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Interviews are difficult, but when the dreaded question, “What are your salary expectations?” is asked, it can take an uncomfortable and awkward turn. What’s the correct reply? A. Harrison Barnes, founder of agrees, “Quote a number too high, and you might as well abandon ship right away; quote a too low number and you run the risk of the interviewer questioning your own faith in your skills”. Not only that, but what if the salary range is higher than your quote? Fortunately, a bit of preparation can help you sail right through the question with an answer that invites discussion while not leaving you feel as though you’re the proverbial deer in the headlights.

Reverse the Roles

A. Harrison Barnes says if you’re questioned about your salary expectations, the potential employer is likely looking for other revelations in your response as well. The interviewer is looking for confidence in the applicant; one who is assertive, but not passive and certainly not overly aggressive. If you come across as a pushover, you might be setting yourself up for a career with a company that believes you don’t value your skill sets, so why should it? Take a too aggressive approach and you might be seen as arrogant and overly confident. Whether or not there’s any truth to these observations is not necessarily a factor in the interviewer’s mind. His goal is to discern as much as possible about the person in front of him during this process.

The Right Answer

OK, so what is the correct answer to the question? Your best bet is to be honest and should include truth to the statement of, “My research before the interview of others in this region of the country and in the same position with a similar educational background tells me $XX is a good place to begin negotiations.” Remember, though, a bit of confidence (read: not arrogant) will serve you well as you reply. From there, allow it to sink in and await the interviewer’s response. Hopefully, your answer told the interviewer a lot, including the fact you’re prepared, assertive and won’t shy away from an awkward topic. Keep your eye contact as you make your statement and if necessary, practice saying it before the interview. You never know if you’re going to be asked, but a proactive approach is always better than an unprepared reactive answer.

If the reply isn’t one you were hoping to hear, you will have a couple of options. One, you can very politely say, “I appreciate your time and the opportunity to interview, but this is not an offer I’m in a position to consider.” Or you can say, “If I am the chosen candidate, I am willing to accept that offer, but would appreciate the opportunity to renegotiate after X months.” Remember, you’re looking for a new job opportunity, but you also have to make up your mind what kind of sacrifices you’re willing to make. Remember, too, has thousands of Current Job Openings and it may be you want to continue your job search.

Regardless of what you decide, remember to thank the interviewer for his time and it’s always a good idea to follow up with a brief thank you note reiterating your appreciation – whether or not it’s the right job for you or if you intend to keep looking.

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