The interview is going great. Then the interviewer asks the big question—”What salary do you expect?” Say too high a number, and you’ve priced yourself out of the job. Too low a number, and you’ll get taken advantage of. Fortunately, there are ways to make this question less fraught…
Be prepared. Remove as much uncertainty as possible by doing research before the interview.
On yourself: Consider what you’re worth. What do people in your role, with similar skills and experience, make in your industry and field of work?
On your needs: What figure is so low that you couldn’t pay your bills? Don’t forget to include benefits—how much are you paying for health insurance? Depending on the company’s benefits, adjust your salary floor downward by the differential (or upward if the benefits are less robust).
On the company: What do people in similar roles make there? Is the business growing? Is the company flush with cash?
Develop a range using Glassdoor, Salary.com and Payscale. Use that information, along with what you know from the above steps, to develop your own salary range. At the low end, you could just get by. The high end is generous yet reasonable and worth asking for.
During the interview: There are two options for handling this question…
Cite your research. Say, “My research tells me I should expect a salary within the range of X to Y.” If you’ve done your homework, you’ll be smack in the ballpark. You might wonder if you should stretch the range toward the higher end. Experiment from interview to interview. Employers can always negotiate down, but they’ll almost never offer you more than the high end of a range you cite.
Invoke the benefits. Offer a wide range, but say that it depends on the benefits package. Example: “I’d say anywhere from $55,000 to $75,000, but it really depends on the overall benefits package.” That leaves plenty of room for negotiation.
Refer to the stated salary range. Many job listings now include ranges published by the company. Ideally, your range overlaps with theirs. In this case you could say, “The published range aligns with my research and expectations. My expectation is on the higher end of that range, depending on the benefits package offered.” This approach leaves room for negotiation.
Once there’s an offer: Never accept employment without asking for the entire package—salary and all benefits—in writing. Then you can really do the math and make sure you’re getting a fair deal.