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3 Strategies for Answering “What Are Your Salary Expectations?” in an Interview

Updated: May 9, 2021

When you’re in the middle of a job interview, a question like “What are your salary expectations?” can make you panic. You don’t want to say something too high and price yourself out of a job you want or need, and you don’t want to say something too low and end up not getting paid as much as you could or should be making.

Some of this concern is warranted. When career coach Joyel Crawford worked in recruiting, the main reason she asked about salary was to gauge a job candidate’s expectations relative to the budget allocated for the role.

So unlike many other common interview questions, your response to “What is your desired salary?” could disqualify you from consideration for a job. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since you might not be able to accept or enjoy a job that doesn’t pay enough for you.

You might also be afraid that the interviewer will judge you harshly if you price yourself too high or too low, but that generally isn’t the goal. This question is more about finding a salary match, says Crawford, who is also host of the podcast Career View Mirror.

Discussing salary early on ensures neither the candidate nor the company will “waste time and effort on several rounds of interviews to find out that the salary is wildly off from what you want,” says Muse career coach Jennifer Fink, CEO and founder of Fink Development.

“Ideally, employers and recruiters would be upfront with [salary] information and volunteer it first, but that’s not often the case,” Fink says. When a job posting lists pay, candidates will avoid applying if it’s out of their range, and when an interviewer mentions it first candidates can respond without any guesswork.

There are several strategies for answering interview questions about your salary expectations, but the basis of all of them is doing your research ahead of an interview.

Figure Out Your Salary Expectations Ahead of Time

Pay can come up in different ways in a job interview and you can use different strategies to answer these questions (see below). But no matter how you choose to respond, you should still know what your ideal salary is.

Maybe the interviewer needs you to state a number, or maybe they tell you what they’re offering and ask you to react. Either way, “Some processes won’t move forward until they know that a candidate is a good fit salary-wise,” Fink says.

Start your salary research by looking up your desired job title by name, geographic location, and years of experience through free resources like the Department of Labor,, and Fink also recommends 81cents, which helps job candidates, especially women and underrepresented minorities, improve the outcome of salary negotiations. You have to pay for their in-depth, personalized reports on your individual market value, but you can also check out their resource library for general information on salary and negotiation. Asking people in your network who have the job you want what they’re making is another way to gain insight, Fink says.

Use multiple sources to get a good sense of the going rate for the kind of job you’re interviewing for and take into account any additional skills and qualifications you have, the size of the company, the industry, and the location. This should give you a reasonable idea of what you can expect a company to offer to pay you.

Next figure out how much pay you personally need (and want). Look at your predicted expenses and goals. If it’s your first job and you’ll be moving out of your parents’ house, if you’ll now have to pay for childcare, or if you’ll have to finance a car to get to the office, this job is going to cause a major budget shift. If you’d be relocating, consider moving expenses and the cost of living near your new job.