One of the toughest things to handle during a job search is the question about your desired salary. My desired salary is $5 billion, but I’m not going to land a new job with that answer. So, what should you put on a job application or say during an in-person interview? Should you offer a number, or should you maneuver to get the employer to make an offer first? There’s no easy answer, but here are some things to consider:
Can you sidestep the question?
In the best of all worlds, you could answer the desired salary question by saying your salary is negotiable and that you’d really like to understand more about the position before answering. In other words, you’d like to be interviewed before talking money. If you have this opportunity, take it.
Unfortunately, many times your first step in the interview process is filling out an online application that forces the desired salary answer out of you. (The dreaded drop-down menu that forces a salary range is the worst.) In that case, think about the following questions:
What is the expected salary range for the position you’re seeking?
If a job listing doesn’t state a salary range and you’re not sure what a reasonable salary might be, do some research. One source for such information is the Bureau of Labor Statistics Wage Data, which is listed by area and occupation. This may not get as specific as you’d like, but it could prevent you from stating a desired salary that is way too high or way too low for the position. (If your desired salary is too low, you may appear to be under-qualified for the job, which could knock you out of the running just as fast as asking for too much money.)
What do you make now?
If you are seeking a job in the same field you are already working in, you obviously want a raise, right? Most people don’t change jobs to take the same money or less money. So, you can use your current salary as a starting point. That doesn’t mean you need to divulge your current salary to anyone, but it’s a good starting place in your head. You probably don’t want any job that is going to pay you at or below your current salary (unless you are changing your career path).
How bad do you want it?
While you don’t want to go into a salary negotiation in a position of desperation, your current situation probably will (and probably should) play a role in determining your salary goals. If you are unemployed, you obviously need a job, and you might make concessions on salary to start earning a paycheck again. If you have a good job but are open to moving on, you are in a position of strength: you don’t need the new job, so you can be more confident in asking for a higher salary. After all, the worst they can do is say no, and you haven’t lost anything.
Assuming you are already employed, this question also comes down to how attractive the position is. Is it a company you’ve always wanted to work for? Is it a “step up” job from where you are now? (This could be especially relevant if you’ve gone as high as you can go in your current company.) Does it offer some other desirable perk, such as a shorter commute or more/less travel than your current job?
Have a plan / Know your worth
In the end, your desired salary should be a combination of the expected salary range for the position and how badly you need/want the job. While some experts will tell you that you must do everything in your power to get a potential employer to make a salary offer versus you stating a desired salary, this may not always be possible. If you’ve just been interviewed, you’re excited about the job, and the final question is “What is your desired salary?”, you’ll want to have an answer prepared. Don’t hesitate. If you’ve considered how much you’d like to make, and if you’ve done your homework on the position, don’t sell yourself short. Know your worth. You should be able to confidently say, “I think $85,000 (or whatever) would be the right salary for my experience and the needs of the position.”
Author: Adam Jusko