How to Answer the Tricky Salary Question in a Job Interview

Posted by | July 8, 2016 | Scholarships_CareerTips

Interviews are difficult enough without attempting to answer the question of what your desired salary is. Many interviewers won’t ask this question during the first interview, but some will, so you need to be prepared. It’s a tricky question to answer because you don’t want to underestimate your own worth, but you also might want to avoid being taken out of the running if you request too much. Once you get to the negotiation part of the interview process, there are several ways you can attempt to negotiate a higher salary. However, in order to get to that point, you may need to answer the question first. Your answer may depend on where you are in the interview process, but you should be ready to answer in any situation.

Consider the context

If you see a question about salary on an actual application, you may need to answer it; otherwise you will simply leave the spot blank. You can go ahead and leave it blank if it isn’t required, but if it is, consider these options from CareerRealism: You can answer $0, you can answered a desired salary based on your market research, or you can answer a range (this is probably the best option if the form allows you to enter it).

If you are asked about your salary during an interview, then you will have to answer the question. You want to avoid undervaluing your worth, but you also don’t want to ask for an unreasonable amount. Some companies will have a set salary that they are going to offer. If the interviewer tells you this ahead of time over the phone, or during your first interview, then you should respect that number. If you are uncomfortable with the amount, then you may need to look for a different job.

Of course, there’s always a chance that they are simply checking to see how little you would work for, but if a hiring professional is working with a set salary offer that you can’t accept, you will waste their time as well as your own if you string them along.

Avoid the salary question if possible

You can try to move away from the question by asking for more specifics of the job requirements. You could also ask about the benefits package, and take that into consideration when it comes to your desired salary. It also might help to give a range because that way the interviewer will know if they can afford to hire you, but you won’t be locked into a specific number that you might regret later.

You can also try to turn the question around by asking the interviewer if they have a range in mind. They may answer you outright, or they may bring the question back to you. According to PayScale, you shouldn’t give the first number, and the answer to this question is almost always to avoid answering it if possible. You can also respond by saying that you are looking for a good fit, and that you are confident that their pay is comparable to the rest of the market.

It’s also important that you complete research about the market for your field. Sites like and Glassdoor can be a great way to help you determine your current worth. Knowing how much your skills and education are worth can also be a strong negotiating tool.

How to answer it if necessary

In the end, you may have to answer the salary question or risk seeming difficult to work with. However, if you can turn the question around and avoid answering it, usually your best bet is to try to do so. The exception is that if you really will only accept a job for a specific salary, you might as well tell the interviewer.

At some point you will have to answer the salary question, but if you can avoid answering until you are further through the interview process (ideally at the end after the company gives you an offer) you will probably be in a better place for negotiating the salary you want because you will be sure the company wants you to work for them.