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Job Hunting? How to Answer the Dreaded Salary Question

salary question

The job search process is never an easy journey. If you’ve been job hunting, you are probably  familiar with filling out applications for a dozen roles in the hopes that an interviewer or recruiter will contact you. Most forms ask for the same information: name, phone number, email, resume, cover letter, and so forth. However, there is one field that many applicants dread answering: the salary question.

The salary question is a double-edged sword for job applicants. Give too low of a number, and you’ll have to suffer with mediocre pay if you land the job. Give too high of an amount, and the recruiter will simply choose a less expensive candidate to interview. Job seekers must try to find the balance between finding the right salary for them, and increasing their chances of landing a job, or at least an interview

Nobody likes answering the salary question, but it always helps to have a response prepared.

Here are some common ways to successfully answer the salary question

Say that you’re negotiable.

A typical response to salary questions is to say that you’re negotiable or that you’re willing to accept whatever compensation they deem worthy. This answer is somewhat sidestepping the subject but allows you to avoid answering too high or too low. Unfortunately, it also means that you are at the mercy of your interviewer. Entering “negotiable” on an internet form is easy, but you need a more nuanced reply when asked in person or over the phone. Here are some clever responses:

  • “I’d be willing to discuss compensation when we reach that stage of the agreement. However, I’m more interested in showing what I can provide for your company.”
  • “I’m very flexible in my desired salary range. It would depend on how you think my skills and work history line up with the position.”
  • “My salary requirements are negotiable, and we can discuss that if I’m selected as the ideal candidate. I’d like to focus more on the needs of your business.”

Do your research.

In many cases, the recruiter will disclose how much they’ve budgeted for this role. However, some recruiters are looking for a specific answer, so you should be prepared by conducting some research. To start, know your worth. A study by Glassdoor discovered that most Americans earn about $5,000 less than what they’re worth. Your expected compensation depends on a lot of factors: job title, years of experience, location, industry, and much more.

Luckily, there’s no shortage of ways to determine your worth. Salary, PayScale, Indeed, and Glassdoor all provide free salary calculators to help decide how much you should be getting paid. Glassdoor is especially useful since it allows for estimated salary ranges for each company based on previously submitted reports.

Offer a range.

Too scared to settle for one number? The best way to circumvent this problem is by asking for a range of at least $10,000. Use your knowledge of the company, position, and industry to decide which numbers work best for you.

Remember that employers want to save money as well and that they will assume your lowest amount is something you’d be happy with receiving, so it’s important that you are confident you’d be willing to accept the lowest number in your range. Additionally, recruiters might dismiss your application if the high end of your salary range is too pricey. Do your research to make sure you’ve found a comfortable range for the position you are applying for.

Offer an exact number.

One study from the Columbia Business School discovered that the most significant way to request a raise or salary is to use a precise number instead of a round number. Those who provided a specific salary amount, such as $10,055 instead of $10,000, were seen as more intelligent about their value. The negotiators looked like they did their research and had a very exact idea of what to expect. Plus, it’s not unusual for salaries to be rounded down to their nearest round number.


The salary question is sometimes a job seeker’s worst fear when it comes to interviews. The wrong answer might jeopardize their chances of landing a job or threaten their likelihood of receiving fair compensation. Use these strategies to get paid what you deserve for your career.

The CESI Team is committed to helping you reach your financial goals. If debt keeps you from living the life you dream of, contact us for a free debt analysis today and get started on the road to a brighter future!



1 Response to Job Hunting? How to Answer the Dreaded Salary Question

  1. Michael B says:

    You can change the focus. Say something similar to “. At this point in the process I want to make sure my skills are a match to this position and that you are in agreement with that then we can resume this topic.”. You can also phrase this as a question that you are asking them if they agree that is the most important thing at this point.

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