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How much are you worth?
Considered to be one of the trickiest questions, the “salary expectation” question can catch off guard even the most seasoned interviewee — especially the kind of a job seeker who has never heard this one before. How do you answer that question without appearing either rude, delusional, insecure or simply uninformed? What should you consider before giving your number?
Saying it in the letter
Besides getting the dreaded question during the job interview, you might have to answer it right away when you apply for the job. This is where your best answer would be “my salary is negotiable/open to negotiation.” You won’t really know what to ask for since you don’t know what the whole package has to offer — as you will discover in the second part of this article. Also, giving a number in the actual letter may eliminate you from the game even before you start. In the Q&A on LinkedIn, Proper Way to Include Salary Expectations in Application?, the best answer to the question was by Darrell Z. DiZoglio, a certified high performance resumé writer, who said this: “Unfortunately, employers will use it to exclude you because the number you put there is too high as they would always rather get someone below market value. I always put ‘open negotiation’ so it looks like you are willing and flexible.” Another interesting answer was provided by Darlene Zambruski of ResumeEdge.com who suggested that the salary expectations figure depends on three different factors:
- Really wanting the job — perhaps consider going for the lower end of the spectrum but do research to learn the going rate for the position
- Knowing that you’ll get the job — doing research and then give a figure you’re most comfortable with (for example, high 80s)
- You’re in the running but are not assured of the job — after research give the employer a wide range (for example, low 70s to mid-80s)
What’s your number?
Sometimes, giving the actual number of how much you’d like to earn indicates your familiarity with the industry you’re hoping to work for. In the article How to Answer the “Salary Expectations” Question, Eileen Chadnick writes that the most important thing to do is research before you answer the number question. If you’ve read our article on Getting the Full Picture you know that it takes a lot of work to learn about the company you apply to. Part of that learning process should be finding out what the salary range is for the type of position you’re interested in.
As Chadnick says, first interviews are not about negotiating salaries. She writes, “In a first interview, the salary question may be just a qualifier and would most likely be kept at a general level. If you know the range in advance, then your response should assure the employer that salary expectations won’t be a deal breaker for them should they offer you the job.” This doesn’t mean giving a number that’s politely small — simply say that you know what the range is and give a number that would reflect the skill set and experience you will bring to the position. In other words, this may be another opportunity to reaffirm the company’s interest in you.
The How Do I Answer the Salary Expectation Question in an Interview to My Best Advantage? article suggests looking at a much broader picture before coming up with any figure. The type of a place you’re applying to will affect the salary that you should expect. Is the company a small business or nonprofit, or is it corporate? Is your company located in a large city or a small town? Is this an entry-level position or not? You can also have a look at a place like Payscale.com to get an idea of salary ranges but until you factor all the other elements (location, type of company, etc.) into the picture, you won’t really get a reliable number.
Keep in mind that you’ll have to come up with a number once you make it to the subsequent interviews or get the job offer. This is where you can start negotiating a sum that would make or break you actually taking the job.
About that whole picture …
First, take time to look at the big picture, which includes the costs of accepting a particular job. Some questions you could ask yourself while calculating your minimum salary include:
- How far away is the job and what will your transportation costs be?
- Will you have to use daycare if you accept this position?
- Will you have to update your wardrobe?
- Does the job offer good benefits, or is it irrelevant because you are covered under your partner's plan?
Before you end up trying to negotiate an unrealistic salary, make sure you are applying for positions where the pay is high enough to meet your needs or there is enough flexibility to allow you to earn income on the side. Many postings do not state salaries, but sites like Salary Calculator can show you the average wages in your field and your city. For extra reference, see what people in your field make across the country. As well, ask people in similar positions what they are making. (Someone in your network might be able to connect you to the appropriate person.)
Practise, practise, practise
To avoid choking up during a real salary negotiation, you can practise negotiating with a friend. While you role play, try to stay non-confrontational and detached and use win-win language. (See the Negotiating Salaries and Work Conditions for tips on the latter point.) Rehearse different ways of stating your case and pay attention to your body language.
Let the game begin!
Remember to never lie about what you were making in your last position. A background check could cost you the job.
The Principles of Salary Negotiation article emphasizes the importance of the employer mentioning the salary first. The article gives examples of what you could say in a negotiation that would lead the employer to respond with a number. For instance, you might say: "It is my understanding that your organization pays a competitive rate. I want to make sure this is in line with my compensation requirements ... What is your salary range for the job?"
You should also know when to stop playing ball. As Lee Miller notes in his article, Ace the Interview: "If you don't recognize when to stop negotiating, you run the risk of having the company decide that it made a mistake by offering you the job in the first place. ... [F]ew companies want to hire a prima donna."
Take an overall view
Remember how we said to look at the big picture? If the number is low, consider the benefits package — health benefits, vacation time, training, retirement plans, paid daycare, and so on. Check to see if there are performance or signing bonuses. Will you get a cell phone, a company car, a laptop? Some companies offer stock options as well — this means you can own shares in the company at a fixed price.
It may be worth it to work for less if it means getting additional experience or free training that will benefit you in the future. A position that comes with a big title could help you to advance more quickly in your field. Working for a company with a solid reputation could also be to your advantage down the road. Salary isn't everything and if there's an opportunity for quick advancement and a raise, do take that into account as well.
The final inning
Even if you end up with what seems to be a decent job offer, the game isn't over yet. Don't immediately say yes to a company's proposal, says Debbie O’Halloran, the author of the article Is That Your Best Offer? Be enthusiastic, but ask for 24 hours to think it over. And always ask for clarification if there is something you don't understand. It's also a good idea to send your prospective employer an email summarizing the offer.
And, if you do take that job, start a record of your achievements so that when the performance and salary review is due, you'll have good grounds to ask for a raise!