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

By Robert Half December 28, 2017 at 9:45am

It’s the most dreaded question in any job interview: What's your expected salary? Or, what's your hourly rate? Unfortunately, it can't be avoided, especially when online application systems make answering the question a requirement — or when the hiring manager sitting right in front of you asks it directly.

Or CAN you avoid it? Recruiters say the “salary range expected” question is one that’s really not in your best interest to answer. And the question about your salary history is prohibited by an increasing number of local and state governments.

Even though many accounting and finance job postings close with a statement indicating salary is negotiable, job seekers don't always speak up to secure a better package when they should. In a Robert Half survey, only 39 percent of workers said they tried to negotiate a higher salary with their last job offer.

You may have to deal with the question of pay long before you get to the salary negotiations, of course, and we’d like to help you with that. Keep in mind that you have more power than you may think you have.

When the online application asks about salary

That can be tricky. It can throw you out of the running before you even have a chance at an interview — or it can set a limitation on how much the company will pay you.

So the answer? Just leave it blank. Or use words, instead of numbers.

“Up for negotiation,” is one response. “I’d like to discuss compensation during the interview,” is another. Something vague, like “midpoint salary range expected,” may be a tactic that opens the door for a later discussion.

When they ask about salary range expected

Whether the opening is for an entry-level bookkeeper or a senior accountant, the job interview is your opportunity to convince the interviewer that the company would be better off choosing you than anyone else. You want them to think, “How much do we need to offer to convince this person to join our team?”

So if they ask, “What’s your expected salary” for the position, you should have an answer.

“At this point, I’d like to focus on the value I would add in this position,” you could say. Or, “I’d like this position to be an advancement for me in terms of pay, responsibility and the impact I can make.”

You might even turn it around and say, “What type of salary range do you have budgeted for this position?”

The reason you don’t want to throw your desired compensation out there too early is that 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.

When you’ve done your salary homework

By preparing for the salary question ahead of time, you may have a better chance of landing the job of your dreams, with a paycheck to match.

Here are four tips you can follow to get ready for that conversation.

1. Research the market and salary trends

To answer the crucial wage question, you need to evaluate your education, experience and skills. Then take a look at the accounting job market to see how it's performing, how saturated it is and what roles are in demand. If you're a staff accountant, for instance, that's listed in the 2019 Robert Half Salary Guide for Accounting and Finance Professionals as one of the hot finance and accounting positions. The midpoint starting salary for a staff accountant with one to three years' experience is projected to be $62,000 in 2019.

Your assessment should consider where a company is located, how many employees it has, and whether it is privately or publicly owned. Also know that it's a candidate-driven market right now, and you can easily get up to date on the latest salary trends by downloading the Salary Guide.

2. Build your confidence

It’s always better to put off a discussion about pay 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 in the position. But if the interviewer insists, you can also insist that you’d like to know first if the wage range they have in mind is in your ballpark.

If you decide to give a salary range you’re comfortable with, based on what you discovered during your research, be sure to consider the low end of your pay range. Would you be happy with the number on the low end — and able to live on it? The hiring manager may just take you up on your lowest number, and you don’t want to live to regret your answer.

3. Look at the bigger picture

When you work for a company, you’re not just receiving a salary or a paycheck. For a full-time position, you also get 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. Know when to walk

During the interview, you should direct the conversation to your skills and the value you’d bring to the role you’re applying for — not what you’ve been paid at other jobs.

If you answer “what's your expected salary” with numbers that cause your interviewer’s eyes to widen, maybe it’s not the right job for you. You should know from your research and your experience 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.

Still looking for that perfect job? We can help you find a position that matches your salary expectations. We can also get you started with a temporary job.

This post has been updated to reflect more current information.

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