Monday, November 23, 2009

What Are Your Salary Requirements?

This is a difficult question for many people to answer when interviewing for a job, myself included on occasion. When I was 16 years old and going out on my very first job interviews for part-time work after school, my mother always instructed me to put down the word "negotiable". It seemed to work for a while. It said that I'm not set on a particular wage and we can discuss compensation.

However, as I moved away from the word "job" in my life and more towards the word "career", I found that this answer was not always acceptable. In fact, some positions I applied for even explicitly stated that they did not want an applicant to put "negotiable", and those that did not answer this question at all would not be considered. This leaves applicants in a tight spot. Go too high and you will not be contacted for an interview; too low and you may get the job, but you could be leaving thousands of dollars on the table that you should be earning.

It is pretty clear to me that hiring managers are looking to find the applicants with the most impressive resume that are willing to take the lowest wage. However, while they think they are striking gold, this practice could wind up being bad news for them. Do they really want the kind of person that doesn't know how much they are worth? Or perhaps worse, a person who doesn't mind being undercut? What kind of output would a company likely get from this type of employee?

I (like many, many people) am actually looking to continue my career with a new company right now, so I have run into this question several times recently. I have also read a few interesting comments on LinkedIn and some other websites that cover this issue as well. Here is what I have concluded:

1. It's always best to give a salary range. Don't find that one exact number that is going to be your asking price. Give yourself room to negotiate once an offer is made. But, first give the company room to make an offer.

2. Do your homework. When applying for a position go to one of the salary websites and search for your desired position by city or zip code. Know what the going rate is. It usually appears on a bell curve. If going with a $10k range, I would go $5k below and $5k above the average.

3. Get the company involved, if possible. If the question gives room for text on the application, or if they want you to include salary requirements when you submit your cover letter and resume, write it all out there for them. This is where the self-marketing and personal branding as a professional can be worked in. State that you have researched the typical salary for this position and you found that, for example $75k-$85k was in keeping with what others in your desired position earn. Then ask them if this is what they have in mind for compensation. Doing this does several things. It lets the hiring managers know that you do your research because you care enough to do so. It also let's them know that you are open to discussion in both the range that you have given, and even open more generally if they have reasons for thinking something different as far as compensation. Invite the discussion.

4. If this question is not asked of you, no problem. Keep quiet about it. Let them make you an offer before you get involved in salary negotiations.

It is not easy to answer the question of what your salary requirements are. Job hunting is difficult all around, and this inquiry just makes it more stressful. Many companies want to see what you will accept before they make an offer. But, low balling is not good for anybody. It is self-deprecating. Plus, you usually get what you pay for and most companies realize this, so a low figure is no guarantee you will land the job. It is always best to do research before going into the interview or answer a phone call in order to be prepared.

I have not always done this. I have slipped up a few times. It is easy to let this happen especially when you are deep in the job hunt and interviewing for a lot of different positions - some of which you have probably now realized will turn into what feels like a waste of time. However, I try to use these guidelines each and every time because being prepared for each opportunity gives me practice. So, that I am definitely prepared when I get to that interview that will turn out to be the perfect opportunity for me. That means that all of these other interviews that led to nothing were not a waste of time at all. They were practice for when the real thing came along.