Salary Discussions During the Job Search Process

By Emily Seamone

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We mentioned in the previous blog post, Figuring Out Your Worth: Preparing for Salary Negotiation , that it is ideal to hold off as long as possible on any monetary or benefit discussions during a job search/interviews until you are given an offer. After all, you want the interviewer to know everything about you and how wonderful you are before you start talking about compensation. However, salary discussions and requests may come up earlier in this process. (Note that this scenario is more typical with non-faculty jobs.) Employers sometimes include questions about desired salary on applications, and/or they may ask about your salary expectations during interviews. Besides panic, what can you do in these situations?

Salary Questions on a Job Application

Let’s say a job posting states the applicant should include a salary requirement in his/her cover letter, or a question such as “What is your desired salary?” is part of an online application. You have a few options:

First, you can simply state in your cover letter or on the application (if the corresponding field allows text) that you’d prefer to discuss salary in the context of an offer. Or you could enter “negotiable” or “market rate” if there is not enough room for a complete sentence.

Second, you can choose to ignore the salary request altogether by not including any figures in your job materials, skipping the question on the application, or entering zeros if you are forced to enter a number. Some experts state that many employers will still consider your application without this information, but others say it can be risky, especially if an applicant tracking system is selecting submissions based on the salary amount listed.

Third, if you decide you do not want to take the above risks, you could share a salary range based on the research you have already conducted (see Figuring Out Your Worth: preparing for Salary Negotiation for more details). Keep in mind that this range can be quite large, even 30% to 40%. This option will make it more likely that the employer’s range or figure will overlap with your amount. (Note that when it comes to negotiating at the offer stage, you will want to narrow your range to 5% to 25%.)

If the application forces you to enter one figure, take the midpoint of your range. Keep in mind that once you get to the offer stage, you can still negotiate more than what you listed. If the employer refers to the salary included on your application, you can reply with, “After further research and speaking with people in the field, I have discovered that the updated current market rate for this type of work is more in line with $60,000 to $70,000.”

Salary Questions During a Job Interview

Now let’s say you’re in an interview for a new job, and the employer asks you what you expect in terms of salary. Here are a few ways you can respond:

  • Salary is not the number one motivating factor for me in this decision. I’m really excited about the challenges and opportunities at your company, and I’m sure the team will put together a package that works for everyone.
  • While money is important, it is not the only aspect I consider in a position. I am eager to first learn more about the position and duties as well as the benefits that are offered. Once I have the entire picture, I may have a better idea about my salary requirements. Could we discuss this later in the interview process and in the context of an offer?

But what if the employer insists that you must provide a figure? What do you do? You could respond in one of these ways:

  • Can you tell me what the salary range is for this job? I’m sure it is in line with what I am looking for.
  • What range do you have budgeted for this position?

If that doesn’t work, you could give a range based on your research:

  • Based on research that I have conducted, it appears that the market rate for this type of position is somewhere between $60,000 and $90,000, depending on many other job factors. However, right now I am most concerned with learning as much as I can about the position, fit, and other benefits before I can come up with a specific number.

Salary History Questions

It is worth noting another potential salary situation that could arise, although this should be less likely nowadays. This issue is when you are asked about your salary history on job applications or in interviews. Sharing what you were making in previous jobs obviously may reduce your likelihood of being able to negotiate for much more. However, this is especially not applicable if you have recently earned a new degree, and now are looking for work based on this new credential. Thankfully this question is now illegal in several cities and states, including New York City as of October 2017. Simply enter “salary history law” in your favorite search engine to determine if your target geographical areas are protected. Whether illegal or not in your region, if this question does come up, you have a few choices:

  • On an application you can add your salary so that you can move on, leave the question blank, or add zeros
  • In an interview, you might be tempted to point out that the question is illegal, although this might not go over well. You instead could say: Due to having a new degree and skills, I do not believe my past earnings are relevant for this conversation.
  • Finally, you could share your current or last salary and then give sound arguments about how the new job responsibilities are more demanding, a higher level, or how you have acquired new skills or credentials (such as a graduate degree).

Using the above strategies, you can successfully navigate tricky questions and requests about salary and compensation early in the job search process.

Additional Resources

Looking for more information on negotiations? Check out our webinar on negotiating or schedule an appointment with a career advisor for personalized assistance. Stay tuned for our next post in the series: “Negotiating a Faculty Offer”