They asked me what salary I want in an interview. What should I say?

You’re applying to a new job that seems like the perfect fit for you. You have the skills and you’d enjoy working at this company. But they asked you what salary you want! What do you say? So many thoughts go through your mind:

  • Should I just say my current salary?

  • Or how much higher than my current salary should I say?

  • What if I ask for too much money and they don’t hire me because of it?

These are all normal fears to have, and they are reasonable. You are applying for a job you don’t know much about. You aren’t sure if you can do the job, how the company’s management feels about paying employees, and you haven’t proven yourself as a valuable asset to them.

You feel powerless to negotiate your salary.

As a rule of thumb, you want to push off the salary discussion as long as possible. During the interview process, you will have chances to get your confidence and ease your worries. You can identify how successful you’ll be at this job and you can prove to the hiring manager that you will be a valuable team member. As you go through the interview, you will demonstrate that you are not just an average candidate; you are an extraordinary candidate. You will be an employee who is worth paying an extraordinary salary.

Pushing off the salary discussion isn’t important just for your compensation. It’s important for presenting yourself as a high caliber candidate and improving your odds of getting the job.

People with multiple job options are not in a hurry to make a decision because if one option falls through they have other ones waiting for them. And if you have options, you aren’t concerned to talk about salary right away. First you want to know if the job is a good fit for you and you want to know if you are a good fit for the company. You want to make sure both you and the company will succeed from working together.

Present yourself as a high caliber candidate. When you’re asked about what salary you want, you should say something that pushes that discussion off to a later interview:

“I’ll be happy to discuss salary. I’m sure we can come to a number that we both agree on, but I’d prefer to discuss it a little later. First I want to make sure that the open role is a good fit for me and that I’m a good fit for the company. I want to make sure both of us can succeed by working together.”

Even while pushing the salary discussion to a later time, you should know the typical range of the market salary. Check out my article about finding out if you’re getting paid what you’re worth to learn what the market range is: Use the techniques in that article to collect evidence of what salary you command on the job market. Come to the first interview with a salary range that you think is appropriate from what you know about the job. As you learn more about the position in each interview, go through the techniques again and update the salary range. By the time you get a job offer, you’ll have a lot of evidence for what salary you should get.

Ideally, you’ll get a job offer before you have to negotiate the salary they give you. But the world isn’t ideal and the hiring manager might say that you can’t move forward in the interview process without knowing your desired salary. In that case, say something in the top part of the market range you found with your research. But do your best to say that you need more information about the job, company, and work expectations before you give the hiring manager a number.

Once you do get to the salary discussion, say something that is based on the evidence you provided:

“As you can see from the market salaries I’ve collected, the market range for jobs of this type go from $A to $B. Based on my previous experiences and what you’ve learned in the interview process, you know that I’ll be a high achieving employee in the organization. Therefore, I believe a salary at the top end of that range is appropriate.”

Present your research to the hiring manager. If you have evidence that the market will pay someone of your skillset a certain salary, it becomes a discussion of logic rather than one of emotion. This is why waiting to discuss salary is so important. You want time to demonstrate that you will be a valuable employee to the company because you will then be paid at the top of the salary range.

If your current salary is in that range or above feel free to add that information. Your current salary is a good indicator to a hiring manager of how valuable you are at your current job. It adds more evidence to your case that hiring you is a good return on investment for the company.

If your current salary is below the range and the hiring manager knows that say, “My current job is a different role from this one. My current salary reflects the work expectations of that role, but I’m looking to take on more responsibility and add more value to your organization so I’d like my salary to reflect that level of value.” You want to let the hiring manager know that paying you will be a great investment for the company.

As with most things, practice will make you a much better salary negotiator. Find the best negotiator you know and practice with that person. You want to do three things when you practice your salary negotiation:

  • Push off the salary discussion until you demonstrate that you’re an extraordinary candidate for the job.
  • Know the market salary range for the job you want.
  • Negotiate to be at the top end of that market range because you are a high achieving employee. The extra investment in your salary will pay off for the company.

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One thought on “They asked me what salary I want in an interview. What should I say?

  1. The Career Sensei

    This article has been extremely informative and helpful. I also blog about careers so I’m constantly looking at other websites for information and I must say the style in which you present your career advice is impressive and easy to adopt. Kudos.


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