How to Answer, 'What's Your Expected Salary?'

The word 'salary' on a calculator

It’s the most dreaded question in any job interview: What's your expected salary? Unfortunately, it can't be avoided, especially when online application systems make answering the question a requirement.

But keep in mind that the expected salary question is one you can prepare for. And by doing so, you'll come across as flexible and knowledgeable. Follow these five tips the next time you’re asked "What's your expected salary?"

1. Do your research

To answer the crucial question, you need to know how valuable your skills are. So take a look at the accounting job market to see how it's performing, how saturated it is and where there’s demand. If your area of focus is inundated with similar professionals, you may want to skew your salary expectation lower. If you specialize in the healthcare field, however, you can ask for a higher salary based on the market’s increased demand for professionals with expertise in financial processes integration and cost accounting.

Your assessment should also consider where a company is located, how many employees it has, and whether it is privately or publicly owned.

For an in-depth look at the latest salary figures, download the latest Salary Guide for Accounting and Finance and try the Salary Calculator to adjust salaries for specific U.S. cities.


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2. Be confident

If the expected salary question pops up in a face-to-face interview, don’t be evasive. It’s always better to put off a salary discussion until you’re well into the interview, after you’ve had opportunity to explain what you can bring to the table and learn a little more about what’s expected of the job you’re interviewing for. But if the interviewer insists, then give the salary range you’re comfortable with, based on what you discovered during your research.

3. Look at the bigger picture

When you work for a company, you’re not just receiving a salary. You’re also getting a full compensation package that includes vacation days and other perks. If the salary is lower than you had hoped, you can ask for more perks, from vacation time to flexible work hours to permission to occasionally work remotely. Once you’ve learned the possibilities — and considered whether the company’s workplace culture seems right for you — then you can decide whether these extras make up for getting less money.

4. Make the low end of your salary range livable

Whether the expected salary question appears in an in-person interview or an online application, it often asks you to provide a range. Before you answer, consider whether you'll be happy — or able to live on — the low end. The chances are pretty good that the hiring manager will take you up on your lowest number. Don’t live to regret your answer.

5. Know when to walk

If your answer to “What's your expected salary?” causes your interviewer’s eyes to widen, maybe it’s not the right job for you. You should know from your research, based on market trends and demand for your skills and the experience you bring to the table, what you should be getting paid. When a company isn't willing or able to compensate you adequately, it’s probably not one where you’ll be happy in the long run.  

The expected salary question can be tricky. If you go too high, you can take yourself out of the running. If you go too low, you may end up with a less-than-appealing offer. By preparing for this question ahead of time, you just might land the job of your dreams, with a salary to match.

You’ve researched salaries and your prospective employer. Now you’re invited in for an interview. Prepare well, stay confident and be positive, but also watch for red flags.

Keep reading before you interview