No matter how great the job interview goes, there’s always that one question that stops you short. What are you looking for in terms of salary? Such a straightforward question and yet, the answer is so complex.
You want to aim high, but what if you put yourself out of salary range? On the other hand, if your target compensation is too low, you leave the employer room to go even lower and you could end up miserable.
Worse, you don’t want to decide before you even know what the job is, as you do when asked to disclose a salary on an application.
While there may be no right answer, there is a way to think about the question and get what you want. Here’s how.
As difficult as it may be to answer the question, it’s more difficult not to – especially on an electronic job application. Try and skip the question and you can’t move on to the next page, and the field only accepts a number. That is when the exact number is important.
If you are in an interview, you could try to skirt around the question with a broad answer, such as: “My salary expectations are in line with my experience and qualifications.” Or “If this is the right job for me, I am sure we can come to an agreement on salary.” But the recruiter or interviewer will likely be looking for a number, so come prepared with a target salary figure or at least a range in mind.
That means you should prepare for every interview, even over the phone. If you are caught off guard, without something in mind, you could lowball yourself or seem confused.
In some cities and states, employers are legally prohibited from asking you how much you earned in your last job. However, they can still ask about your expectations.
How Do You Determine Your Salary Expectations?
Depending on how much you want the job, your individual needs and circumstances, you can figure out a number to offer with confidence. If it is a lateral move in your industry, you probably have a sense of average salaries. Unless your last company was known in the industry for its low salaries, assume that your current salary is in line with market expectations.
What would you consider a fair raise from your current employer? That could be a good low-end starting point. Or ratchet up your current pay by as much as 15% to 20%, which gives you an incentive to switch companies and is still within reasonable range for your industry and level of experience. Remember, only offer a number that you will accept and be able to live with.
If you are moving to a position with more responsibility or in a different industry, it helps to do some research on the position and its value in the career market.
Researching Salary Expectations
There are many websites that offer salary averages and estimates. Sites like Salary.com, Payscale.com and Indeed.com all offer comparable data, but if you have time to look at more than one source you may get a better perspective of range.
You can also input a variety of job titles to see if the averages change significantly. The problem with some salary sites is that job titles may vary from company to company. If it is possible instead get a sense of salary based on job responsibilities, you can come up with a more accurate number. Also remember to narrow your research to your region. Salaries for a job in Austin, Texas, may be different than those in New York, for example.
If the research seems off, go with your gut. Remember, you don’t want to confront a hiring manager with unreasonable expectations. But you also want a salary you can live with. If that’s not there, the job is not right for you.
I understand that positions similar to this one pay in the range of $X to $Z in our region. With my experience, I would like to receive something in the range of $Y to $Z.
I would like to be compensated fairly for my experience.
The research I’ve done indicates that positions like this one pay $X to $Z and something in that range would be acceptable to me as a starting salary.
My salary requirements are flexible, but I do have significant experience in the field that I believe adds value to my candidacy.