Normalising the salary expectation question


The salary expectation question should not be stressful

I came across a discussion on LinkedIn recently posted by J. Paige Freedland about how to handle the salary expectation question. There were almost 400 responses covering a wide range of viewpoints from all participants, some of them conflicting and contradictory.

It became very clear that what is a straightforward and routine question for recruiters and hiring managers, is in fact a huge challenge for many candidates. It also causes considerable confusion and anxiety, especially if they have been on the job market for some time.

In her learning curve from the discussion Paige distilled and collated those 400 responses and identified 3 areas which candidates should focus on:

  • research and preparation,
  • knowing your own worth
  • understanding your bottom line!

You can see her thoughts on that discussion around about the 400th response mark. Her summary marks her own journey through the process and is really worth reading.


Generally speaking, the best response is openness. “I earn(ed) in the region of x and would expect something on the range of x to y , but would be happy to be flexible for the right position. When I know more about the role I will have a better idea. 

If candidates have a sense of their own market value and follow trends, then delivering this response should not be problematic. Research can be done on line, and via network contacts either actual or other professional platforms. This is essential. No one would sell their house without knowing its market value. Why do it to yourself? This gives the recruiter or hiring manager the information they need to know immediately and sends out a message about being open to negotiate.

I ask this question in the preliminary screening to avoid wasting anyone’s time.  Gay Charles, Senior Consultant & Head of Equal Talent Practice, Belux at Odgers Berndtson, with over 25 years experience in the business told me that “I rarely find candidates reluctant to discuss salary and when that happens it is usually a fair indication of lack of confidence and self belief “. If confidence is an issue, it is really worth investing in professional support to learn skills in this process.

Some points are worth noting:

Salary negotiation is simply a business process

It is a key component of any recruitment procedure. Clare Ireland, Senior Partner, Hansar Internationalthe more experienced and mature people understand that it is a hygiene question that needs to be covered and is no less or more important than any other subject covered in an interview.”

It’s not a trick question

It’s useful to have some broad indication of what a candidate would be looking for to make a move. The easiest and simplest way to deal with this is to give a realistic range related to current earnings. Normally this is covered in the early screening processes and any attempts at evasiveness or lack of transparency, tend to raise doubts about the candidate.

Personally, I would give an interesting candidate some time to think about it and allow them to get back to me before the next stage of the process. Clare adds “In our experience we find few candidates who are evasive about being questioned about their salary. In general, hiring companies will pay what is considered fair, reasonable and fits within their salary banding system ….it is rare to find clients trying to “cheat” candidates though of course what is considered fair to them, may not be the same for the candidate

Candidates should also be advised to take into account the total package including benefits and future opportunities.

Good candidates are rarely ruled out on salary grounds alone.

Salary tends to be the market indicator of seniority or experience  (although not always) which can translates into a potentially possible lack of fit for the position (too senior or junior) with all that implies. There might be internal repercussions on the existing team for example, but candidates could also be re-approached regarding their flexibility.

If a candidate is interesting

But has a higher salary then the employer’s budget and if they are selected, negotiation begins. He/she can always decline to engage at this point. Clare elaborates “The deal will only be closed if both sides are in agreement.

I have participated in those discussions on numerous occasions, when candidates should employ all the usual negotiating strategies. Some companies will have salary scales, and for executive positions the salary will be what you are able to negotiate.

Counter offers are almost always made, estimated at 10 -15% on initial offers, but similarly candidates do decide to withdraw. It is important to have calculated your ” floor” beforehand.

You do hear of candidates being offered low ball starting salaries but not any client I’ve ever worked with. That company would probably be worth a miss any way.

Under selling oneself can also be perceived as a negative factor

There is a certain belief that a lower than market level salary is an indication of an unwillingness to negotiate, prompting the question, if candidates can’t negotiate for themselves, then how can they negotiate for the company? This is particularly true for women, who step up to the negotiation table 6 times less than their male counter parts. Ladies see my post ” Let’s go girls… negotiate

Transparency is beneficial

It contributes to good working relationships within the hiring process and if one occasion doesn’t work out, the next one might. Good contacts have been established for the future.

However it is always really important to emphasise the value that can be added in the future. That involves solid interview and career transition preparation. Companies will pay what their budget will allow, but they do want the best candidate .

Paige told me she had learned that “there is no perfect answer. In fact there are numerous effective answers. But I’m convinced that doing your homework and having a plan is essential in giving you confidence during the interview and being sincere in your responses.

You need to be true to yourself and you need to feel comfortable with your responses. You want the job, but not at the expense of your long-term satisfaction and future opportunities. Only you can determine what is going to work for you. If you are sincere, honest and earnest, your chances for success grow exponentially.

That is excellent advice.


If you need help with you career transition  –get in touch NOW


4 thoughts on “Normalising the salary expectation question

  1. HOSSA

    Dear In some area ,yes its process, when i answer recruiter – As per company policy , Because each company they have policy and budget !!

    recruiter keep repeating the question many time for a round 5 mints .

    still my answer is same, what do you think ,

    Recruiter they ask this question from business wise because they like to bring the best deal ever- cheapest one .

    1. Dorothy Dalton

      Hi Hossam – thanks for your comment. I actually think clients do not want the cheapest, they want the best candidate within their budgetary limits. My own feeling is not being prepared to answer the question in any way could damage your candidacy.

  2. Pingback: Normalising the salary expectation question � Dorothy Dalton « HossamHussein-hradmin-legalmanager Blog

  3. Mark W. Schumann

    Yes, a lot of times hiring managers feel compelled not to underspend their budgets any more than they can overspend them. Saving money is nice, but in big companies it’s more important to maintain expectations.


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