Interviews and assessment centres

'What are your salary expectations?' Tricky graduate interview question

21 Jun 2023, 15:40

When you’re eager to show what you can offer a company, the topic of money might throw you. Having considered your response beforehand is sure to pay off.

A man looking at a wall, filled with diagrams of money bags

Questions based on salary expectations can be awkward for anyone to navigate but, for a graduate with limited experience in the industry, they can be particularly difficult. You’ll want to avoid aiming too high and pricing yourself out of a position or underselling yourself and ending up with a salary less than you deserve, but you probably won’t have much experience in the industry to help you come up with a considered response.

Get help on answering more difficult interview questions with our article on the top nine tough tricky interview questions and answers .

Leave room for negotiation

Leaving room for negotiation can prevent recruiters from employing someone else on the basis of pay and avoid giving the impression that the money is your main reason for wanting the job.

Explain why you think the salary you expect is appropriate.

Come up with a salary range rather than a specific figure. Make sure both the highest and the lowest figures are what you consider to be reasonable (this article should help you to decide what these should be).

Saying something along the lines of ‘This isn’t set in stone for me and I would be happy to discuss with you in order to come up with a figure that suits us both’ before giving the range could also help to show that you are willing to negotiate. However, if you’re confident that you would like to be paid within the range, you may decide that this isn’t appropriate for you.

Research average salaries

Look at the job description for the position you are going to be interviewed for. If there is a salary range stated, you should make sure your answer falls within this.

Start by taking a look at our 'Which graduate careers offer the best pay?' article. It provides an overview of the types of salaries to expect with the biggest recruiters (smaller employers probably won't be able to match them but it gives you an 'upper limit' to keep in mind).

Searching graduate job vacancies for roles with different employers that have similar responsibilities and job titles is another strong way to get a feel for what ‘normal’ pay looks like.

While you’re researching the employer, be on the look out for any factors that might mean its salaries will deviate from the average. If it is a public sector employer, for instance, you could search for news surrounding changes to public sector pay and consider whether these might impact you. A larger and more established company might have the resources to pay graduates higher salaries than a smaller and newer one. Salaries for positions based in London tend to be higher than those elsewhere. Don’t worry too much about this, though; giving a range should leave room for these differences.

For further information about where to look when researching to decide your salary expectations, along with common mistakes to avoid when navigating this difficult subject, take a look at our advice for negotiating a better package for your new job .

Think about what you can offer

If you have certain abilities that will significantly improve your ability to carry out the role, or have undertaken work experience that is particularly relevant to the position and company, you may decide to make your salary expectations higher. However, you should think realistically about whether what you offer now (not in terms of potential) is significantly better than other graduates likely to make an application; your university’s careers service may be able to help you to gauge this. If not, be cautious about asking for higher than the average.

Put your money where your mouth is

Explaining why you think the salary you expect is appropriate is important – it’s an obvious point, but employers will want to know that what you bring to the company warrants what they pay you. If you are asked about salary expectations towards the end of your interview, you will probably have demonstrated why you’re a good fit for the company through your responses to other questions. However, it’s still a good idea to talk briefly about the skills and experience you will offer the company – and why, along with your research into average graduate salaries for similar roles, this has led you to consider the range you have chosen as reasonable. This will also showcase your ability to make judgements based on information and your negotiation skills, both of which are likely to be attractive to the employer.

Be tactful if you swerve the question

The employer is not looking to catch you out, so it’s likely that you will be able to come up with a thoughtful and reasoned response to this question. However, if you feel that your research into salaries for similar roles only drew blanks and therefore you really don’t feel confident giving a salary range, you may decide to leave the salary open to future negotiation.

You can still give a considered response that shows you have done your research. For example, you might say something along the lines of: ‘I have carried out research into salaries for roles with similar job titles. However, I noticed that this job is unique in that it involves X and Y [job responsibilities]. I am therefore uncertain about the appropriate salary range for this specific role, but I would be happy to discuss this with you further once I have an idea of what you would consider to be a reasonable salary range.’

Whether you give a range or go with this approach, remember to explain your reasoning.

targetjobs editorial advice

This describes editorially independent and impartial content, which has been written and edited by the targetjobs content team. Any external contributors featuring in the article are in line with our non-advertorial policy, by which we mean that we do not promote one organisation over another.

People reading this also searched for roles in these areas:

undefined background image

We've got you

Get the latest jobs, internships, careers advice, courses and graduate events based on what's important to you. Start connecting directly with top employers today.