by Teri Fritsma
When applying for jobs, you’re almost certain to get this question at some point or another:
“What are your salary expectations?”
Sometimes the question is on an application form; sometimes an employer will ask you outright. The question could be phrased a little differently, like “Tell us your salary requirements” or “what was your previous salary?” No matter how it’s phrased, the motivation behind it is usually the same: employers want you to name a salary because it tells them a lot about how to proceed.
The employer has a wage in mind. If the amount you name is much higher, you could get tossed out of the pile because the employer could assume you’re overqualified, won’t work for less money, or will leave as soon as a better offer comes along. On the other hand, if the amount you name is much lower, it could work against you, too: the employer could assume you’re not qualified — or they might offer you the job but pay you less than what they’d been prepared to.
In short, sharing your salary expectations is good for the employer, but it rarely benefits you. So, when asked this question, what are your options?
1. Tell the employer that salary is negotiable. On an application form or in person, you can simply (and tactfully) say that “salary is negotiable” or that you’re “open to considering any offer.” If it works, this puts the ball back in the employer’s court to be the first to name a wage.
2. Say that you’d rather discuss salary once you’ve learned more about the position. This is another tactful way to deflect (or delay) the question. Plus, once you know more about what the position entails, you might have a better idea of the going rate.
3. Do your research and name a salary range. Note: if your prospective employer won’t take #1 or #2 for an answer, then this really is your only option. You can find salary data by occupation from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. (Make sure to select the right occupation and region to get the most specific information you can.) You can also find salary surveys that are specific to a particular field, such as this one about salaries in the field of Psychology conducted by the American Psychological Association. When doing your research, be sure you understand what salary data can and can’t tell you.
Once you’ve done your research, name a salary range as opposed to a single number, if possible. This gives you some room to negotiate later.
Finally, when considering a job offer, it’s good to keep in mind that salary is just one part of the total compensation package. Does the position come with health care or dental benefits? Paid time off? Sick leave? A retirement savings plan? Flexible work options, like telecommuting? Don’t forget to factor all this in as you negotiate and make your final decision.