How to Answer Salary Question
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Pre-Interview Prep Arms You With Valuable Salary Statistics
When you’re applying for jobs, you may find hiring managers ask about your salary history. This gauges the compensation range you're accustomed to, as well as helps them decide whether they can afford you, or on the other hand, make you a low-ball offer to start the negotiation process. There are ways, however, that you can frame or debate the salary question to your benefit.
Salary Range on Application
On job applications, you may find a category that asks for your starting and ending salary in previous positions. When you’re filling in the blanks on a hard-copy application, you have the option of leaving this section blank or writing something non-descriptive, such as “variable” or “commission-based.” While you may be pressed to be more specific if you make it to the interview stage, this approach allows you to keep this critical information to yourself until you pass the initial stage of the application process. In an online application submission portal, however, you may be required to enter a number into this category for the system to except your submission.
Another question you may be asked on a job application or in an interview is “what are your salary requirements?” A hiring manager asks this question to determine the financial range you're looking for. Much like the company is trying to hire a position at the lowest possible rate, you are looking for the highest range of the pay scale available to the role. Since salary is often negotiable, respond to this question with a range in which the lower end is actually your acceptable minimum number. For example, if you want to earn $50,000 a year, you might indicate your salary range preference is $50,000-$65,000.
Note: Don’t let your earning history deter you from asking for more in a new role. If you’re questioned about the fact that your last job paid you $35,000 a year and you’re now asking for $50,000, have a ready response. For example, “Unfortunately, my previous employer paid a wage far below market value.”
Often, benefit packages that include health insurance, life insurance, retirement, 401(k) or profit-sharing and bonus structures add a significant cash value to your overall compensation package. Keep this in mind when negotiating your salary. For example, as part of the salary negotiation process, you might ask the cash value of your benefits package to help you factor your actual compensation figure.
Other Salary Questions
If a company offers you the job, but asks you what your salary requirements are, rather than making an offer, have concrete figures on hand to justify your asking amount. The U.S. Labor Department Occupational Outlook Handbook is a good resource for evaluating current salary ranges across a wide range of positions. Use this as a basis for making your request.
Published Salary Ranges
Some employers will note salary as part of a job posting, in which case, you have an idea of the potential compensation range the company will offer. Companies do this because a range gives them wiggle room to move up or down the scale based on an applicant's work history, experience and education. You can anticipate where you’re likely to fall along with scale by deciphering the job description. For example, if the job asks for five-to-10 years of experience, and you have five years experience, chances are you will be on the lower end of the scale.
When Salary Isn’t Posted
If you go into an interview blind about the potential salary range, and are asked to provide a number, hedge your bet by asking what the previous person holding the position earned. This will give you an idea of what the company has been willing to pay in the past.
Think About the Offer
If you’re unsure about whether an offered salary will meet your expectations and your financial needs, you don't have to accept it on the spot. Ask for a few days to think it over, go home and crunch the numbers. You don't want to find yourself in a position that leaves you unable to meet your basic financial obligations or attain your long-term financial goals.
When it's Not Enough
What if you love a job, see lots of room for advancement and potential salary growth, but the offer is a low starting wage? In this case, you face the difficult position of accepting something with the hope that it will grow into more, or passing it up. If you find yourself here, and are leaning toward not taking the job, be frank with the hiring manager. Example:
“As much as I would love to take this job, I’m afraid the salary doesn’t allow me to meet my financial obligations.”
There may still be some wiggle room in the hiring manager’s budget—if not, you leave things on decent terms, and if a higher-paying role opens up in the future, you already have a foot in the door.
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Lisa McQuerrey has been a business writer since 1987. In 1994, she launched a full-service marketing and communications firm. McQuerrey's work has garnered awards from the U.S. Small Business Administration, the International Association of Business Communicators and the Associated Press. She is also the author of several nonfiction trade publications, and, in 2012, had her first young-adult novel published by Glass Page Books.