Before You Talk Salary, Read This

Salary negotiation can be nerve racking and have a major impact on your financial stability on a yearly basis.  If you’re out of work and desperately seeking employment, it puts you in an even tougher position to balk at a less than desirable offer.  Over the course of my time working with job seekers on their resumes and cover letters, I often get asked about how to address salary requirements on the documents.  Below are a few tips to consider:

  • If you are not asked to submit a salary requirement range or previous salary history, do not provide it unprompted.  Doing so could weed you out of the screening process if the employer thinks you’re overpriced, or on the flipside, cause the potential offer to be lower if your range is below what the company was willing to offer.
  • We recommend not including this information on your resume unless you are applying for a Federal Job.  Federal jobs have set salaries depending on the GS level you qualify for so there is not as much room for negotiation.  Federal resumes require that you include the salaries you received at each previous position.
  • If an employer requires that you submit your salary requirements on your resume or cover letter, be sure to research the industry you’re targeting to get an accurate idea of what a reasonable salary expectation would be.  From there, list a range that covers both ends of the spectrum (ie: $45,000 to $55,000) and typically you will include this in a cover letter.  This gives you some wiggle room for negotiation if you get to that stage of the application process. 
  • The final tip is to be honest!  It is easy for an employer to do a little research and figure out what your previous salaries were.  Don’t give them any reason to remove you from consideration because you lied about your previous salary.

In most cases, the salary discussion will happen later in the process once you’ve interviewed and been vetted for the new role.  In the case of an employer asking for this information early, hopefully these tips will prepare you to be confident in that scenario!  

20 comments

  1. This is the advise I give to my candidates to answer the question of the salary.
    Interviewer: I wanted to know what you salary expectations are for this position.
    Candidate: Before I share that with you, can I ask you a question? What is the budget allocated for this position?
    If the Interviewer hesitates to tell you the budget, this is how you counter again:
    Candidate: I understand that you will not be able to share your number but if I may elaborate my situation – I am not privy to the salary scales in your organization so any number that I tell you would be theoretical. And giving you a number may disqualify me as “too expensive”. So if you tell me what your budget is, I can tell you whether something in that range is acceptable to me or not. That way, I have the assurance that I am not getting less than what I could have got and at the same time, I am not revealing my expectation.

  2. That approach on the salary is very unprofessional. Why do you want to be argumentative
    With your future boss. That is starting in the wrong foot. You should say the truth about
    Your salary. Anyway whatever they offer you you have the option of rejecting and
    Negotiate . Your best argument for getting the maximum salary is to stress the value
    You bring to this position. If you don’t bring value , you should apply someplace se

  3. Recently I went for a job interview & the interviewer asked my about my salary expectation I quoted him my salary from previous job & when I asked what their range was he said we don’t know It all depends on the experience & H.R. knows the salary we don’t. After 3 weeks I found out they offered the position to another candidate I shouldn’t have disclosed my salary should have said I am flexible that way they will wonder about my salary expectation it’s not fair what they did.

  4. ‘Carol’ – …and you’re sure it wasn’t your level of English skills which created the obstacle? I had a tough enough reading your short paragraph without mentally applying punctuation and repairing grammar on my second pass; by the third pass, I was able to understood what you “wrote.”

  5. Hector, I somewhat disagree. It could have been done more diplomatically perhaps, but giving away your primary negotiating point is a problem. If you have no idea of what the range is, then you should not throw a figure out there. Perhaps you were previously overpaid (that’s why they got rid of you?), or perhaps you were very cheap – why give a new employer the same chance to get you cheap. Unless you’re really sure what the ‘normal’ range for your industry is, better not to guess.
    Don’t forget that in negotiations, the one who blinks first sets the tone, and ultimately it is that figure that is negotiated around. If you went in too low through ignorance you are then asking them to counter-offer even lower and get you far too cheaply. If you know the range you can always start near the top and negotiate from there, as you said, based on the value you bring.
    As a hiring manager (of predominantly contract labor), I would always counter a rate, even if it were lower than my budget. However, I would see how they worked out and increase it to a better industry standard after a ‘probation’ period if they were doing well. Perhaps I’m unusual, but I wanted to save money, but also not lose good people because they knew they were too cheap. In a mixed team the rate information soon gets out, and causes discontent if perceived to be unequal.
    If offered contract positions myself I always ask for the pay rate before offering my bill rate. In permanent positions I know it is slightly different, but if they just want to get you as cheap as possible, then perhaps you shouldn’t want to work there anyway, unless money isn’t important to you and the commute or benefits, culture etc are the attraction.

  6. Coming at this from a prospective employee’s perspective, I have a good idea what the salary range for my position is in this area and I have two previous salaries to use as a basis. Without knowing what the specific salary range for the new job is, I would reply that I would be comfortable with a salary in the upper 1/3 or upper 1/4 of the range based upon my 20 years experience in this field, etc. This way you are not giving away anything and not putting the interviewer on the spot. Now you both have the info needed.

  7. I enjoyed this conversation, Thanks all. I am currently in the interview process, and a potential employer asked me “how do you feel about taking a step back to learn our system, before you can take a step forward”. My response was “I am not concerned about taking a step back with my title, but from a financial perspective, I need to be paid for the position that I am applying for. I have a family to support”. He told me that he understood, and informed me that he too is the provider for his family. You have to know your value.

  8. I am living in a very small town in a rural area. I applied for jobs knowing I was grossly overqualified for all of them but jobs for my experience were few and far between. I finally applied for a receptionist position in a business that was compatible with my experience. They interviewed me even after they saw my resume and then offered me a different position that was not even being advertised. When it came to the salary discussion, they told me that they were sure that they could not afford me so I agreed to work for 90 days at a grossly reduced rate and we agreed that at the end of 90 days, my salary would either be adjusted to be commensurate with my contribution to the business or we would part company as friends. At the end of 90 days, I got a raise with another to follow 60 days after that. It worked for me but I already knew that jobs for my education and experience were not going to be plentiful. And I could afford to take a lower salary for 90 days.

  9. Recruiters may withhold the range that their client is willing to pay a new hire, quoting the low end with the hope of hiring you on the cheap.
    Often you work for the recruiter for the first ninety days, so it is in their self-interest not to disclose what the company is willing to pay. I would ask about the range rather than to accept a figure that is unreasonably low for my qualifications. Even then, recruiters might not disclose what I might earn if I were hired directly by the company’s HR people.
    Then again, recruiters can decide not to refer you if you ask too many questions. They are in it for the money, not for you. Be careful about talking about money until you get past the recruiter and have convinced the employer that you are a fit.
    Even then, asking to negotiate can be a deal breaker. Be prepared be offered less than you are worth. Know what you will accept in advance.

  10. Scrynt, you sound like a pompous ass, people like you make interviewing an arduous experience.
    I hope you have no influence, in any way, on anyones hiring.
    Nice name by the way.

  11. Scyrnt, sounds like a case of pot calling kettle if you ask me. You’re linguistic leave skills something to be desired here, so I wouldn’t be that quick to judge if I were you. If you’re going to act as the grammar police, might I suggest proofreading your own stuff first.

  12. Scyrnt, Proofread your letter to Carol. “That” and “which” are not interchangeable, and you omitted a word as well.
    Focus: the conversation is about negotiating salary.

  13. I think the best way to deal with salary talk is tell them you are willing to take the low range for a period of time but you do expect to reviewed after the probation period is over with.

  14. Tom P:
    I was pretty much in agreement with you until you wrote the line, “…simply give some outrageous figure like $4.5M or something.”
    No — absolutely, positively, NOT. A flippant answer like that is, first of all, rude; and second, it’s treating the hiring process like it’s a joke.
    Barring a miracle, anyone who does such a thing would be instantly forfeiting any chance at the job.

  15. Tom P is spot on.
    Put yourself in the shoes of being the person interviewing. You’d think the person in front of you was a joke and not the type you laugh at.

  16. It’s amazing, but employers hire who they want to hire and pay what they want to pay. This is one reason they hire all the wrong people they want to hire. You are either over or under qualified when the don’t like you even though they saw your resume before calling you in for an interview. The world is changing fast that your experience and qualifications don’t matter anymore. YOU’VE GOT TO KNOW SOMEBODY.

  17. Knowing the industry standard doesn’t always work. I have been looking for work in HR for some time now. I am fully aware of the average salary of the position I am seeking but am finding difficulty in finding jobs that offer half that.
    Whenever I am asked the salary question in interviews, I simply ask for what that job classification’s range is. If they tell me, then I’ll usually pick somewhere in the middle. If they don’t answer, then I’ll typically let them know I am somewhat flexible.

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