When and How to Disclose Your Salary Requirements
Some job postings ask you to include your salary requirements, or even your salary history, when applying for the position. Companies request salary information for various reasons. If your salary requirement (or salary history) is too high, employers can screen you out because they don't want to pay that much, or because they think you won't be happy working for less money.
On the other hand, if your salary requirement (or your salary history) is lower than the company is willing to pay, they may offer you a lower salary.
To avoid being screened out, and to avoid being offered a low salary, you need to be careful how you describe your salary information.
Read below for tips on how to provide this information without hurting your chances of getting a job, while still receiving a fair salary.
What Are Salary Requirements?
A salary requirement is the amount of compensation a person needs to accept a position. Some employers ask job candidates to give a salary requirement when they apply for a job.
Salary requirements are based on several factors such as:
Prior salary history
Previous work experience
Cost of living
Occasionally, an employer might ask you to include your salary history instead of (or along with) your salary requirements. A salary history is a document that lists your past earnings. The document typically includes the name of each company you worked for, your job title, salary, and benefits package.
Is it Legal for an Employer to Ask for Your Salary Requirements?
Employers can legally ask you to state your salary requirements. However, some states and cities restrict employers from requesting information about your past salary. Check with the state department of labor in your jurisdiction for the latest information on this issue, and the laws that apply in your city and state.
Salary Requirements: Include or Leave Out?
If the job listing doesn't mention it, don't offer any salary information at all. Ideally, you want the prospective employer to bring up the topic of compensation first.
If you are asked to include salary requirements with your application, you could ignore the request, but that means you risk not getting an interview. There is nothing employers like less than when candidates do not follow directions.
It is best to follow instructions. However, there are a few ways you can provide the required information while limiting your risk of being screened out or offered a low salary.
Tips for Including Salary Requirements
When asked to include salary requirements, you can include a salary range rather than a specific amount. This range should be based on the salary research you've done. For example, you can state in your cover letter, “My salary requirement is in the $35,000 - $45,000 range.” This kind of answer gives you some flexibility, and prevents you from locking yourself into a low salary (or being screened out for having too high of a salary).
When stating a salary range, make sure that the range is realistic. Do this by carefully researching what the position is worth:
Use salary surveys to determine the average salary for the position you are interviewing for, or for a similar position if you can't find information on the exact job title.
Use salary calculators to factor in cost-of-living expenses and to estimate what you should be paid in a particular location. There are a variety of salary surveys and calculators, including industry-specific and geographic resources, available online.
Another option is to state that your salary requirements are negotiable based on the position and the overall compensation package, including benefits.
Either way, note that your salary requirements are flexible. That may help keep you in the running for the position and will give you some flexibility when negotiating compensation later on if you get a job offer.
Tips for Including Salary History
If you are asked to include your salary history, you can also list your previous salaries as ranges rather than specific amounts.
But again, always follow any specific instructions about how to include salary history.
If the employer gives specific instructions on how to include salary requirements, follow those rules. For example, if he or she says to give a specific dollar amount (rather than a range), do so.
Again, you want to follow all directions on the job listing. No matter how you include your salary history, always be honest. It's easy for potential employers to check your salary with previous employers. Any false information will get you screened out of the application process.
Where and How to Include Salary Information
Salary requirements can be included in your cover letter with sentences such as "My salary requirement is negotiable based upon the job responsibilities and the total compensation package," or "My salary requirement is in the $25,000 - $35,000+ range."
Keep your reference to salary requirements brief, so the employer can focus on the rest of your cover letter.
If the employer asks you to include your salary requirement in a different way (for example, in your resume), be sure to do so.
There are a few ways you can include your salary history. First, you can include the history in your cover letter, briefly stating what you earn now. For example, you might say, “I currently earn in the mid-forties.” You can also include an itemized list of your previous salaries (or salary ranges), either in your resume or on a separate salary history page that you enclose with your resume and cover letter.
More About Salary: Salary Negotiation Strategies | How to Answer Interview Questions About Your Salary Expectations | Providing Salary History
When a job application asks for my salary requirements, what should I tell them—and will this impact my ability to negotiate if I get offered the job?
I don’t want to put something too high in case I put myself out of their target salary range, but I don’t want to go too low and cheat myself out of what I’m worth.
Can I leave it blank? What is your advice in this situation?
The short answer to your question is that you should include in your job application as high a salary requirement as you can reasonably justify. I’ll explain the “why” in a minute—but first, let’s talk about the “how.”
Do your research to get your number—learn as much as possible about the position and comparable salaries from local and industry sources and job sites such as Glassdoor. See if you can get any insider information, too. Try looking for salary information on the company’s website or doing an informational interview with the position’s recruiter.
You’ll likely come up with a range, and you should put the highest number in that range that applies, based on your experience, education, and skills. And yes, that’s a little aggressive—but bear with me.
Next, I recommend writing “(flexible)” or “(negotiable)” next to your number. If you have room to do so—for example, in your cover letter—stress again that your salary requirement is flexible or negotiable and that there are so many working parts to compensation—benefits, job title, opportunities for advancement—that you’re certain you can find a way to satisfy both of you if you’re a good fit for the position.
Now, I realize that making an aggressive initial offer can be a scary proposition. So let me explain the reasoning.
First, when the value of an item is uncertain—as your services to a prospective employer are—the first number you put on the table acts as a strong “anchor” that will pull the negotiation in its direction throughout the entire bargaining process.
Professor Adam Galinsky of the Kellogg School of Business at Northwestern University has explained the anchoring phenomenon this way: “Items being negotiated have both positive and negative qualities—qualities that suggest a higher price and qualities that suggest a lower price. High anchors selectively direct our attention toward an item's positive attributes while low anchors direct our attention to its flaws.”
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By stating a salary requirement that is lower than your prospective employer might be willing to pay, you not only cheat yourself out of more money, but you might come across as unsophisticated or unprepared. By stating a salary higher than they might be willing to pay, you risk little harm, so long as you indicate that your salary requirements are flexible. And at the same time, you are communicating that you already know your skills are valuable.
Just as important as anchoring high, the second benefit of giving a number at the high end of your range is that you give yourself enough room to negotiate if you’re offered the job.
Research has proven that people are happier with the outcome of a negotiation if their bargaining partner starts at point A, but reluctantly concedes her first couple of requirements before saying “yes.” So, by stating an initial salary that leaves room for negotiation (I recommend room for at least three concessions, or back-and-forth conversations), you’re more likely to get what you actually want.
By far the best advice on making an aggressive opening offer is that contained in Galinsky’s short article, “When to Make the First Offer in Negotiations?” The three major takeaways are these:
1. Don’t Be Afraid to Be Aggressive
Galinksy’s research shows that people typically tend to exaggerate the likelihood of their bargaining partner walking away in response to an aggressive offer, and that most negotiators make first offers that aren’t aggressive enough.
2. Focus on Your Target Price
Determine your best-case-scenario outcome, and focus on that. Negotiators who focus on their target price make more aggressive first offers and ultimately reach more profitable agreements than those who focus on the minimum amount they’d be satisfied with.
3. Be Flexible
Always be willing to concede your first offer. In doing so, you’ll still likely get a profitable deal, and the other side will be pleased with the outcome.
Remember, there’s little to risk if you put out the highest number you can justify, but there’s a lot to lose if you don’t.
This article is part of our Ask an Expert series—a column dedicated to helping you tackle your biggest career concerns. Our experts are excited to answer all of your burning questions, and you can submit one by emailing us at editor(at)themuse(dot)com and using Ask an Expert in the subject line.*
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