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The Do’s and Don’ts of Answering “What Is Your Target Salary?”

It’s one of the questions most interviewees dread: “What is your target salary?” It’s a simple question, but deceivingly so. Answering is tricky: depending on your number, the employer may draw conclusions about you being over- or under-qualified for the job, may only want to give you a fraction of an increase over that, or may feel that you aren’t within the range they are willing to offer. Because traversing this question is so difficult and sensitive—after all, your finances are a private matter—many employers and jobseekers disagree on how to go about this question.

Of course, everyone’s situation is unique, so there is no “right” answer. How you approach this question depends on a number of factors: your prior/current salary, your target range, and specifics about benefits and perks, to name a few. So instead of looking for the magic answer to this sometimes frazzling question, use these simple do’s and don’ts to craft your own:

Do

  • Know what the position—and your skills—are worth. There are plenty of resources online for discerning what the position you are interviewing for is typically paid in your region of the country. Of course, these numbers are averages and vary depending on the size of the company, but they can give you a good ballpark to work with. When discussing salaries, aiming too high can make you seem as if you don’t understand the current market and the company; aim too low, though, and you could come off as underqualified or unsure of your own worth.
  • Be prepared to explain why you are worth $x. This is especially necessary if you’re looking for something substantially higher than what you were previously paid. As long as the jump isn’t too big, many employers will be open to discussing why you think you deserve more than you were, or are, making. It could even be helpful to bring some work samples with you if you’re citing certain skills!
  • Be honest. If you’re looking for a certain salary range and truly believe you’re worth that amount, then it should show through your honesty.

Don’t

  • Lie if asked about your current salary. As with any other facet of the interviewing and negotiating processes, this is the worst thing you can do. Fudging your prior salary in order to get a bigger increase is not only dishonest, it’s something you can be caught doing by a simple reference check. Likewise, if you ask for a greater salary range than you know you’re worth, it will show. Get caught lying and you’re likely out of that job.
  • Refuse to answer the question without any explanation. You’re in your right to avoid citing a specific number, but if you do, you should be sure to explain. Be sure to add something along the lines of “I am very excited for this opportunity and know that I am qualified to excel in it. I would like to know what you would be willing to offer  for a professional at my level and then negotiate from there.”
  • Settle for something you’re unhappy with. Accepting anything grossly less than what you want or need will only get you off to a start with a bad taste in your mouth, and will likely reflect in your work performance. Ultimately, an employer who values you for what you can bring to the company will pay you what you’re worth.

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