It doesn’t matter how experienced you are, when a potential employer asks what salary you’re expecting, it’s difficult to give the first suggestion. Sometimes a potential employer will throw out the first number, but this isn’t always the case. It’s best to know before you walk into an interview what figure you’d want so that you’re not caught off-guard when the question comes.
Research in Advance
While most internships are more likely to have a set, hourly rate, this isn’t the case for many entry-level jobs. Instead, it’s highly likely that a potential employer will ask you what you expect to make in that position. Sylvia, a Hiring Expert at HP Enterprise explains that, “While I understand most people are hesitant to give a number, it’s to make sure everyone is in the same ballpark. If you are flexible in the range you are looking for, mention that as well.”1
While you can be flexible, that doesn’t mean being uninformed. Prepare before you walk into the interview to determine what an appropriate salary would look like for you. Phil, a Hiring Expert at Merck & Co., Inc., points out that “there are lots of tools out there to help you research salary ahead of a potential interview. My two favorites are PayScale.com and Glassdoor.”2 Sites like these will help you discover the going rate for your position.
Phil further notes that “One thing to keep in mind is that salary is dependent on your level of experience as well as geographic area/cost of living, so make sure to consider that as well.”3 Even with the aforementioned websites, it’s important to target the specific area where the job will be. A salary for the same position in Kansas might seem much lower than in California, but it will vary according to the cost of living in the area. Additionally, many jobs have a fluctuating pay scale based on education and prior experience.
If you haven’t yet had a chance to research the pay of the industry or an interviewer catches you off-guard with the salary question, “you can be honest and say that you aren't ready to answer that yet or are negotiable based on the total offer and benefits,” explains Mike, a Hiring Expert at Avery Dennison Corporation. “That's a fairly common response I get when I ask the question. I also feel that if a recruiter asks you what your expectations are, you should be allowed to inquire as to the range for the role. Be sure to ask about any bonuses, as well, as that might influence the total compensation.”4
Mike is right; sometimes the salary might be low, but the benefits that come with it make up for that fact. If the job description or application doesn’t spell out exactly what’s included if you land the job, ask.
One thing to note: it’s up to you to take into account all of your expenses to discover what number will be sustainable for you. And as Ellee, a Hiring Expert at Textron Inc., explains, “If the application asks for a range, be sure that you are comfortable with any salary offer in that range, whether it be on the low end or on the high end.”5 Re-negotiating will be nearly impossible, so you must be happy with the salary you throw out for consideration.
Although strategizing what number to suggest as a potential salary can be nerve-wracking, it’s simply a part of life. Your potential employer will let you know if they can’t meet the number you request, but usually, there’s some wiggle room. And if nothing else, perhaps you’ll end up with a higher salary than you otherwise would have if you hadn’t been prepared.