Knowledge centre

What is your salary expectation?

How you answer this question could either end the interview process or cost you a lot of dough.  Either way, you need to anticipate that it will come – sometimes at the online application stage, often at the telephone screening stage, and always at the face to face interview.

You are often asked what you earned in your most recent job.  Don’t lie.  Recruiters can find this stuff out and it doesn’t look good, particularly if you’ve overly inflated the number.  Be clear about how your salary was packaged.  Don’t give the impression that your salary, plus superannuation, plus bonus, plus allowances was your overall ‘base salary’.  This assists you and the recruiter to compare apples with apples.

You are also typically asked what you expect to be paid for the job on offer.   From the candidate’s perspective, this is a mine field.  From our perspective – as a recruiter – it is absolutely critical to us finding out if our client is in the ball park to afford you.  We ask the question because it gives us an indication of whether or not we’re likely to face an impasse on salary, resulting in you rejecting the offer and our client not securing the ideal candidate.  If you are the perfect candidate for the role, we can consult with our client around creative packaging options to entice you even if they can’t exactly meet your expectations (although this can include gaining approval to go above the salary level to secure talent).

If, however, there is a sizeable difference between your expectations and what we have on offer (either way – low or high), this might signal the end of the process.

Alternatively, your salary expectation might be slightly less than what our client was going to offer, and like anyone in business, they’re going to meet your expectations and save themselves some dough!

Our advice is not to second guess what the salary may be.  If you are absolutely certain you require a particular salary number to fund your lifestyle, then you should say it – this cuts to the chase for both parties and you’ll know where you stand.  An organisation either can or can’t match what you are seeking.   It’s your choice then to keep searching for the position that pays what you are looking for.

If, however, you have a degree of flexibility, you’ve been smart about where you’ve applied, done your homework on the company and the opportunity, you know you are applying to the job because it appeals for a range of reasons, not only money. Then, the best answer is something along the lines of:

“I’ve applied for this position because it really appeals.  I’ve done my homework on your company and feel it is a place I would enjoy working.  I’m here to evaluate the opportunity just as you are evaluating me as a fit for your company.  If the opportunity is everything I’m seeking and you feel I’m the right person, I don’t believe money will be an issue”.

If you are pushed beyond this, you can offer:  “I earn $x in my current job, which I feel is fair.  Obviously, I’d like to increase on that with a job move, but money is not the key reason I’m seeking this opportunity”, or you could say, “you’ve had an opportunity to review my skills, qualifications and experience, what do you think would be fair compensation?”

Know that when you ask this, however, quite often a potential employer won’t provide it!  They may however, provide you with a range or let you know that they don’t feel salary will be an issue or that you are in the ball park.

When applying directly to advertised positions, if you are asked to provide your salary expectation in a cover letter or on an online application form, it is not compulsory, and nor will it rule you out of contention if you don’t answer.

You can enter ‘OPEN’ or ‘TBD’ (for ‘to be discussed’) on electronic application forms.  If it won’t let you proceed without a number, enter zeros.

As a recruiter, it is our task to find the best person for the job.  We typically have to do this within salary frameworks which ensure consistency and fairness across the organisation we’re hiring for.  Finding talented and skilled employees is a competitive business and every organisation has carefully determined their remuneration structures to be fair and attractive.

Our advice?  Anticipate the question.  Have an answer.  Be honest.