'Never' make this mistake when job interviewers ask about your ideal salary, career expert says

"What is ideal is if they provide a number first."


The Great Resignation continues: Approximately 4.3 million people quit their jobs in August, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Their reasons vary, but 17% quit because of low pay or lack of benefits, according to a Q3 Joblist survey of 26,278 job seekers.

If you're among those who have recently quit in search of better pay, or are thinking about doing so, you'll want to be prepared for any interview questions that may arise as you seek out your next role. These include "What are your weaknesses?" and "Why did you leave your last job?" Another important question to anticipate is "What salary are you looking for?"

This can be a tricky one, as you don't want to scare off a potential employer by citing a figure that's way outside their range. It's just as important to "never throw a number out there that you would not accept," says Amanda Augustine, career expert at TopResume, because, based on that figure, they could make you an offer you wouldn't want to take.

Here's how to answer the question without making key mistakes.

Get a good sense of 'the going rate for this type of role'

Research is key in preparing to answer questions about salary.

"Before you go in for any role, you want to get on Glassdoor, you want to get on some of those company review sites ― Payscale.com, Salary.com ― those types of resources, and get a good sense for what is the going rate for this type of role," says Augustine. You could also check the Bureau of Labor Statistics or look through similar roles on job boards like LinkedIn and Indeed to see if they list salaries.

If you know someone who used to work at that particular company, that's your best bet. They can tell you from their own experience if that employer pays people on the low end or high end, or somewhere in the middle.

"Be educated, that's the most important thing," says Sukhinder Singh Cassidy, entrepreneur and author of "Choose Possibility." "If you come in with some unrealistic number, not only will people not appreciate it, they'll think you haven't done your homework." Such a misstep might even cost you the job offer.

Try to get them to 'provide a number first'

How you answer this question depends on when it comes up during the interview process.

"What is ideal is if they provide a number first," says Brie Reynolds, career development manager at FlexJobs. If a hiring manager or recruiter has already mentioned a target salary or range, that reduces the risk of you citing a number that's too high or too low. "You don't want to give a number and it's $20,000 lower than what they were actually willing to offer for this role."

If the company hasn't already offered up a number, Reynolds suggests saying something vague like, "That's a really good question. I've done some research and based on my experience and salary I have some numbers in mind, and of course I'm flexible, but I would love to hear more about how compensation is designed for this role."

Hack your next job interview to improve your odds of being hired

Video by Courtney Stith

You could also "try and push it off" until later in the interview or hiring process, says Augustine. You can do this by saying something like, "I'd like to understand a bit more about the role and your expectations for what I'd be doing before I provide you with a firm number," she says.

Getting a sense during the interview process of what a compensation package would look like and what the role entails could point you in the direction of the kind of salary you should ask for. Pushing the question off to the end of the interview could also give them a chance to get to know you and get excited about you as a candidate, which could also give you leeway in asking for more.

Give them 'benchmarks'

When it's time to give the company some concrete numbers, "I think you just need to know the benchmarks for the position," says Singh Cassidy. For instance, you might mention how much you made at your last job, or you might mention the research you did about similar roles and the salary range you'd be interested in given that research.

The idea is to get a sense of what's logical to ask for and what you'd genuinely want to get, then give a salary range that makes sense given those facts. You want to give your interviewers "general indications while giving them room to maneuver," says Singh Cassidy. That way they can make you an offer you'd actually be excited to receive.    

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