“What Salary Do You Expect?”, How to Handle this Common Interview Question.

  | 6 min read

In 2013, I was tasked with raising a field team that would help my client move their product to another level. This was in Ghana. Of course one of the major things that you want as an employer is to get the right crop of people that you can work with. If you can solve that million dollar conundrum, you are already on the path to success.

One of the toughest questions that many interviewees grapple with is, “So what is your salary expectation?” And I can still remember who one interviewee poorly handled this question and ultimately lost the opportunity: He absolutely refused to let us in on his preference of a salary, even after we made the question easier by resorting to ask him select a range.

It was exasperating and all I wanted was to see him out of the interview room! Frankly, to date I cannot remember how he performed on the rest of the questions in the interview. Of course he was qualified according to his academic papers, but this haggling about his salary expectation is what I will always remember.

So how do you answer that question?

Some years back, a new organization was looking for a Country Manager in Uganda. There big preference was someone from Kenya. I qualified. I had experience leading teams in Uganda for over two years. I checked very many boxes that they were gauging me on. Finally (and that question always comes last), they asked me what my salary expectation was. Being naive, I said USD 3,500. The response of the interviewer told me immediately that I had under-quoted. Needless to say, I did not get that opportunity.

The theme that is coming out of this is simple: Organizations have a salary scale or a rewarding system for which all their employees are compensated. At some level, they need to know if your expectation is within that range or not.

Though it looks such a simple ask for the organization, the answers given or the struggles that the interviewees face answering this question normally reveals (in retrospect) some important aspects of the candidate that has not yet been exposed by their academic qualifications or other general questions.

You can have a very good blend of skill sets that the interviewer is looking for, but when you do undervalue yourself by quoting a figure much less than what they expected, you turn out to be cheap. That consequently translates to the fact that probably you might not have so much to give anyway, and that is why you are quoting that way. As a result, all your stellar performance is thoroughly affected by this undervaluing and therefore your chances of getting that job even though you are qualified for it become so slim.

Some other people normally quote a figure way above what the organization expects to pay you. This could be OK depending on your own valuation of yourself. In another article, we shall talk about how to know your value as a human being, consequently dictating your ask during interviews. I have seen countless people turning down job opportunities solely because they know that what the organization is offering is not worth them troubling themselves to take up the job in the first place. And believe me; the interviewing panel normally has lots of respect for such people. In fact at some instance, some enter into negotiations with them to see if they can agree to work together. Now, if you are not so sure of yourself, do not get into the risk of over-quoting your salary expectation, because you might lose the job. The reason as to why those who quote above the company expectations risk not getting employed is that the potential employer feels like you will not be fully engaged to work, especially if they want someone to occupy that job for a good season.

However, if you are confident of yourself about your value and expectation, you have the power to change the control center of these negotiations: from the panel having the power, to you having the power. People of this nature normally have nothing to lose, and they are there although not so many.

Let’s try to get into your head and see what is going on as you are attending this interview:

  • Probably you have been unemployed for long and this opportunity is one you do not want to pass
  • Probably you are so desperate for a job that this opportunity is that of a lifetime and you do not want to lose it.

You might be nervous and just want to get the job without going through that question. There is a simple way of going about it: Research.

Try as much as possible to get some inside information on the details of the job that you are being interviewed for. Ask around from mentors and coaches to help you figure out how much that organization pays for the vacant job. Even if it is a new job, try to find out what salary scales the task involved could be in the current job market.

If you cannot get a definite answer, then we need to resort to these two things:

  • Your Value: How much are you worth in an hour and why?
  • Your potential for growth: Do you need this job? From the looks of things, is there an opportunity for you to grow and build your career, the salary notwithstanding?

I think the safest thing to do if you are not sure of a figure is to use a range. Just say what would be acceptable to you as the minimum (but do not go so low) and what would be accepted to you as the maximum. Chances are that you might be within the range that the employer wants. However, there is another bigger question that is normally asked after you have quoted: Why do you think you are worth that much? Let’s deal with that question in another article.

Jill Abura
Jill is an International Digital Consultant at Ringier AG, spends her time on research on real estate investment and has a special place in her heart for green building.


  1. Thank you Brighter Monday. I feel as one gives the range, it’s important to consider the level of the position (senior or junior), the prevailing living cost in the country, particularly the job location as well taking into acccount other benefits offered by the employer.

    • That is unfortunate. However we believe that now that you are more conversant you will be able to get your next dream job.

  2. Brighter Monday, this is wonderful. However, in some instances, much as you specify the range, you may finally be tasked to be precise and name a figure. Thanks a lot

    • Yes those instances will always be there. However, we believe the article has given you some tips you can apply as well.

  3. my worth the figures is more of how productive am i, confidence and perseverance.
    with that i know how valuable am i, guess there are no chances of under/overestimating my ability.

  4. Some people have failed to get jobs because of over quoting the salary the expect to get. Thank you for that information.

  5. Thanks a lot Brighter Monday , at least i now know how to handle, I once missed a job because of that same question.

  6. Hullo,

    This is so good that in most cases it what fails people with Asians. They are more interested in salary amount than the experience itself. But also, what is difficult is that area of research into the Company data about salary.

    • Very useful, indeed. Would have even been better put in international context. My experience is that there is always a bias towards professionals from developing countries. The common belief seems to be that we don’t deserve equally competitive rates!

      • Thank you. We understand your concern. However, this article is meant to mostly focus on the Ugandan market.

  7. Thanks so much…that was agood lecture it has always been aprobing question for me but I now clearly understand how to answer it

  8. Thank you Brighter Monday
    Didn’t know how to correctly answer this question.Sometimes we under value our worth and overstate it without knowing it.

  9. it pleases me to read through such insightful articles. Actually I was once a victim last year and lost a job which i’m sure arose from underquoting my salary expectation!! This is quite helpful, am waiting for that next article though (how to measure my worth), then i’ll be better positioned to answer that question i guess.
    Thanks buddy.

  10. Thanks B.M for these brilliant tip.

    However there are some questions like Tell us about your self and why do you want to work with us or this company among others?

    I’s one of the questions which has bulled so may interviewees,so how do you handdles these questions?

    • Thank you for the feedback. We hope this is only a starting point for anyone looking for information and that they will be able to go out there and research even more about the topic.

  11. thanks….i always undermined this kind of question with the mind that since the employer has their own salary scale, even when i tell them what i would want as my salary expectation, probably less attention shall be paid. now i know what to do. thanks brighter monday

  12. I think as the writer mentioned it is safer to opt for a range, however one other ways of dealing with it is talking about a package and what the market is like such as Housing, Transport, medical and pension as salaries for example in the banking sector may be pretty low yet other benefits like low interest loan, big annual or performance bonuses, profit share, etc would compensate. Hence, do your research and know the industry, companies tend to do market research and try to match what competitors are offering, as they need to attract and retain good candidates. Unfortunately in Africa most adverts don’t provide much details or indication about salary range and benefits on offer (statements like, very attractive salary, support with studies especially for unqualified accountants, etc). Most candidates thus tend to undervalue themselves, I think because of what I may describe as “the imperfect job market”, so to speak. Imperfect in the sense that most job seekers feel/ made to feel that it is “the employers market” they are thus in the stronger position than you the job seeker. Yet the reverse could be true, you may have something unique that they need and they are struggling to fill the gap.

  13. how abt if i say that i will go by the salary scale of the company since every company has a system of paying.

    • Well, sometimes the company may be willing to pay you what you desire. Choosing to settle for what they may offer without inquiring could be to your disadvantage.

  14. Thanks a million! But, what about mentioning a figure or range and quickly expressing your readiness to negotiate? Of course I know it is difficult on the interviewees part to begin low and negotiate upwards. Thank God there are organizations that will after all pay you what is on their standard scale regardless of how poorly you went about the salary question. on the flip side of things, I once discovered as an accounting officer, I was earning 600,000/= less than one driver! You know how this happened? No research!

  15. Really thats a tricky question en so appliciate ur lecture. Inform us on dorminant interview question. thanks

  16. Woow thx BM for this insight I think I have fallen victim of over quote recently and missed the job with Asians. I have learnt how to handle it now.

  17. What an hilarious article this is! Full of factual interview contents, thanks to you the brighter Monday team

  18. Generally i would love to be receiviing this kind of mail every brighter manday
    that is our pleasure to keep on receiving this for our betterment

    Best regards

    • Unfortunately we do not send these emails every Monday. However, we send them out every Wednesday. Therefore you should be able to get something in your email every Wednesday.

  19. Thanks, BrighterMonday. You have not only given me opportunity places to apply, you have prepared me well enough for the jobs.

  20. Thanks Brighter Money. This is one of the toughest questions for me during interviews. This article has been very resourceful to me

  21. Dear bright Monday, thank you. I failed out on an interview may be because I refused to disclose my salty expectation. An expert had told me that it would be better not to disclose that info since you don’t know the company’s earnings and salary range. However thank you for this clarity.

  22. Thanks alot brighter monday for clarifying this question it looks simple but it has made many people to miss their jobs

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