How to Ace the Salary Question During a Job Interview

Business.com / HR Solutions / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

The interviewer asks you the dreaded question: “What are your salary requirements?” Here's how to answer with confidence.

You’ve officially made it past the masses who’ve applied for your dream job.

Maybe you’ve had a phone screening, or possibly even several. Now you’re sitting across from the hiring manager for the official interview. Weeks of preparation and anticipation are making your head spin, yet you feel calm, collected and ready to knock them off their feet. 

That’s when the elephant decides to step out from behind the curtains. The interviewer asks you the question that everyone dreads: “What are your salary requirements?” 

At this point you have to choose one of two options: Snatch your résumésa from the interviewer, or provide them with an answer. Hint, hint—the latter is the correct response. The salary you accept largely influences your personal earning potential. Ultimately, that number can serve as a defining benchmark in your career.

So how do you know what the appropriate figure should be? Here are some methods that will help you prepare to answer with full confidence. 

Related Article: Interviews & First Dates: The Tools You Need to Get to #2

Know Your Worth

A good starting point is to simply do an internet search. Avoid blogs and discussion groups, as their data may not be the most accurate. Instead, check out sites like Salary.com and Payscale.com, which offer aggregated numbers that should give you an idea of the salary range for a specific role. Be aware that there are a few factors that determine where you fall within the range, including: 

  • Location: While you should be able to find general guidelines for major metropolitan areas, there are great fluctuations in cost of living within various ’burbs and small towns. If you are pursuing a job requiring relocation, contact the local government. They’ll be happy to provide you with some guidance, albeit sometimes slightly biased, around the local job market. 

  • Experience: Are you a seasoned veteran? If so, you’ll likely be on the high side of the scale. Fresh out of college? Your ability to capture an upper-range salary may not be justified, however, the next bullet should be of interest to you.

Evaluate the Market

Similar to almost every major purchase (homes, cars, travel, etc.), you should understand the atmosphere of the market that you’re interested in. Luckily, the federal government happens to keep a close eye on things of this nature, so you can easily find the latest facts and figures online.  

While you should never assume that negotiations are off the table, a tough economy, whether local or national, can make it more difficult to command a high salary. On that same note, asking for an astronomical amount during a difficult economy can result in quick elimination from the recruitment pool. 

Another factor that you must consider relates to the individual job level. While the economy of a certain city may be doing poorly, your particular field could be a booming microcosm. Take the healthcare industry, for example. On a macro level, the U.S. was hurting from 2008-2009. Most people were clinging to their jobs for dear life. Then there were the doctors, nurses and home health aides who seemed faced with endless opportunities. A shortage in your particular industry combined with a strong economy increases your value and therefore, your particular salary range. 

Related Article: Secrets of the Super Rich: Does Salary Really Matter?

Establish Your Range

Going into an interview with a single, strict figure can hurt you in multiple ways. Maybe your number is marginally above the maximum salary the organization can offer—this will likely be the kiss of death in the interview process, as you’ve priced yourself out of a role. Alternatively, if you shoot for a number that’s $15,000 less than they were willing to pay, you may be stifling your earnings significantly. 

If you’ve done your research, setting the range should be relatively simple, and it will likely fall within the parameters set by the hiring organization. Every position you apply for should have a slightly different range, which is why you should evaluate salaries on a job-by-job basis. 

While the salary question doesn’t always rear its head during the interview, following these few tips will help you be prepared for that conversation when it does happen. While talk of money can create a flood of emotions, negotiating salary should not be an emotional event. You may feel as if you’re asking for a lot, but remember that you won’t hurt a hiring manager’s feelings if you ask for a salary on the upper end of their threshold. If you can back up your numbers with facts, that’s just one more way to prove your worth to the organization. 

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