Not sure what to write for the desired salary when applying for a job?
We asked managers and HR experts to present a deeper insight on what to write, and what not to write on your job application.
Table of Contents
- Put the salary you feel you are worthy of
- Avoid negotiating compensation before you negotiate the job
- Research salaries in the local area
- Provide an acceptable range
- Provide an exact figure
- Turn the question around on the interviewer
- He or she that speaks first loses
- Work backward from your financial needs
- You don’t want to undervalue your skillset
- Don’t sell yourself short
- Put the “market rate”
- Don’t list your current wage
CEO, Hire Talent
Put the salary you feel you are worthy of
You should always put the salary you feel you are worthy of and what will allow you to maintain or incrementally improve your desired standard of living.
If you put anything less than that you will always be unhappy with your job. Being unhappy at work where you spend most of your time is miserable, if the job doesn’t pay what will make you happy then it’s not the right job for you. This unhappiness will inevitably catch up with you until you quit or find something else.
Long term success comes from doing something for long enough to become an expert at that job, short term jobs that last less than 1 year an extremely detrimental to your ability to demonstrate expertise.
Ideally doing a job for at least three years is what it takes to begin to demonstrate mastery. With mastery income and financial reward will follow, so if you are trying to level up your income think about sticking with a career for longer than three years at a time. This way if you do move to another company you will be in a better position to get a significantly higher level of compensation.
Career Coach | Author, The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide
Avoid negotiating compensation before you negotiate the job
It is my belief that the negotiation process in job search begins at the very point at which information is requested that you would prefer not to provide; including detail necessary to complete the application for employment. I am always surprised by how much stress and uncertainty this question causes.
Related: 17 Best Negotiation Books
Here are a few thoughts on how to best address this request so it becomes a non-issue:
Providing salary information is a standard operating procedure for most job applications.
Nowadays, many state laws prohibit companies from requesting salary history; but expectations for desired compensation are the norm. Do your homework and research in advance so that you are not stumped when it is more than likely that this request will be made either prior to an interview or during the interview process.
This information is readily available through a range of websites such as salary.com and by reaching out to people in similar positions through your network or LinkedIn or other professional networking sites. Offer up a reasonable range based on the data you have gathered so that you achieve the overriding goal: to move forward in your interviews.
I encourage my clients to “give it up” on an employment application.
It is not a debate. The application is simply a point of entry. You can always negotiate when an offer is extended. Hopefully, at that point they will realize how valuable you are and have the potential to be, and that you are worth far more than they initially thought.
The point, always, is to avoid negotiating compensation before you negotiate the job.
You create a competitive advantage when you demonstrate with passion and conviction that your skills and experience are a perfect match. That’s what every hiring manager wants, and needs, to see.
When you make an issue out of compensation too early in the process, you risk being eliminated from consideration before this essential information has been communicated and they risk missing out on a great candidate.
Human Resources Lead, Develop Intelligence
Research salaries in the local area
An increasing number of states now prohibit asking applicants what they would consider being an acceptable salary for a position. Applicants should be aware of their own state regulations and if they are in a state where it’s not permissible to ask, be sure to leave the section blank!
If you’re in a state where salary can still be discussed prior to an offer, it’s recommended to research salaries in the local area for the position for which you’re applying.
When you understand what companies are paying, you can then consider your experience and skillset and determine in which percentile you would place yourself.
Applicants become stressed because they feel this is some type of a game in which they cannot win. Use data to your advantage and be willing to talk about why you’re worth the money you’re asking for. If you’re concerned you’re not asking for enough, you can still negotiate at the time an offer is made.
Director, Brooklyn Resume Studio
There are a few tips I give clients in terms of how to discuss compensation requirements in the interview process and on the application. It really depends upon the scenario and how the form/application is structured:
Provide an acceptable range
If the compensation is not defined in the job description, you can provide a range based on your expectations. The bottom of the range should be the minimum that you are willing to accept for the position, and the top of the range at or just above your ideal, with the intention that they will come back with an offer that is somewhere in between.
Do not make the range too broad, and make sure it is acceptable based on your experience, level, and skill set.
Provide an exact figure
If the application requires an exact figure, use the range scale above to provide that target figure, ideally within the middle of your range. Assuming the position is a lateral or upward move, aim for a slight increase over your previous position, and be willing to disclose what you made in your most recent role.
If you’re unclear, utilize resources like Glassdoor to research comparable salaries in your specialty and market, and average them to get a clearer picture of what your skill set can reasonably command.
Turn the question around on the interviewer
You can ask the hiring manager or recruiter directly is there is a defined salary or compensation level for the position. If there is, you can simply acknowledge whether or not it within your range without providing a specific figure.
This is a good tactic if you’re concerned about undervaluing or out-pricing yourself. In the end, it’s best to be upfront to make sure the role is a fit for both you and the employer.
Nationally Certified Career Counselor, Job Searching
He or she that speaks first loses
When it comes to salary negotiation, he or she that speaks first loses. On a job application, I always recommend that if the application is being filled out online that you list $99,999.99 as your salary. You do this for a few very important reasons.
In most cases, it is a mandatory field that you must fill out before you can go any further in the application process. Second, it is an immediate flag on your application because no HR manager in the world would think that you are earning $99,999.99 a year. It is instead, a conversational opener with the HR manager, who in most cases is curious as to why you would enter that amount into the salary requirement. When I asked you simply reply that there was no way to write “negotiable.”
If you are filling out an old-fashioned paper application then simply write negotiable we’re salary requirement is listed on the application.
The art of salary negotiation is like dancing on pins. It is the HR manager’s job to get the job seeker into the organization at the lowest possible price. On the other hand, it is the job seekers challenge to negotiate for the highest possible price.
If you list your salary on the application all negotiation ends in the favor of the company. You, the job seeker has just revealed the highest possible salary that you would be willing to accept. From there, it is downward negotiation in terms of final salary agreed upon. That’s because he (the job seeker) spoke first (via the job application) and lost the ability to negotiate.
Final thought. If the job seeker goes first and fewer salary requirements, they will never know if their salary request was either too high or too low.
If it is too high, they automatically price themselves out of that position and any other similar positions the company; If the requested salary is too low, they may eliminate themselves from interviewing for this job and other similar jobs in this company because they may not be considered qualified enough because they are not asking for enough money.
Work backward from your financial needs
You need to take into account what this job can give you, including money, skills, and network. A new job is a huge opportunity for personal and professional growth, so make sure that you take into account what the job is worth to you in that respect as well.
In terms of exactly what number you need to put for an expected salary, I’d advocate largely disregarding industry averages. Instead, work backward from your financial needs.
What do you need to accomplish your financial goals?
Think about your outstanding debts, future large purchase plans, and daily living expenses. You shouldn’t apply for a job that won’t meet your financial needs, and you needn’t transform a fantastic opportunity into something that won’t meet your basic survival requirements.
Again, however, I urge job seekers to consider more than just the dollar amount when deciding on the above. A job is more than the monetary compensation, it’s a total package of financial security, as well as personal and professional growth.
Business Manager, Jefferson Frank
You don’t want to undervalue your skillset
Although it can seem one of the easiest questions on an application form, the number you enter in the salary expectation field can decide whether you’re considered for the next stage of the recruitment process.
You don’t want to undervalue your skillset or ruin your negotiation stance further down the line, but if your personal valuation is way off the mark it can also remove you from running.
To get the salary you want, I’d suggest going with one of two approaches:
- First off, use an open-ended response in the application such as negotiable or to be discussed during the interview. Smart businesses will pick up on this, and it can open up a common communication channel if you’re invited for an interview.
- Secondly, you can go for a numerical range such as $70,000 – $80,000 as this shows a prospective employer that you’ve done your homework and know your market value.
Don’t sell yourself short
When applying for jobs, it’s important not to sell yourself short when it comes to giving a desired salary range.
Do your research on the company you’re applying to so you can have a better understanding of the current salary range for the open position. Also, look at the salary range for the industry you’re looking to get into. Both of these tips will help you better gauge the salary you should aim for.
If you feel your experience and skills are worth more than the average, aim higher. There’s nothing wrong with giving a salary range that’s a little higher than the average. The lowest number you offer should still be one that is practical.
Aiming a little bit higher can actually be a smart thing to do. That way, if a company offers lower than the highest number you offered, it’s still in a range that works for you.
Layne Kertamus, SPHR
Founder, Asperian Nation
Put the “market rate”
The best way to answer this question is to put the “market rate” because of the following reasons:
- It demonstrates that you are tuned into the market rate for your skills.
- It gives you an opportunity to discuss the market as a starting point that can go up depending upon the company’s pay philosophy and benefits.
- You don’t have to defend yourself or low ball to get the job.
- It puts the burden on the employer to explain how they set salaries.
Always present yourself in a way (both skillset and mindset) that delivers way more value for the money than any other candidate.
Zach Townsend, PHR, SHRM-CP
Don’t list your current wage
No matter what salary you choose to ask for, consider not listing your current wage on any job applications.
Many states and cities are passing salary history laws that prevent employers from inquiring about past pay. Laws around salary history are designed to help bridge the wage gap for women and minorities, groups that statistically have lower incomes. Even if you don’t live in an area with these laws, providing your salary information when you don’t need to could lead to leaving money on the table.