Management Tactic #16: How to Name Your Salary

As I recently mentioned in my blog post about the keys to a great job application, I have been interviewing for several different positions at my job. One of the questions I asked on the applications was their requested salary.

What’s the right answer to that question? Especially when you don’t know what the employer is offering?

I’ve seen a couple different answers:

  1. The low answer: Some people come in really low. That’s fine for me as employer, but once I see that, I’m less inclined to offer you much more. So you may be selling yourself short.
  2. The high answer. Some people come in really high. Whether that’s based off their current salary or their ego or their cost of living, I don’t know. I’d say you generally don’t want to come in high when applying for a job at a nonprofit, just out of respect for the mission. But I will say that a high answer probably can’t hurt you. If I can’t offer you that much, I’ll just offer something lower and put it on you to accept or reject.
  3. The range. This one is interesting. It says, “I’ll accept this low amount, but I’d prefer something higher.” The range is good, a decent answer. But it also comes across as a bit wishy-washy.

What’s the right answer? Well, there’s probably no truly right answer to this question. It’s highly situational. Sometimes you’ll only have a small blank in which to write your request, so you don’t have room to spell it out. But if you do, especially if someone asks you this question outloud, here is an answer that I would love to hear. The numbers are made up.

“I currently make $35,000. I’m 29. When I turn 32, I’d like to be making $45,000.”

This works on so many levels:

  1. It shows how much the applicant currently makes. That’s a great starting point. It doesn’t mean the employer has to beat or even meet their current salary, but it’s a point of comparison.
  2. It doesn’t pin the employer down to a specific amount right now (since it deals in futures), but it still places a definitive value on the applicant’s worth. It lets the employer work backwards and in a way, feel like they’re getting a deal.
  3. It shows that the employee is looking ahead to being with your company for several years (at least, that’s the insinuation).
  4. Both parties could walk away happy from such a request. The applicant has named an amount that they’d truly be happy with, but they don’t need it immediately–they just need a plan to get there. And the employer feels like they can start with a reasonable amount and then work towards the applicants worth–if they prove to be worth it. It’s the same effect as a trial period–you don’t know you’re going to like something, so you try it out at a discount for a little while to earn your trust.

What do you think? Do you have a different answer?

See more management tactics and leadership advice from Jamey here.

5 thoughts on “Management Tactic #16: How to Name Your Salary”

  1. Great entry! I often find salary discussion to be the most uncomfortable portion of an interview/job application. This feedback is insightful.

    I have two other comments. The first deals with the high answer. Based on experience when an employer I’ve been with has been looking to hire someone (not me, someone new), it seems that the high offer can often price a person out of consideration for a position. A lot of employers have X amount budgeted for a position, and if a person says his/her salary range is significantly greater than X, that person won’t even be considered because it seems like a waste of time to chase someone who will turn you down. I’ve seen this happen a few times–so while I wouldn’t advocate selling yourself short/not reaching a little bit, going way above what you’d be happy with is definitely a bad idea.

    My second comment is for a job applicant in general. You should always go into an interview/application with a rough idea of what the position should pay. Do your research. What are comparable jobs paying? This way you won’t waste your time applying for jobs that won’t satisfy you financially & employers won’t waste their time interviewing you.

    • I can see what you’re saying about the high answer. You never want to give someone a reason not to hire you, and coming in too high could do that. I just found when I was interviewing applicants, if they came in too high, I’d just ask them up front if they were okay with something in our intended range–if they weren’t, we parted ways.

      That’s a great point about knowing what comparable jobs pay. Do you have an online resource you’d recommend for this?

  2. In my line of work, there’s a baseline pay for all new hires into the company. When I was going on interviews and was asked the desired salary question, I was honest and said that according to their website the starting salary was X amount and I would like to start off at that amount. It worked and they actually gave me more due to my background and education. Your way sounds pretty good too, the numbers aren’t made up though since you are 29 😛 What positions are you hiring for? Maybe I’ll apply lol.

    • Oh trust me, the numbers were made up (although I am 29).

      It’s good that you got your company to stick to what they offered originally (and you showed that you researched the company and position in advance).


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