I've recently been to an interview for a company that had a set pay amounts for each "level" of employees that is based mainly on the amount of time spent with the company. This basically meant that all new employees would be earning the same amount of money no matter what. They still insisted to ask me the famous question of "How much would you like to earn?". What could be the point of asking such a question if it won't really influence the pay of the employee?
Typically these pay levels are a range and are attached to the position being filled. So, a 'Junior Widget Flipper' could have a range of 10k to 20k while a 'Senior Widget Flipper' could have a range of 30k to 40k.
Despite having these ranges established, this question gets asked for a few reasons:
- To determine if the candidate's expectations are in line with what the company is willing to pay.
- As a data point to evaluate in the future if the salary range is reasonable in the market.
- If the candidate is really desirable, they could offer a salary higher in the range rather than lower in the range, despite it being for the same position. So, they ask to see if they're an affordable candidate.
The main purpose is to avoid wasting both the candidate's and the company's time if the candidate would not accept an offer at a certain level.
If the position is for 60k, and the candidate's lifestyle demands 80k, it's better to know that up front than to go through the whole interview process only to find this out in the end. It's a pre-filter.
EDIT: Of course, that's the good, or benign reasons they might ask you that question. The bad, or malevolent reason would be to get you to commit to a lower salary than they are willing to pay.
Companies typically have a range of salary for each particular position. They also have a default salary if the interviewee doesn't provide their desired salary. The default salary is generally lower than they are willing to pay for a good candidate. So the trick is to learn what the company's range of salary for the position is and then fit your skillset into the appropriate portion of the range and ask for a little more than that.
Negotiating your starting salary is a huge part of staying happy in a job. Once you are an employee, your raises will generally not keep up with what the new hires are being hired in at for your equivalent position, so if you start low you will get disgruntled when you find out that people with less skills are getting hired at higher salaries than you are getting. So I don't know why you think it won't matter. You are allowed to make a counter offer to any offer made by a company. If you impressed the person who wants to hire you then you will certainly get more than the standard rate.