At Ease With That Awkward Question

“What Are Your Salary Expectations?”

Cover photo of HEC Paris MBA student Benoit's book, which includes salary negotiations

MBA student Benoit Savignac authored a book about teaching soft skills in undergraduate school

The room feels bigger than it actually is. You are seated in a typical conference room, a space occupied by 20 dark shaded chairs, a bare whiteboard and a teleconference unit perfectly positioned in the middle of a giant table. In this corporate environment, you are having an interesting conversation: a job interview.

So far, so good. The analytic questions and the case study were easier to solve than you had anticipated. In hindsight, it was the right move to put all those hours into cracking cases.

Everything is going exactly as planned. Then, one simple question and you lose control of the situation:

“So, what are your salary expectations?”

Silent, you face the dilemma that everyone faces during the recruiting process: be aggressive and burn your chances of getting the job, or aim too low and settle for less than you are worth?

Salary discussions are never easy. In fact, a recent survey by reveals that an estimated 41 percent of North Americans didn’t negotiate their salaries before accepting a job offer. Even with lots of experience, a salary negotiation is one of the most complex situations you’re likely to find yourself in before starting a new job.

Here’s a few tips to help you successfully navigate your next job offer:

It’s all about the 4 P’s: Preparation, Preparation, Preparation and Preparation

  • Gather information BEFORE the interview.
    What is the average compensation in your industry for the position that you are applying for? Do you have a connection in your network that has years of experience in the industry that can help you realistically define your expectations? Have you researched similar positions on job boards and websites specialized in salary comparisons for the city in which you will be working? Good research is the key to setting your salary expectations.
  • Define a salary range.
    People tend to focus too much on a single salary number. Remember, your compensation package can include much more than just your salary (e.g., sign-on bonus, annual sales bonus, insurance, food per diems, reimbursement of gym expenses, vehicle use, etc.). Hence, define a bargaining range within which you would accept an offer, taking into account all of the different types of compensation offered.
  • Be reasonable but confident.
    Reality check: there’s hundreds of new graduates or unemployed workers that would kill for this job. That doesn’t mean that you should accept to work at any price, even if a difficult economy means that job offers are scarce and candidates are plentiful. Define your expectations in a way that is fair to yourself and to the company making the offer. If the salary range is acceptable for both parties, then you can start negotiating confidently.
  •  Offer something.
    It’s not only about what you want and the price tag of your skills, it is also about what you will bring to the table. If the negotiations are in a deadlock, explore what more you can offer to the company. Do you have a large network that the company could leverage? Remember: having the company’s interests in mind can help identify how you could help it to thrive and thus, bring more to the table to help you negotiate your compensation.

A satisfying walk in the park

The salary question is not something to avoid. After all, you want to be fairly compensated for the work you do for a company. You do a great job, you should strive to be properly paid. Therefore, instead of fearing that awkward moment when the bottom line is discussed, prepare yourself before the interview. There are several ways to tackle this discussion without appearing aggressive. Remember: it’s a discussion, not a monologue. If the salary doesn’t match to your expectations, explore other negotiation avenues such as benefits and bonuses.

You are worth something. Be creative, be bold and a salary agreement will be within reach.

Text by Benoit-Mykolas Savignac

HEC Paris MBA student Benoit SavignacBenoit-Mykolas Savignac (MBA '19) is a management consultant with 5+ years of experience leading cross-functional teams in the financial services industry. He excels in leading consulting engagements, mentoring talents and advising senior management to reach their strategic goals. He decided to pursue an HEC Paris MBA to enrich his international exposure. He also recently wrote and published a book in French: Ce que l’université a oublié d’enseigner (What College Forgot To Teach) designed to bridge undergraduates' soft-skills gap when entering the corporate world.