How to Answer Questions about Salary Expectations

Everyone knows that money talks – but talking about money? That can make even the most confident, qualified candidate squirm in their seat or look for an exit. Here’s how you should answer questions about your salary expectations.

“So what kind of salary are you expecting?” Is there a single interview question that candidates dread more than this one? There are certainly few that are as tricky to answer, without stepping on someone’s toes or torpedoing your prospects of employment.

Questions about your salary expectations can present you with quite a conundrum. Aim too high, and you risk coming across as arrogant or hard to please – you could easily price yourself out of a job. On the other hand, if you lowball your employer, you risk undervaluing yourself, setting a precedent that may end up hurting you the next time you want to ask for raise.

It’s a delicate matter, but it’s not one that you shouldn’t be able to manage. By proceeding with caution and heeding the following advice, you can ensure that you emerge from your interview unscathed – and appropriately compensated.

Disclose your current salary
If you’re dealing with a recruiter, he or she absolutely needs to know your current (if you’re employed) or most recent salary (if you’re currently between jobs). They will need that information to help you determine an appropriate salary to request at the bargaining table.

It pays – literally – to be honest with your recruiter. You may be reluctant to reveal to them, for example, that you’re presently earning less than the market rate for someone in your position. But it’s important for your recruiter to understand where you’re coming from, as well as what you consider deal-breakingly low, so that they can counsel you about what kind of pay range you should propose at an interview. In fact, they may be able to help you filter out potential employers with whom you simply won’t be able to agree upon a sum that suits your needs and expectations.

You should be just as upfront with employers and hiring managers, who may indeed inquire into what you’re currently making. While this might make you feel a bit uncomfortable, you should avoid withholding this information. By sharing your current salary and being honest about what you feel that you deserve, you can establish some trust with your interviewers. And without that, you’ll never achieve the leverage you need to meet your salary goals.

But it’s important for your recruiter to understand where you’re coming from, as well as what you consider deal-breakingly low, so that they can counsel you about what kind of pay range you should propose at an interview.

Do your research
In order to give an employer a reasonable, informed salary proposal, it’s crucial that you read up on the kinds of salaries others in your field are commanding. Come to the interview with some idea of the typical level of compensation for the position you’re applying to.

The easiest way to determine this is by scanning industry job boards or checking out job listings on company websites. And don’t be shy about asking around within your personal and professional networks.

Consider supply and demand
Unfortunately, not all positions are created equal. There can be a big difference between what you deserve to be paid, and what the market is willing to pay. The value of your skills and experience will depend on the industry or job you’re going for. No matter how talented you may be, this is something you’ll have to take into account before you propose a salary.

If you’re an accountant or an auditor, you should refer to the Sarbanes Oxley legislation boom of the past decade, during which salaries jumped 20 or 30% for very particular skillsets. Candidates like yourself are hard to come by, and your bargaining power will be accordingly greater. Use your upper hand to propose a higher starting number.

If, on the other hand, your skills are not in as great demand, you might have to settle for less than you’d like. As such, it may be prudent to suggest a lower range than what you would otherwise consider ideal.

By sharing your current salary and being honest about what you feel that you deserve, you can establish some trust with your interviewers.

Anchor yourself to the higher end of a pay range
It’s common for potential employers to try to establish a range within which they would be willing to negotiate. For your part, you should point out that you’re more comfortable in the higher part of the range. If you have other offers that you’re considering, be honest about these; an employer will be more likely to take you seriously if there’s a possibility of a bidding war for your services.

But don’t lie about having other opportunities. Fibbing as a negotiating tactic is not only unethical – it’s counterproductive. We live in a small and increasingly well-connected world, and your indiscretion will almost surely be found out.

Conversely, if an employer declines to fix a range and instead asks you to suggest a number, give them an honest figure, based on your research of common salaries for the position. If you’re already employed or feel that your skills are rare, suggest a number slightly higher than what you’re comfortable with, so that you can bargain your way down to that target if you need to. If, however, you’re less confident about how valuable you are as a candidate, simply give the number you’ve decided on, without going too high or low.

Talking about how much you want to make or what you feel you’re worth can be awkward. But if you do your homework beforehand and come prepared to discuss the matter honestly and straightforwardly, you won’t be seen as greedy or petty – on the contrary, you’ll appear confident, knowledgeable, and professional. And that can help you get the salary you want and deserve.

Let us know what you think! At Clarity Recruitment, we’re always interested in hearing from accounting and finance professionals like yourselves, who are ready for new, exciting opportunities that can take their careers to the next level. And be sure to follow us on Twitter (@clarityrecruits) and connect with us on Facebook for more great tips and advice!