There’s nothing more awkward in an interview than when a hiring manager or interviewer asks for your expected salary. Even if you were quietly confident when filling out your application, it’s something that’s always raised in an interview, especially when you have a genuine chance at landing the role.

Many candidates actually dread this question. When money is involved, it’s always a little uncomfortable to discuss and can be quite a nerve-wracking discussion. The worry is that if you mention a high number, you could price yourself out of the position. If your figure is too low, you might sign up for a salary that doesn’t reflect your worth, so it’s a tough one to balance.

If answering desired salary questions is something you struggle with, here are ways to navigate them on your applications and in interviews.

How to answer desired salary questions on application forms

The safest bet when highlighting salary expectations on application forms is to either leave the field blank or mention that your salary is negotiable, rather than writing out a concrete number. On the off chance the application needs you to reveal a number, you can enter numerals like 999, 000 or 123 and then use a notes section to say that you can discuss the salary in the interview.

If the job advert reveals a salary range, you can expect something around that figure to be what your negotiation revolves around. However, organizations tend not to reveal a salary with many claiming it’s dependent on experience and negotiable down the line. If you respond with a figure, it could backfire.

The last thing you want is to box yourself into a corner or to price yourself out of landing that job, so don’t reveal your salary expectations because you could scare them off right away. Instead, wait until the interview where you can impress them with your answers and experience so they feel more inclined to increase their budget to give you the salary you want.

When you’re filling out the application, that’s much more challenging to accomplish. The interviewer doesn’t know anything about you, let alone whether you’re worth the salary you want. On the flip side, if you mention a salary expectation that’s deemed too low, you run the risk of being unable to negotiate down the line.

Remember, not every advert is going to have a figure available in terms of salary. You might fill out $35,000 but later realize $55,000 is more accurate due to the nature of the job and that positions in other organizations are offering a higher amount, but you’ll face the difficult task of changing their minds.

Doing this is a lose-lose situation. Asking for one salary then changing your mind and asking for a higher figure also leaves a bad taste in the employer’s mouth who agreed to interview you based on your initial ask. Write down negotiable and you have a better chance of getting the salary you desire.

Although, this can vary on a case-by-case basis. Some applications forms will let you get away with writing down ‘negotiable’ or a random bunch of numbers, while others may get back in touch asking you to highlight your salary expectations. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach, so where necessary, try to highlight a range instead of one figure.

How to answer desired salary questions on applications forms

Although your salary will be top of mind when applying for the position, avoiding mentioning the subject for a while can be a good thing. It shows the interviewer you care about finding a job role you’re passionate about rather than applying strictly for financial gains. Going in with the approach that you haven’t thought about the salary just yet and need the right role first should avoid pushback for a while.

Once you know you have a good chance of landing the job, that’s when you can negotiate as it shows they’re interested in you, so don’t share your expectations until you have a better idea of if they want you.

One tactic you can use if you don’t want to dive into the specifics is to reveal what your current salary is. If it’s one where you feel you’re paid a fair amount, this sets a baseline by subtly telling the interviewer what you won’t go below. That way, you aren’t boxing yourself into one figure and it gives the company an idea of if they can afford you.

While each interview will be different, here are a few examples you can tweak and use depending on your situation.

Example answer 1

“Right now, I’m earning $30,000 in my current role where I’m responsible for <list responsibilities>. I don’t have a specific number in mind that I’m looking for here but I’m open to any offer that you feel is fair for this position.”

This is a great answer because it already sets the lowest expectation. The interviewer will know you’re earning $30,000 and wouldn’t accept their potential offer for anything less than that. Highlighting responsibilities again is another good way to justify the salary requirements to the interviewer.

Example answer 2

“At this point in my career, my main focus is finding a job that’s the best fit for my career, development, progression and skills. When I know I’ve found that job, I’m open to considering offers that you feel are fair.”

This example shows you value the right job over a paycheck, something the hiring manager can value highly as they want someone in the organization for the long-term rather than someone who is just focused on finances. When it does come time to negotiate, this is something they could very well remember.

Example answer 3

“In my current role, I’m earning $28,000. Living in this city on that salary isn’t really sustainable, especially with the goals I have and where I want to be in my career. I really don’t have a number in mind just yet but it’s something we can discuss during the next stage.”

Here, you’re once again setting the baseline by explaining what you’re currently earning. However, this time it shows it’s a salary you aren’t entirely happy with, so the interviewer will know a figure in the same ballpark isn’t something you’d accept.

Example answer 4

“I’m currently earning $30,000 in my current job. I know your job was advertised to offer a salary between $32,000-$40,000 and with my skills and experience, I’m looking at the higher end of that bracket if I’m to leave my current position.”

This is a much more confident answer and should only apply when an organization has revealed the salary they’re offering. Again, where possible, try not to pick one number and opt for a range instead if they continue to push you for salary expectations.

Example answer 5

“I’d like to learn more about this vacant position and the responsibilities involved. I’d also like to know more about the team before we get on to money. But may I ask what salary range you’re considering for this role?”

In the early stages, this would be your perfect opportunity to turn the question around and put the onus on them by highlighting what they’re looking to offer rather than what you’re willing to accept. Deliver this message politely and it’ll show your main objective is to learn about the role and the company, something the interviewer or hiring manager will respect.

If the salary range they reveal matches your expectations, or it’s better, then thank them for sharing the figure and that you had a similar number in mind. If it doesn’t quite meet your expectations, don’t be afraid to say it’s at the lower end of your expectations but that you’d still like to discuss the job in more detail.

You can also mix and match the answers depending on your situation. They’re all excellent options for answering questions about a desired salary, so pick one that sounds best to you. 

Another option you have is to hold out until the second or final interview. Many organizations now opt for multi-layer interviews, ranging from video interviews followed by tasks and then a final stage interview. If this is the case, then continue to tell the interviewer that you’re willing to discuss numbers when you’re being offered a job.

But to be in with the best chance of receiving your desired salary, you need to set yourself up for success with a detailed resume that can land you the interview for your dream role. With Vanhack, you can set yourself up for success by creating your profile and recording a few quick videos so a company can get to know the human behind the profile.

You can also show off your potential by taking on some challenges, so we can help you get noticed and prepare you for the selection process. The more you complete your profile, the better your chances of landing your dream job with your desired salary.

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