“What’s your salary expectation?”

If you’ve ever got on a call with a recruiter, you must have been asked the question “what’s your salary expectation?”

For developers and engineers alike, this is a particular question to answer regardless of your skill level—some say it’s even harder to answer than a difficult technical question.

It’s a question that reaches directly to the deepest part of your soul and challenges your self-worth and confidence. Several things could be going on in your mind:

  • I don’t know what I’m worth, how do I come up with a number to answer this question?
  • What if the number I give is too low? I risk being underpaid.
  • What if the number I give is too high? I risk being rejected.
  • What if I said “I don’t know”? I risk being seen as inexperienced.
  • What if I tossed the ball back to the recruiter and asked “what do you usually offer”? I risk getting myself into a socially awkward situation. And if the recruiter tosses the ball back to me once again, then I risk being more pressured to spit out a number.

It’s a scary question because of the potential consequences.

Here’s the strategy that I developed over the past decade of talking to recruiters:

Step 1: Adjust your mindset

Don’t be too worried about saying the wrong thing here. It’s not recommended to give the recruiter a specific number this early into the conversation. But other than that, you can basically say anything here.

Remember, the recruiter needs you to help fill a position. You have the upper hand here, regardless of your skill level. There’s no reason for the recruiter to reject you simply because you threw an unreasonable question back at them.

Step 2: Do your research

In this day and age, a lot of engineering role’s compensation and salary information is available online. Simply do a quick Google search will yield some good information that helps you understand how much you should charge.

After your research, you should be able to come up with a number that you can be satisfied with.

Important note: once you have the number, write down a range for the salary you want to get. The low end of the range should be slightly higher than the your desired salary.

Step 3: Respond appropriately

Once you understand your role in this conversation, done your research and adjusted your mindset, you need to figure out a way to appropriately respond the recruiter’s question.

Pick one of these replies depending on the situation:

Recruiter: so what’s your salary expectation?

  • “It really depends on the work and projects I’ll be working on. Do you have a ballpark range for what the company typically offers for this position?”
  • “I’d love to discuss this with you, but I think this is still a bit early for me to give you a specific number. Could you tell me more about X, Y, Z? (OR) Could you help set up a meeting with people on the team I’ll be working on / the hiring manager so I can get a better sense of the team and the work?”
  • Give them the range you came up with in Step 2. Do this if you want to filter out companies that pay too little.

There you have it.

Hopefully the 3 steps listed above will help you feel less pressured during interviews when the recruiter or hiring manager asks you the difficult question.

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