You will inevitably be asked how much money you expect to earn at your new job. The question may appear on the job application, or it could come up during an interview. Either way, you have to be prepared to answer it.

A bit of research will show you the low, high, and median salary you can expect to make in a role. While those numbers are good to know, they don't really help you answer, “What is your desired salary?” Hiring managers and human resource departments want a number to put in the blank. 

However, just because they want a number doesn't necessarily mean you have to give them one. So, what does it mean? How do you respond to the desired salary question on a job application or in an interview? There are several options for responding to this question. 

You can avoid the question altogether 

This is, of course, easier to do on an application than in an interview. All you have to do on the application is leave the question blank. Often, job applications will have asterisks next to questions that must be answered. It's very common for the salary question to be something that isn't required. Keep an eye on those requirement indicators. 

Many companies are okay with waiting to discuss salary in person. It leaves room for negotiation. Plus, when they ask you the question in person, they can read your body language as you answer to determine the confidence you have in requesting a certain level of pay. So, just leave it blank on the application and wait for the in-person discussion. 

You can indicate that your salary is negotiable

Be careful with this because it leaves the door open for the company to offer you the lowest salary. Saying that your salary is negotiable suggests that you don't know what you should get paid and are open to accepting anything. If you do put “negotiable” on the application, be prepared to talk the numbers higher when the time comes to discuss salary with a human being. 

Stating your salary on an application is simple. You can either write the word or put a placeholder (e.g., 000) if the application requires numbers. It's also not too hard during an interview either. All you have to do is say that you're open to negotiating the salary when the hiring manager asks, “What is your salary expectation?” Follow up by letting them know you understand that salary is more than compensation and the dollar amount you desire can be varied based upon available benefits. 

You can provide a range for your salary

This would be where that bit of research comes in handy. Since you know the low, high, and median salary for your job in your area, you can adequately provide a range that you're willing to accept. 

Be sure to do some fact-finding on what the company is offering for the role. Websites like Glassdoor provide current and past employees the opportunity to post the amount of money they made in a role. This is valuable information you can use to figure out your salary range. 

You can give an actual dollar amount

This can be tricky and is not recommended if you can avoid it. If you give a number that's too high, then you've talked yourself out of a job. All the company knows about you is what is on your resume, what they learn in the interview, and what they can find on social media. If the high number you toss at them is at the top of their budget, they'll likely move on to someone else who will accept less.

On the other hand, relaying a salary that's too low will kill your ability to get them to a higher amount at the job offer stage. When you finally get to the point of requesting a larger sum, they'll question why you put such a low number on the application. You may get them to come up a bit by saying something like, “At the application phase, you and I didn't know each other. Now that we've had the time to come to a better understanding of how well we'll work together, I'd like to try to come up a little on the salary.”

It's best to put money talks off until after the interview

Delay answering the question as much as you can until you've had a chance to wow them with your skills and experience. You also need to determine if the role is right for you. Remember, you're interviewing the company just like they're interviewing you.

How to delay the desired salary question if it's still early in the interview process

It is possible that the interviewer will ask how much money you want to make early on. You could also hear the question from someone in human resources during a phone screening. 

When this happens, there are a couple of ways you can respond:

“While I'm confident that my skills and experience are a match for the role, I'd like to provide you all with more details about what I bring to the table before we talk about money.” 

“In the spirit of finding a win-win situation for the company and me, I'd like to negotiate the salary after we've learned a bit more about each other.” 

Both of these responses put the actual answer off to a later date. They also hint at the fact that you're not in it just for a paycheck. The second response lets the company know that you aren't going to simply take the first dollar amount they provide. It lets them know you will be negotiating. So, it's setting the stage for future events. 

Put the desired salary question back on them by asking questions

Another way to put off talking about salary at a particular moment in time is to give it back to them in the form of questions. Here's some explanatory roleplay:

Company: “What is your desired salary?”

You: “Based on what I earned in my last role, plus some industry research I've performed I do have an idea of what I'd like to earn at your company. However, I feel it's important to get to know more about the role, including any challenges that will be faced. I'd also like to learn more about the team before I provide a solid number. Can you tell me what the salary range is for this position?”

Company: “I'm not allowed to give out the salary range.” 

You: “That's not a problem. Does the salary have a ceiling?”

Company: “Yes.” 

By asking questions, you avoided actually answering the question about the amount of money you want, and you learned something. The company caps earnings at a certain amount. In some industries that is a standard practice because there could be commissions to increase what is earned. In other sectors, having a cap on the income you can earn may be the thing that makes you decide to move on in your job search. 

Let them know you're waiting until the job offer phase

It is possible to encounter a hiring manager or human resources person who persists in trying to get you to nail down a number. Alternatively, you could be a few interviews into the process before they ask. To continue avoiding the question until they drop the first number, say this:

“I'd like to reserve salary negotiations for when we enter the job offer phase of this process. Are we there now?”

By asking this question specifically, you'll know where you stand with them. If they affirm that you'll be receiving a job offer, continue to avoid the salary discussion by redirecting them to timelines. Ask when you'll be receiving the offer. 

You've made it to the job offer phase

This is the time to talk dollars and cents! Every job offer will contain specific details about your new job, including the salary they expect to offer you. Hold the phone, though. Just because that's the salary they say they'll provide doesn't mean that's the salary you have to accept. 

Take the stress out of negotiating salary

It doesn't matter whether you're buying a new house or talking to a company about how much you'll earn; negotiating can be super stressful. People, inherently, get nervous when they have to talk about themselves in a way that seems boastful. This is one of the reasons that negotiating salary is frequently a step that people skip. 

All you have to do is say, “Is this salary negotiable?” This simple four-word sentence opens the door to a conversation about salary.

Don't simply take the salary they offer

You went through the interview with great success, they really liked what you had to say and the experience you brought. On top of that, they liked you. Use that to your advantage. Carrying that likeability into the salary negotiation phase will not only improve your chances of getting them to go higher, but it shows that you know how to handle yourself–making them like you even more.

Start the negotiation by expressing empathy towards any constraints you may know to exist. If you're interviewing for a role at a small business, they may not have the capital to come up a lot. Here's what you can say:

“I understand that you have a budget for this role and that can make negotiating salary somewhat difficult. I'd really like to work with your team and am ready to jump into the [NAME OF ROLE] position with both feet.”

Let them know they will get you

Oftentimes, companies hesitate to negotiate with job seekers because it is an effort for naught. The job seeker will still say, “No thanks” even if the company comes up on the salary. You may even be asked, “If we make you a better offer by the end of the week, will you start on Monday?” 

If you have another offer on the table that's higher already and you know you're going to take it, let them know that. There's no reason to go through the motions otherwise. It's unethical and could put a black mark against your name in networking circles. 

Also, avoid sounding desperate. You may have already decided that you're going to accept the job offer whether or not they increase the salary. Don't give that away because you may not be able to get all the way up to the number you want. Keep any leverage you may have by responding like this:

“I only have one other job offer that is in the salary negotiation phase. I like your company, the people, and the projects you have coming down the pipeline a lot. If we can get through the salary negotiation phase, that will solidify the decision-making process for me.”

While this isn't a specific yes or no response, they know that you're not wasting their time. You've also kept some leverage on your side, so the company will work harder to secure you by delivering the proper salary. 

Remember salary equals money plus benefits

One last thing to keep in mind regarding salary is that it's not just about what will appear on your paycheck. If Company A is offering you $2,000 less than Company B, but Company A gives an extra 5 days of vacation, that difference might make the $2,000 negligible. Also, consider things like which one is closer to your home, which company has room for growth, and if either of them provides reimbursement for furthering education. 

The bottom line

Talking about salary is inevitable. The best idea is to put it off as long as possible, trying to get to the job offer phase. That way the company is the first to mention actual dollar amounts and benefits. Then, you can negotiate with them to reach a happy place that creates a win-win situation for both you and the employer. 

None of this can happen though unless you are offered an interview. Get past the Applicant Tracking Systems and impress hiring managers with a professionally written resume.

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