earned. Generationally and culturally speaking, it’s not in our nature.

Things are changing; there’s a growing movement to force companies to be more transparent about salary ranges. It’s now illegal in some parts of Canada and the United States to post a job without a salary range, and also to ask for an applicant’s current salary. And this is for good reason; at least in part, it’s to ensure that everyone is paid equally for equal work, particularly women, minorities, and other groups who historically have been (and in many cases still are) disadvantaged in this respect.

But it’s still an uncomfortable question that inevitably you’ll be asked to answer. Let’s look at some of the ways you might do that.

Who blinks first?

There’s a lot of chatter about not being the person who ‘blinks first’ when it comes to this question. In other words, forcing my hand to get an answer out of me before you share yours. There’s wisdom in this strategy; being the first person to show your hand in a negotiation can leave you in a weaker position. If you’re resolved in your decision to not give a number before I do, there are two ways to do that.

One is to answer a question (“What are your salary expectations?”) with a question (“Well, what’s your range?”). Don’t do that. If I’ve asked you a question in an interview – any question – never turn it back on me before you answer. A better way to temporarily pass on giving an answer is to say that you will need more information about the position and responsibilities to know what you expect. Just be aware that when you do have more information, you would then be expected to state your expectation.

Give a range, then?

Giving an interviewer a range of salaries you would consider doesn’t always make sense. Nobody has a ‘top end’ – I have yet to see anyone turn down a job because the salary is just too generous. If you give an interviewer a range, it’s pretty clear that the bottom number is the lowest salary you would accept.

Giving a narrow range can work when you’ve done some research to find out what is typical for that role (“Based on my research, I’ve learned that this position typically comes in between [x] and [y], and those are in my range.”). Tread carefully here: the range has to be valid for that job, in that industry, in your location, and with your level of qualification and experience. Unless you’ve considered all those factors in your research, you may be comparing apples and oranges.

The final option, of course, is to just give a number. This can be the most daunting of all. Worried that you’re asking too much, and you’ll knock yourself out of the running? Maybe you’re worried you’ll come in too low and either appear underqualified, or lock yourself in at a salary that could have been higher. Here’s the good news: you can mitigate your risk by qualifying your answer. If you’re worried you might be on the low end, you might add that your expectations might change as you get a better understanding of the scope of the job. If you think you might be coming in high, you could say that salary isn’t the only consideration for you (which – hopefully! – should be true). With either, you’ve given yourself some wiggle room when and if it comes to negotiations.

One final point, in hopes of taking some anxiety out of answering this question. A common reminder in sales negotiation is that you can’t lose something you never had. If your salary expectations were a long way out of the company’s ballpark on the high side, you probably weren’t going to get what you were hoping for. If you’re on the low end, it may be that the company is hiring for someone with more (or different) experience than you have. At the end of the day, you probably don’t have anything to lose by taking a deep breath, and being upfront and honest.



Photo by Fabian Blank on Unsplash