At a Glance

States are increasingly adopting laws that ban employers from asking candidates about their salary history, a practice that perpetuates pay inequality. Some misguided recruiters and interviewers still ask this problematic question, but candidates can feel more confident declining to answer it. However, a new salary-related job interview question is getting more and more common: “What do you think you should be paid?”

As a candidate, it’s better to be asked about your salary preferences than cornered into revealing your current salary. But it’s still a tricky way to kickstart a salary negotiation. For one, it’s easy to lowball yourself and regret your answer. The last thing you want is to walk away from a negotiation feeling like there was money left on the table and you shot yourself in the foot by answering a number that was way below your employer’s initial range.

You could also flip the question on your interviewers and ask them about the range that is on offer, but most employers ask this question truly wanting to know about your salary expectations, and sometimes wanting to gain additional insight about you. Diane Cook, HR Specialist at Resume Seed, spoke with Credello about her best tips for candidates when faced with this question.

3 answers the job candidate must have ready

Cook says that she is looking to know about the three following things when she asks a candidate that question:

“First, do they understand the job market and local economy? A New York city salary wouldn’t translate the same as a Tulsa, Oklahoma salary –two completely different business climates and economies. Second, how do they mesh with our culture? If my culture is a non-profit organization, we most likely can’t afford to pay $100,000 for a recruiter (which would be the typical salary in a metro-area). Third, how do they value their skills, education, and experience?”

Below Cook shares her tips on how to best answer the question “What do you think you should be paid?” in a job interview.

Tips for talking about your salary expectations in an interview

“Candidates should always answer in a range i.e., $70,000-$80,000 and be able to walk through how they arrived at that number,” says Cook.

According to her, you want to avoid reasons such as “well that was what I was paid at my previous job” or “that’s what my friend makes.” Your salary expectation reasoning should focus on what you’ve already done to warrant that compensation level, from degrees to experience or niche skills.

Job market also matters. You need to do in-depth research to prepare yourself for discussing your desired salary in a job interview. Talk to people you know about money instead of shying away from it. And use online resources. “Leverage Glassdoor’s salary toolkit,” recommends Cook. “Once you input your credentials, region, and experience, Glassdoor will return a report stating where you are in relation to the average for your area.”

The number you are going to ask for may feel a bit high and out of your comfort zone – you are not interviewing for a new job to be paid less or the same amount of money, after all – but being flexible is also important. That’s why it’s such a delicate question to navigate.

“While a range is OK to give as an answer, be sure to let the employer know that you are flexible in this approach,” says Cook. “For example, where some organizations are lower in their base salary, they are often higher in other financial rewards – stock/equity, bonus, or free medical benefits.”

At the end of the day, you want to use this question as an opportunity to empower yourself and set yourself up for a successful negotiation, while also showing your prospective employer that you are willing to work with them if there is some alignment in salary range. No time wasted for anyone, and no regrets.

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