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A businessman thinking about money.

The Question

I have a question regarding the concept of "salary expectation," particularly for entry-level managerial or professional positions. Given that people applying for these positions are usually new graduates and have little knowledge of the typical rate of pay for that specific industry, I wonder what an experts response might be to the question: "What is your salary expectation for this position?" How should it be approached in an interview?

The Answer

In job interviews you want to be as prepared as possible and that includes being ready for the salary expectation question. Your answer will be part of what helps the employer determine your fit for the role. Certainly employers look for the right level of skills, experience and attributes but if your salary expectations are well beyond what they plan on paying, you might be dismissed as a candidate. This is especially more true for entry-level managerial positions where you have not yet proven yourself in past managerial roles.

To prepare yourself, keep these tips in mind:

Research, research, research. As part of your interview preparation, do your best to find out what the salary range might be for this kind of position in this industry, and if you can, for this organization. Tap into your network, call recruiters or HR managers from other organizations – anything that you can do to get an idea of what an appropriate range might be. Some fields do have more wiggle room when it comes to salary ranges – even for entry-level managers. However, many do not. Knowing the salary range in advance will also help you determine if this is a realistic compensation you can live with.

First interviews are about determining fit, not salary negotiation. Keep in mind that while you might get asked about your salary expectation, the first interview is really more about determining fit and not the time to get into serious compensation negotiations. That would come at a later stage once the employer is ready to offer you a role. In a first interview, the salary question may be just a qualifier and would most likely be kept at a general level. If you know the range in advance, then your response should assure the employer that salary expectations won't be a deal breaker for them should they offer you the job.

This doesn't mean you have to convey a specific number at this early stage of interviewing – nor sell yourself short. Rather, simply let them know that you are aware of the range the organization or industry typically offers (you may be asked to state that range to affirm your understanding) – and that you feel strongly you would be an excellent choice given the valuable skills, attributes and experience you bring to the position. It's important, even in the salary conversation, to reinforce the "value proposition" you offer from the skills and aptitude perspective. Additionally, if you are interesting in this role, then communicate your enthusiasm. "I am really interested in working for this organization and am very excited about this opportunity for the following reasons…" Then be prepared to substantiate it.

Negotiating for the best starting salary that you can feasibly get is certainly important – but that conversation comes at the point when they are offering you the role.

What if the salary is lower than you expect for this kind of role? If this position is an attractive opportunity for you but the salary is lower than what you had hoped for, then think about what else you would gain from taking this role. In tougher economies, people sometimes do consider lower paying opportunities that will broaden their skills and perhaps offer exposure to new industries and experiences. If you can afford to do so, then the short-term sacrifice may pay more dividends in the longer run as you use this opportunity to further augment your career profile and value proposition. Of course, that would be a personal choice and dependent on whether or not you can live within a lower range.

And lastly, while salary is an important part of the equation, never lose sight of the rest of the picture: a good opportunity is one in which your skills, strengths, values and aspirations align with the needs and opportunities of the organization. Make sure the interview conversation is two-way and explores those dimensions and doesn't become all about salary.

Eileen Chadnick is principal of Big Cheese Coaching .

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