Time to bite the bullet, steel your nerves, and approach THAT question

Sex and drugs and rock 'n' roll.

There, that's got your attention, hasn't it? Back in the day, these were all taboo subjects. Not so much anymore. But the subject of money, which supposedly makes the world go round - and especially the subject of salary - is still off the table in terms of discussions. It's just not talked about in polite society.

So, let's break that taboo here and now, and open up the debate.

Hands up who works for the sheer joy of working. Not many of you. It's probably 95% of the labour market who work to earn money and then spend it on what they need to live and enjoy their lives. Most of us don't do a job just for the pleasure of it. What you earn is important. Of course it is. So why is it such a secretive world? It's still deemed rude to ask, “how much do you earn?”… almost as bad as asking a woman how old she is.

Why is that? What's so wrong with knowing how much people make on a yearly basis?

It could be that if you earn what is perceived as "not much", i.e. below the average wage, then you might feel ashamed that you're not able to contribute enough to your family and society. If you earn an incredibly high salary, it can feel like boasting, as if you're looking down on everyone else who doesn't earn as much as you do.

What to say when asked about salary expectations in an interview

If you're attending an interview, it's a good idea to have some questions ready to ask at the end. It's usually expected. However, don't rush in prematurely to talk about money. This places too much focus on what you're expecting from an employer, rather than what you can offer them. It's best to leave this to a later date… unless the interviewer brings up the topic.

The interviewer might ask, “what are your salary expectations?”. Make sure you've prepped for this beforehand, because you don't want to undersell yourself. On the other hand, you don't want to project an over-inflated view of yourself by stating a completely unrealistic salary expectation. It's a tricky one.

As with most questions, you need to grasp the meaning behind it. The interviewer is trying to find out:

  • If you realise your true worth in the workplace

One strand of interview preparation is assessing the current market and figuring out how you compare to the other candidates. This then gives you a rough idea of how much money workers at your level and in the same industry might expect to earn. If you don't have a ballpark figure that's realistic, it shows you haven't done your prep.

  • Your level of seniority

If your minimum salary expectation is quite a lot higher than other applicants, this could indicate that you're too experienced for the role.

  • If they can afford you

Every hiring manager has a budget in mind. If candidates are constantly asking for higher salaries than expected, hiring managers might request a bigger budget or change the job spec to suit the initial figure.

How to discuss salary expectations with a new employer

Establish your market value

This means researching the kind of salary package usually offered for the type of position you're going for. It's vital that you have a realistic idea of what you might be worth to your new employer. If you're working with a Recruitment Consultant, they should be able to help with this.

Provide a range

Once you've decided on your value, you need to decide what's the maximum amount and the minimum amount you'd accept, so you can provide a range rather than giving an exact amount. But don't undersell yourself. UK salary offers are rising, so you want to make sure you're part of that. It's wise not to come up with too broad a range, however, so keep it compact with a leeway of about £5,000. Prospective employers are likely to go for the lower end of your range, so make sure your “ideal” figure is at the lower end.

Show off your negotiation skills

There's no rule that states a salary has to be set during the interview, so offer up some room for negotiation. An interview can be fraught enough without bashing out the finer details of what you might earn if you get the role.

If you're the perfect fit for the position, and the hiring manager has some sort of idea of the range of salary expectation you have, then it's fine to thrash out the details at a later date.

Be open to an all-encompassing package

While the salary is probably the top priority, there could be a whole horde of other factors that need to be considered, such as medical benefits, sick pay, childcare provisions, pension contributions, and car allowance.

While these benefits might not appear in your monthly wage packet, they can make a low salary seem much more attractive as they can mean additional income, an improved work-life balance, and a better work environment.

Definitive example answer:

“The opportunities I'm currently pursuing generally command a salary of between £45,000 and £50,000, which I'm happy with. Whilst salary isn't the deciding factor, I'm keen to achieve a position that offers near to the higher end of the scale, as I feel this reflects my true worth.”

Adding salary expectations on your CV

Is it a good idea to mention your salary expectations in a section within your CV? Not really. It takes up valuable space and could potentially weaken your position when it comes to negotiating a salary package for a new role. So unless it specifically asks for salary details in the job application, leave it off. If a potential employer wants to know, they can ask during the interview process.

The takeaway

Salary isn't everything. OK, we know it's incredibly important, but job satisfaction, a non-toxic workplace culture, and team camaraderie all make for a fulfilling role. There are even some times when you might take a lower salary.

But when discussing salary expectations with an employer, it's vital to convey the impression that money isn't the be all and end all. The emphasis should be on showing how aware you are of your value and that you feel it's only appropriate, because of this, that you should be remunerated accordingly.

Eager to land an interview where you can discuss suitable salary expectations? Make sure your CV is ready to go by indulging in a free CV review where your document is fully assessed, scrutinised, and marked, offering tips on where you can improve. 

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