By Mike Simpson
What is your desired salary? It’s probably one of the most uncomfortable questions you’ll face during an interview. After all, talking about money is hard, more so when you’re put on the spot.
Plus, your answer is likely to serve as a starting point for salary negotiations. Aim too low, and you leave money on the table. Aim too high, and the hiring manager might drop you as a candidate.
Luckily, you can figure out what to say during an interview – or what to put for your desired salary on an application – by using the right approach. If you’re ready to learn more about how to tackle this dastardly question, here’s what you need to know.
What Is “Desired Salary” as It Pertains to a Job Interview?
Now, before we dig into who to answer “what is your desired salary,” let’s talk about what “desired salary” even means.
Generally, “desired salary” refers to the dollar amount you’d like to receive in exchange for handling the job’s responsibilities. Essentially, it’s a number that you feel is fair based on what the position involves.
Is this question all that different from “What are your salary expectations?” Well, yes and no.
Many hiring managers don’t view the two questions as being that different. After all, the point of both is to get you to share a number.
The thing is, there is a slightly different connotation with each version of the questions.
Consider this: Merriam-Webster defines “expect” as “to consider probable or certain; to consider reasonable, due, or necessary; and to be consider bound in duty or obligated.” However, Merriam-Webster defines “desire” as “to long or hope for and to express a wish for.”
Based on that, salary “expectations” feels more concrete, like a harder line in the sand. “Desired” salary feels a little more like a wish or hope.
Does that matter? Maybe yes, maybe no. In some cases, it could give you an idea of how the hiring manager might treat or perceive your answer, but that isn’t always true. Still, it’s essential to realize that tone can matter, both when it comes to the question asked and how you answer it.
Speaking of answers, it’s also crucial to understand how a misstep when dealing with this question can hurt you. While there isn’t’ technically a “right” or “wrong” answer, that doesn’t’ mean you can’t mess up.
First, if you offer up a low number, you are hurting your position when it comes time to negotiate your salary. You’ll leave money on the table, and that’s never a good thing.
But if you aim too high, you might scare the hiring manager off. They may believe that you two are so far apart when it comes to pay that a consensus isn’t possible. Worst case, they may perceive your high number as brazen, rude, or ridiculous, and none of that is good either.
Why Does the Hiring Manager Ask This Question?
Okay, we’ve touched a little on why the hiring manager asks you about your desired salary, albeit indirectly. Now, we’re going to take this question head-on.
Overall, the hiring manager is trying to figure out three things. First, are you both on the same page about what constitutes fair compensation for this job? Second, can the company afford you? Third, is the value for the money there?
But the hiring manager is also trying to pass the proverbial buck. In the end, salary negotiations are always part of the hiring process, and whoever starts them is usually at a disadvantage.
The hiring manager is hoping that you’ll offer up a number that’s at or below the lower end of the salary range they wanted to pay. In a way, it’s a bargain shopping technique, as they are hoping that you undervalue what you bring to the table so that they can take advantage of that.
Also, the hiring manager wants to see how confident you are about your value. If you deliver a number with conviction, they learn a bit about your mindset and whether you’ve done any research, and those are important insights.
Common Mistakes When Answering This Question
As with nearly all job interview questions, a mistake can cost you (in this case, a bit more literally).
Like we mentioned above, hiring managers are always hoping that they can get a great candidate for a bargain price, so responding with a low number means you could get an offer below fair market value. Not only does that hurt you right now, but it could harm your earnings for the remainder of your career. Yikes.
But that doesn’t mean you should aim for the skies either. If your number is above what’s reasonable for the job, the hiring manager may decide to skip countering and just move onto another candidate.
Finally, you need to realize that, even if you deliver a reasonable number, if you lack confidence or hedge, the hiring manager may leverage your uncertainty and lowball you. Even worse, they may think that you have doubts about your capabilities, making them unsure about whether you can actually do the job.
In the end, you need to be both reasonable and self-assured. Confidence matters as much as the number you share, so keep that in mind.
Tips for Answering This Question
1. Take a Deep Dive into Salaries
If you want to make sure that you know what to put for desired salary on an application or how to answer “What is your desired salary?” during an interview, it’s time for some research. Begin by seeing what jobs like the one you are trying to land tend to pay in your area. This gives you a starting point.
Then, you want to look beyond the overall going rate in your area and try to take a deep dive into that company’s salary structure. That way, you can see not just what the company tends to offer for the role but whether their compensation matches the competition. All of that is valuable information.
If you aren’t sure where to begin, head to sites like Salary.com, Payscale, and Glassdoor to get your research going. You can also try the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as well as look for competitor job listings for similar roles.
With all of that, you should be able to glean what a reasonable salary looks like for the job.
2. Stall, Stall, Stall
As we mentioned above, giving the first number usually isn’t a great idea. Ideally, you want to sidestep it whenever possible, giving you a chance to learn more before you offer up a number.
One option is to tell the hiring manager that you’re more concerned about the total value of the entire compensation package and not just the salary. You may also want to state that you’d like more details about the job if you haven’t had a chance to dig in, as you can’t provide a fair number without that information.
Trying to pivot can also be a good move. For example, you can say that you’re hoping for a competitive salary and then ask the hiring manager if the company had a range in mind. This puts it back on the employer, though it isn’t guaranteed to lead to a number.
3. Choose the Right Approach
If you simply can’t avoid offering up a number, then use the right approach. Use your research as a guide, then choose a highly specific dollar amount near the top end of the normal range.
For example, if the top-end of the range is $75,000, go with $74,260. Precise figures make it seem like you really understand what you’re skills are worth and may put you in a better position.
Alternatively, you could present a salary range. However, only offer one where you are okay with potentially accepting the lowest figure based on what you know about the role. After all, that’s what the hiring manager will make their target, so make sure you’re good with that before you present a range.
How to Answer the Interview Question “What Is Your Desired Salary?”
Okay, once you’re faced with the “What is your desired salary?” interview question, how do you answer it? Well, by using the Tailoring Method, of course.
When you take advantage of the Tailoring Method, you can create a highly relevant and engaging answer to nearly any interview question, not just this one. It’s a reliable strategy that you can turn to again and again.
MIKE’S TIP: What do you do if you see “What is your desired salary?” on an application? Well, that depends. If the field isn’t mandatory, you could leave it blank. If it is required, see if it will accept non-numeric entries. For fields that let you use letters, you can answer with “negotiable.” If you can’t use letters, but it will accept symbols, then you could list a salary range after doing some research. If symbols aren’t an option, you can enter in a nonsense number, like “00000,” and then mention in another note area in the application that you’re open to discussing salary during the interview process. All of those approaches help you avoid committing to any specific amount, so they are worth considering if you’d rather keep that detail private for now.
Would it help if you saw some example answers for this interview question? Great. Here are three, each based on a slightly different approach.
Example 1 – The Stall
If you want to avoid giving out the first number, then giving a solid reason that outlines why you aren’t ready to provide one can work. The trick is to make it clear that you need more details, ensuring they can’t give you a tiny piece of information and then toss the question back at you. Here’s how to do it:
“While the salary is certainly a critical part of the equation, there are other factors that are at least equally important. Ultimately, I’m concerned about finding the best fit for my skills, as well as a company that offers an amazing culture.
Based on what I know about the opportunity through the job description and what I’ve found out about the company online, I feel I need more information to determine what’s reasonable. I’d like to find out about the typical day in this role and any projects that are on the horizon, for example. Additionally, I would want to find out more about what the company offers its employees, giving me a better idea of the total compensation package’s value. At that point, I think we could work together to reach a fair number.”
Example 2 – The You Go First
If you already know a lot about the position and the company’s culture, then it’s a bit harder to bypass answering and get the hiring manager to toss out the first number. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t possible. Here is an approach you can try:
“That is an excellent question. Before I provide a number, could you tell me what salary range the company usually offers for this position?”
Example 3 – The Research-Backed Precise Number
If you can’t get around giving out a number, you want to use a research-backed approach along with a precise figure. Here’s how to tackle answering with this method:
“Based on my salary research and what I know about the position thus far, my understand is that $74,260 per year is both competitive and typical for the skillset you are hoping to land and the job’s responsibilities.”
Putting It All Together
In the end, answering “What is your desired salary?” is difficult but doable. You can use all of the information above to help you craft an answer based on how the conversation unfolds, ensuring you don’t sell yourself short and unintentionally leave money on the table.
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Co-Founder and CEO of TheInterviewGuys.com. Mike is a job interview and career expert and the head writer at TheInterviewGuys.com.
His advice and insights have been shared and featured by publications such as Forbes, Entrepreneur, CNBC and more as well as educational institutions such as the University of Michigan, Penn State, Northeastern and others.
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