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How to Answer Desired Salary Questions on Applications and Interviews?

When you are discussing a new job, the question of your salary requirements is almost certain to come up. It is an area that is fraught with risk for many reasons. Nevertheless, you will still have to deal with it.

That’s why I decided to take an in-depth look at how to answer desired salary questions on applications and interviews, to hopefully make the whole process a little easier and get you the paycheck you want.

So, let’s get started!

how to answer desired salary

How to Answer Desired Salary Questions on Applications and Interviews?

Well, the most important thing you need to avoid is an answer that involves specific numbers. In fact, you should be trying to delay or, at best, avoid giving an answer completely.

This is not being devious at all. It is simply protecting your own interests. To be honest, an experienced interviewer will be expecting your reaction. In many ways, if you are applying for a job that involves negotiation, it is a mark in your plus column.

Offer first, salary second…

This is what you will want to achieve if possible. You will want to wait until you get a formal offer before salary negotiations start. At that stage, all the responsibilities will have been explained, and you will have a clear picture of what the job entails. Committing to a salary figure before an offer could cost you a lot of money. As we go through this, you will see why.

What to avoid…

Other than keeping your ‘salary requirement cards’ close to your chest, there is another thing that is very important. You must avoid annoying the interviewer with a clever answer. They have every right to ask you what your salary requirements might be. Your answer must show respect and avoid any ‘clever cliches’ or comparisons. Polite and professional is, as always, the best option.

how to answer desired salary questions on applications and interview

The Best Response

This will always be an answer that demonstrates three things about you.

  • That you are showing respect to the interviewer, even by not giving the answer they requested.
  • That you are more interested in finding the right position rather than worrying about money at this stage.
  • That your salary requirements may be negotiable.

If you relay this to the interviewer, it is quite likely they will not bring the matter up again until a more appropriate time.

You Will Need Some Actual Responses!

Let’s look at some things you can say to your interviewer that will relate to the three things about you we just mentioned. There are two responses that you can use.

The First Option

One way that you can answer the question is by deflecting the answer to what is an important consideration. It would be quite acceptable to reply by saying that at this stage, you are concentrating on finding the right position before considering the salary.

Not only does that deflect the question, but it also makes the interviewer see that you are considering the correct options. Too many people are obsessed with money, so you certainly do not want to appear to your interviewer to fall into that category.

You will be happy to discuss salary

You can also include in your reply that when you have found a suitable position, then you are very happy to discuss a salary commensurate with it. If they decide to pursue it a bit further, then you can reasonably answer that you ’haven’t yet got a figure in mind.’

An acceptable answer

Firstly because it doesn’t commit you to a figure, and secondly because it emphasizes the importance you place on finding the right position. Employers tend to like that attitude. It also creates a professional attitude towards the interview and the job you are discussing while still remaining polite.

how to answer desired salary questions on applications interview

The Second Option

If you are already on what you consider a reasonable salary for what you do, you can drop that in as a way of deflecting a formal answer. By saying that at present, you are currently being paid XXXX, that at least gives the interviewer a ballpark figure without you actually making a commitment.

But you do need to follow that up with something like ‘but of course we can discuss the salary a bit later.’ However, ensure that the salary you are claiming is an actual figure, not an inflated figure for effect. It isn’t too hard for the interviewer to find out.

This answer can present problems

Firstly the interviewer will know the salary range the company offers for this position. If your current salary exceeds that, then it may rule you out before you have even got to the negotiation stage.

There are some people that might take a slight drop in salary if the position was very attractive and offered future benefits. If that is the case here, you don’t want to rule yourself out of the running.

Another Option… But Risky

You will see and hear, of course, plenty of options regarding giving an answer to this question. One that is often suggested is to turn the question back on the interviewer. You do this by asking them what they think the role is worth. Or even what is the budget salary figure for the position?

The success of this route is by no means guaranteed. In fact, it can backfire in your face depending on how you phrase it and the attitude of the interviewer. How would I have reacted if my perfectly reasonable question had been thrown back at me? It is quite likely the interview might be terminated very soon after.

But that is just how I would have reacted. Not everyone will react the same way, but be very sure before you try this tactic.

If The Question Is Asked On An Application Form

A large percentage of positions you apply for will require you to complete an Application Form. That in itself is a whole different scenario, and there are plenty of things to avoid when completing your form, but that is a different discussion.

What Is The Purpose Of An Application Form?

I use the Application form for three purposes:

  • To be sure that the applicant could complete a form clearly and without mistakes.
  • To gain an insight into their personal background and to get conversation points for a potential interview.
  • And finally, to find out a little about their previous work history, including paid salary.

Putting Your Salary Requirement On A Form

This is an even more risky disclosure than doing so at the interview. At least face to face, there is a comeback, and you can expand on it if the interviewer seems surprised. With a form, you can‘t do that. You put it in writing; it’s end of discussion.

Even if, at the time, this felt like a reasonable request, things can change. At the interview, it becomes clear that the amount of work is far more than you anticipated. Can you up the salary requirement? Very unlikely.

how to answer desired salary guide

Over Even Before The Interview

There may very well be two piles of forms. Those that fit the salary to be offered and those that don’t. Get it wrong, and you are in the wrong pile. Your application may well be considered over before you even get to an interview. By answering the question, it could actually cost you a lot of money, as I said earlier, if you really like the position.

So what can you do?

The Fields on a Form

These days each field, or box, must be completed. If you leave it blank, it will be just recycled with the legend, ‘please complete all the necessary boxes.’ You could try writing ‘negotiable,’ but the field may only accept numbers, not letters.

There is usually an ‘Any Extra Relevant Information’ field at the end of the form. You could use that to expand on your negotiable without giving a number, of course. If a number is required in the ‘Required Salary’ field, then the obvious entry is either 00000 or 99999.

All Forms are Different

There is no one size fits all for these Application Forms. If all else fails, then you could try entering a range. It may well be looking for a five digit entry, so you could try ‘40-50’. One thing I knew that someone tried was to just write a letter of application instead of using the form. Unfortunately, that wasn’t accepted, and he received another form through the post.

Sometimes the answers to the questions are fed into a program to produce a list in order of the favored candidates. There isn’t much you can do to bypass that if that is how they work.

Second Or Even Third Interviews

In this situation, you are entering the ‘point of no return.’ They are going to want to know your requirements. And probably before they make you an offer. They will have a shortlist, and that will be a small number, maybe two or three candidates. Depending on the importance of the position to the company, it is unlikely it will be decided solely on salary requirements. However, it could have an impact on the final result.

The answer then offered by some observers is still ‘we can discuss salary if you make a formal offer.’ I doubt that will work. It would not have with any candidates I might have been interviewing. Some companies might not want to make a formal offer until they know that you are both on the same wavelength salary-wise.

You have two options at this point…

There are basically two things you can do. First off, keep trying to stall them and remark that you usually reserve salary discussions until an offer is made. At that point, you could take a deep breath and ask very politely if they are in a position to make an offer.

Secondly, if they say they are not ready yet but need to know your requirements then I suggest offering them a range separated by a reasonable amount. Perhaps $40-60k as an example. That gives both of you a little bargaining room.

how to answer desired salary questions on application interview

To Summarize

  • The goal is not to release information about your salary requirements until as late in the interview process as possible.
  • Show respect to the interviewer, be polite and professional.
  • Emphasize that you are interested in finding the right position, and then you can discuss salary.
  • Ensure the interviewer understands that your salary requirements will be negotiable.
  • When completing an Application Form, try to leave the field ‘salary requirement’ if there is one blank.
  • Where that is not possible, try the other inclusions I mentioned.
  • Accept that at some point, possibly prior to a formal offer, you might have to offer a salary requirement.
  • Offer a range of salary that can be discussed, and have that range in mind at all stages of the interview process.

One thing you will need to do at all stages of the process is to not only act professionally but also look like it. For example, why no get yourself a classy yet affordable pen, in case you need to sign something? I personally recommend the Parker IM Fountain Pen. And a very good quality briefcase always looks the part, such as the Tassia Luxury Leather Executive Case Attache Briefcase.

Plus, you don’t want to look like a wet rat in your interview if it’s raining, so the Lilyxin Premium Automatic Compact Umbrella Windproof will always come in useful.

Need More Interview Info And Advice?

For that final preparation, I’ve put together additional question guides such as How Would You Describe Yourself, What Are You Most Proud Of, How Do You Handle Stress, What Are Your Career Goals, How to Answer Why Best Candidate Position?, How Do You Handle Conflict, Why We Should Hire You, as well as the Best Questions To Ask In An Interview in 2021.

If you’ve already got an interview, why not first read up on Amazing Interview Answers: 44 Tough Job Interview Questions with 88 Winning Answers, Get That Job!: The Quick and Complete Guide to a Winning Interview, Hiring Squirrels: 12 Essential Interview Questions to Uncover Great Retail Sales Talent.

Or maybe also the INTERVIEW with DESIRE and GET HIRED!: How to Ace the Interview, Sell Yourself & Get Your Dream Job and lastly How to Answer Interview Questions: 101 Tough Interview Questions, which are all available online at the moment.

Final Thoughts

The interview is a two-way process, especially at the beginning. They don’t know anything about you, let alone if they want to employ you. As for your part, you will be in learning mode about the position and the company.

It is desirable to not get involved in discussions about salary requirements too early if it can possibly be avoided. However, there will be a time when it may become unavoidable. It is that situation where rather than offering a precise number, a range would be far better.

Always be aware that you can only stall so much on this issue. And that is why being prepared with a salary range is a reasonable solution. If nothing else, it doesn’t commit you to a final figure. But it still gives some degree of an answer.

All the very best with your interview!

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About Carmen Smith

Carmen grew up in San Diago but now lives in Boston. She loves traveling, experiencing other cultures, and basically exploring the world, be country at a time.

Her other passion is helping people find the perfect career. We spend 33% of our working lives at work, so it's ridiculous that many people do jobs that they do not enjoy. Carmen wants to change this and thinks that anyone who isn't happy in their employment should keep looking until they find something that they really enjoy. 

She firmly believes that "Everyone's perfect job is out there; it's just a case of continually looking until you find it."

Carmen lives with her husband Johnny, a keen birder who also loves to travel. He finds birds while Carmen makes plans for where they will be eating next...

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