How to respond when a recruiter asks: "What's your salary expectation?"

How to respond when a recruiter asks: "What's your salary expectation?"

The dreaded question at the beginning of every interview process. Why does it always seem to catch you when you least expect it?

If you read nothing else beyond this sentence, take this away: Never tell a recruiter what your salary expectation is. Telling them will cause you to lose all leverage in the salary negotiation.

We’ll give you the framework you need to answer it properly.

Why are they asking in the first place?

Employee payroll is the biggest line item on a P&L. Employees are expensive. And companies, unfortunately, want to pay the least amount they can. 

Recruiters ask for your salary expectations for two reasons:

  1. To make sure they’re in the same ballpark (and to avoid wasting their time)
  2. To get a signal on what they should offer you (that is, if they offer you)

Here’s the reality. Pay bands can vary widely. The minimum point of a range might be $90k, while the max is $150k. Look at how these two scenarios can play out (on a $90k-150k band):

  1. Candidate A tells the recruiter their target pay is $90k-100k. Recruiter offers $90k, they settle on $95k.
  2. Candidate B tells the recruiter their target pay is $130k-150k. Recruiter offers $130k, they settle on $140k.

This happens all the time. Candidate A will make $45k less than Candidate B because they pinned themselves into the low end of the pay band. This is the problem we’re trying to solve at FairComp.

So anyway, don’t tell them the range. Check out our framework below for additional guidance.

How to respond without losing leverage in the negotiation process

There’s no one way to approach this, but we’ll give you a framework and some examples and guidance to work off of.

Here’s the general framework:

  1. Acknowledge that it’s an important topic
  2. Tell them you want to learn more about the role & team before discussing
  3. Ask for the salary range to make sure you’re in the same ballpark

Here are some examples:

“While I understand comp is important, I’d like to learn more about the role and the team before discussing it. If it’s a mutual fit, I’m confident we’ll make something work. To ensure we’re in the same ballpark, would you mind providing the range for the role?”

“I definitely want to make sure we’re in the same ballpark because comp is important, but I’d also like to learn more about the team first. Let’s do this - tell me the range and I’ll tell you if we’re in the same ballpark. Assuming we are, we can get into salary negotiations later on in the process. That work?”

“I saw online that the range for this role is $XX,XXX to $YY,YYY, is that right? If so, we’re in the same ballpark, but I’d prefer to start salary negotiations after I’ve met with the team and learned more about the role.”

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