Chances are that at some point during your hiring process, you’ll be asked about numbers. Salary numbers, that is. Most hiring managers want to know if the salary they can offer is in the same ballpark as the salary you expect; if not, you’re both wasting your time. But what if you’re new to the field, or new to the job market altogether? Figuring out how to answer the salary question realistically, without leaving a lot of money on the table, can be tricky.
First, don’t be offended if an employer asks for your salary requirements. “When employers are asking you to state your salary needs, they’re simply trying not to waste their time,” says Darcy Eikenberg, a leadership and workplace coach and the founder of Red Cape Revolution. “No one wants to fall in love with you and then realize they can’t give you what you want.”
“Employers ask for expected salary to determine whether or not they can afford to hire you,” adds Hillary O’Keefe with Onward Search, a staffing company for careers in Internet marketing. “They’re almost always working with a budget based on internal factors as well as external considerations like regional salary rates and the state of the local talent market. If your proposed salary fits, you’ll be that much closer to landing the job.”
- Do your research. Because getting the salary right can be an important piece of the job-landing puzzle, start by researching the potential salary for someone with your level of education and experience in the position you’re trying to obtain in your city. Glassdoor can be an excellent reference for regional and field-based compensation. “Knowledge is always power,” Eikenberg says.
- Connect with others. In addition to conducting online research, talk to professionals in the field, O’Keefe recommends. “You don’t have to ask for the exact number they take home,” she says. “‘Does this sound like a reasonable salary for this job in this area?’ is a great way to find out if you’re asking for the right range. The combination of online and in person research should give you an accurate range to propose. And remember, there’s almost always a little room to negotiate.” It’s also a good idea to connect not only with others in the field, but with others in the specific company where you’re interviewing. Eikenberg recommends LinkedIn as well as in-person networking. “You can say, ‘I’ll be interviewing for XYZ job, and in doing my research, I understand the typical salary range is $X to $X. Based on your experience, does that sound about right at your company, too?’ This gives you the opportunity to see how relevant your research is in a way that doesn’t make someone uncomfortable that they’re giving away private information!”
- Respond confidently. After conducting research both in person and online, you can be prepared to answer questions about how much money you’d expect to make at a particular job. And just because you have knowledge, that doesn’t mean you necessarily have to say a number first, according to Eikenberg. “When the question comes about salary, you can then respond with confidence, ‘Based on the research I’ve done on similar roles/industries, I would expect my salary to be in a similar range. However, I know every organization is different–what is the salary range for this job at this company?’” she says. “It’s rare that someone will play the game of ‘you tell me first,’ but if they do, you certainly can give them the range you researched.”