It's a question that can throw off even a highly confident, experienced job seeker – "How much are you looking for?"

How you best answer this question depends on when the question is being asked and what you already know about the job. Before you even get into talks, you'll want to arm yourself with as much competitive knowledge as possible. Speaking candidly with a current or recent employee of the target company can give you an idea of how well they pay and what the overall company culture is like. Websites such as salary.com, payscale.com, glassdoor.com and indeed.com may also give you a good idea of where to set your expectations. This can help you give some kind of answer if you're in the unfortunate position of nailing yourself to a number during the application process itself, as well as preparing you for the conversations to come.

If the salary question is posed early in the interview process – especially during the initial phone contact – it's probably too early for you to give a good answer, and the best move is typically an evasive one followed by turning the question around on the employer's representative (if it's a larger company, these calls are usually conducted by an HR representative who is in charge of screening out people who don't fit the job requirements). A great answer at this point is something along the lines of "I would need a better understanding of the position before committing to a specific number. Can you tell me the range the company has in mind?" Of course, the company does have a budget for the role, and this can be a good opportunity to determine if it's worth your time to proceed, and help set your expectations for the rest of the interview process.

If the question comes up during the first round of interviews for the job, you may still want to ask for more information before you provide a specific number. Do feel free to say "I'm sure that we could come up with a fair salary based on your vision for the role and your performance expectations," and then flip the question around afterwards, here, too. You can give a range, but keep in mind that whenever you give a range, you are really giving your bottom number. For example, if you say, "I'm seeking between $60,000 - $75,000," the employer will expect you to be ready to accept a job at $60,000. Likewise, if the employer were to tell you the job pays between $60,000 - $75,000, you would want to see them offer you $75,000.

Once you've made it to the final round of interviewing and you're confident that you're in their top tier of candidates, you have a little more negotiating power, and by now you should have a better sense of what the job entails. This is the time to consider all the moving parts – how much time they expect you to spend in the office, if you'll be working late from home, whether it's an especially high-stress job, if there's a bonus and what the total benefits package looks like. Try to get the company to make you an offer, and then counter with a slightly higher number, or ask for increased fringe benefits. Even if you're very satisfied with the ultimate offer, you may also want to ask for a 6-month performance review to assess whether you're meeting goals and possibly earn a raise even sooner.

Have a question for our career experts? Ask them here.