Navigating the salary expectation question

by Nov 14, 2023

Navigating the salary expectation question

Here are three options to handle the salary expectation question which is guaranteed to send candidates into paroxysms of anxiety


One of the questions guaranteed to send candidates into paroxysms of anxiety is the “what are your salary expectations” question.

The EU is endorsing the new trend towards salary transparency and the European Parliament has approved the new EU Pay Transparency Directive. This directive will prompt major changes in the way companies talk about their pay structures and in the information they report publicly. Member states have three years to transpose the directive into national legislation.

This means that until organisations are obliged to publish salary information then candidates are still going to be asked about their salary expectations.

What is a straightforward and routine question for recruiters and hiring managers to check everyone is on the same page is a huge challenge for many candidates. It also causes considerable confusion and anxiety, especially having to navigate the very often conflicting advice on the job market and if the candidate has been looking for some time.

How you answer will depend on your marketability to that company at that moment in time which can vary.

There are three areas to focus on

Before going into any job search process, you should have done your inner work and understand the following so you are well prepared to answer the salary expectation question.

  • Have researched the role, organisation, and market thoroughly
  • You know your own worth
  • You understand your own bottom line: that is your walk-away point and what you will compromise on!


salary expectation question

Three options to handle the salary expectation question

1. Ask for their budget

It may be the call from the recruiter comes out of the blue and you don’t have time to prepare. In an ideal world, the job posting would contain the salary. But if not and you don’t have time to research you can ask for the budget for the post.

I would be happy to discuss salary and benefits when I understand the role better  Can you share the budget for the post? “

Many fear that any number they give will not be correct, either too high or too low. Most recruiters will give you a range. They generally have 10-15% flexibility but will not share that with you.

2. Give a salary range

Candidates giving a range from the recruiter’s perspective is the best option. From those numbers, they can tell if both parties are aligned. A good response would be to say

“I’m currently interviewing for positions that pay €100K – €120K”

Strategically, position your lower figure at the higher end of their scale if you know it. The recruiter will tell you quickly if there is a mismatch of expectations and you can decide at that point if you want to continue. Factor in other benefits in case there are some options that could be of interest.

Worth a read: Salary negotiation made simple in 7 easy steps – 3 Plus International

3. Mention a specific number

This can either be a very punchy approach from someone who knows their market worth and is already being pursued by other companies.

“I’m currently interviewing for roles that pay €150K upwards depending on the role.”.

“I wouldn’t consider a move  unless there was a minimum €150K basic salary plus x benefits” on the table”   

The same response can also come from someone who has no clue and will be widely off the mark at either end of the spectrum.

Salary isn’t everything

At a senior level, it is common for recruiters to give candidates a spreadsheet so that they can outline all their requirements from pension, health, and medical plans to other benefits. One year of luncheon vouchers adds up!  The basic salary may be lower, but if the organisation has great benefits and a bonus system they could make it an attractive opportunity. Note: benefits do not count towards pensionable earnings and for women, this is an important consideration.

Worth a read: Emotional salary increasingly important to women – 3 Plus International

If the job is in a different location with may be increased commuting costs or other factors that impact your net salary, make sure to factor those in.

In some European countries candidates frequently talk in net salary terms which is not helpful as every individual has different tax breaks and personal fiscal situations that impact the net salary. It’s important to know clearly what gross salary you need.

Whatever approach you take always insert a caveat that you will make a final decision when you have understood the role better.

Final lessons

1.  Good candidates are rarely ruled out on salary grounds alone.

Salary tends to be the market indicator of seniority or experience  (although not always) which can translate into a potentially possible lack of fit for the position (too senior or junior) with all that implies. There might be internal repercussions on the existing team for example, but candidates could also be re-approached regarding their flexibility.

2. If a candidate is interesting

But has a higher salary than the employer’s budget, and if they are selected, negotiation begins. He/she can always decline to engage at this point.

I have participated in those discussions on numerous occasions when candidates should employ all the usual negotiating strategies. Some companies will have salary scales, and for executive positions, the salary will be what you are able to negotiate.

Counter offers are almost always made, estimated at 10 -15% on initial offers, but similarly, candidates do decide to withdraw. It is important to have calculated your ” floor” beforehand.

You do hear of candidates being offered lowball starting salaries but not any client I’ve ever worked with. That company would probably be worth a miss anyway.

3. Underselling oneself can also be perceived as a negative factor

There is a certain belief that a lower than market-level salary is an indication of an unwillingness to negotiate, prompting the question, if candidates can’t negotiate for themselves, then how can they negotiate for the company?

This is where it’s important to do your research.

Do you need help negotiating your next career move? Contact 3Plus now!


4. Transparency is beneficial

It contributes to good working relationships within the hiring process and if one occasion doesn’t work out, the next one might. Good contacts have been established for the future.

However, it is always really important to emphasise the value that you can add.. That involves a solid interview and career transition preparation.

Companies will pay what their budget will allow, but they do want the best candidate.

So until these regulations are enforced the status quo will remain.


Does your company struggle to attract top female talent? 3Plus can help you with our Executive Search and Diversity Recruitment sessions.









3Plus welcomes any writers to join 3Plus as a Staff Writer. If you are an expert in Job Search, Career and Mentoring or just want to share your experiences, contact us! We would love to give you a voice!

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