Navigating the Salary Question

Photo by Giorgio Trovato on Unsplash

Photo by Giorgio Trovato on Unsplash


“What is your current salary?”

“What is your salary expectation?”

Let’s face it: the question of salary history or expectations can be cringe-inducing. Not only does it perpetuate the wage gap, but it can also have long-term implications for your compensation.

It can feel awkward at best wondering how to respond. If you answer honestly, this could result in an offer that’s lower than you want. If you respond with an amount higher than the budget, it could eliminate you as a candidate. If you lie, well, this isn’t the best way to start a new relationship, it feels shady and could backfire. And avoiding the question can feel like a clumsy 6th-grade dance.

I get why a company wants to know a job candidate’s expectations; it can feel like a waste of time to spend several rounds of interviews on a candidate who has a much higher salary expectation than the budget allocated for the role.

But I believe it’s unfair for companies to ask.

When a job posting lists pay, candidates will avoid applying if it’s out of their range, and when an interviewer mentions it first candidates can respond without any guesswork. Unfortunately, not every employer has a culture of transparency surrounding pay, but they should.

As a side note, “What are your salary expectations?” is a different question from “What is your current salary?” which is actually illegal in some states and cities. It’s not just because it’s awkward, but as I alluded to earlier, it can perpetuate pay gaps.

Answering the Salary Question Matters

In an ideal world employers and recruiters would be upfront with salary information and volunteer it first. Unfortunately, this is currently not the case. So be prepared for the salary question.

Customize these strategies to fit your unique circumstances, and march into the salary conversation with confidence. Your negotiation should align with your needs and aspirations because, hey, you’re the one in control of your career path and the compensation you deserve.

Here are some suggestions for navigating different scenarios:

Online application:

It may seem like you have to fill it out, but you actually don’t. Enter “N/A” or “Flexible” in that field if it’s a required field. If it forces you to enter a numeric value, enter “0” or “1” and don’t worry, your employer probably won’t think you’re ready to work for free.

If there is an appropriate text field elsewhere on the application where you can add narrative notes, try this: “Note: I entered $0 on the salary question, however, I want to clarify I am flexible if we determine there is a mutual fit.”


Provide a polite note expressing your interest in discussing compensation further once you have a better understanding of the position and its responsibilities.

“I’m excited about the opportunity to explore this role further and discuss compensation once I have a clearer understanding of the expectations and responsibilities involved.”

During an interview:

Redirect the conversation towards your experience and research of similar roles to establish a salary range.

“I’m looking for a role that pays me fairly in the market. What’s the budget for this role?”

“I’d love to learn more about this opportunity and see if it’s a good fit before we discuss salary.”

“In terms of salary, I’m actually flexible if it’s market value and a good fit, I’d be happy with that.”

“Based on my experience and research of positions with similar levels of responsibility and scope, I am seeking a competitive salary range in line with industry standards.”

“Before discussing any salary, I’d really like to learn more about what this role entails. I’ve done a lot of research on (Company name) and I am certain if it’s the right fit, we’ll be able to agree on a number that’s fair and competitive to both parties.”

Salary History

If you get a question about your previous or current salary, do not disclose it.

“I’d love to learn more about this opportunity and see if it’s a good fit before we discuss salary.”

Dealing with persistence:

If pressed repeatedly for your salary history, emphasize that your previous salary was below market value and highlight your desired salary range based on your qualifications and the position’s requirements.

Give a researched salary range with the lowest point of that range being a salary offer you’d still be willing to accept. Give an uneven range to demonstrate you’ve done your research, such as $87,000 to $103,000 rather than $85,000 to $100,000.

“I’d prefer not to disclose my salary history as it was below market value. However, based on my skills, experience, and the responsibilities of this role, I am looking for a salary range of [insert range]. However, I’m open to discussing the overall compensation package, including benefits and opportunities for growth.”

“Based on my experience and research, I see other competitors paying somewhere around [insert range – be prepared and make it slightly higher to much higher than what you want]. Does that align with your budget?”

“Based on my research and considering the specific responsibilities involved, I believe a competitive salary range of [insert range] would be a fitting starting point. Is this what your research indicates?”

Do Your Homework to Know Your Value

You need to know your market value before you share any salary information or enter a negotiation, but this isn’t always easy.

There are online salary calculations that can help give you a range, you should try more than one to get an accurate result.

Other resources to gather additional salary data: professional associations’ salary studies, networking with professionals in your industry (ensure white men are in the group or the range may be at the lower level), seek insights from individuals familiar with the role (people who will be your future reference).

By employing these strategies and emphasizing your value proposition, you can navigate the salary discussion with confidence and negotiate a fair compensation package that aligns with your true worth. Remember, it’s your skills, qualifications, and contributions that should drive your salary, not your past earnings. If you need help negotiating your offer, I’m here for you.