How to respond when an interviewer asks: "what are your salary expectations?"

Tim Rigby
Technical Recruiter

When you're just taking your first step on the career ladder, this isn’t an easy question.

Not negotiating your salary from the very start of your career can have a knock-on effect, though. And it is crucial to remember that, from the moment this question is asked, you are entering a negotiation. 

No matter how nice a company seems, their overall business objective is to make profit. Some companies are clever and pay enough money to attract and retain the best people, some will try to get the best people for the least money.

With this in mind, here’s how to set out your salary expectations without coming across as arrogant, or unaware of what’s realistic.





1. Know the average salary for the role in your area

There are a lot of tools online that will give you a rough estimate of average salaries, but they’re not always 100% accurate. So, it’s worth browsing job opportunities for similar roles to the one you’re interviewing for to get a really good idea of what you can expect.

Being able to give the answer, “I understand that the average rate in the area for this position is £X, and given this, I would be looking for something similar or above that,” looks a lot better than, “my lecturer said I would be on £25K as soon as I graduated… so that, I guess? Ideally above. Obviously”.


2. Know what to sell yourself on

You might have some work experience, or you might only have your experiences of education to draw on, but one thing never changes: the ability to sell yourself is vital to these negotiations. Lots of people don’t like doing this, as they worry they'll come across like they think they’re God’s gift to the professional world, but the key is to frame your answer using examples, rather than broad statements about how great you are for the job. 

Talk about what you can bring to this role specifically and tailor your achievements around this. Work out the skills you used in order to make each achievement happen, and how you can talk about them in direct relation to the job specification.

For example, if you were interviewing for a role as a Graduate Engineer, you could say: "I feel that I have proved myself a strong candidate for this role. I have consistently demonstrated that I can be trusted to solve difficult problems with minimal guidance, such as when I was able to teach myself to use the software package Workbench, and simulate and analyse the flow of water through a pipe." 


3. Be aware of the drawbacks of aiming too high

The higher the salary, the happier the graduate, right? Not necessarily... 

It's important to remember that the higher the salary you negotiate, the more will be expected of you. As such, if you're able to negotiate yourself a stratospheric salary, but then fail to deliver exceptional results, there's potential your employer will start questioning the cost of keeping you around. 

Negotiating a realistic salary makes it clear you understand your market value, but you're not greedy. Aim as high as is reasonable, showing the employer you've done your research and you simply want to be rewarded in line with other people in your position with your skillset. 


4. Have options

Telling your interviewer, “I’m also interviewing at this other company, and they’re offering this” won't help you out that much in itself. However, you should try to ensure you have other options, so it's clear you won't be forced into accepting the lowest offer a company could possibly give you. 

“I have a few other interviews in the pipeline, of which the salary is around the £X mark. During this interview, I have been really impressed by the company's vision and, because finding the right role is more important to me than the money, I would be willing to accept something around the £Y mark as a minimum.”

If you’re dead set on the company you’re interviewing with, you should try to arrange some other interviews regardless. You never know what other companies are able to offer without going to have a chat with them. Whether you value company culture, perks, benefits or progression, everyone’s different and the more experience you can get interviewing at several places, the better idea you’ll have of what’s important to you.


5. Don’t underestimate the value of perks

Perks and benefits can be worth a lot in the long run and are a good indicator that an employer genuinely values their staff and is committed to retaining them. Any company can offer you more money, but if your current company offers you flexible working hours, free tickets to events and a great culture, you’ll be a lot less likely to leave.

For example, I know a guy who works an extra hour every day and then gets to clock off at 1pm on Fridays. During your research of the company before your interview, you should consider how much a perk like that would be worth to you and use that to inform the pay you ask for. There's more to a salary package than the base salary itself.


6. Know your number 

In order for steps 1-5 to work for you during your next interview, make sure you have a clear idea in your head of the salary you're aiming for and the salary you would accept as a minimum. Do not go into a job interview without knowing this.

The higher, ideal number is the one you state when asked your requirements. You should then be prepared to be negotiated down within your range, but don't accept anything below the minimum you've calculated beforehand. 

As long as you're aiming for a realistic figure and you've impressed at the interview, you're in a strong position. Don't be afraid to negotiate and know your value.


Tim Rigby is a Technical Recruiter at Smart Moves Recruitment and has guided several graduates through the application process to getting their first job. You can read more of his insights via LinkedIn