Dear Sam: I have no idea how to tell a potential employer what my salary requirement is. I am afraid that I will present a low number that will allow them to low-ball the compensation, or I will count myself out of the running by giving a too high number. I know I can do research online with glass door, salary.com, and other sites, but they don’t always provide a clear-cut answer on what one employer may pay versus another. I fear I’m not able to “win” when answering this question, but if I don’t answer it, I’m afraid I won’t be considered. Help! – Peter
Dear Peter: You are not alone in your frustration when it comes to answering the dreaded salary expectation question. I would not necessarily fear an employer “low-balling” you just because you list a low number as they will have salary ranges for each job classification. Of course, they will also want to ensure whomever they hire is compensated competitively to drive both engagement and retention. Presenting a number that is too high, of course, could put you out of the running as that would tell a potential employer that they will not be able to meet your compensation needs.
When asked for a salary requirement, there are a few standard approaches, none of which are risk-free, the five most common of which I have detailed below.
Response One: Tell the hiring manager what you want to earn. If you have a base salary requirement, state it to tell the hiring manager that you probably expect a little more. The risk in using this approach is that you will be disqualified because your amount is too low or too high.
Response Two: Give the hiring manager a wide range. Most employers have a range for each position, and the hope when using this strategy is that your ranges overlap at some point. You can either state that you want compensation in the “mid-50s” or are seeking compensation from “$50K-60K.” The challenge here is not presenting a range where your lowest amount is their highest available compensation or vice versa. You could secure a job earning $50K instead of $56K, just because you put your range as $50K-60K. Hence the second strategy of “mid-50s” might work more in your favor.
Response Three: Avoid the question by stating that you seek competitive compensation for someone in your field or are flexible about your total compensation package. Doing this avoids answering the question and disqualifying yourself because of a number, yet you answer the question to a certain degree. By using the second approach, you also tell the hiring manager that you realize that there is more to a compensation package than just your salary.
Response Four: Communicate that you would love to discuss your salary requirement once a mutual interest has been established. This allows you to assess the functions of the position you are applying for and fairly evaluate what you should be compensated for such an engagement.
Response Five: Don’t respond. Many candidates take this approach and hope their experiences, accomplishments, and skills pull them through despite avoiding the question entirely.
You have to decide which strategy you want to employ and whether the risk involved is worth taking. All the best!