How to Answer “What Are Your Salary Expectations?” in an Interview

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Negotiation is an important part of the interview process, and you can set the foundation for successful salary conversations by approaching this question strategically. Learn how.

[Featured image] Two women in professional dress sit in a conference room facing each other and talking about salary expectations.

At some point during your interview process, you may be asked about your salary expectations. Companies typically set a salary range for each role, including a low, mid, and high end. The amount they offer will likely depend on their top candidate’s experience and skill set. For example, let’s say a company’s hiring range for a data scientist is $110,000 to $135,000. A candidate with less experience may get the low end of the salary range, while an incredibly experienced candidate may get the high end. 

During the interview process, a recruiter or hiring manager will likely check whether your expectations align with their range. The question can be challenging to answer because candidates fear providing a number that’s too low or too high. 

It’s important that you find a good salary that you feel positive about accepting and which will support your desired lifestyle. Your work has value and should be treated accordingly. In this article, we’ll go over how you can answer the question, “What are your salary expectations?” when it comes up during an interview. 

How to prepare for the question 

Before you get to your interview, spend time researching your value. Several factors affect salary. You should learn the market rate for the type of work you do and how other considerations, like your location and experience, affect that number. 

It’s also worth noting that pay varies not just by industry but by sector. Public and non-profit sectors may not offer high salaries compared to the private sector, but they tend to offset that disparity by promising greater job security or value alignment. 

For example, a graphic designer with six years of experience in New York will likely command a higher salary than a graphic designer with two years of experience in Cleveland. If they work for a major creative agency, they may also earn more than if they work for a small non-profit. 

In conducting research, it’s helpful to determine two pieces of information for yourself: 

  • A range: This is the range you’d be comfortable accepting at either the low, mid, or high end. For example: $65,000 to $75,000. 

  • A specific number: This is the offer you want to get. For example: $71,500.   

How to research salaries 

There are some tools designed to help you discover what similar titles earn. Job search sites, like Indeed and Glassdoor, or dedicated salary sites, like Payscale, offer salary research tools. You can also turn to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, which tracks the vast majority of job titles in the country and provides median annual salary data.  

You can also turn to Coursera. We’ve pulled together salary data on in-demand roles. Explore the ones below for more information: 

You can also deepen your research by investigating “compensation trends” or “industry pay” to get a better idea of what your skill set is worth. Understanding what’s happening in various industries from a business perspective can help you determine a potential competitive salary. For example, there’s a current tech skills gap that means certain skill sets are in high demand and may command higher salaries as companies search for new employees who can fill crucial needs. 

Learn more: 12 Types of Interviews You May Find in a Job Search

How to answer the question about your salary expectations 

Even when asked, “What are your salary expectations?” experts generally advise against being the first to state a number. In that case, let’s go over some ways to handle the question, “What are your salary expectations?” once it comes up during your interview: 

1. Provide a range.

As much as possible, hold off from sharing a specific number. Yes, you’ve done the research and know exactly what you want to get, but that’s key information you should keep private in the early stages of an interview. 

Instead, it’s better to provide a range because it shows you’re flexible while still giving you some control. Try to keep your range to around or under $10,000, for example, $62,000 to 72,000 or $83,500 to 89,500. 

Sample answers: 

  • I’d be happy to discuss things more specifically as this interview process continues, but at the moment, I can share that I’m looking for a range between $74,000 and $84,000. 

  • Based on my experience and the market rate for this work, I’m looking for a range between $74,000 and $84,000. 

2. Reverse the question. 

One of the reasons candidates don’t like answering the question is that it gives employers more power. You can turn the recruiter’s or hiring manager’s question around on itself by inquiring what their budget is for the role. That way, if you do provide an answer, it’s an informed one.  

Sample answers: 

  • Thanks for asking. Based on the responsibilities you anticipate, what is the salary range for this role? 

  • Before I answer that, can you share the salary range for this role?  

Learn more: Practice Interview Questions: How to Tell Your Story

3. Delay answering.

When you get this question early in an interview, it’s fair to delay answering until you have more details. At this point, the recruiter may have shared some of the responsibilities, but it won’t be until you spend additional time with the hiring manager that you’ll get a broader picture of the work. Explain that you’d like to wait until you have more information about the role before providing a range. 

Sample answers: 

  • I’m really excited about this opportunity, but I’d prefer to hear more about the day-to-day responsibilities before giving a salary range. 

  • I’d appreciate hearing more about this role, what I would be responsible for doing, and the potential impact you hope I’d have before discussing my salary expectations. 

  • Can you share more about what this role would entail? I’d like to have a better idea before discussing potential salaries. 

Learn more: Questions to Ask at the End of an Interview

4. Negotiate.

It’s important to negotiate your salary. Often, even if you’re asked to supply a number and aim to answer with a range instead of a specific amount, you should negotiate for more because companies expect it. In fact, 73 percent of US employers said they would negotiate salary, but the majority of people don’t ask, according to a survey from CareerBuilder [1]. 

Generally, if you receive an offer from a company, they will give you a period of time to consider it and accept or decline. Use that time to craft a response. Find out more about how to negotiate your salary.

Compensation flexibility 

There may be times when a company’s budget is firm and they don’t have much flexibility regarding salary. When you’re interested in the role, you can ask to explore other options outside of salary, such as: 

  • Vacation: If your company offers a set number of vacation days each year, can they increase the amount you get to offset the salary difference? 

  • Benefits: Are the benefits robust enough to negate the salary difference? If not, are there any additional benefits you can discuss? 

  • Stocks: Can they increase the amount of stock they offer (if they offer employees stock)? 

Explore further 

Keep developing your skill set with Coursera. Earn a Professional Certificate in web development, data science, digital marketing, or sales from industry leaders, including Google, Meta, IBM, and HubSpot. Sign up for a free seven-day, all-access trial and start learning today!

Article sources

  1. CareerBuilder. “73% of Employers Would Negotiate Salary, 55% of Workers Don’t Ask,” Accessed October 27, 2022.

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