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.