Whether you're looking for a job as an accountant or a zoologist, there is one question you're sure to be asked sometime during (and even early in) the interview process: What are your salary expectations?

How you deal with that query is crucial to ensuring that you don't get shortchanged if you're hired or even left out of the considerations altogether.

Don Sutaria, president and founder of CareerQuest, a staffing and training firm, advises job seekers to avoid offering a solid figure. "Don't answer the question. Say, 'I'll expect the fair market value. Make me an offer and we can discuss it.' Or, 'Maybe you can tell me what your range is?'"

Sutaria adds that the best approach is to arm yourself with information. "It's very easy to find now, based on the job title and industry, what your range is."

Indeed, there are several Web sites you can consult to find salary ranges for various professions in regions all over the country. A few reliable ones include Salary.com, Vault.com, WageWeb.com, SalarySource.com and JobStar.org. Professional associations also sometimes conduct salary surveys and publish their results.

Employers will often ask the salary-expectation question as a way to screen out candidates. On an application, it's fair to write something like "negotiable" or offer a very broad range. If your resume and cover letter are impressive, potential employers are unlikely to rule you out based on a vague response.

Remember that if you do name an amount early in the process, it's going to be difficult to renegotiate later. If and when you're asked the question in an interview, ask the interviewer about the position's salary level for someone with your qualifications.

Roy Blitzer, author of "Hire Me, Inc.: Package Yourself to Get Your Dream Job," writes that if you're pressed for a figure, you can offer a range that you've determined based on research of the position's fair market value.

Copyright (c) 2006 MarketWatch, Inc.