“What Are Your Salary Expectations?” - The Best Answers
Level Up 90 Founder Anica John Shares Her Tips (And Scripts) For Getting It Right
When I'm interviewing for a job, there are very few questions that trip me up. Hit me with, "Tell me about a time that you failed at work," or, "If you were a fruit what fruit would you be," and I'm dynamite. (I'd be an avocado, in case you were wondering.)
But ask me, "What are your salary expectations?" and my head starts to spin, equal parts anxious and annoyed.
- "What if I ask for too little? Or too much? Or seem too 'difficult' if I refuse to answer? What if I say the wrong thing and they reject me before they've even gotten to know me as a candidate?"
- "Surely they know what fair compensation in this role would look like. What should my expectations have to do with it? Why can't they just pay me what I'm worth?!"
Unfortunately, companies don't want to pay you more than they have to (thanks, capitalism), so as annoying as it is, you need to be prepared to answer this question (and its sister, "how much were you making in your previous role?") in a way that keeps the company interested and sets you up to get the best offer possible.
To learn how to do this, we sat down with former lawyer, entrepreneur, and founder of Level Up 90 Anica John to talk all things negotiation. She's helped hundreds of women in tech successfully navigate the interviewing and hiring processes. Luckily for us, she's crafted perfect responses to these two very tricky questions so we don't have to.
Question 1: "What are your salary expectations?"
Why You Should Defer The Question
You might be relieved to know that you don't have to provide a numerical response to this question. Actually, Anica advises strongly against it. There are two main reasons to defer this question and wait for them to make you an offer, rather than provide a number:
- You don't want to go too low - "If you go first, and you go too low, then you've anchored the negotiation at that point." If you've given away your previous salary, what your expectations are for a new role, you've already tilted things so that they're taking that into account when they put forth their first offer, and you don't want to do that at all.
- You want to take a holistic view - "Compensation in startups occupies 3 different pools. Cash & signing bonus/performance bonus, equity, and benefits. As candidates, we tend to only focus on the cash. Ideally, you'd get the job offer in its entirety and a better sense of the total compensation package, then you can decide where you can ask for more and where you don't have wiggle room."
Remember, "You don't owe anybody this information upfront."
The Best Answers
If you're asked the question in real-time:
Thanks for asking. I know that's an important conversation. I have some flexibility in my expectations, depending on the company and the role. I'd love to learn a bit more about both during the interview process, and then we can chat about compensation.
If you're asked via email or questionnaire at the beginning of the interview process:
My compensation expectations are dependent on the details of the company, and the specific position. I look forward to learning more about both.
If they push back:
I'm sure that you have resource planned very meticulously for this role. Assuming you have a range, and are talking to me because I fit somewhere within that range, it would be great if you could tell me where you think I fit. Then I can give you feedback.
Remember, You're Not Doing Anything Wrong!
"Be comfortable knowing that you're not being withholding or sneaky, they have more information, so it's not fair for them to ask you! When you know that, you become more confident in your firmer stance."
Question 2: "What was your previous salary?"
Although this question is now illegal in many states (including New York and California), it's still extremely common. It's particularly problematic when your previous salary was lower than market value, and you're looking for more fair compensation.
Don't Let A Low Previous Salary Hold You Back
"Remember that if you have been underpaid, and you're looking to level up to market rate or above, there's so many different reasons that people take that lower pay. You might take lower pay for flexibility, or you might really enjoy working at a company and they're early stage so that's all they can afford… If your previous salary is lower and internally you don't feel confident about that, it's completely normal. And hopefully that will give you confidence to be able to level up in the next job."
The Best Answer
I don't disclose previous salary information, but I'm so excited to learn more about the company and the role, and talk about the value I can bring. When we're ready to discuss compensation, I can share a bit more about my salary expectations.
Don't Feel Bad!
"Especially for women, because there's such a gender disparity in pay as it is, what it does is it compounds that over the years for women. So in the states where it's still legal, they ask what your previously salary was, and they base your new salary on the previous salary, which was probably lower than a man's salary anyway, and then over the course of your career, there's this compound effect, and so you have a right to say, you know, I just don't disclose that."
The Takeaway: Defer & Be Confident
Deferring the salary expectations question doesn't mean you shouldn't know your worth in the market—you should still do your research and be prepared with a salary range and firm walkaway number. That said, negotiating is hard enough as it is. Don't make it harder for yourself before it's even begun by disclosing more information upfront than you have to—knowledge is power in a negotiation, and you don't want to be handing that leverage over to your employer. You don't owe them this information. By showing that you're confident, thoughtful, and prepared, you'll impress hiring managers with your ability to stand your ground.
If you're still not feeling sure about your negotiation skills, don't panic—you can check out Anica's library of negotiation resources for more tips and scripts on negotiation and leveling up your career in general. You can also watch the full video with Anica here!
- Network with top executives even if you aren't looking for a new role
- First look at flexible, work-from-home, in-office roles
- Join live chats led by expert women in your field and beyond
A Look At The Challenges They've Faced & How Their Companies Support Them
We know that the ratio of women to men in software engineering is overwhelmingly low. Scroll through just about any company's roster on Linkedin and see for yourself. It's depressing.
If you're not in the mood to engage in that little experiment, just check out this PwC study that found that only 15% of employees in STEM roles in the U.K. are women, and that women hold a mere 5% of leadership roles in the tech sector.
However, we also know that diversity is the top priority for 78% of talent leaders. This is good news for us, because our goal at PowerToFly is to close these gender gaps as quickly as possible - and the more companies that get on board, the faster we can do that.
We partner with companies that are not only committed to diversity and inclusion, but to fostering a sense of belonging for underrepresented candidates once they accept job offers.
In the meantime, we know that the struggle for many women and other minorities in tech is still real, and that being a woman in this male-dominated industry is no cake walk. That's why we invited women engineers at some of our partner companies to share their experiences in their own words.
They shared some of the biggest challenges they've faced as a women in tech and how they overcame them, as well as why they feel supported and enjoy working at their current companies.
We hope reading about these experiences will make other women in software engineering realize they're not alone in the challenges they're facing, and that there are lots of companies making strides to better support women in tech. We also hope that reading this will inspire more companies to follow suit, especially given that women leave the tech industry at twice the rate of men.
Hats off to these 7 women and to the companies that support their work:
What's the coolest thing Promptworks does to support women engineers?
"One of my favorite things about Promptworks is how all the female engineers support each other. Having an amazing group of colleagues to lean on, vent to, and seek advice from has been vital to me. As soon as I joined the engineering team, I felt immediately part of this amazing family of women who also have my back."
—M.K., Software Engineer at Promptworks
Want to join Promptworks' team of Women Engineers?
- Senior React Native Engineer
- Senior Software Engineer
- Contract Software Engineer
- Software Engineer
- And more
More about PromptWorks:
Promptworks builds custom software for companies by creating amazing technologies that help achieve their vision.
Monthly work-from-home flexibility, Collegial atmosphere with family-style lunch twice a week on us, ergonomic work stations including seated & standing pair programming stations, 100% company-paid medical, dental, and vision insurance, 401(k) plan with company matching and more!
Why did you choose to work at Yelp?
"The best thing about Yelp is the culture. I had an amazing interview process which reflected how much Yelp values their employees. Once I got through, I received a welcome card from my team and AWE group and I still feel very loved at Yelp. Also, I love the people! They are very smart and innovative and Yelp gives us all the freedom to vent out our creativity."
—Supriya, Backend Engineer at Yelp.
Want to join Yelp's team of Women Engineers?
More about Yelp:
Yelp engineering culture is driven by our values: we're a cooperative team that values individual authenticity and encourages "unboring" solutions to problems.
Medical, dental, and vision insurance - 100% covered for Yelp employees, 401k program with company match, parental program: Bright Horizons, mother's rooms, paid baby bonding leave, well being and stress management resources, and more!
What's the biggest challenge you've faced at Ubiquity6 and how did you overcome it?
"One of the personal challenges I've dealt with at Ubiquity6 is imposter syndrome, which was definitely amplified by working with so many incredible engineers. Thankfully, my team is really supportive and I have been able to take ownership over some important projects. The combination of getting great constructive feedback while framing my mindset towards improvement has really helped build my confidence as an engineer."
—Robyn, Software Engineer at Ubiquity6
Want to join Ubiquity6's team of Women Engineers?
More about Ubiquity6:
We work with the design, infrastructure, and game engine teams to help guide the user through complex workflows involving spatial mapping, dynamic code loading, and game engine orchestration. Our challenge is to tie together all the different pieces of technology in a way that feels seamless to the end user.
Generous PTO, flexible work hours, work-from-home, remote positions, medical and dental benefits including family coverage, and more!
What's the coolest thing Verisign does to support women engineers?
"Verisign has been extremely warm and welcoming. Your opinions and ideas are heard irrespective your gender and position in the company. Verisign has a Women in Technology group which organizes monthly workshops and seminars, encouraging women to participate and demonstrate their skills. It is attended by the entire company and not just women. The company is full of empowering women who constantly motivate you to break the stereotypes and fulfill your passion."
—Shreyashi, Software Engineer at Verisign
Want to join Verisign's team of Women Engineers?
- Senior Engineer - Information Security Compliance
- Mid-level Software Engineer
- Sr. Infrastructure Software Engineer
- And more!
More about Verisign:
Verisign, a leader in domain names and internet infrastructure, enables internet navigation for many of the world's most recognized domain names.
Medical, dental, vision and prescription plans, traditional and Roth 401(k) with company match, basic life insurance, optional life insurance for employee, spouse or child(ren), home and auto insurance and more!
What’s one of the most impactful things One Medical does for women engineers?
"I recently attended a fireside chat with Sheryl Sandberg who pointed out that while there are increasing programs aimed at bringing women into technical roles, there aren't as many women being promoted. One of the most impactful things I see that One Medical does is actually hire and promote female engineers into both senior engineering roles and engineering management roles. Not only are they being promoted, but there is noticeable support before, during, and after the promotion. Growth and learning is a big part of the culture here, and I am excited to take part in such a fulfilling company."
—Vanessa, Data Engineer at One Medical
Want to join One Medical's team of Women Engineers?
- Senior Software Engineer (Fullstack)
- Principal Software Engineer (Fullstack)
- Staff Software Engineer (Fullstack)
- And more!
More about One Medical:
One Medical builds amazing end-to-end solutions to connect patients and our care team in new and innovative ways.highly collaborative environment, not only will you be partnering with designers and product managers, you'll also be sitting shoulder to shoulder with the doctors and nurses who deliver care daily to One Medical patients.
Top-notch dental, vision, and health insurance, paid parental leave, PTO, paid holidays, and sabbatical at 5 and 10 years
401K Match, One Medical membership for you and your family and more!
What's the coolest thing Fair does to support women engineers?
"Gender equity is a big thing at Fair. I once received a Fair-branded jacket that didn't quite fit right in the sleeves and waist. I tried to return it, but my boss wouldn't hear of it, citing Susan Fowler's leather jacket incident. Fair immediately offered to cover the jacket alteration costs for myself and other women in the company. I'm grateful to work at a place that values and includes its female employees as much as Fair does."
—Michelle, Lead Software Engineer at Fair.
Want to join Fair's team of Women Engineers?
- Senior Software Engineer - Search & Discovery Team
- Senior Platform Engineer
- Support Engineer
- And more!
More about Fair:
We are looking for highly motivated engineers interested in delivering the next level of innovation to product search and discovery at Fair. You'll be designing and implementing new search features and the systems behind them, including the integration of natural language processing, heuristics, and machine learning systems used to generate and rank search results. You'll work with microservices on AWS, multiple languages, and a great engineering team with a fun culture.
Equity incentives, 100% coverage of medical, vision and dental premiums for employees and their families, 100% paid parental leave for 4 months, 401(k) retirement plans and free lunch 5 days a week for every employee and more!
In moments of self-doubt or adversity, how do you build yourself back up?
"Coming from coding school, my background was not in computer science nor did I graduate from college with a degree in engineering, so it has always been a bit of a struggle to build myself up. I remind myself that everyone is going through a learning process. I have spoken to my mentor about having imposter syndrome when I first started working at Yelp. He let me know that even he has moments of imposter syndrome. It is easier to relate to somebody when you hear that they are going through the same struggles as you and it's a good reminder that nobody is here to judge you. I think it's great that even when you mess up you don't have to be worried about getting fired. Yelp has a very supportive environment. In times of adversity I try to calm myself down and realize that everyone makes mistakes and tries to learn from them to be better."
—Julie, Full Stack Engineer at Yelp.
Scroll up or click here to learn more about Yelp & how to join their team.
Want to see more great roles at companies committed to recruiting more women in software engineering? Check out our job board!
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Whenever I reflect on my experience as one of the relatively few women in the gaming industry, I think of a student I met at a Game Writers' Roundtable the last time I went to the Game Developers Conference (GDC).
"The floggings will continue until morale improves." We've all heard the saying, a tongue-in-cheek way of criticizing workplaces that are neither healthy nor productive — and no employer or employee wants to be that workplace. Create a healthier, more productive work environment with these tips.