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How to Answer the "What Are Your Salary Expectations?" Question

How to Answer the "What Are Your Salary Expectations?" Question

Whether you have to share your salary expectations when submitting an application, in a first round interview, or later in the hiring process, it’s usually something that gives many people a lot of anxiety.

Below are a few simple steps to take to feel confident and prepared to answer the question at whatever stage in the process you get asked.

1) Start with research.

There are lots of sites out there that can help you figure out what salary ranges in companies and organizations might be.

One of the most common is Glassdoor.com. First, search for salaries at the specific organization. If you don’t see the job title listed in the reported salaries, look for other titles that are of the same level. For example, if you’re applying for a "Marketing Manager" role, but there are no salaries shared with that title, look up "Manager" and see what other manager level roles pay. If you can’t find any "Manager" salaries, look up "Coordinator" and "Director" and it’s likely the manager role will fall in the middle.

If you’re still coming up empty, do a general search (outside of the specific organization) for the job title you’re applying for, and use some of their filters to filter by location, size of company, and years of experience you bring to give you a potential range.

Aside from Glassdoor, there’s Payscale, Salary.com, Indeed, and other tools specific to industries.

Looking for nonprofit salaries? An additional research resource is an organization’s 990 report. Nonprofits are required to submit a report to the IRS that outlines their revenue and expenses - and that includes disclosing the salaries of some of the highest-paid employees. While this wouldn’t tell you specific lower-level salaries, it can sometimes help to understand how the organization pays.

For example, you can see on the Girl Scouts of the USA 990 that their CEO was paid $550k+, and other senior-level executives were paid over $300k+. It would stand to reason that mid-level role salaries there would be comfortably in the six-figures. Meanwhile, if you look at another nonprofit, The Trust for Governors Island, you’ll see that all the senior leadership (including the CEO) are paid in the $100-160k range, which might mean the salary levels for mid-level roles might not be as likely to be six figures.

First thing’s first: Do your research. Look at a variety of different sources to get a sense as to what the market rate is for your work, and find any company-specific salary info to help inform your answer.

[Related: Make Noise + Make Change: Three Actionable Ways to Fast-Track Gender Equality in the Workplace Now]

2) Check in with yourself.

While all the above research can help, at the end of the day, you need to think about what salary level YOU want and need.

If you’re not sure, first think about how much you need to live. You don’t want to make less money than you spend to live!

But also think about the value you bring to an organization --- do you have certain skills, experiences, accomplishments, connections, and knowledge that you believe should be valued at a certain salary level?

I always suggest coming up with three numbers:

  1. Your floor number: What is the number at which you would walk away from the job? This is the bottom and floor of where you’re willing to be.
  2. Your solid number: What salary number would you feel good about?
  3. Your ideal number: What’s the ideal salary you’re looking for?

Your floor number is for you. In general, you don’t want to share this bottom number with an employer. You might want to share a range that takes in your solid and ideal number if it feels in line with what your research has shown is a possible range for the role.

For example, one woman I worked with recently shared that $130k was her floor. She was really hoping ideally for $170k, but would feel good in the $150-160k range as well.

When coming up with her range that she was going to share with the recruiter (after she’d done her research to confirm the salary range could be 130-160k), she shared that her range was between $150 and 170k.

She felt more comfortable sharing those numbers, knowing it was likely in range with what was budgeted, and was able to solidify herself on the higher end of the scale with the 20k range she gave.

[Related: Use Intuition to Guide Your Career Moves]

3) Prep your language.

If you have to share your salary expectations in a cover letter or application, here’s some handy language to use - just drop in the range that you’ve come up with after going through steps one and two above:

My salary expectations are dependent on the full compensation and benefits package offered. The salary range I’m looking for is between $x and y.

If you get asked in an interview for your salary expectations, you have a few options. First, you can always toss it back to the interviewer and say something like:

I’m so glad you brought up the salary level. Would you be able to share with me what you all have budgeted for this role?

If they don’t offer information back, or if you feel unable to ask them first, you can respond with something like:

My salary expectations are dependent on the full compensation and benefits package offered. And I’d like to more fully understand the scope and responsibilities of the role, but at this stage with my understanding of the role, the salary level I would be hoping for would be between $x and y. Does that sound in line with what you all have budgeted for the role?

Talking about and sharing your salary expectations does not need to be scary. The best way to lessen the stress, anxiety, and awkwardness that you might feel about discussing salary is to do your research, really think about what you want, and prepare your language for how you’re going to share it.

[Related: Focus on Your Next Employer Before Searching for that Perfect Job]

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Emily Lamia has been helping people grow and develop in their careers for over a decade. In 2015, she founded Pivot Journeys to create experiences to help individuals navigate their next career move and find meaningful work.


Have more questions? Follow up with the expert herself.

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