by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D.
Here’s the scenario: You’ve found the ideal job, but either the job ad or your contact from the human resources department has asked you to forward your salary requirement and/or your salary history. What do you do?
Before we look at your options, let’s examine why employers ask for these things. Most often, the simple reason is that employers want an easy screening device to help sort applicants, and those applicants with a salary requirement too low or too high are discarded. Other times, the employer is looking to save money by hiring a job-seeker at the low end of a salary range. In either case, it’s not really fair to the job-seeker. With a salary history, employers also want to see frequency and size of raises and promotions.
What can you do about it? Well, first you need to decide whether you want to work for an employer who would screen you out of the hiring process based on salary. What does this method really say about the employer?
Assuming you still do want to work for the company, the next step is determining your response to the request. With salary histories, you don’t have many options. You can attempt to make the point that previous salaries have no bearing on your potential salary — especially if you are changing careers or recently received a new degree or certification, but it’s often not going to fly. So, if you really want to work for the company, bite the bullet and prepare a salary history. Don’t lie about any of your previous salaries, but if you feel you’ve been underpaid in the past, make sure you make a case for a higher salary — both in your cover letter and in your salary history. Be sure the paper, style, and typeface of your salary history matches those of your resume and cover letter. See two examples of salary histories.
Then there is the question of your salary requirement. Before you even think about answering that question, you should do some research and make sure you know how much you’re worth. Go to our salary negotiation resources section to find links to several great Web sites that provide salary information.
What are the factors that go into determining your worth?
- Your career path. Regardless of what you’ve been paid in the past, spend some time reviewing industry reports of salary ranges for people following your career path — and especially those in the position you are seeking.
- The industry of the employer. Salaries can range based on the industry of the employer. For example, companies in a service industry such as tourism often pay less than companies in a manufacturing industry such as technology.
- The geographic location. The cost of living varies dramatically in different parts of the country. For example, it costs much more to live in San Francisco than it does in Orlando.
- The demand for job-seekers. If there is a glut of job-seekers with essentially the same skills and experience that you have, you can expect salaries to be lower than if similar job-seekers are in short supply.
- Compensation beyond salary. It’s often easier said than done, but you should sometimes look beyond the salary number and examine the total compensation package. It’s possible the better job offer is not the one with the highest salary. See Comparing Two or More Job Offers.
Finally, assuming you have determined you really want the job, how do you respond to a salary requirement request? There are a number of strategies, each with its own level of risk:
- provide your salary requirement. Provide the employer with what the company wants, but realize that you run a strong risk of being screened out if you are too far above or below the range the employer has in mind for the position.
- ask for a wide salary range. Even with some basic research, you should be able to determine a salary range for the position. As long as part of your range overlaps with the employer’s range, you should be okay. But what if your highest amount matches their lowest amount? Yup, you will be stuck at the bottom of their pay scale. But, assuming you give a range that is acceptable to you, you should be okay. It may be better to state something like, “a salary in the mid $40’s.”
- state that you expect competitive or fair compensation. Put the ball back in the employer’s court by informing the company in your cover letter that you expect a competitive salary. The danger? If the employer doesn’t offer a competitive salary — or is a stickler for having an actual salary request — you’ve eliminated yourself from being considered for the position.
- express your salary flexibility. Similar to the last strategy, simply state in your cover letter that you are flexible about salary. The danger is again not providing an actual salary request — and that alone could eliminate you from consideration for the position.
- state that you would prefer to discuss salary in an interview, but make sure to add that you don’t think salary will be a problem. The danger is again not providing an actual salary request — and that alone could eliminate you from consideration for the position.
- give your salary history. Ignore the request for a specific amount and simply show your salary history — with the idea that your next job offer should be reasonably higher than your current salary. The problem here is that you have not provided the information the employer seeks, and you may be eliminated.
- ignore the salary request. Many people believe that employers have no right making a salary request so early in the process and simply ignore the request. The most likely occurrence? If you ignore the request, your application will most likely be ignored as well.
Whenever possible, do not volunteer information about your salary history or your salary expectations or requirements in your cover letter, resume, or during a job interview. Information is power in job-hunting, and your goal should always be to hold on to your power as long as possible by delaying discussions about salary as long as possible.
Read more strategies and tips in our Salary Negotiation Tutorial.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
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