Salary Interview Questions

By Diane Turner

Every industry will have its own standards regarding what you should be paid. If you are walking into an interview for a position that has not listed a specific salary for its applicants it will be up to you to work with this potential employer to agree on a salary point. This means you will need to understand how much it is reasonable to ask for before you walk into the room.

People often dread salary questions because they do not know how to find the balance between being firm and being willing to negotiate. You want to make sure you are paid what you are worth but you do not want to ask for more than what the employer is willing to pay. Anticipating salary questions that may come up in your interview and planning your answers in advance can help you avoid this awkwardness during the interview itself.

Why Employers Ask about Salary

Interviewers want to know if their company can afford to work with someone like you. If you have a great deal of experience a company may want to hire you, but they might not have the resources on hand to provide you with the type of salary you expect. Employees that walk into a job expecting higher pay can wind up resentful or angry, which can hurt the company’s bottom line over time, especially if this resentment leads to the employee failing to give their full effort.

An employee is never going to base their salary offerings solely on the offer you bring to the table. They always have a budget set aside for the position that they will use as their negotiating point once the interview has begun. If it is clear that the person they are interviewing is willing to work within the constraints that they have, the interview will continue. However, if it is clear that the employer and the applicant have very different ideas about the salary that should be associated with this position, they can cut the interview short and save each other a great deal of time.

Common Interview Questions

If an employer is planning on discussing salary requirements during an interview, there are a few questions that you can typically expect on this topic. Planning your answers to these questions in advance can help you avoid providing an answer that is awkward or a turn off for the employer.

  • What are your salary expectations? Before you can answer this, you need to understand what range of answers would be appropriate. Use a salary calculator or salary reports to determine what people in your position typically make. Consider your experience and the types of salaries available within the company you are working. Give a range for the salary you would expect, with your bottom line and your ideal offer on either end. This will open up the negotiating process so you can prove your worth and allow the company to remain in budget.


  • What were your starting and final levels of compensation? Companies frequently want to know how much you were paid at your previous positions to get a feel for how much you might expect from them. No matter what, do not lie if you are asked this question. The employer will likely use your resume or references to confirm the details you provide and you do not want to look like you cannot be trusted. Have your salaries calculated in advance and provide this information when asked. If you understand that you can expect a salary that is significantly higher or lower than what you made previously, mention this to the employer so you are on the same page.


  • How much do you expect to be paid? This question is similar to those listed above, but this in this case the employer is typically looking for a more direct answer rather than an opening to the negotiation period. Provide a solid number using your experience, salary levels in similar positions and the value you would add to the company as backup for your request. Keep this brief.


  • What are Your Short or Long Term Salary Requirements? Employers want to find people that plan to stick with their company for long periods of time to avoid the costs of having to retrain or hire others. If you plan on working your way up and making more over time, make this clear. Instead of saying you would like to earn a certain amount in a specific number of years, state specific periods in your employment that you feel would earn you a raise. When you start taking on more responsibilities or move into a leadership role you should expect to be compensated for your efforts.


Questions or Answers to Avoid

There are certain topics that are definite turnoffs for potential employers. Make sure to avoid these if you are asked to provide comments regarding your salary negotiations.

  • How fast could I get your job? This is rude and implies that you plan on replacing the person interviewing you. It is logical that interviewers would skip you over simply to protect their own livelihoods since you have made it obvious you cannot be trusted.


  • How much do you make? Once again, this is rude. The interviewer’s salary is none of your business, and is likely not relevant to what you would be making since this individual will likely be working in a different position than you will.


  • How fast can I get promoted? This is not so much a poor question as it is poor wording. Instead of making it sound like you are eager for more money, phrase the question around what type of responsibilities you would have. Ask what you would be expected to accomplish in the first six months of your job, how long the training period is or what type of long-term growth potential the job has. Make it clear that you are hoping to stay with the company for a long period of time rather than simply hoping for a bigger paycheck as soon as possible.