Successfully Answering “What Is Your Desired Salary?”
There are a lot of areas that require a bit of prep before a big job interview—everything from your biggest achievements and best accolades on down to your ability to be a team player and work under pressure.
But one topic of discussion that can be a source of stress for the interviewee is the salary question. Even though it’s common to discuss salary in a job interview, it can still be uncomfortable.
The trouble with this question is that an answer that’s too high may stop you from getting a job offer. But offering a figure that’s too low may prevent you from getting paid what you’re worth. So, what’s the best way to handle the question, “What’s your desired salary?”
Know Your Rights
Before you discuss salary in a job interview, keep in mind that in some states, it’s illegal to ask you about salary history. However, an employer can ask you about your salary expectations for the position. So, before you answer, make sure you listen (or read) carefully to help you decide if you should answer the question or not.
When Salary Is on the Application
Some employers don’t wait until you’ve received a job offer to ask about your desired salary. While it’s not unheard of for the question to come up during the interview, some companies ask for your salary on a job application or want you to include it in your cover letter!
Since most online applications these days force you to fill in the answer, you’re going to have to give them something. But instead of providing a number, try writing “negotiable,” or “market rate.” If you’re forced to put in a number, try giving a salary range. But, if the application won’t accept a range, enter a dollar amount you’re comfortable with based on everything you know.
In theory, you could enter a crazy number ($1.00 or $100,000,000). This way, you’re answering the question without “answering the question.” However, it is a risky strategy.
On one hand, entering an unlikely amount alerts the recruiter that you’re not willing to discuss salary at this time. However, there’s no guarantee that the recruiter is human. If it’s an automated system reviewing applications, entering these amounts could land your application in the discard pile. The system may be programmed to look for a specific dollar amount, and anything above that is an automatic no (which is exactly why you don’t want to list a dollar amount in the first place!).
How To Answer “What Is Your Desired Salary?”
We’ve got a guide on how to gracefully sidestep salary discussion in interviews. But, sometimes, no matter what you do, salary comes up and there’s no way around it. If that’s the case, you’ll need an answer. But, consider that an employer that demands an answer to such a sensitive question early on in the hiring process may not be an employer you want to work for.
Do Your Homework
Even if you don’t think salary will come up in the interview, do some research into salary as part of your general interview prep anyway. Research the job title and find out what the possible salary range is. As you research and hone in on a number, make sure you account for your education, years of experience, and the cost of living for your metro area. This will help you come up with a salary range that you’re comfortable with and pays you what you are worth.
Ask for More Details
Before you give the interviewer a number, ask about the whole package. What else is included with that salary? Is there unlimited vacation and flexible hours? Or, do you get two weeks off a year and have to work set hours? These perks will likely have an impact on your decision—and your salary. While you’ll never be able to know the true dollar value of perks, the ability to work from home or set your own hours may be worth more to you than making X amount per year.
Also, consider how the job fits in with your long-term career goals. If you’re making a major career change (say banker to baker), you’ll likely have to take a pay cut. And, while you knew that, you may not have realized how much of a pay cut that would be. Don’t forget. This may be an entry-level job you are applying for, which likely means entry-level salary.
Give a Range
If possible, don’t give a specific salary figure. Give the interviewer a salary range. A salary range gives you and the employer wiggle room to come to an agreement. And, it shows that you’re willing to negotiate (a desirable trait in employees).
The trick with giving a range, though, is to make sure your bottom figure is something you’re comfortable accepting. If you are offered the job, the odds are good that the employer’s offer will be closer to your lower figure. So, make sure the low end of your range is a salary you can live with.
A salary range also gives you and the employer other compensation options. For example, a small startup may not be able to meet even the low end of your salary range. But, they may be able to offer you stock options or part ownership of the company instead. Some companies may only offer a small salary but give employees the ability to earn far more in bonus or commission than they ever could in a traditional salary.
Salary Discussion Mistakes
When you are discussing salary in an interview, make sure you don’t make these mistakes that may hurt your chance of getting your desired salary or even the job.
Whether it’s during the application process or during the interview, remember that asking about your desired salary is not the same as a salary negotiation! Don’t expect the employer to come back with another number or a different offer. In fact, don’t be surprised if the interviewer doesn’t say anything!
Remember, the interviewer is trying to get an idea of what your salary expectations are, but that’s all. Answer the question and move on.
Telling Them Your Last Salary
Even though asking about your salary history is illegal in some states, it’s not illegal in all states. And, whether it’s illegal or not, you may feel like you have to answer the question. But, no matter the legal status of your state, avoid telling them your salary history.
First, employers often use your current salary as a baseline, which could mean you get a lowball offer. The thought is that you’ll be happy making more money at your new job. Whether you would be happy or not is irrelevant—especially if the offer the employer makes is much less than what you could have made had they never known your salary.
Second, if they are using your salary as a baseline and the new job pays less than your current job, the employer may worry that you won’t take the job. Or they worry that you’ll take the job and leave in six months when you find something with higher pay.
Not Thinking About the Future
Make sure you ask about the schedule and type of raises or bonuses the company gives. These will impact your overall salary and could make the difference between taking or leaving the job. For example, if a company is offering you a small salary, they may offer annual raises. Conversely, if you receive a large salary, you may only be eligible for smaller bonuses.
Bringing It up Too Soon
In general, you should always let the employer bring up the subject of money. That said, you should never bring up the subject during an interview. Wait until you receive a job offer. Bringing up salary before you get an offer could make it seem like money is the only thing you care about.
That said, if you get an offer that doesn’t include a salary figure, then you can feel comfortable bringing it up. In fact, that’s likely to be the beginning of your salary negotiation.
Discussing Salary Doesn’t Have to Be Uncomfortable
It can be uncomfortable when an employer asks your desired salary. However, discussing salary with a potential employer doesn’t have to be like that. Take the time to research salary ranges for your job title and your experience level, and you’ll be able to handle salary discussions with ease, professionalism, and comfort.
Glassdoor.com and Cheryl Lock contributed to this article
Photo credit: bigstockphoto.com
A version of this article was originally published on June 23, 2018.
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Cheryl Lock, Contributing Writer
Cheryl Lock is a writer and editor with over a decade of experience. You can find her work in dozens of publications — both in print and online — including Parents, Woman’s Day, Family Circle, Money and Newsweek, to name…Read More >
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