Internship and Job Search – When To Talk About Salary

Normally, the topic of salary—and negotiating a salary—won’t typically come up until a formal in‐person interview, and usually not until an offer is being made or about to be made. However, by engaging in referral and outreach conversations it is possible that the topic may come up early. If the employer doesn’t bring it up that’s good. You will do better if you can discuss salary after they have made a commitment to you (the job offer).

However, if it does come up, you need to be prepared. Check out this episode of our Career Conversations series for an overview of some of the more common questions and concerns!

  • Have some idea what you should be paid before you start looking. You know what you want to do and where you want to do it. That is enough info to use websites like and to get a general feel for the salary range you can expect for the job you are pursuing. If you can’t get a good idea from that, ask the career center. We keep data on past graduate’s salaries and can give you a rough idea of what to expect if we have had a QU student there in the past. We also have access to national salary survey data. This should be enough to keep you from radically underselling yourself or letting your expectations get out of line with reality.
  • Try to avoid it. If salary comes up really early in an outreach conversation or early in an interview—really anytime before an actual offer is made—you should try to avoid giving an answer. An employer will usually say something like “What are your salary expectations?” or“What kind of salary are you looking for?” You can try to get them to answer the question for you by asking something like “I know some people in roles like this, in this city, typically make about $X but things can vary a lot from one company to another. What is the range for this position?” or “If you decide to make me an offer I’d evaluate the entire compensation package, but salary is important. Do you have a budget range for this role?” or simply, “I’m open to any fair offer. What does a position like this one typically pay here at XYZ?”
  • If they force you to give a specific answer, give a range. You should be going in with some knowledge of what is fair based on the company, location and role. That should be enough to come up with a broad range. Always try to stick with that rather than giving a specific number. For example, “I did some research through my school and on glassdoor and I think entry‐level for this role is usually between $35,000‐$45,000 so I would hope based on my background and experience you would be comfortable with offering between $38,000‐$42,000. I don’t know what your budget is for the position but I know a lot more goes into compensation than just base salary, so I’d consider any fair offer. I’m really interested in working here!” An answer like that demonstrates research, thoughtfulness and maturity and puts you in a good position to negotiate a little once the actual offer is made.
  • Don’t just know what you want, know what you need. Before you start your job search, take a few moments to do some rough calculations about what your expenses might be after you graduate. Be careful to differentiate between your true needs and your wants. Think about cost of living where you will work, transportation costs, housing, food expenses, health insurance, taxes, student loan repayment, etc. Your goal is to come up with a bottom line number you can’t go below. If all your expenses mean you anticipate needing $32,000 a year before taxes just tosurvive, you wouldn’t want to accept an offer for $31,000 no matter where you would be working. Some of this is tough because it will be variable. You might get a job where you can live at home for a year whereas the same job 70 miles away would require an apartment. This is just about having a solid estimate so you can understand exactly what your offers will mean when you get them.