How to answer “What are your salary expectations?”

By Robert Half on 14 December 2023
Estimated Read Time: 4 minutes

It is one of the most dreaded questions during any job interview process: “What are your salary expectations?”

You can't avoid it, especially when the hiring manager asks you directly via phone or email.

And even though many job postings in Singapore close with a statement indicating that the salary is negotiable, jobseekers don't always speak up to secure a better compensation package when they should.

Related: Questions to ask in an interview in Singapore

You may have to deal with the question of pay long before you get to the salary negotiation, of course, but keep in mind that you have more power than you may think, and how you communicate, whether by phone or email, matters.

Recruiting Associate Director and specialised finance and accounting recruiter Geraldine Hor shares her advice on how to best answer salary expectation questions.

“Asking this question to our candidates enables us to understand their present compensation, aiding us in determining how we can potentially enhance their earning potential in their respective field. While individuals might feel apprehensive when asked this question, no matter if you're just starting your career or an experienced professional seeking new opportunities, it is an important question that should be answered honestly and backed by research so we can help you."

Geraldine has been helping candidates reach their salary potential for more than 10 years.

Answering your salary expectations in an email

Whether the job opening is for an entry-level Bookkeeper or a senior Business Intelligence Analyst in Singapore, the interview stage is your opportunity to convince the hiring manager that the company would be better off choosing you over anyone else.

You want them to think, “How much do we need to offer to convince this person to join our team?”

So if the hiring manager asks, what your expected salary for the position is, you need to have an email answer ready. And it doesn't have to speak directly to salary — recruiters say the “salary range expected” question is one that’s often not in your best interest to answer too soon.

One effective response is, “At this point, I’d like to focus on the value I would add in this position.”

Or, “I’d like this position to be an advancement opportunity for me in terms of pay, responsibility and the impact I can make.”

You might even turn it around and ask, “What type of salary range do you have budgeted for this position?”

Related: Interview tips and how to prepare

The reason you don’t want to throw your desired compensation out there too early is that if you go way too high, you might take yourself out of the running. If you go too low, you may end up with a less-than-appealing offer.

Of course, it can be tricky when the online application asks about salary. Your answer to salary expectations could hinder your chances of landing an interview — or it could set a limitation on how much the company will of you.

So how do you answer? Use words, instead of numbers.

“Up for negotiation,” is one response. “I’d like to discuss compensation during the interview,” is another. Something vague such as “competitive salary range expected” may be a tactic that opens the door for a later discussion.

Do your salary homework

By preparing for salary questions ahead of time, you may have a better chance of landing the job of your dreams, with a paycheck to match.

Here are four tips you can follow to get ready for that how to answer salary expectation questions.

1. Do your research

To answer the crucial question, you need to know how valuable your skills are in today’s market.

So take a look at the job market to see how it's performing, how saturated it is and where there’s demand.

If your area of focus is inundated with similar professionals, you may want to skew your salary expectations lower.

Your assessment should also consider where a company is located, how many employees it has, and whether it is privately or publicly owned.

Related: Five interview techniques and skills

2. Be confident

If possible, it’s always better to put off a discussion about your expected salary until you’re well into the interview, after you’ve had the opportunity to explain what you can bring to the table and learn more about what’s expected in the position.

But if the interviewer insists, you can also insist that you’d like to know first if the salary range they have in mind is in your ballpark.

If you decide to give a pay range you’re comfortable with, based on what you discovered during your research, be sure to consider the low end. Would you truly be happy with that number — and able to live on it?

The hiring manager may just take you up on your lowest number, and you don’t want to live to regret your answer.

If the question “What are your salary expectations?” pops up during the interview phase, don’t be evasive. Responding with a clear figure in your mind sets a stronger tone for your application.

3. Look at the bigger picture

When you work for a company, you’re not just receiving a salary or a paycheck. The compensation package may include health and life insurance, and other perks and benefits.

Once you’ve learned the possibilities — and considered whether the company’s organisational culture seems right for you — then you can decide whether these extras make up for getting less money.

Related: Second interview questions to expect in Singapore

4. Know when to walk

If your answer to “What are your salary expectations?” causes your interviewer’s eyes to widen, maybe it’s not the right job for you.

You should know from your research, based on market trends and demand for your skills as well as the experience you bring to the table, what you should be getting paid.

When a company isn't willing or able to compensate you adequately, it’s probably not one where you’ll be happy in the long run.

What is the best response to salary expectations?

The question “What are your salary expectations” is not just about proper preparation, but equally about swift action and thought in your email or phone response.

If you go too high, you can take yourself out of the running. If you go too low, you may end up with a less-than-appealing offer.

By preparing for this question ahead of time and knowing a figure before you enter the job interview phase, you just might land the job of your dreams, with a salary to match.

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