You Still Can’t Dodge The Salary Question (Here’s How To Answer)

Annette Richmond
4 min readOct 28, 2020


Most job seekers dread talking to recruiters and employers about salary. In many states it’s illegal to ask candidates about their current salary. But that doesn’t mean you can’t be asked about your expectations.

The truth is, you can’t completely dodge the salary question.

But, to some degree you can control it. You do this by understanding the process and being prepared.

Why do recruiters ask about your salary?

As a former recruiter, I know they don’t ask your salary requirements to put you on the spot. They ask because they need to know if you are in the salary range for the position they are filling. Remember, recruiters don’t work for you, they work for the employer.

Each job has a predetermined salary range which has been provided by the hiring manager and/or human resources. Experienced recruiters know that salaries at the higher end of the spectrum will go to the most desirable candidates, those who have everything they are looking for, and salaries at the lower end will go to those with fewer skills or less experience.

Basically, recruiters need to know if you are affordable. While there may be some flexibility or “wiggle room” in the salary range, there is still a limit. Employers will only go so high even if the “perfect” candidate, or proverbial “purple squirrel” in recruiter speak, comes along.

Learning candidate’s salary requirements is a fast way to weed out candidates who are too expensive.

No matter how awesome you may be if the top of the salary range is $175K it’s highly unlikely they are going to pay you $225K. Although I’ve spoken to candidates who don’t believe this.

On the other hand, if you give a salary range that’s too low, it can signal the recruiter that you are underqualified for the position.

If the salary range is $150K to $175K, for example, and you say your target salary is $100K it makes the recruiter wonder if you are exaggerating your your qualifications or grossly underpaid.

How should you respond to questions about salary?***

If you want to be considered for the position you need to have an answer regarding your salary. Some states have passed laws prohibiting employers from asking job applicants about their salary history. As of August 7, 2020 19 states have enacted salary history bans, according to HRDIVE. (Check your state on HRDIVE’s running list of salary history bans.)

But that doesn’t mean there will be no salary questions. Recruiters and employers can ask you about your expectations. Here in CT, they can also ask about other elements of compensation as long as they don’t ask about their value.

You can try to put off a response about your expectations, by asking what the range is for the position. They may tell you. They may not.

If the recruiter does give you the salary range you can respond by saying, “that’s in my range.” If pressed you can pick a number somewhere in between.

Just remember that the highest salary in that range will go to a candidate who meets most if not all of the requirements. This may mean having experience in that industry as well as holding a similar position.

It may include having particular skills and several years in a comparable role. For example, if you’re a creative director whose primary experience is with print you probably won’t be commanding a top salary at a digital advertising agency.

If the recruiter won’t share the salary range, the ball is in your court. To keep the conversation going you can try giving the recruiter your salary range. Most employers will see the lower end of your salary range as your bottom line. So, make sure that is a number you can live with.

One thing to remember, when giving a salary range be sure to note whether that number includes your benefits. While many companies have more standard benefits such as health insurance other companies offer professional development, tuition reimbursement, and more.

How to you decide on a salary range?

Research, research, research. The best way to be ready for the dreaded salary question is to prepare in advance. There is plenty of information readily available.

One of the easiest ways to find out salary information is online. There are websites that offer solid salary information. Start with these:

Bureau of Labor and Statistics (Wage Data by Area and Occupation)

Occupational Outlook Handbook (Earnings)

After conducting some online research get additional information by talking to people either familiar with or working in your target position. Start with your friends and family. Next ask for introductions to anyone they know who might be helpful. Don’t forget your college or university alumni association which can be an immense resource.

Remember that compensation is more than just salary. Compensation includes numerous benefits including: healthcare, vacation, tuition reimbursement, flexible schedules, summer Fridays, etc. Don’t discount the value of a corporate cafeteria with discounted, healthy meals or the option to work remotely even if it’s only one day a week. Make a list of the criteria that’s most important to help you evaluate job offers.

Talking salary is tricky for both sides. Therefore, there will always be some anxiety when the topic of salary comes up. However, until people start working for free, there’s no way to avoid it. Prepare your answer to the salary question before you begin your job search to avoid getting caught off guard.

** This post is not meant as legal advice. Check your state’s laws regarding salary history bans and consult an employment lawyer on your rights as a candidate.

This post originally appeared on the career intelligence Resume Writing blog.



Annette Richmond

6X Certified Executive Resume Writer, Career Storyteller, Proud Dog Mom, Clubhouser, Making Sure Recruiters and Employers Recognize Your Awesomeness