It’s a question that many interviewees expect, but have a difficult time answering: “What is your target salary?” Quantifying the worth of your skillset and experience is challenging—especially when you’re on the spot! You want your potential employer to honor your value with a fair market wage, but also don’t want to price yourself out (or undervalue yourself) when you declare a number. Furthermore, for the right opportunity, factors other than salary should also be considered. Flexibility in your schedule and your work environment are just a couple examples of factors to weigh when negotiating your salary. Because traversing this question is so difficult and sensitive—after all, your finances are a private matter—many employers and jobseekers disagree on how to go about this question.
Everyone’s situation is unique, so there is no “right” answer. How you approach this question depends on a number of factors: your prior/current salary, your target range, and specifics about benefits and perks, to name a few. So instead of looking for the magic answer to this sometimes challenging interview question, use these simple dos and don’ts to guide you in crafting your own:
Research the industry to have a good understanding of what the market is currently offering for the position you’re applying for. Job boards like Indeed can help you get started on seeing what roles are open at various companies, and the details of the job. You can also use employer review sites like Glassdoor to see what specific industry competitors are offering in your region with your level of experience. You may also opt to gauge connections with similar roles in your professional network to see how they’re being compensated in their current position. Doing this type of research proactively will give you a better sense of an appropriate salary range going into the interview.
If you are asked about your current pay, you do not need to answer this question. Depending on the state you’re in, it may even be illegal for an employer to ask this! For instance, many states have implemented a salary ban, which prohibits an employer from asking for your present or former salary amount. If you are asked this question, it can be a reason to underpay you rather than pay what the job is actually worth. You can answer by providing your target salary range instead.
Especially in the early rounds of interviewing, be sure you fully understand the scope and responsibilities of the role. Ask questions that will give you more insight into your daily duties, what teams you will be working with, how your role will be supported, the reporting structure, and where your position falls in the company org chart. This will help you determine an appropriate range—one that will hopefully fall in line with the salary the company is willing to offer for the open role.
Be prepared to share the reasons why this number makes sense for your skills and experience. For instance, if you’ve increased productivity, improved customer satisfaction, saved or earned company money, or have helped your former employer(s) in various other ways, address that and demonstrate how you can bring similar results to this company. You may also add something along the lines of, “I am very excited for this opportunity and know that I am qualified to excel in it. I would like to know what you would be willing to offer for a professional at my level and then negotiate from there.”
Knowing your worth and the value of your specific skill set should leave you knowing what you expect to be offered and the minimum you’re willing to accept. Throwing out a number that is too high may be appalling to a hiring manager and a number too low will be disparaging for your career and self-esteem. The best approach to this is offering a range of what you’re looking for, with your desired salary somewhere in the middle. Being strategic by giving a salary range could possibly sway the employer to feel confident in compromising on the middle ground—a salary you were hoping for all along.
If your ideal number for compensation can’t be met, try to find a medium ground if you’re truly interested in the position and opportunities that come with it. Accepting a slightly lower salary to meet favorable accommodations, such as working from home, flexible schedules and/or extra PTO days, isn’t out of the question for some professionals. Some employers are even willing to discuss and expand specific benefits (401ks, equity in the company, etc.) they offer. If you could swing it financially, some of these accommodations may make it worth it.
In some states employers are required to provide a salary range. Despite your job search being domestic, each state’s employment laws tend to differ (and sometimes can vary by city!). As a result, research what questions beyond your salary requirement are fair play. Being aware of local employment laws will better prepare you to field the appropriate interview questions. You may feel comfortable disclosing salary on your accord but take the time to consider if that will help or hurt you in the long run.
Per new salary transparency laws, employers should have a budget range for hiring this role. In some states, this range may be listed on the job posting. If you’re unsure about the budget range for this role, it is acceptable to ask the hiring manager what the range of their budget is. However, be sure that you are still educating yourself on the industry and market rates before you do so.
More often than not, there is room for negotiation, and an employer may even expect you to counter when the official offer goes out. If that is not the case, they will let you know immediately, but it does not hurt to ask! After all, accepting a new job essentially takes you off the market and makes you unavailable to other opportunities. Use the offer period wisely and do not agree to a salary that you are less than satisfied with. Additionally, when you answer this target salary question, keep the negotiation period in mind.
Above all else – be honest about what you believe you are worth and don’t settle for a package that does not match where the market is. Settling for a salary that is less than you feel comfortable with may result in resentment toward your employer and leave you feeling slighted—and starting your search for a new job all over again. You owe it to yourself (and your employer) to take a compensation package that suits both parties. If you cannot arrive at that, continue your search for the right job opportunity that offers you the salary and benefits package you are worthy of receiving.
Want additional information on how to answer, “What is your target salary?” Watch the video below:
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