Updated 26 February 2021
There are many potential points to negotiate when it comes to job offers, but salary is usually the primary issue. Keep in mind that any discussion of salary might reach the unacceptable range and put the offer at risk. Always tread carefully.
Many companies have a fairly tight (although not airtight) salary range they are able to offer candidates. If you are able to show extraordinary educational or work experience, you may be able to organise an offer from the top of this salary range.
In this article we explore why and how recruiters may ask about your salary requirements, how to prepare your response, and the best way to deal with this scenario.
Why Might an Employer Ask For Your Salary Expectations?
Here are some reasons why employers might ask about your salary requirements during the application or interview process:
- They have a limited budget. Employers will have a figure in mind of what they can afford to pay. If your salary expectations exceed this by some way, they may rule you out.
- To get a bargain. If you give a figure below the salary range they were willing to offer, they might jump at the chance to employ you on a lower salary than other candidates have requested.
- To check you are at the right professional level. Employers will have an idea of the market worth of the job they are advertising for. If your expectations are very high, it could suggest that you are over-qualified for the position. On the other hand, if your expectations are low, they may conclude that you do not have the experience they require.
- To sound you out. Employers are aware that talking about salary expectations can be uncomfortable for candidates. Asking how much you would like to be paid can help them to find out how you value yourself, and what your negotiating skills are like. They are likely to find you more attractive as a candidate if you give an answer that shows you understand your own worth and are confident enough to ask for a fair salary.
A recruiter may ask for you to state your salary requirements when you fill in the job application. Alternatively, you may be asked about your expectations during the interview, or in a follow-up phone call or email after the interview.
You do not have to give an answer, but refusing to provide some kind of response when explicitly asked is unlikely to go down well. Having said that, you will be in a stronger position if you can tactfully delay answering the salary question for as long as reasonably possible.
How to Respond to a Question About Your Salary Requirements
During the Application Process
If you are asked to include salary requirements with your application, then you should give an answer. Failing to follow instructions or providing an incomplete application will only annoy the recruiter and risk them rejecting your application immediately.
However, there are ways of providing the information they request without giving too much away. You could provide a salary range rather than a specific figure, to give you room to manoeuvre further down the line.
Most larger companies will have set ranges to work within, although many medium to smaller companies may have more flexible market-driven ranges. The range you provide should be realistic, and based on your own salary research. We will discuss this in more detail later on.
Alternatively, you could state that your salary requirements are negotiable depending on the specifics of the role, and other benefits or perks that may be included in the overall compensation package.
However you respond, make it clear that you are prepared to be flexible when it comes to negotiating a salary. And if the information is not requested at this stage do not volunteer it.
During Your Interview
If the question comes up during the interview, try to delay answering for as long as possible. If you name a figure too early, you are at risk of selling yourself short. And you will be in a much stronger position to negotiate a good salary when you have convinced the employer you are the best candidate for the job.
When an interviewer asks about your salary requirements you could say something along the lines of: “At this stage, I would like to find out more about the role and what my responsibilities would be. I’m sure you’re offering a competitive salary, so I’m confident we can agree on a figure that is a fair reflection of my experience and qualifications.”
An answer like this lets the interviewer know that you are confident in your own abilities and the value you would bring to the company and expect to be fairly compensated. It also displays good negotiating skills, which could in turn lead to a better offer from them.
If the interviewer pushes harder then try to get them to name a figure first. Like you, they won’t want to reveal their hand too early but it is only fair to ask them which bracket they think the role falls in. Having a clear idea of the range they are willing to consider will give you a better starting point for negotiations.
If you have already expressed your wish to focus on the roles and responsibilities of the job before discussing the salary you could say: “I’m sure you have an idea of your budget for this role and what it is worth to the company, so it would be useful to know the salary bracket you have in mind.”
If the interviewer continues to push then you will need to give an answer but you can still avoid stating a specific figure. Instead suggest a range, making it clear that this is based on a sound understanding of the market. You might say: “According to my own experience and research, my understanding is that salaries for this type of role typically fall somewhere between £50,000 to £65,000 per year.” Follow our tips below to research your answer.
Emphasise that you are willing to be flexible, and even if the base salary is not as high as you had hoped then extras such as performance-related bonuses, work perks, extra holiday or opportunities to progress in the company may still make it an attractive proposition.
After the Interview
If you are asked about your salary requirements after the interview, either by phone or email, you will not be able to delay answering in the same way. Firstly, remember that this is a good sign – they wouldn’t be asking about your salary expectations at this stage unless you were a strong contender for the job.
As above, try to get them to name a figure first by asking about the salary bracket. Then open negotiations by giving the range you have in mind, once again making it clear that this is drawn from thorough research but that you can be flexible when it comes to agreeing the final figure.
What if the Interviewer Asks About Your Current Salary?
Sometimes an interviewer will ask what you are earning now, or about your salary history. Again, it is best to deflect or delay this type of question where possible. There are many reasons why a candidate may be underpaid in their current role and would not want this to lead to a similarly low salary offer, or for the employer to conclude they are underqualified for the job. Likewise, some candidates may be overpaid and do not want this to put off a potential employer.
You may be able to apply some of the techniques above to avoid revealing your current salary early on. If pushed, try to give your salary bracket rather than the precise figure. But don’t be tempted to lie outright.
If you think the figure sounds too low, then give a reason for this. Perhaps the role included other perks that made it attractive, such as flexible work patterns or better benefits. Or perhaps it was based in a location where the cost of living is lower.
If the figure is comparatively high, then make it clear why you might be happy to take a pay cut. You might be making a career change or looking to achieve a better work/life balance.
How to Research Your Salary Requirements
Although you want to delay discussing your salary requirements for as long as possible, it is important that you have some figures in mind for when you can no longer put it off. Research is key here.
It is crucial to have an understanding of the typical rate for similar roles. Using this, you can then present the interviewer with a reasonable salary range based on real data, rather than a hopeful number plucked from the air.
Information about average salaries for a range of positions can be found on websites such as Payscale, Glassdoor and Indeed. You may even be able to find salary information for the company interviewing you on their own website, or talk to someone who works there or has done in the past.
When researching your own salary range for any given role you will need to take into account:
- The size of the company;
- Where the job is based;
- Your experience level;
- Your current or most recent salary.
You are likely to find a wide range of figures and some conflicting information; exploring a few different sources should give you a sense of what’s realistic.
How to Negotiate your Salary
If you have researched your salary requirements and successfully avoided revealing your expectations too early, then you should be in a strong position to negotiate a favourable salary. Here are a few more tips to make sure you end up with the best possible figure.
Start high. While you don’t want to price yourself out completely, if you have a sense of a reasonable range then go in near the top end. It shows you have confidence in your own worth. Also, research shows that people are happier with the outcome of a negotiation if they feel that the other person has reluctantly conceded their position a couple of times, so give yourself space to come down a notch or two.
Be flexible. As above, be prepared to give way on your first offer. If you’ve started strongly then you are still likely to end up with a good deal, and your potential employer will be happier with the outcome too. Or consider other perks that might help to boost a lower offer, such as bonuses, holiday, or health and pension benefits.
Focus on what you really want. Establish what your best case scenario would be in terms of salary offer and keep this at the forefront of your mind. If you focus on this, rather than a minimum figure that you would be happy with, you are likely to negotiate more successfully.
Be positive. Even if the offer you are made is far lower than you would like, remain gracious and show you are still enthusiastic about the role before you start trying to push for more.
Be prepared to walk away. As well as determining your best case scenario, work out the lowest figure you would be prepared to accept. The job has to be affordable for you, so think about factors such as travel, bills, lifestyle, as well as what you think is fair based on your research. And don’t be afraid to walk away if their best offer is simply too low.
Summary: Key Tips
- Don’t reveal your salary expectations too early. Find ways to deflect or delay the question until later in the interview.
- If pushed, give a salary bracket rather than a specific figure.
- Do your research. Make sure you have a good understanding of a realistic salary range for the role before the interview begins.
- Negotiate confidently. With research and preparation behind you, don’t be afraid to aim high. Your employer is likely to respect you more for it.
- Be flexible. You are more likely to reach a figure you are both happy with if you are prepared to give way a little, or consider other factors that might make the overall compensation package more agreeable.
In attempting to modify salary, you may find that the best you can achieve is a promise for tomorrow. If so, be sure to get it in writing from a person with authority to make it stick.
And in the end, do not let salary be your only guide regarding job offers. You are much better off making less money and being happy, than making more money and being miserable.