Ask Suzanne…Want to earn 5k more this year for doing the same work? DO THIS.

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How do I answer when HR asks me what my current salary is or what my expectations are? 

While speaking at UCLA last week, a student in the back raised his hand and asked how he could answer this question so early on in the process, and expressed concern about how his answers could affect his ability to negotiate later.

This is probably the question I’m asked most, and surprisingly, no one seems to address how entry-level applicants without a salary history, can best prepare for such an important and difficult question.

The most important thing I can tell you is that negotiation begins LONG before the offer stage. 

Questions about compensation are only the beginning, and I work closely with my clients throughout the job search process to ensure we’re positioning maximizing their salary. Nonetheless, we can’t ignore the most obvious question, around your compensation expectations, that can have a major impact in how you are interviewed, which jobs you’re seriously considered for, and ultimately, the first offer you receive.

Do you have to answer the question?

Not necessarily, but you absolutely need to have your answer prepared. What I mean by that, is if you’re not going to give them your expectation, or if you are, you need to be prepared. And by prepared, I mean you need to practice with at least 2 different people.  How you answer (or don’t answer) will depend on what part of the process this particular question is asked. You need to practice for each possibility, so you’re prepared when that dreaded question comes.

Interviewing is new territory, negotiation is an entirely different universe.

You wouldn’t go into a speech without practicing, and yet the stakes of an interview and in particular, this question, are much higher and will have an effect not only on what you make today, but what you earn for the rest of your life.  Experts and researchers estimate that the cost of not maximizing your first salary can add up to over $1 million during your career.

Know your worth – if you don’t, how can you expect someone else to?

There are a lot factors to consider, including the type of role you’re interviewing for, the type of company you’re interviewing with (corporate, non-profit, small, large, etc.), and where you’re living.  But, to get you started, here’s a resource for the average starting salary for entry level employment based on major.

Now aim one level up.

I’m going to guess you’re above average, so determine what you think makes the most sense that would take you above average of that point, THEN adjust for cost of living/location, THEN take yourself a smidge upwards.  That’s what we’re going to call – your A number = aspirational point.  The first point (after COLA) is your bottom line. You won’t sink below it. – (your B number = bottom line)

How to answer the question (style as your own, but make sure the key message is there)

  • If asked on your application. Enter $0 or $10 – whatever number the system will accept.
  • When asked during your first call, or any time before they are making an offer:
    • I’m still in early stage conversations, so it’s difficult to name a number right now.  (Without saying it, the subtext here, which is important, is that you’re speaking with other companies.)
    • If they push, say: What’s most important to me is to find a great fit, with a great company, a manager where I can learn from, and a role where I am confident my skills in xxx and xxx can add value. The other positions I’m looking at are in the range of xxx – xxx (be pretty general – mid-high 30’s, for example). How does that align with the range for this position?
  • If you think you’re going to get an offer: I highly recommend the FREE resources available at You’ll find everything you need including how to fully research your market value, a negotiation preparation worksheet, and specific ideas for how to answer certain questions.

The tools are only as good as the person that wields them.

Here’s the most important part – none of these answers matter if you can’t deliver them with confidence and COMFORT. I encourage you to write down your answers on an index card. Practice out loud, and when you’re ready, practice each scenario with 2 friends. Carry the index card with you – you never know when you’re going to get the call, and it can’t hurt to have the answers ready – your lifelong earnings depend on it 🙂

Remember, it’s time to Aim Higher, Dream Bigger, and Get the Job You Deserve.

Comments or questions about this blog, or how I can help you? Drop me a line at I love hearing from you!