Great expectations

Applying to jobs online is frustrating enough without having to deal with completing the onerous job application  which never seems to pull in the résumé data properly. Arrrrgh…..

So, after doing that, you’re then confronted with the dreaded question:

“What are your salary expectations?”

It’s at this point that even the most battle-hardened jobseeker can have a panic attack. How can you answer this question without being rejected because you’ve either given too low or too high a number? 

How do you know that when you provide the magic number, you’re not short-changing yourself?

To be honest, there’s no easy answer and no guarantees. How you deal with this inevitability depends on how the application form is set up.

Many of them require you to complete the salary section whether you want to or not. If you don’t provide the data, you can’t submit the application.

Everything hinges on your number

Many companies request a salary expectation as a strategy to drill down to the candidates who fall within the desired salary range.

The more discrepancy between what you want and what the employer is willing to pay, the less likely you will be filtered in.

But without knowing all of the details about the position, how are you supposed to know what you would “expect”?

You won’t 100%.

You’ll basically have to come up with a number that is realistic based on the information you have about the role, the value you have to offer, and what the market will bear.

And then hope that it’s the number the employer can work with.

Where do you start?

The first thing is to research what the position pays in your target industry and in your location as the salary will vary depending on a number of factors. Some popular sites to check out are Glassdoor,, and PayScale but there are others you can google.

Another way to find out salaries is to reach out to people you know in your target field and see if they will share that information. They probably won’t, but it wouldn’t hurt to ask.

Once you’ve done the research and you’re pretty confident you’ve come up with a realistic range, you need to determine where you fall in that range and the minimum you would accept.

For example, if you give a range, like $45,000 to $55,000, it’s human nature for the hiring authority to hope you will take $45,000. If you aren’t prepared to take that, then you need to increase the low number to something that you will accept as the base salary, exclusive of any benefits, bonuses, and other incentives.

The different application scenarios

#1: The cover letter

Some applications will ask you to quote your desired salary in your cover letter.

What they really want is for you to give them a specific number. Don’t do that. Instead, come up with a broad range, with the low number being acceptable to you. You can explain in the letter, that once you have more details about the position, you can give them a more specific number.

You can also let the employer know you are “flexible” depending on the various incentives the compensation package might offer.

#2: The drop-down menu

Another application might have a drop down menu with a selection of salary ranges to choose from. You’ll have no choice but to pick one range, so make sure that the low number is acceptable to you.

You could take a chance and pick the next range up to give you some padding, but you could price yourself out of the job.

It might be better to stay in a conservative range and then address the salary later on in the process once you have all the information. If they really want you, you will have more leverage to negotiate.

#3: The salary field

Some applications provide a box where you must include a specific dollar amount. There is no room to provide a salary range or any kind of explanation and you can’t leave the box blank because it’s a required field.

In this case, make sure that the number aligns with reality and something you would be happy accepting based on what you know about the position.

#4:  The best case scenario

If you’re really lucky, the application will provide a box where you can offer a range and then include an explanation. In this case, you could say something like:

The market value for this role ranges from $55K to $69K. Given my certification, education, and years experience, my desired salary would fall in that range. The specific number will depend upon company benefit package and applicable incentives.

Now, if you quote $55K as the low end, you better be prepared to take that, otherwise increase the low number to something you will be happy taking.

Just accept it

At the end of the day, it really comes down to doing the research, deciding what’s acceptable to you, and then owning it.

The job search process is stressful enough without having to agonize over the whole salary expectation situation.

While you need to come up with a reasonable range, just accept the fact that it probably won’t be “perfect”. You might cost yourself some money or lose out on an opportunity because your number didn’t align with the company.

If your salary expectation is not within the employer’s range, then you aren’t a “fit” and won’t get selected anyways, so you really haven’t lost anything.

The other way to look at it is this:

Do you really want to work for an organization who only cares about a number and can’t take the time to look at your overall value?

Like I said, you haven’t really lost anything.

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