How to Communicate Entry-Level Salary Expectations

6 minutes

It’s normal to get a bit squeamish talking about money, especially if you’re going for your first tech job and are excited about even getting in the door. But handling discussions about your salary expectations with confidence early on can help you land a better offer. Here’s how to prepare for the salary expectations question and answer it with grace.  

Figure out the market rate for the role 

It’s not just about how you word your answers about salary expectations — you need to be equipped with data about the market rate for your skills and for the type of role you’re applying to. That way you’ll be able to ask for what you’re worth with confidence. So, where do you start? 

Where to look for salary data 

Fortunately, a lot of job descriptions disclose a salary range for the role. If the employer is hiring within the US, they legally have to give a range for some states. That doesn’t mean that exact range will apply to your location (especially if it’s a remote role), but it should give you a sense of how they’re valuing the position. If a company doesn’t give any indication of the salary range, you can still find comparable data by looking at similar roles in the industry. We’ve aggregated data on a number of tech role salaries, such as UX Researcher, React Developer, and IT Project Manager. 

You can also look at resources like Levels.fyi or Glassdoor for signals. Some tech companies (like Posthog or Buffer) are leading the way with publicly available compensation frameworks, so you can gather more data by looking at what other orgs are paying for similar positions.  

Do some sleuthing for more data points — there are plenty of discussions on Hacker News and Reddit where other job seekers have asked for input on reasonable salary expectations. You could also ask a trusted mentor, colleague, or fellow Codecademy learners who you’ve met in the forums or your local chapter.  

“If you feel comfortable, it’s good to talk about money,” says Lisa Tagliaferri, Senior Director of Developer Enablement at cybersecurity company Chainguard. “How do you know if something is a good offer, or how do you evaluate equity versus base compensation versus bonus structure? If you have a group of people that you trust, having those transparent conversations can be really empowering.” 

You don’t have to show your cards 

At this stage, hopefully you either have the salary range for the role or are prepared with your market research when you go into interviews. Ideally, you want the recruiter or hiring manager to share their expectations with you first, so you don’t inadvertently undercut yourself.  

It’s easy to get flustered if an interviewer asks you outright, “What are your salary expectations for this role?” The best way to respond to this question without giving anything away is to turn it back on the interviewer.  

Remember: The interviewer knows how much money the company has allotted for the role. “The vast majority of vacancies don’t get approved unless there is a hiring budget attached to them, so the hiring team should be able to share their budget with you,” says Lucy Jones, Headhunter and Director of the Executive Search firm Lawson Brooke. You could say something like: “Could you share the budget allocated to this position? Then I can confirm if it’s in the ballpark of what I’m looking for.” 

If you’re nervous, remember that recruiters will very likely have heard this response before. They may give you their target range, but if they can’t (or won’t) disclose it, you can follow up with something like, “I don’t feel I have enough context to give a figure yet, as I’d like to learn more about the role and responsibilities first.”

What if they ask for your current salary? 

It’s becoming less common for interviewers to ask you to share your current salary, and you’re not legally required to disclose it. If it does come up, you can respond similarly to how you answer the question about salary expectations, by keeping things polite, but firm. Here are a few examples of what you could say: 

“I’m not comfortable sharing my current salary, but if you can share the salary range for this role, I’m happy to confirm if it’s in the range of my expectations.” 

“I see this role as an opportunity to take on more responsibility compared to my current position, so I’d prefer to focus on what I’d be bringing to your company. What is the salary band associated with this role?”  

“I’m looking for a position where I can leverage my skills and experience to contribute meaningfully. I’m sure we can come to a fair and competitive compensation package that aligns with my qualifications and the value I can bring to the role.” 

What if they don’t bring up compensation at all? 

If you’re facing several rounds of interviews and still have no idea if the potential pay is in line with your expectations, don’t be afraid to ask. As Lucy stated earlier, most companies will have a budget for the role, which you can ask for at any time. “Don’t feel embarrassed about discussing money,” Lucy says. “We all have bills to pay!” You can ask: 

“Are you able to share a rough guideline of the salary band for this role?” 

Some candidates will withdraw from an application process if the company won’t disclose salary information. If they can’t give you an idea of the salary, you can ask for details about other benefits that make up the total remuneration package, which may help you decide if it’s worth pursuing.  

Consider the total compensation package 

While you can’t pay rent with a desk setup budget, there are other benefits to consider and “different levers you can pull,” Lisa says. Retirement contribution matching, health insurance, professional development and wellness stipends, and equity are all ways to grow your wealth and career potential, and they can get overlooked in favor of the base salary.  

“If it feels like there is a disconnect between your expectations and their affordability, ask what the benefits package looks like,” says Lucy. “Is there any variable pay like a performance or company bonus? Are there stock options?” You can often find this type of information right in the job description.  

Keep in mind that the compensation package can vary drastically depending on the size and stage of the company, Lucy says. Early-stage startups may not have as much cash to offer, but often grant stock options, giving you an opportunity to own a stake in the company. Stock options present more risk, but greater potential rewards if you believe the company will be successful in the future.  

Everything in the compensation package has value, says Lucy, and sometimes you can negotiate to increase or decrease different elements, depending on your needs. Ask questions about potential incentives that could result in a salary increase, like annual reviews, stock option refreshers, or negotiating bonuses tied to achieving specific goals. 

Though these conversations can feel tense, “it’s in the hiring manager’s best interests that candidates who join the company are happy with their compensation,” says Lucy. If you still can’t get on the same page, it’s probably time to move on. “Invest your time in pursuing an opportunity that’s better aligned.” 

Practicing these responses will help you go into these conversations feeling really confident. Try out our new Interview Simulator.  

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