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How to answer toughest job interview question

Lucy Dean
·4-min read
Photo of candidates waiting for a job interview. Selective focus
Here's how to answer that tricky question. (Image: Getty).

Job interviews can be tricky, but there’s one question in particular that can stump candidates: “How much do you expect for your salary?”

Go in too low and you risk setting yourself up for a lower salary than you deserve. But how do you know where the sweet spot is when it comes to negotiating your salary?

According to workplace trainer Amanda Rose, the answer is simple: research.

While it can be startling to be hit with the salary question in an interview, ideally you would have already come prepared, she said.

“You’ve got to be strategic in everything you do,” Rose said.

“It doesn’t mean you’re being dishonest, it means you’re giving yourself room to negotiate. So say you’re on $50,000 and ideally you want $80,000, you could say that your salary range and your expectations are between $60,000 and $80,000.”

Put simply, you never align the bottom of your salary expectations with your current salary, she added.

“You always want to go up. That’s the whole point of going for another.”

Do your homework

It's always best to come prepared. (Image: Getty).
It's always best to come prepared. (Image: Getty).

It comes back to research.

Many companies, particularly those in the public sector, will have publicly available information on the salary bands for certain roles.

It pays to look into these, CEO of recruitment firm ASPL Group Kris Grant said. These bands will not only give you an idea of how much workers are paid in the public sector, but also a potential starting point for negotiations for private sector roles.

Platforms like Indeed and SEEK also often offer information on the average salary for the position you’re interested in. However, these salaries can vary by career level, company and location.

“[It can be] really, really hard for young graduates coming through, so it comes down to reaching out and getting assistance within the community or professional field,” Grant added.

“It’s really important to recognise your own worth and be comfortable with what’s on offer.

“What this ties into is how we’re so grateful to get a role or a contract, but it’s really important to think about the company or the government’s vision and ask, ‘What are my next steps from a career perspective?’”

More broadly, while candidates may have seen quotes online with ideas like: ‘Know your worth, then double it,’ Rose says this approach will rarely play out well in the real world.

“Be prepared. Make sure that you actually find out what other people are being paid, what are the wages other people in your industry, with your experience are getting. You’ve got to be realistic,” Rose said.

But at the same time, it’s important to avoid talking yourself out of your money, she added.

For example, a candidate currently earning $80,000 who discovers the going rate in the industry is $120,000 should be careful not to fall into the trap of believing that their current salary is a reflection of their skill or worth.

It’s more likely that that candidate is simply being significantly underpaid.

Use your power

If you're willing to walk away, you hold the power. (Image: Getty).
If you're willing to walk away, you hold the power. (Image: Getty).

This is all easier to do if you’re currently in a job, Rose added.

The ability to walk away, say no or negotiate harder without feeling desperate for an income means you’re in a significantly stronger position to get what you want and deserve.

That’s why she advocates for job seekers to begin looking for new roles while they’re still in their current position.

“Imagine negotiating for a salary but you’ve already got a job - the power is phenomenal. You can walk away. If you are willing to walk away, you are in a position of power,” she said.

“So you have to do that research and have the confidence to say, ‘No, I know what I’m worth and I have the confidence to walk away.’”

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Image: Yahoo Finance
Image: Yahoo Finance