by Kristina Cowan

Job interviewing is like art: it requires skill, dexterity, and the right tools and environment. Make one wrong move and the result can be disastrous. This is especially true when it comes to discussing salary requirements. As a job-seeker, approaching a conversation with a prospective employer about salary requirements can be tricky.

How soon can you expect an employer to ask you about your salary requirements? Should you ever include salary requirements in a cover letter? How can you pick a salary that doesn’t aim too high or too low?

To find sage answers to these and other basic questions about salary requirements, I tapped several career experts for their wisdom.

The Ins and Outs of Salary Requirements

Question: When interviewing for a new job, what are some basic principles job-seekers should keep in mind about their salary requirements?
Answers: “Salary requirements should be based on the market value for a particular skill set or job … not on the job seeker’s needs or desires,” says Barbara Safani, president of New York-based Career Solvers, a career-management firm. You should be flexible, too, knowing much can transpire during the time when a job is first posted and when it’s filled, she explains. “If a position seems perfect for you, but the salary is lower than you had hoped for, go through the interview process and sell your value to the hiring manager throughout. Once a hiring manager decides that you are the right candidate, they will be more willing to negotiate salary.”

Dr. Rachelle J. Canter, author of “Make the Right Career Move: 28 Critical Insights and Strategies to Land Your Dream Job,” urges job-seekers to focus not just on salary requirements, but on opportunity. To that end, she advises asking yourself some key questions, such as:

  • Will this job provide you with crucial experiences, skills, and accomplishments that you need to attain your dream job eventually? 
  • Will it fill in critical gaps in your industry or job experience? 
  • Will it give you visibility with an audience you previously were unknown to?

Question: Should job-seekers mention salary requirements in cover letters?
Answer: “No no no-–salary is a way to screen you out (too high or too low), and you want a chance to look over a prospective employer before being eliminated,” Canter explains.

Question: Should job-seekers give an exact salary figure, or a salary range?
Answers: If you have to, give a range for your salary requirements, Canter says, but try to stay focused on whether the job is the right fit.”Once an employer falls in love with you, your negotiating power increases exponentially,” she says.

Safani also recommends a range instead of a specific number, because it gives you wiggle room once you get to the salary negotiation stage.

Question: How soon during the interviewing process can a job-seeker expect the salary requirement conversation to come up?
Answer: It could arise as soon as the first interview, so you need to know your competitive market value before you start interviewing, Safani says. You can try deferring the conversation by saying you’d like to learn more about the job, so you can gauge whether it’s a good match before rolling out your salary requirements. If an employer presses you for a “ballpark figure,” ask for the salary range of the job, Safani says; if they won’t divulge it, say based on your research, you’ve found that pay for such positions is “between X and Y,” and ask if that’s consistent with their range.

Question: How do you determine what your salary requirements should be, so you’re not aiming too high or low?
Answer: “Job seekers should benchmark their market value by talking with recruiters and colleagues, researching salary ranges for comparable positions on the job boards, reviewing salary information available through professional associations, and of course reviewing information on PayScale,” according to Safani.

Questions: What if a prospective employer asks to verify your current salary with your current employer? What if this jeopardizes your current position?
Answer: “Until there is an offer on the table, this question should not come up. Once an offer is made, this is considered fair game as part of the due diligence process for some employers,” Safani says. “Job seekers can politely explain that if an offer is extended, they would be willing to have their salary information verified.”

September 24, 2008