How To Prepare For That Dreaded “What’s Your Expected Salary” Question

By Sophia - 24 February 2021
5 mins read

In almost every job interview, you’ll get this dreaded question:

“What’s your expected salary?”

If you’re fresh out of university and you’re just entering the job market for the first time, you might not know how to answer that question.

On one hand, you don’t want to price yourself out of a job by asking for a high, unrealistic starting salary. But on the other hand, you also don’t want to end up quoting a salary so low that you end up low-balling yourself.

It can feel overwhelming to figure out how to price yourself in the current job market. But it’s essential that you know how much you should ask for as a starting salary before you walk into your job interviews.

Why?

When you know what’s the going rate for a job, you’re better prepared to give a number (and a sound explanation for that number) when a potential employer asks for your expected salary.

More importantly, you’re also in a stronger position to negotiate your salary when a potential employer tries to low-ball you because you know what everyone else doing that same job is getting paid.

Here are a few sources a fresh graduate can use to find out what’s the current salary expectations in a particular job or industry.

Let’s Get This Bread — Here’s Where You Can Go


The Graduate Employment Survey (GES)

Jointly conducted by six local universities, the GES provides an annual snapshot of “the employment conditions of graduates about six months after their final examinations”.

At a glance, the survey will tell anyone what they need to know about key employment indicators (like the percentage of students who were successfully hired), the average and mean salary ranges for specific majors and specific schools.

You can refer to this annual report if you’re from the following universities:

  • National University of Singapore
  • Nanyang Technological University
  • Singapore Management University
  • Singapore University of Social Sciences
  • Singapore Institute of Technology
  • Singapore University of Technology and Design

Caveat: The GES may not reflect recent changes to salary ranges since COVID-19.

It’s also important to note that GES doesn’t survey every single university student, but only a limited pool per university. For example, in the 2018 report, only 6,000 NTU graduates and 7,500 NUS graduates were surveyed – and even then not all of the graduates surveyed responded.

The survey gives you information on basic and gross monthly salaries, with mean* and median* ranges. So while an arts graduate could reportedly earn $3,500 according to the GES, that doesn’t mean that every arts graduate will have a starting salary of $3,500.

*mean = the average amount, median = the “middle” amount

Older, more experienced friends and relatives

You can also ask people who’re already in the job market. Your older siblings, cousins, and friends can give you valuable insights and advice when it comes to asking for a decent salary. They can even give you tips on how to negotiate your expected salary and how to navigate the interview process more smoothly.

Bear in mind that older relatives, especially those who are in their 40s to 50s, have already progressed to senior positions in their jobs or are already retired.  So, they may not be able to give you the most accurate gauge of salary expectations based on the current job landscape for fresh graduates.

Websites like Glassdoor and Payscale

When all else fails, you can look to other professionals in the field for input on what your expected salary should be.

For those looking at specific companies, sites like Glassdoor can give you more visibility on how much employees in those companies are drawing, especially in the roles you’re eyeing. Payscale can also give you a broad view of how much people are earning in specific roles and industries, based on data collected over the years.

MyCareersFuture

For a more localised concentration of data to pull from, MyCareersFuture (MCF) provides a plethora of job postings from credible employers and sources (so you can rest assured everything you’re seeing is legit).

Unlike Glassdoor that relies on employees voluntarily submitting their salary data, you’re getting your salary benchmarks directly from the employer that’s posting the job listing on MCF. Furthermore, MCF’s job postings don’t just provide you with salary ranges but will tell you all you need to know about the jobs, including the needed skill sets, whether a particular job is part of the SGUnited programme.

These job postings will also tell you important information such as job level and the number of years of experience required – both of which are vital factors to take into consideration when you’re thinking about the salary you deserve or want.

The information that you get on MCF is also up-to-date, so you know exactly how much companies are willing to pay in light of the pandemic, and the recovering economy. This salary information is offered by employers with actual job vacancies, and is not based on historical data like in surveys.

You can use MCF to look through similar job postings with the same role, or a specific role you’re after, and get a good sense of the market rate and come up with a range before it’s time to negotiate. This is more accurate than aggregated salary data, and will also provide you with insights on why salaries for the same position at two different companies may vary and differ.

Once you have the salary data you need (from a credible source!), you can justify the amount you’re asking for when you step into the interview room. No longer will the dreaded question for your expected salary make your stomach turn.

How to Actually Answer the Expected Salary Question

When you walk into an interview room, it’s vital that you understand the job scope, how success is measured for that job, along with the data you’ve pulled from the above options.

Then, when your potential employer asks you (among other difficult interview questions), “What’s your expected salary?”, you can respond with something like this:

“Given the responsibilities of this position and the current market compensation for this role in this industry, I think $XX is a fair figure to start with. This is an exciting opportunity, and I hope to be given the chance to prove myself in this role.”

An answer like the above will take off some of the pressure you’ll inevitably feel as you dip your toes into the job market. By knowing your worth, you can start your career off on the right foot (and get the salary you deserve, or at the very least, a salary that is most reasonable).

Of course, you shouldn’t dismiss a job right off the bat just because the offered salary is below your expectation. There’s always a chance for career growth and advancement, and with that advancement comes a pay raise as well (so you’re not stuck in a rut forever). So, weigh your options carefully. Assess your job offer not just on the current pay you’re going to get, but also the growth opportunities that role will present for you in the future.

Content sponsored by Workforce Singapore

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