Q: I applied online for a job I would love to have. Their system required me to submit the salary I’m hoping for, with no way to put in a range or skip the question. I submitted what I thought was a fair wage based on the description of the position, but, frankly, I was flying blind. I could have priced myself out of consideration or committed myself to a lower salary than the position actually warrants. Is this a way of weeding out applicants who want too much? Any guidance on how best to handle this in the future, and particularly what to do if I get the interview and want to negotiate a higher rate?
A: Frustrating as it may be for applicants, the employer doesn’t want to commit itself to a bad deal any more than you do—or waste anyone’s time. Asking for salary requirements helps ensure that résumé spammers will weed themselves out, while truly interested and qualified applicants will be more likely to submit a good-faith salary request within an appropriate range. Also, asking candidates for their hoped-for income is safer and fairer than asking for their income history. The latter practice can perpetuate pay disparity—and, in fact, it’s been outlawed in a growing number of states and localities.
The way to handle it is just as you did, with one tweak: Submit what you think is a fair wage and what you would happily accept for the position described. If that figure is so high it puts you out of the running, that still beats being underpaid and resentful.
“The first thing we tell our candidates is to do their homework,” says Trey Barnette, Washington D.C. regional vice president for staffing agency Robert Half. That means researching pay ranges on sites such as Glassdoor, Indeed, CareerBuilder and Monster. Robert Half provides a free customized salary guide that breaks down pay ranges by industry, position and skill level—plus a market variance index based on local labor markets and cost of living.
Knowing what you could “happily” accept is a trickier calculation. But for starters, I can’t imagine any “dream job” worth depriving yourself of basic comforts. So don’t talk yourself into accepting less than you can afford to live on just because you would “love to have” this job. Likewise, don’t submit a lowball salary while hoping to pull a bait-and-switch once you’re in the interview.
One exception: If you get to the negotiating phase and learn that the job requires more skills or responsibility than initially advertised, it’s fair to raise your asking price: “The salary I quoted in my application was based on the description in your job posting. Now that I better understand what the job entails, it seems to me that a salary of [marked-up amount] would be more in line with this position.” If you’ve done your research, you should have no qualms about making this request—and a scrupulous and knowledgeable employer should have no qualms about granting it.