What’s your expected salary?

How to get what you’re worth without scaring potential employers away

Even experienced professionals are often stumped by the perplexing section labeled with the words “Expected Salary?” that is appearing on more and more job applications. Entry-level professionals who are searching for qualifying positions have an even more difficult time entering a number into the “expected salary” field. There is a delicate balance that is difficult to strike between asking for enough money to support a good quality of life and presenting yourself as a potentially valuable asset, while also appearing reasonable. How does a professional satisfy their own salary expectations without scaring away the gatekeeper to a potentially great job opportunity?

Why do employers ask for an expected salary, anyway?

A great first step toward understanding how to answer the “What’s your expected salary?” question on a job application is to understand why employers ask the question in the first place. While some companies are looking for a bargain – and this is also a good way for you to weed out employers that are not a good fit for you – there are many other reasons for requesting an expected salary on a job application. Hiring employees is an expensive process, and training them can be even more expensive. For this reason, companies like to be sure that a candidate is a good fit for a position before pursuing them. Hiring managers want to know how you value your work, and if you are confident in what you do as well.

Understand the company

Unfortunately, many job applicants delay researching a company until they are at the interview stage of the process. In many instances, this practice can cause unprepared individuals to miss out on great opportunities. This applies to the “What’s your expected salary?” question in particular. Researching the company and where it stands in the industry is important when thinking about the kind of salary the company may pay. For instance, a top-tier developing company may pay more to its entry-level employees than would a local small business online marketing firm. The difference in scale would definitely come into play.

A great place to start in researching a company’s place in the market is the company website. You can usually find out how long the company has been in business, their caliber of customer, as well as how many employees they have. If you want a quick overview of fast growing private companies, check out the Inc. 5000 List. Another great resource for understanding a company’s place in their market is the Better Business Bureau’s site.

Research the current market

Another important consideration is the market in which you are searching for a job. Consider the job market in your industry. Is it saturated with quality candidates? Or is your industry full of empty positions waiting to be filled by skilled professionals? If you’re lucky enough to be in the latter situation, it is safe to provide a higher expected salary amount on your job application. However, if you’re in the former group, salaries in your industry overall may be dropping so a lower expected salary may be a safer bet.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics regularly does in-depth studies of the current state of the countries employment. Their site is a great resource for more information about the outlook for hiring in your industry. Another important market consideration has less to do with job availability and more to do with industry growth. For example, the IT industry started an amazing upward trajectory of growth a few decades ago and is not showing any signs of slowing down. For that reason, it is generally safe to assume that any jobs in IT, data, or software development can demand a higher expected salary. However, the Deloitte site is usually a great place to go for more information about industry growth.

Consider quality of life

While it is important to strategize and try your best to get a call back on every job application, honesty is the best policy when it comes to the expected salary question. It does not do you or a hiring company any good to invest time if a position just doesn’t pay enough to support your current or expected quality of life. In a way, you can view the “What’s your expected salary?” question as protection for yourself as well as hiring companies against wasting your, and their, time.

However, the cost of your expected quality of life can differ greatly depending on where you live and work. You can check out this article that lists various cost of living calculators for more help with expected salaries in a new city.

Put it all together

In today’s current economic climate, finding a job can be tough. The sheer amount of online applicants can make it difficult to “get what you’re worth”. However, before communicating your expected salary to an employer be sure to understand their place in the industry, research the market, and be honest about your needs to maintain your quality of life. Applying for jobs online has given both employees and employers greater access to opportunities than ever before, but it is sometimes difficult to sift through all the options on the internet. Thankfully, online applicants and hiring managers alike can view the “What’s your expected salary?” question less as a trick and more as a tool to select opportunities that are a better fit.

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