Ask James: How do I answer this interview question about salary?

Have you got some questions about your career? You’ve come to the right place…

 

In his monthly column, career coach and Chairman of reed.co.uk, James Reed, shares his expert advice to help you tackle your biggest career concerns.

This month’s question is about salary…

 

The question…

 

Hi James,

During an interview last week, the interviewer asked me the question “What is your desired salary?”, and it stumped me. How do you answer this question without either seeming too cheap or pricing yourself out of the job?

Best,

Alex

 

The answer…

 

Hi Alex,

You’re certainly not alone in finding this interview question tough. How and when to discuss salary is one of the most sensitive – and potentially explosive – job-search questions. Get it right and you can maximise your upside. Get it wrong and you’ll be out the door.

Don’t worry unduly though. Most jobs do of course have the salary clearly advertised. This issue most commonly arises when a salary range is shown or indeed it is marked as TBD (To Be Determined).

The obvious first step is to do some research and find out the going rate for similar roles. Finding this sort of information used to be tricky, but it’s actually quite easy now, just run a search on reed.co.uk or use our average salary checker to check average salaries for your role.

You should also think carefully about your own skill levels and what you have to offer the company you’re applying to.

Once you’ve done this, you should set three numbers very firmly in your mind. The first is your ideal salary. The second is your ‘no-go’ number. The mid-range between these two figures is the third number to keep in mind – call it the satisfactory starting point.

No matter how capable and well prepared you are, discussions about salary still require a light touch. In this situation, nobody wants to be the first to bring up a number. If you do so, you run the risk of throwing out a figure that’s significantly lower than the company would have been willing to pay you.

Many interviewers know this though, and that’s why some of them will try to push you into saying a number, by asking this question at the interview stage.

If possible, deflect them. There are several approaches that might work. You can try deflecting the question with another question.

If, for instance, the interviewer asks,What are your salary expectations?” You might respond with something like, Yes, we haven’t discussed compensation yet. I’m interested to learn more about that. Can you fill me in on whether you have a particular range in mind?”

Alternately, you might try and leave the matter open by stating you don’t have enough information about the role and responsibilities to answer yet, or say that you’d like to do a bit more research now that you have a better understanding of what the job entails.

However, if a persistent interviewer corners you into revealing your salary expectations, phrase your answer as a range, for instance I am currently focusing my search on jobs in the X-Y range, or I’m being interviewed for jobs paying in the range of X-Y.” This is a good time to use the ideal number you prepared earlier.

If you’re realistic about your salary expectations, then it’s hard to go far wrong. This interview question might even be looked at as a blessing in disguise.

And of course if it turns out that the salary on offer doesn’t meet your expectations, then it will save both you and the hiring manager a lot time of time in the long run.

How to prepare for an interview

How to: deal with stress in an interview

What does competitive salary actually mean?

 

If you’d like James to answer your career query, tweet your question to @James_A_Reed

 

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