Honesty is the best policy when it comes to the question, “What Is Your Desired Salary?” Let’s face it, it benefits no one if you accept a salary that is less than you hoped for. You'll jump ship as soon as you find a better offer, and your employer will face the costly recruitment process all over again.
This article explains how to honestly and strategically answer the question “What Is Your Desired Salary?” It will explain what your interviewers are looking for when they ask for your salary expectations. We explain what to put on the desired salary field in your job application, offer example answers to salary-related interview questions, and show you how to negotiate a salary you can be proud of in your job search.
Honestly, it would save everybody a lot of time and money if employers divulged the salary they are willing to pay at the outset. According to a study by LinkedIn, of all the elements provided in a job advertisement, job seekers are most interested in knowing the salary range. So, why aren’t companies more transparent where compensation is concerned?
Part of the reason companies don’t disclose their salaries on job descriptions is they don’t want to compete with other companies when it comes to finding staff. Disclosing salaries would risk talent turning to competitors who offer better salaries. Another reason is that if a salary range is disclosed, a potential candidate will automatically negotiate at the higher end of the scale.
Because of this lack of transparency, it’s up to the job candidate to research the market, know their worth, and negotiate effectively when offered a job.
There are websites that provide salary information according to current benchmarks. Some of the best websites for market salary information are Salary.com; Glassdoor; Payscale; Indeed; Salary List; Salary Expert; and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Some of these sites offer cost-of-living calculators and salary information for specific companies. Some sites also allow you to plug in variables like job title, education, experience level, and your location for a more curated salary range.
Knowing what the market offers will help you come up with a reasonable salary range, but you also need to consider your qualifications, experience, and where you live.
Do you know your worth? Your value to a company, and how much you should be paid, depends on many factors. For example, how unique are your skills, and how badly does the company want those skills? Are there many other people who could fill the role? Are you in demand, and is it easy for you to find another job?
If you have unique skills and there is great demand for them, you are in a strong position to aim for a higher salary. In this case, give a range, aim high, and worry about negotiating later. At the end of the interview process, you will also have a lot more information to gauge your position.
In addition to your worth to the company, consider your education, your experience, the cost of living where you will live, and your career field.
For example, someone who lives and works in New York will need a much higher salary than someone living in Charlotte, North Carolina because living costs are so much higher. If you work in a high-demand sector like pharmaceuticals, data science, supply logistics, or cybersecurity, you are in a good position to request a higher salary. If you are entry-level, not so much.
You should also consider your budget. If you would have to relocate for your job, do a thorough analysis of what you would need to live comfortably. Consider whether your job will provide health benefits or retirement benefits or whether you will have to purchase your own healthcare or plan your own retirement plan. This is particularly crucial for freelancers, who should factor in these costs to their hourly rates.
One way to come up with a salary is to consider your new job to be a promotion. A typical raise through a promotion is around 8 percent on top of your existing salary. This could be a starting point for a new job.
When you have factored in all of your financial needs, come up with a salary range that you could happily accept even at the low end. You are not doing your potential employer any favors if your low figure would not keep you motivated. Your high figure could be considerably above what you would consider fair if your particular skills are in demand.
Bear in mind that a small company might not have the capacity to pay you as much as a large, established company. But there might be other advantages. A startup might offer a payload sometime down the road if it is successful, and working for a small firm might give you broad experience that you can’t get with a large firm.
Some job applications will require you to plug in a range. You might be able to leave the field blank, put “999,” or “negotiable” if you really don’t want to put in a number, but you risk being discarded by applicant tracking systems. Worse, the recruiter might consider you incapable of following instructions. Why take the risk?
Remember that regardless of what you put as your expected salary, you can always address it in the cover letter. In the cover letter, you can emphasize your unique value to the firm and state that your salary is negotiable. If relevant, you could suggest that you would be willing to discuss the benefits package such as healthcare, flexible work arrangements, or stock options.
Expert Tip: Stating your desired salary on an online application is not a requirement. Some employers may ask you about your current salary or your salary history, but that is illegal.
If salary has not been broached in the application process or in an initial screening interview, you should have a salary range in mind for the job interview. However, this is not the time for negotiation.
Answer the question, “What Is Your Desired Salary Range?” with confidence and clarity. Always give a range, and back it up by emphasizing your worth to the company. Then, leave it at that until you are told you are the preferred candidate. It’s up to the employer to decide where they want to go from here and present you with an offer.
Here’s an example of how to answer the question.
“My range is $85,000 to $95,000. I am basing that on average salaries on the market and the cost of living. I’d also like to provide myself an 8% raise to my current job. I consider this range a fair ask for the company considering my market value, and it is something that I could be excited about.”
If the company offers year-end bonuses, here is a suggested response.
“I appreciate that you offer year-end bonuses based on performance, so, I think I'd be looking at the $85,000 to $90,000 range as a starting salary. Then, I’d hope for total compensation in the $90,000 to $95,000 range if my performance is good. I think that's a fair salary for someone with my years of experience."
If you are approached by a potential employer (which happens when the job market tightens), it’s not a bad idea to ask for salary information before applying. That way, no one wastes their time if the range is not even in your ballpark.
Also, if you apply for a job and you are asked to attend a phone or pre-screening interview, don’t hesitate to ask about the salary at this point too. Most companies don’t want to waste time either if the compensation package is not even close to your expectations.
If you progress to a more formal interview stage, don’t bring up salary until the interviewer does. Otherwise, it may seem that money is your only interest, and you are likely to jump ship as soon as a better offer comes along.
Congratulations on getting an offer! Now, you might be asked to provide an exact salary figure so that the employer can write the employment contract.
Be sure to stay within the discussed range, and make a good case for the number you choose. Here’s how to state your position.
"When we discussed the salary range, I proposed somewhere between $85,000 and $95,000 per year based on market rates and considering my experience. Now that I have a better understanding of the job's demands, I would love to be at $95,000 per year. If you see any significant issues with that, please let me know. I would prefer not to risk this amazing job opportunity over not agreeing on salary."
When you negotiate a salary, realize that it’s not just about the money. So, you could mention other incentives here. For example, would you like a more flexible schedule, fewer hours, more vacation? Having flexibility in your schedule and better work-life balance might be worth slightly less pay, particularly if you can still get a great health and retirement package. Perhaps you can negotiate a sign-on bonus or annual bonus that is related to performance? Does the company provide stock options?
Also, consider your career plan. How long will you realistically stay with the company? If it is a startup, it may not be long but it might be the launching pad to financial stability. In this case, you might consider taking a lower salary in the hope that the payoff will be down the road.
Each situation is different, and it might be wise to speak to a career coach so that you consider all the short and long-term variables that affect your career path.
A considerate prospective employer may inform you that you have been selected for a job by email and, at the same time, ask you to submit a specific number. This is a less stressful way for both you and the hiring manager to negotiate the salary. Here is a sample response to such a request.
Email subject: Salary expectations - [Candidate Name]
Dear [name of hiring manager],
Thank you for your email informing me that I have been selected for the position of [job title]. After going through the hiring process and learning more about the work that I will be involved in, I am even more excited to contribute to the team.
After considerable research on the current market and looking at data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, I believe that my level of experience puts me at the upper end of the salary range that we discussed. The benchmark job compensation for this is in the range of $86,000 to $90,000 per year. I appreciate that you offer year-end bonuses for doing great work. So, I think I'd be looking at $90,000 as a base salary. I would be looking for total compensation in the $95,000 range because of how your year-end bonuses work. A minimum salary requirement for me would be $90,000. I think that is fair compensation for this position considering my skillset and experience.
I am happy to discuss this by phone or in person.
Thank you again,
Finally, consider adding links to any sources that you mention in the email. For example, a link to the Bureau of Labor Statistics or a salary website.
Navigating the desired salary question is an art. But the main thing is not to sell yourself short or overreach. You can avoid doing either by researching other similar jobs and looking at benchmarks, considering the demand in the labor market for your skills, and the size of the company. Lastly, be confident, and you’ll be surprised what you can achieve through negotiation.
Research salaries for the same type of position on recommended websites before your interview.
Choose a salary range where you would be happy to receive the lower end in compensation.
Use the cover letter to state that you are willing to negotiate salary.
It’s fine to ask about salary in the initial screening interview, but don’t bring it up again in subsequent interviews unless the interviewer does.
Don’t enter into salary negotiations until you know you are the top candidate.