Four Ways to Prepare for the Dreaded Salary Expectation Question in an Interview

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“I bargained with Life for a penny,                                                                                                                            And Life would pay no more                                                                                                                          However I begged at evening                                                                                                                              When I counted my scanty store;
For Life is just an employer,
He gives you what you ask,
But once you have set the wages,
Why, you must bear the task.
I worked for a menial’s hire,
Only to learn, dismayed,
That any wage I had asked of Life,
Life would have paid.”

Jessie B. Rittenhouse

Last week we shared tips from various hiring managers, business leaders and a psychologist for effective ways to integrate into the Canadian job market. Following on that, let’s look at another needling concern for just any professional, whether newcomer or Canadian. The topic of salary expectations and how to navigate this question in a job interview.

Not many people are comfortable responding to this question in an interview, whether for fear of underselling themselves, seeming greedy or confrontational or disqualifying themselves from the opportunity.

There are two dominant schools of thought concerning whether you should broach the topic, when and how.

One suggests, it is only practical for a candidate to ask the going salary or salary range of a position upfront so as to determine its fit for their financial needs and therefore whether the job is worth pursuing. In some cases too, this question may be included in a pre-interview form that you are expected to complete and is therefore unavoidable up front. In such cases, experts suggest the question is there to help interviewers sort applicants. So know the going rate.

The second approach suggests you allow the interviewer to put this information on the table if and when they so choose, and that you should delay a direct response for as long as possible, until both you and the interviewer are agreed that you and the organization are a good fit for each other.

In either case, if you are asked to indicate your salary expectation you want to navigate this topic with confidence and tact.

Some foundational keys to help manage this discussion, whichever phase of the interview process it arises, lie in preparation and research that allows you to: Know the market range, know what you can live with, know your worth and establish your value to the organization.

Know the market range: Research your field of work. Look at current job listings, the salary ranges, competencies required and scope of responsibilities among similar sized organizations in your geographic locations of interest. This information can be sourced from most job sites such as Indeed, Monsterjobs as well as other online resources such as, or Many industry associations also collect salary data from their members that they share with the public. Do a comparison from the various sources to get a fair range. When you know the going rate and range you can confidently reference this info in the interview and demonstrate that you are abreast and knowledgeable of current trends in your field.

Know what you can live with: Before you pursue any job interests, be clear about your own financial obligations and goals. Be realistic about what you can live with. There may be perks and benefits that fulfill some of your goals. Balance those and the salary against the funds you actually need to meet your responsibilities and live. This will help you to avoid underselling yourself or committing to a lowball figure just to secure a job that in the end cannot meet your needs.

Know your worth in the labor market: “The best way of knowing your worth is to keep a toe dipped in the market. By monitoring new jobs in your industry you’ll know whether you’re paid fairly and get an idea of the areas you might need to work on to secure a higher salary,” Mary Ellen Slayter, a Monster careers expert suggested in a Forbes article by Jacquelyn Smith on How to Handle Uncomfortable Salary Discussions at Work. When you are confident in your worth you can articulate this within the perspective of the value you bring to an organization. To most interviewers, this inspires confidence in you as someone who is fair and has potential to grow with an organization.

Establish your value to the organization: The rationale for the delay tactic to answering the question on salary expectations is to gather sufficient information about the opportunity and allow you time to win over the interviewer or convince them that you are the best candidate for the job. Once you demonstrate that you bring the value, potential and solution they are looking for, you increase your leverage for negotiating a compensation package. According to professional staffing company Robert Half, increasingly, “competitive compensation is the best defense against loosing top talent”. A company that recognizes this and your value to them will pay you what you are worth without you having to haggle too much, if any at all, over dollars and cents.


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