How to Answer Questions Regarding Salary Requirements

by Ruth Mayhew

Some job applicants sail through the interview process gaining enough information about the job to facilitate a worthwhile discussion about salary requirements when the company is ready to make an offer. Because some prospective employers want to know upfront what kind of salary you expect, it's wise to do your research first so you can anticipate salary questions early on and be prepared to give a reasonable, yet competitive figure.


Research comparable salaries before you start drafting your cover letter or before you submit an online application. Online salary guides, government information about public sector wages, surveys and similar job postings are helpful to determine how much your skills and qualifications are worth. Compare the job posting to similar advertised positions that contain salary information to find reasonable benchmarks. In addition, if your professional network includes human resources experts or recruiters, ask them about competitive salaries for the job.

Cover Letter Response

Some companies instruct applicants to put their salary requirements in a cover letter, often indicating that they won't consider application materials that arrive without it, as in, "Your cover letter must include salary history and salary requirements to be considered for this position." In this case, your cover letter should clearly describe your earnings history, separate from incentives and bonuses, as it's the foundation for your expected salary. State your salary requirements as a range to appear flexible and open to negotiation.

Online Application Response

Those drop-down menus in online applications and the asterisk that means "required field," make it nearly impossible to tell the employer that you're willing to negotiate. If the application requires it, you can't get around not selecting a salary range from the drop-down menu selections. For an online application that doesn't require you to select a salary range, choose $0. In either case, include a note in an attached cover letter or another part of the application that allows you to include a free-form note, which should state, "My salary requirements are negotiable, based on a comprehensive benefits package."

Pre-Screening Response

In some cases, recruiters do pre-screening by contacting potential candidates to ask about their salary requirements. If the recruiter determines that you and the company are in the same ballpark, you may be chosen for a preliminary interview. If you're relatively sure you have the qualifications and you're very interested in the job, you could use a bit of humor and say, "I realize you need to whittle down the applicant pool and I hate it when someone answers my questions with a questions. That said, are you at liberty to tell me what would be the starting salary?" Alternatively, and if you don't feel humor is appropriate, you could say, "I'm sure we'll come to a mutually agreeable figure if we discover this opportunity is a good fit for both me and your company."


The more you know about how employers structure their pay scales, the better equipped you are to respond to questions, such as "What type of salary are you looking for?" or "What is the minimum salary you will accept?" Employers typically use a range to denote a starting wage, midpoint and maximum salary. It's customary to bring new employees in at about five to 10 percent below the midpoint. If you're able to establish the company's salary range, let that be your guide for responding to questions about your salary requirements.

About the Author

Ruth Mayhew began writing in 1985. Her work appears in "The Multi-Generational Workforce in the Health Care Industry" and "Human Resources Managers Appraisal Schemes." Mayhew earned senior professional human resources certification from the Human Resources Certification Institute and holds a Master of Arts in sociology from the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

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