How to Negotiate Salary Requirements
Q: How do I respond when a job application asks me for my salary requirements? – Charles F., San Francisco, CA
A: The first time you see “salary requirements” requested on a job application, you may feel like you’re Shaq in his prime negotiating his free agency. But as a recent graduate, you are a D-league player at best, so it’s really a no-win situation.
On the one hand, the company may be using the salary requirement as a screening process—if you are too high, you might not be considered. On the other hand, they might be trying to save money by finding people who will work for cheap. So unless you’re Criss Angel, you don’t want to dig your own grave because you may not be able to get out of it. There’s no cut-and-dry response to this crafty corporate gambit, but here are a few tactics we can suggest. (In general, the query should be addressed at the end of a cover letter.)
Do your research.
Look into the industry that interests you and find comparable positions. Find other job listings, talk to people who work in the industry, or give Salary.com a shot. If you think you can get away with it you might consider writing something like, “I expect a competitive salary,” but again you’re avoiding the question, which is not what you want to do in the face of a potential employer. But don’t just throw out a number that “seems reasonable.” Check the standards and also take into account the cost of living and relocation if it’s a factor for you.
Give a range.
You really don’t need to say, “I expect to receive $34,553.78 per annum.” Figure out the industry standard and say something like, “A salary in the low- to mid-thirties.” Covering the basics without being evasive shows that you are a diplomatic wizard.
Say you would prefer to discuss compensation in an interview but don’t imagine it will be a problem. Some people claim this is a good move, but it seems pretty suspect. Also, you are still going to have to deal with it at some point. The reason to pursue this tactic would be if you shine in an interview setting and think that getting that far will boost your negotiating power.
Provide a salary history.
Sometimes you will be asked to do this. If not, it is fair to assume that with each new job you expect a pay raise (unless you are changing industries). Provide your current salary and make it clear that you expect an increase.
Benefits and Bonus
Generally speaking, benefits should be stipulated or expected, so you don’t need to say “plus benefits” when you give your salary requirements. However, if you’re applying to an industry or position that often ties salary to performance (again, do your research), you may consider listing a base salary but noting that you consider a raise/bonus upon the completion of certain benchmarks.