How to deal with the “money” question

by | 11.03.21

“What are your salary expectations?” this is a common, often uncomfortable, interview question that you need to be prepared to answer.

While it is important to prepare yourself still for experience and personal information questions it’s equally important to get ready for the money question as that issue is bound to surface at some point during the interviewing process. Answering “what are your salary expectations?” the wrong way can cost you a job offer particularly in the current job market where there are lots and lots of people available for every position. The only thing worse than failing to get a job offer after an interview is failing to get an offer that’s not sufficient to meet your needs or is well below your market value. Equally now is not the time to be looking for a huge salary increase. We are in a period of crisis with high unemployment levels so employers are looking to cut wage bills or at least keep them stable. Here are some tips:

Understand why you are being asked the question

There are several reasons an employer will ask this question. It could be the employer wants to know if they can afford you before they invest time and resources into considering you for employment. It may be that the employer is a “bargain hunter”. Despite there being a general market value for certain positions, some employers place a bigger premium on certain positions than others. This mean that salaries can vary. But there are always employers who are trying to cut costs and they will always, even in good times, pay as little as they can. Another reason that an employer could be asking the question Is to see how realistic you are. When a job is advertised it will generally have a salary in the advert, if you go in asking for more than that they probably won’t take your application any futher on the basis that they consider you an opportunist

How the question could be asked

Usually the question will consist of “how much money are you looking for” or “how much are you earning at the moment”. You could be asked both questions either separately or at the same time. In some respects it’s a good thing when the salary expectation topic comes into the interview conversation. It indicates the employer could be interested in you. The other side of the coin though is that when you’re not prepared its easy to make a muck up of this question which could prove costly. Remember its not a market where you are going to get a big salary increase for doing a similar job.

Be on red alert

Be aware that by candidly stating your salary expectations too early in the interview process can lead to problems. The employer isn’t sold on you just yet. They are still checking you out and doing comparison shopping between you and other candidates. You’ll be in a better position later on when the employer really wants you. Equally if you are desperate to get a job, any job, then you may be tempted to sell yourself short in order to get a job offer. Mr bargain bucket employer will jump at you if you state a figure lower than that that is on the job advertisement but other employers will avoid candidates who seem to eager and sell themselves short. Another thing to be aware of when asked really quickly for your salary requirement is that you can price yourself out of contention before you’ve even had a chance to make a good impression or appear greedy.

Find out what the employer is paying for the role

If the salary for the job you are being interviewed for is not on the advert, you will need to do some research into what the market salary for the type of position you are applying for pays before you submit your application. At the end of the day you want to earn what you are earning now or thereabouts , so look at job sites, study similar roles in similar geographical areas and establish what is a reasonable expectation. Use your current salary as a measuring rod.

How to delay answering “what are your salary expectations”

Put off answering the salary question for as long as possible. Good ways of doing this are by saying “I’m confident that you are offering a salary that is fair in the current market” by saying this you are letting the employer know you trust them and you are confident that you are worth a fair salary. At the same time you are earning the employers respect by tactfully letting them know you are not desperate for the role and expect to be compensated appropriately for your experience.

How to deal with this question if you have been over paid or under paid

If you have been overpaid or underpaid in your last position there is a fear that you will be offered a salary which is unattractive or loose a job offer. For instance someone paid lower than the normal going rate may received a similar salary offer particularly if they are being interviewed by a bargain bucket employer. If your salary is above average, and this is often the case when you have been with your current/ last employer for many years and have received annual salary reviews which have taken you above the norm for your role. Alternatively if you’re not earning the market rate, or close to it, employers may scratch their heads and ask why, so when asked what your salary expectation is you may have to avoid the question as you could sabotage your chances of getting a job offer. A good way of doing that is to say “as the role is not exactly the same as my current/last job what would you think is a fair salary for this position” that way you have thrown the question back to the employer to make a salary offer which you may or may not accept. Depending on what it is.

Think about your current salary

Unless you are seriously underpaid your current/ last salary is always a good starting point. So when asked what are your salary expectations tell the employer honestly what you have been earning. Don’t fib on this one as employers could ask your last employer  this question when they apply for a reference and no one likes a fibber. Tell the employer what you are/ were earning and say that it would be nice to get a little more but you would be happy to start on the same if you had to. Remember we are in a terrible market and its not the time to look for an enormous increase.

Give yourself a raise

If you know you have been underpaid tell the employer this. Explain you would like to earn the right salary for the job you are doing and you have the experience to warrant it. Any fair employer will understand this and will not take advantage of the fact that you have been paid badly and will offer you the right salary for your level of experience.

Sell your skills

Another way of telling an employer what salary you are expecting is not to tell them. Instead of saying “I’m looking for £££” sell your skills. Subtly emphasis why you would be a good for the position and what you can bring to the company. Do not mention numbers, just remind the employer why they should employ you and what a valuable asset you would be if they did

Is it wise to negotiate

In the current market generally it is not a good time to try to negotiate salaries. There are two main reasons for this. Firstly unemployment is the highest we have experienced for many, many years and there are lots and lots of people available for every role there is. Secondly unless you are applying to work for a company like Just Eat, Amazon or a large supermarket group most companies have suffered during the pandemic, only a few have prospered, therefore money for most organizations is tight and there will be a set budget for the position you have applied for. If the job offer you receive though is less than the job  was advertised at and also less then you have been earning you are probably dealing with a bargain bucket employer, so unless you desperately want the job and are prepared to accept it at any salary this is maybe when you should try to negotiate. It could cost you a job offer if they have other candidates but there is no reason why you should accept a salary which is not fair given the responsibilities you will have undertake.

So to summarize before you attend an interview try to establish what the job is paying. Most employers state a salary when they advertise a role, but if there is no salary on the advert research what the going rate for that type of role is in the local area. Calculate what your bottom line is. Know how much you need to earn to pay the bills and what the minimum salary you can accept would be. Finally don’t apply for a job that is paying less then you want and think you can negotiate because its just not that type of market at the


 Good Luck

 Angela Burton