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How to Address Salary at Each Stage of the Application Process

Posted by Eileen Hoenigman Meyer

Career Advice Expert

Last Updated September 1, 2017

The salary you negotiate for yourself deeply impacts your attitude about any new position you accept. While the discussion is key to securing fit in a new role, you may not feel like you’re the one driving the conversation. But you should, and you can be.

Your talent is precious, and turnover is costly. Research compiled by the Center for American Progress indicates that re-staffing a position costs employers nearly 20% of the role’s annual salary. Employers want to hire capable staff who will remain happy, engaged, and productive. Candidates share this goal — so it’s in both parties’ best interest to iron out a truly suitable offer.

Not sure where to start? Let us walk you through salary negotiations step-by-step at each stage of the application process.

In the Research Phase

Use Glassdoor’s rich salary data to learn about compensation at the companies you're interested in. If you find limited data for the specific position you’re after, take an average of what local companies pay professionals with that title — you want a verified salary range, which may not be shared in the job post. While researching this information, keep in mind that the base pay you accept impacts future raises you may garner. According to Stephen Miller from the Society of Human Resources Management, employees’ raises averaged about 3 percent of their base pay in 2016; the same is projected for 2017. Do the math. Consider what this growth rate may mean for your bottom line in the long-term depending on the base pay you accept.   


Some companies offer bonuses or merit increases that can be higher than 3 percent, however. Beyond straight cash, some companies have rich benefits that may include telecommuting, summer hours or similar flexibility. Chisel out a hierarchy of what matters to you the most.

Before you can start truly assessing whether or not a salary is a good fit, though, it's important to know what your skills are worth. Glassdoor’s free Know Your Worth personalized salary estimator functions “to calculate the estimated market value, or earning potential, of an individual based on characteristics of his or her current job, relevant work experience and the local job market in real time.”

While you may have been incrementally garnering annual pay raises, you’ve also been accruing years of experience, gaining certifications and learning new skills, all of which add to your market value.  Glassdoor’s tool calculates a refreshed market value, factoring in these areas of professional growth. Having a clear sense of your professional worth and knowing the salary range for the job you’re after are going to be key.

In the Application Phase

Dread filling out that little field that asks you to enter your salary expectation in a job application? You're not alone. But the good news is, in some locales including New York City and the state of Massachusetts, it will soon be illegal for employers to request salary history, as it can perpetuate gender pay discrepancies. Nearly 20 states may soon follow suit.  

Increasingly, salary history is regarded as an outdated basis for future compensation. So how do you navigate this when you want the job and you have to populate this field on an application? Lavie Margolin, Career Coach and author of Mastering the Job Interview explains: “the later that any aspect of salary is brought up, the better position the candidate is in.”

Margolin also recognizes the importance of getting your materials noticed. To that end, he explains: “The easiest path to the next steps is a smooth one so unless there are concerns with [sharing salary history], one should consider doing it.”

Your other option is to leave that field blank or populate it with zeros. This strategy can work, leaving you in a better position to negotiate, or your materials could get passed over as incomplete. It’s a gamble — so make sure to weigh both strategies and decide which one is best for you.

In an Early-Stage Interview

At some point, employers will likely want to confirm that your ranges are compatible, which may happen during the phone screening. That’s probably before many candidates want to tip their hands.

Margolin proposes: “One can request to defer to a later time and gauge the response. . . If done tactfully, it would not be unfavorable. If the recruiter becomes insistent, the candidate would have to decide if he or she wants to disclose at that point.”

If you share information, aim to keep it high level.

  • If a range is provided in the post: “I’m comfortable with the range indicated, and I’ll be ready to discuss further as I learn more about the company, its benefits and the position.”
  • If no range is indicated: “I am hoping to learn the salary range for this position.” If it fits with your research, use the response above.

If you’re asked for your salary history, aim to defer. You don’t want to volunteer this as a compensation starting point. Learning what you earned in a previous job is not relevant to the current conversation.

Margolin recommends this language: “Given that I am transitioning from an industry with a vastly different pay structure (or perhaps geographic location or have been with one company for many years and have not tested the market), I do not think my salary history is very relevant and I would like to focus on fit for the role at this point.”

If you feel like you need to answer with a concrete number, Margolin suggests providing “the history but contextualize it as to why it is not applicable to current negotiations.” He recommends a statement such as: “Although in my last salary I grew from 40k to 70k over 12 years, the 70k was under market value. It was a great place to grow, but I am now ready to test the market.” It’s also a great opportunity to ask you questions about benefits, raises, bonuses and perks.

Once you learn that you’re through to the next round, you can employ a more granular strategy.  

In a Late-Stage or Final Interview

You’re ready! You know what you want. You understand what this employer has to offer. Because you have a range in mind, think through what you think might be offered and how you would counter various proposals.   

Margolin scripts several ways this can play out:

Interviewer: “We would like to make you an offer of $46k per year."

Interviewee: Thank you for the offer…Would it be possible to negotiate on salary? I’m very interested in the position, but seeking $48-53k per year.”

At this point, the interviewer can answer in one of several different ways. If your interviewer says “We can offer you $52k,” for example, try countering with “Thank you. I’d like to talk it over with my family and confirm the details. I am really excited about the potential of working together.”

If the interviewer says, “I will have to speak with management about the possibility of a higher offer,” make sure to ask “When should I follow up with you?” so they know you mean business.

If they say, “We cannot give a higher salary,” try responding with: “OK. Is there flexibility on some of the benefits? Can my salary be re-evaluated at six months once I have proven myself? If I have, at what rate can I expect my salary to increase?”

You and your soon-to-be employers share the goal of arriving at a compensation package that will keep you happy in your new position.  So welcome your next salary negotiation — it sets the bar for fit in your new role.

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