The salary interview question is stressful… you know it’s going to come up at some point during the interview and offer process, but when? This can add an element of anxiety to an already difficult process. Do yourself a favor and have a solid strategy in place to make sure that you maintain a good relationship with your potential employer and that you set yourself up well for a salary negotiation once you have the offer in hand. Here are 4 steps to take to ensure you are prepared to answer, “What is your desired salary?”

Do Your Research
The biggest mistake you can make is to go into an interview without arming yourself with the relevant salary information. This includes learning the basics about: the role, the industry, and the company. Most hiring managers rely on a Compensation team within HR to do heavy analysis on salary before they decide on a role for a position or make any job offers. Although the number may seem random, it most definitely is not and in most cases serious analysis has gone into developing the number. Given that they have the benefit of in-depth analysis, you need to do the same thing to level the playing field. There are 3 ways that most Compensation professionals will benchmark a salary: the external market for a similar role, the market within an industry (e.g. Financial Services), and your worth on the open market. There are many good resources readily available on the Internet that will help you determine the salary range for a specific role. is a good place to start. Look at the range, and take into consideration years of experience and location to make sure you are using the most relevant comparisons. Next, think about your industry. If you are in Financial Services or Investment Banking, it is likely that you should ask for closer to the top of the range. However, if you were applying to a job at a non-profit, you would be better off targeting a salary slightly below the median. The third component of the analysis is the most important one- you! What could you command in a similar role somewhere else, and what can you uniquely bring to the table that will set you apart? For example, if you speak a foreign language that would be useful for the role or you have prestigious degrees that would command value wherever you go, those may help you to get closer to the top of the range.

Defer as Long as Possible
Now that you know your facts, the salary question should be a little less intimidating, but that doesn’t mean you want to jump into it right away. If you are asked what you currently make or what you would like to make, try to defer by either saying you’d prefer to wait until you know more about the role or saying something cooperative but firm such as, “I am very interested in this job and I’m sure we can agree on a salary once we have both determined there is a good fit here.” Putting the salary conversation off until later in the process will give you more leverage for the salary negotiation, and it will also allow you enough time to gather all the information about the role and company you need to determine what you think a fair salary would be.

Ask for a range
If you can’t seem to get the recruiter or hiring manager off the topic of salary, the best strategy is to get them to name their range first. Almost all companies use a range for each role, and usually the hiring manager has some leeway to go to the top of the range (or even slightly above) if they find the perfect candidate. Most recruiters will share the range when asked. All you have to do when you get them to share is to confirm for them that the range is something you can work with. This is particularly useful if you are making a career change where you are taking a pay cut. Telling the recruiter your current salary may scare her off if you are making much more than she can offer. Asking for a range and confirming it is acceptable is a great way to assuage the fears and give her confidence that you are seriously interested in the role.

Offer a bolstering range
If all else fails and you have to give a number, give a range instead of a number (two can play this game!) Studies have shown that offering a “bolstering range” is the most effective way to initiate a salary negotiation. That means, if you are really hoping for $80,000, say you would be happy with a salary between $80,000-85,000. Giving a range is more cooperative because it opens up room for a conversation, but starting with your target at the low-end means that you are more likely to achieve your salary goals.

These tips probably won’t totally relieve the stress of one of the most-dreaded interview questions of all time, but being prepared and informed will help you initiate a good conversation while maintaining a good relationship with your potential employer.