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How to Answer “What is Your Desired Salary?”

By Biron Clark


In the next few minutes, I’m going to show you what to put for desired salary on job applications, and the best answers to, “What is your desired salary?” in interviews. Let’s start with the most important rule: The best answers for, “what is your desired salary?” on applications and interviews will AVOID telling the company your specific salary expectations. In fact, you want to wait until you know the company is interested in offering you the position to reveal your salary expectations. Sharing desired salary before this point can cost you thousands of dollars or cost you the job, and I’ll explain why.

Let’s get started…

What Is Desired Salary?

Commonly requested by interviewers and hiring managers, a desired salary is the amount you wish to earn from a new job. Of course, your desired salary should be realistic and align with your skills, experience, and current market trends. For instance, depending on the area, a realistic salary for an entry-level accountant might be $50,000 — requesting a salary of $175,000 would likely result in a few raised eyebrows.

How to Know Your Desired Salary 

Do some initial research

In order to provide a desired salary within an acceptable range, you should start your research by learning more about the company and the open position. Glassdoor is an excellent resource for salary averages. For example, according to Glassdoor, a Staff Accountant in New York City should expect base pay of $55,606:


Assess your level of education and expertise

Remember that you’ll need to factor in your education and expertise when determining your desired salary. If you’re just entering the field, you’ll unlikely be able to secure much more than the lower end of a general range. Location may also impact your desired salary. For instance, a marketing manager in San Francisco will earn more than someone performing the same role in Charleston, West Virginia. This is generally due to the local cost of living.

Consider benefits

Finally, you’ll also want to consider the company’s benefits package. You might not be able to get your requested salary, but if the organization offers robust health insurance or a great retirement plan, you should factor it into your decision. 

Watch: How to Answer “What is Your Desired Salary?”

What to Put for Desired Salary on Job Applications

The best way to answer desired salary or salary expectations on a job application is to leave the field blank or write ‘Negotiable’ rather than providing a number. If the application won’t accept non-numerical text, then enter “999,” or “000”. Then, look for a notes section later in the job application and write, “Regarding desired salary, this is negotiable and can be discussed in the interview.” It is not beneficial in any way for you to write your desired salary on job applications.

Here’s why…

If you say a number that’s too high, you could scare them off immediately.

Whereas if you spoke with them and did a great job impressing them with your interview answers and interview skills, maybe they would have been able to stretch their budget to give you that number. But at this stage, they know NOTHING about you, and they definitely don’t know if they want to hire you yet. So they’re a lot less likely to want to stretch their budget.

And if you provide a desired salary that’s too low, it can cripple your ability to negotiate later.

When you’re filling out your desired salary on a job application, you know nothing about the job yet. So maybe you put $40,000 on the job application, but you realize during the interviews that you feel $50,000 is much more fair because this job involves a lot more than the other jobs you’re interviewing for. If you said $40,000 on the job application form, you’re going to have a difficult time getting $50,000 at the end of the process. (They’ll say, “Well, when you applied, you said $40,000 was what you’re aiming at, and we’re prepared to offer you that amount.) So it’s a lose-lose. You gain absolutely NOTHING by telling them your desired salary on a job application form, and you could potentially lose a lot (thousands of dollars, or the opportunity to continue interviewing at all).

Recap of the best options for what to put for desired salary on job applications:

You can leave the desired salary field blank, write “negotiable,” or put “999” or “000” if a number is required to submit the online application. Then, if there’s a place to put a note later in the application form say, “Regarding starting salary, this is negotiable and can be discussed during an interview.”

Each Online Application Form is Different

I’ve had a few readers email in recently saying, “Biron, I can’t put what you said for desired salary because the form won’t let me.” I’ve also heard reports of employers asking for desired salary in your cover letter, too (not cool!) Anyway, my point is: You may have to get creative and adjust this on a case-by-case basis.

No two online applications are the same. You may be able to leave a few blank. Then you might find an application that says you must enter numbers only.  Test different things. If it won’t let you leave it blank or enter “000”, then try “999”. Or if you must, enter a range. That’s better than giving a single number. I’ll explain more about how to provide a good range instead of a single number later in this article.  Now let’s talk about what to do if they ask about your desired salary in an interview…

Answering “What is Your Desired Salary” in Job Interviews

The best responses for “what is your desired salary” in an interview will inform the interviewer that you’re focused on finding the best-fitting position for your career and you don’t have a specific salary target in mind yet. This will prevent the interviewer from “pushing back” and continuing to pressure you for a desired salary. Once you know they want to offer you the position, then you have some leverage to negotiate with! But don’t share your desired salary before then.

Now let’s look at examples of how to avoid telling employers your expected salary…

One tactic you can use is to share your most recent salary instead. This is a good option if you feel you were highly-paid or fairly-paid in your most recent role.  You’re giving them some information about your compensation so they can tell you if the company can at least afford to pay you an increase over your last role. But you’re not putting yourself into a corner by telling them the exact number you’re targeting.

Desired salary example answer #1:

“I’m currently earning a base salary of $45,000. I don’t have a specific number in mind that I’m targeting for this next position, though, and I’m willing to consider an offer that you feel is fair.”

It’s also possible to answer questions about desired salary without revealing your last salary, either.

Desired salary example answer #2:

“At this point in my job search, I’m focused on finding the position that’s the best fit for my skills and career. Once I’ve done that, I’m willing to consider an offer that you feel is fair for the role.”

If you feel you were not well-paid in your last role and don’t want to be held back by that salary, you can respond like this. This is a great answer because it’s polite, professional, and makes it unlikely they’ll try to “push” you further… because you’ve said that you don’t have a number in mind. If they push back or insist on getting a number from you, just repeat:

“I really don’t have a number in mind yet.”

They can’t push you for a number if you don’t have one!

Example interview answer #3:

“I don’t have a specific number in mind yet. At this point in my job search, I’m focused on finding the position that’s the best fit for my career. Once I’ve done that, I’m willing to consider an offer you feel is fair.”

This is just one more way of phrasing the same idea above. You can choose the sample answer that sounds best to you. They’re all good options for how to answer desired salary questions in a job interview.

There’s also one more way to answer desired salary questions in the interview…

You can also redirect the question back at the interviewer by asking what they’ve budgeted for the role. This is a bit more direct but can work (while providing you with some useful info about what they’re willing to pay!) I like combining this tactic with some of what we covered above. You’ll see this in the example coming up below. You’re deflecting the question by saying you don’t have a specific desired salary in mind yet, AND you’re asking what they’ve budgeted.

Example answer #4:

“At this point in my job search, I’m focused on finding the best-fitting position for my career and I don’t have a specific number in mind yet. What range did you have budgeted for the position?”

If They Ask for Desired Salary in a Second or Third Face-to-Face Interview

Maybe you’ve gone on a few interviews and they waited until now to ask about desired salary. For cases like this, there’s a different type of answer you can give.

Example answer if you’re near a job offer:

“I usually reserve salary discussions for when I know I’m being offered the job. Is it alright if we discuss the role further to determine if this is a good potential fit first? After we know it’s a good match for both sides, I’d be happy to talk about compensation.”

Or maybe you’re not sure if they’re offering you the job or not when they ask, “what is your desired salary?”

Example answer if you’re not sure whether they’re offering you the job:

“I usually reserve salary discussion for when I’m being offered the job. Is that the case here?”

If they say “yes,” then you can negotiate.

If they say, “no”, then you can respond:

“Perhaps we can finish discussing the role and then discuss salary after we’re sure it’s a good match. What else can I answer to help you determine if the job is a good fit in terms of my background and skill set?”

2 More Tips for Answering Desired Salary Questions

It’s better to state a desired range than a number

If pressed, or if you believe that you must provide a figure to proceed to the next stage in the hiring process, you can state a broad range rather than a specific desired salary. This is preferable because you’re less likely to rule yourself out and get eliminated by going too high, and you’re less likely to limit your job offer later by going too low. So before going on your interview, be prepared to state a range. Research the rate of compensation for the role you are aiming to fill. You can do this by looking at job sites, industry newsletters, and salary surveys, or by using a salary calculator. In addition, research cost of living in the area. If you decide to share a range for desired salary in the interview, always make it a broad range, like $40,000-60,000. And state your desired range boldly. Don’t be tentative, or offer the range in the form of a question. Then, immediately shift the conversation back to the skills and value you will bring to the role.

Use your contacts

Another effective way to avoid being pressed about salary expectations too early in the process is to sidestep the preliminary screening process entirely. Whenever you see a position that interests you, check your network to see if you know anyone in the organization who can forward your resume directly to the hiring manager. Remember that your goal in the early stages of the hiring process is to sell yourself in the role. If you do this well enough you will be negotiating from a position of strength and your next employer should be willing to pay you what you are worth.

The Goal: Save Salary Discussion Until You Know They Want To Offer You Their Job

Remember the main goal of everything we’ve covered above… whether you’re deciding what to put for desired salary on an application, or preparing to face the topic in your interview.  Before you know the company wants to hire you, you have no leverage to negotiate with or make demands with. So when employers ask about desired salary on applications and interviews, the best thing to do is to delay the discussion until they want to offer you the position. Re-focus the conversation on your skills and the job responsibilities to determine whether it’s a good potential match. (That’s the whole point of a job interview). Ask them questions about the job. Share examples of your past work. Tell them one or two things about the job that excites you. But keep the conversation focused on their job and your skills/abilities (as they relate to the job).

Then, when they decide to offer you the position, you can discuss salary and bonuses with them knowing they are interested in hiring you and are likely to meet some of your demands if they’re reasonable.

How to Answer Desired Salary After Job Offer

If you’ve been given a job offer but want to negotiate for something closer to your desired salary, the first step is to make sure you’ve done your homework about relevant salaries in your area — if you can find company-specific information, even better. This way, you can counter the offer with an informed target salary, and if the employer balks at this number, you have the data to back it up.

A good strategy is to not provide a specific number but a range. For instance, if you’re seeking a desired salary of $50K, you can ask for a salary between $48K and $54K. That way, the hiring manager will be more inclined to settle for a number at the lower end of your range, feeling like they got a good bargain for your expertise.

Finally, when communicating your salary range, remain professional and confident. After all, thorough research helped you determine your desired salary. And if the company can’t meet your reasonable expectations, you can likely find another that will. 

How to Answer Questions About Desired Salary – Quick Instructions

  1. Delay providing a specific number until you’re sure they want to offer you the job
  2. On job application forms, leave your desired salary blank, put “negotiable,” or “999”. Then include a note saying that base salary is negotiable and can be discussed in the interview
  3. If the employer asks about your desired salary in the interview, tell them you don’t have a specific number in mind yet, but you’ll consider any fair, reasonable offer
  4. The goal is to delay discussing your desired salary until after you’re sure the employer wants to offer you the job because then you have some leverage to negotiate with
  5. If you’re in an interview and not sure if they’re ready to offer you the job, say, “I typically reserve salary discussion for once I know a company is interested in offering me the job. Is that the case here?” (And if not, go back to discussing the job).
  6. Be firm and don’t let an interviewer or recruiter bully you. If they keep pushing you, just repeat, “I really don’t have a specific number in mind yet. I’m focused on finding the job that’s the best fit for my career.”

You know what to put for desired salary on applications and how to handle questions about desired salary in the interview. This will help you get more interviews and stay calm all the way through the process – up until you receive an offer!

Biron Clark

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4 thoughts on “How to Answer “What is Your Desired Salary?””

  1. I just applied for a job, and entered “999” for the desired salary, but there was no notes section. Did I screw myself over?

  2. Some electronic applications require you to pick a number (usually a range), such as $100k-125K, 125k to 150k etc. You have no option to over-ride this. What do you suggest? Or if they ask you directly – “what were you making in your last job”?

    • Pick an extremely broad range.

      Or if a single number is acceptable, you can put “999” or “000” and then mention in a “notes” section that salary is negotiable and can be discussed in the interview.

      The question of what you were making is different than asking your salary goals. If they ask your last salary, I’d say it’s confidential information and you signed a confidentiality agreement with your last employer.

    • Online forms don’t allow for “extremely broad” ranges. I just chose the lowest choice on the form because it’s absolutely ridiculous for the position – and it was ridiculous for the company to include the question at this state.

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