What if the salary I ask for is too high? I might get ruled out. But if I say too little, I might be blowing a big opportunity to negotiate a good salary for myself.

Being asked about salary requirements can give any interviewer sweaty palms.

As a career coach, answering the salary requirements question is the number one issue I am asked about by my clients. It may be asked as early as a first screening phone call, or it may come up late in the interviewing process. Here are some ground rules to help you respond to this question in a way that helps you stay in the game, and move toward a job offer.

Prepare ahead of time

This is one question you have to prepare for before an interview. If you wait till the interview you'll be caught short, possibly harm your negotiating power later on, or even get yourself screened out. So do your homework.

Don't confuse this question with "How much do you want to make?"

Salaries are never a function of what you want to make, nor are they purely an expression of what the employer would like to pay (uh…nothing?) Nope. What you're really being asked is this: "What is your realistic understanding of what jobs like this one actually pay in this employment market?"

What you want doesn't matter

Hard evidence of what the market pays for the job you're applying for is all that matters. Your job is to find evidence of what the market really pays. Some nice quotable sources of salary information include:

  • Web-based data: salary.com, payscale.com, glassdoor.com
  • Industry magazines that focus on your field sometimes have salary surveys
  • Anecdotal information from leaders in your field (less desirable, but OK)
  • Your own experience if you've had a similar job in more than one company

Never give one number

Always give a range. I recommend at least $15,000 for entry level and up to $75,000 range for higher-paying positions.


That was a lot of information, so here's how a well-informed, respectful answer might sound:

Q: What are you salary expectations?

A: "Well, I did some research prior to today's conversation. Both salary.com and payscale.com showed similar ranges for jobs like this one. The total compensation ranged from a low of about $52,000 to a high of about $87,000. My expectation would be that we would be able to find a number in that range that was appropriate for someone with my skills and experiences. Of course, I would have to know more detail about the responsibilities and scope of this particular job in order to narrow that down. Are those numbers in line with the range you have for this position?"

Every once in awhile a hardened recruiter or interviewer may be dissatisfied with a wide range as an answer and prod for more information. I suggest simply repeating your initial answer.

"Well, as I said, it's hard for me to really narrow it down until I understand exactly what you're looking for. When I get a better sense of how my experiences and skills would really match up, I could narrow it down."

If the interviewer persists even more, take a breath, look them straight in the eye and ask:

"It sounds like we are entering into a negotiation. Are you offering me the job?"

If the answer is "yes," congratulations! You're now on to salary negotiations.

If the answer is "no," I recommend the following response:

"I think that's something we'll easily be able to agree on if we both agree this is a great match. Why don't we hold that off till we're a little farther down the road?"


Ed Hunter is a Career and Executive Coach, and principal of Life in Progress Coaching. Contact him at ed@lifeinprogress.com, or at lifeinprogress.com.