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How should I respond to the expected salary question in an interview?


Lori Spangler, ACS Career Consultant
Lori Spangler, ACS Career Consultant

Many interviewers will expect a numeric answer to the expected salary question. Interviewees probably won’t be able to get away with answering something like “whatever is appropriate for my qualifications” or “money is not my primary motivating factor.”

As a candidate, you can prepare by doing your homework. Use the ACS Salary Calculator to understand the salary range for a chemist in your industry, with your years of experience and in your geographic region. Or, use Glassdoor to look at starting salaries reported for the company where you are interviewing. You can also selectively reach out to recent hires in your network and ask about their starting salary, if you have this kind of personal relationship. Many people are uncomfortable discussing salary and money, so I would discuss this only with close friends. Based on your previous salary and the data you’ve collected, you should be able to clearly state your salary range expectations during your interview.

Once you receive an offer, you can use the data you’ve gathered in support of salary negotiations.


Kristin Nuzzio, Group Leader, Formulation Sciences, PPG
Kristin Nuzzio, Group Leader, Formulation Sciences, PPG

A potential employer will typically ask about your salary expectations during the interview if it was not included on the initial application. Don’t feel pressured to answer this question directly. Indicate that you expect your salary to reflect your level of education and experience. You can also ask the interviewer for more information about the compensation structure at the company to better frame your response. If pressed for a number, it is advisable to give a salary range rather than a single value. Don’t sell yourself short, but be realistic and do your research in advance to better understand the salary ranges for the positions that you are applying for. A great resource for ACS members is the ACS Salary Calculator, which takes a variety of factors into account, including experience level, field of chemistry, and geographic location, to estimate median base salaries for a position.


Paul Lobben, Senior Scientist Process Chemistry, Revolution Medicines
Paul Lobben, Senior Scientist Process Chemistry, Revolution Medicines

There is no trickier question to answer during the employment process than this one. Yet it is now often one of the first questions asked by an employer in order to filter out applicants. I recommend avoiding answering this question directly, at least until the first round of interviews are completed, and you know whether you want the position. Please understand that the compensation negotiation process is usually a back-and-forth negotiation, and salary is only one component of the total compensation package. If you are pressed for an answer a good first step can be to reflect the question back on the employer with a statement like “I expect the compensation to reflect my qualifications and experience. What is the salary range for the position for which I am interviewing?” A second tactic would be to firmly state “I am very interested in the position as described, and I expect that if I am fortunate to receive an offer, we can come to an agreement on salary. Now if you have to give a number, always give a range. A rough way to calculate the range is to determine the lowest salary you can consider based on your current financial situation and expect that with excellent job performance you will get promoted within two years. For the upper end figure 1.5 times the lowest salary you would consider.


Martin Oderinde, Principal Scientist, Bristol-Meyers Squibb
Martin Oderinde, Principal Scientist, Bristol-Meyers Squibb

Never lowball yourself and do your research before the interview. Ask for the salary range for the position and if it is within your expectation, say that. If it is below your expectation, let them know it is below what you were expecting and provide your expected figure. 


This article has been edited for length and clarity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the view of their employer or the American Chemical Society.

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