how do I state my desired salary range in a cover letter?

by Ask a Manager on July 23, 2010

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A reader writes:

I am having trouble including my salary requirements on cover letters from a wording standpoint — every way I word my desired salary, the sentence looks ackward. I have always experienced writers’ block on this segment of a cover letter.

How do I include my salary range without making it sound like I simply added up my bills and added a few thousand for vacations? Do I have to include my last salary to substantiate the required salary?

Can you please recommend a less ackward-sounding formula than “as per salary requirements, I would need to be in the $42,000 – $47,000 range.” Or does this sound fine? Thank you!

“I’m seeking a salary in the $42-47,000 range.” As long as you’re basing the range on the market rate for the position and for your experience and skills, no one is going to think you just added up your bills and tossed in some extra for a holiday cruise. But you have to do your research to make sure you do know the market rate, specific to your geographic area.

But more to the point, why are you including this information at all? If you’re doing it of your own volition, stop! There’s no reason to talk salary at this stage. I’ve noticed that some candidates announce their salary requirements in their resumes or cover letters without anyone ever asking — and sometimes they wildly underprice themselves compared to what I’m planning to pay. (In fact, sometimes they do this even when the ad they’re responding to clearly stated a higher range.)

Now, if an employer requires you to include this information, then you have a decision to make. A lot of people will tell you to try to avoid talking salary up front and instead say that you’d prefer to talk about salary once you’ve had a chance to learn more about the specifics of the job … and then you just hope that if you’re a strong enough candidate, the employer isn’t going to discard your application just because of that. But of course, in this job market, with far more highly qualified candidates than can be hired, it’s understandable not to want to do anything to give an employer an excuse not to look at you further.

It’s not crazy for companies to want to address salary very early on – they don’t want to waste their time if you’re wildly out of their price range. That’s perfectly legitimate, especially if what they’re able to pay is on the lower side of the normal range for the position. But if that’s the case, they really should just post their intended salary range and let applicants decide if they’re interested or not.

Most of them don’t do that, of course, because if you’re willing to accept a lower offer, they want to get you for that lower price. But that’s short-sighted: If they lowball you now and you figure out later that you’re underpriced for the market, they risk losing you over it. So they should tell you the range they plan to pay, deal with the consequences, and put an end to all the drama and hand-wringing these practices cause.

(By the way, I want to point out here that we’re talking about salary expectations. If we were talking about salary history, I’d tell you that that’s no one’s business but your own and to hell with companies that think they’re entitled to it.)

{ 24 comments }

Mandy July 23, 2010 at 1:57 am

So how do you deal with it when asked what your salary history is? Most employers ask it at some point in the interview process and I haven't found a way to not answer.

Ken April 17, 2013 at 2:28 pm

I do not share my salary history with potential employers; this is non-negotiable. It’s not their business!

Fortunately for me, my skill set is highly in-demand and, as a consequence, I can be rigid with regard to this. I work in Information Technology (IT) and salaries tend to be on the high end of company payrolls.

If I am asked why I won’t share my salary history, I tell them I want to be paid what the job is worth, not what past employers have been willing to pay me. My past earnings have no bearing on what this employer, and their new job, is going to pay.

Anonymous July 23, 2010 at 2:09 am

This is my question. I am happy for the HR feedback on this portion of cover letters when the employer asks for salary requirements.

Coincidentally, today (after 7 weeks of unemployment) I got and accepted an offer that was $2500/yr above the top range I had listed!

During my unemployment, you and Evil HR Lady were like celebrities to me:-). From many of the posts, I gleaned that us job applicants freak out about details that don't matter to HR, instead of focusing on the ones that do. Thanks for the blog!

Anonymous July 23, 2010 at 3:31 am

To OP: "I am seeking a salary in the range of $XX-XX,000, negotiable based on specific job responsibilities and total compensation package." And that's not just blowing smoke. Medical plans and other benefits can vary widely and easily equate to thousands of dollars in value.

To Mandy: "My most recent salary was $XX,000, which I believe accurately reflected the expectations of that particular position. My salary expectations are negotiable based on the job and total compensation, and I am more interested in finding a good job match, not just a salary match."

Anonymous July 23, 2010 at 3:52 am

Your last comment made my day. :-) Thank you for calling out people asking for past salaries. I've never given out that information as I never felt comfortable doing it, and I'm glad to see someone stand up against the practice. Thanks!

Mike July 23, 2010 at 1:46 pm

Screw salary histories and the companies that ask for them. You shouldn't be punished for taking on a term or two with AmeriCorps or the Peace Corps.

I can see the conversation now:

"Oh, you made how much before? I guess you'll be happy with minimum wage then, right?"

Mandy July 23, 2010 at 2:26 pm

Thanks! PS I'm loving your blog, the articles are always interesting.

Class factotum July 23, 2010 at 3:25 pm

My sister is a neo-natal nurse practitioner, which means she decides where she works and the employer is happy to have her.

When I was looking for a job, she asked, "Why on earth would you apply for a job without knowing how much they pay?"

Because I was in a buyers' market and she was in a sellers' market.

Rebecca July 23, 2010 at 3:43 pm

I hate the "salary range" question so much. Some people are always going to ask for the moon, but for most people, the employer might as well say "I'm thinking of a number between 1 and 10 — guess right and I won't trash your application!"

Anonymous July 23, 2010 at 5:22 pm

AAM writes: "If we were talking about salary history, I'd tell you that that's no one's business but your own and to hell with companies that think they're entitled to it."

Umm, so why is it on _every_ application that everyone has ever filled out? They are usually even more detailed; you have to provide your starting salary, ending salary, and any bonuses received. How have you _not_ noticed that????

Ask a Manager July 23, 2010 at 5:29 pm

I've noticed it. But I continue to think it's none of their business. Them asking doesn't make them entitled to know.

Anonymous July 26, 2010 at 2:14 pm

For sample responses check the posts under the 'salary' keyword.

The best response, since it's frequently true for any job within the past 5-10 years and we just don't realize it, is that you can't list your salary because you signed a confidentiality agreement.

Anonymous July 26, 2010 at 4:10 pm

I would counter the question with what does this position pay ? They should give you a range. If your salary is within the range, you can saying you were making the higher/lower end of the range without say the actual amount. If you were making more, just say I was making more than that without say how much and you are willing to accept a salary at the higher end of the salary range they just quoted you.

Anonymous July 26, 2010 at 5:56 pm

Is it a bad idea to give a range for salary expectation? If I mention I am looking for 42K to 47K, wont the employer simply offer 42K even if they had a budget for, say, 52K?

Samantha Z July 26, 2010 at 6:44 pm

Whether or not you decide to include expected salary in a cover letter, a first step should be to get a realistic idea about what fair pay is for you. If you are interested in researching what companies pay when it comes to salary negotiation, try Glassdoor.com. You can get first-hand insights from employees about what someone with a specific job title, at a specific company and in a specific location earns.

Anonymous July 26, 2010 at 9:46 pm

I asked an HR person* about refusing to fill out the salary part of an application. The response was that I would be marked as "difficult" and screened out. I don't know if putting "confidential" would make any difference or not.

*Not the HR person at the company I was interviewing with.

Anonymous July 27, 2010 at 3:16 pm

That was exactly my point to AAM – she's advising us to ignore that part of applications, even though that'll get us thrown out or put on the bottom of the pile. How is this good advice????

Her moral stance of "Them asking doesn't make them entitled to know" is just fine in theory, but is that a moral stance you really want to stick to when you'll be eliminated from maybe 80% of the jobs on the market???

Since she's now on the market herself – maybe we should ask directly: AAM, when _you're_ confronted with applications that ask your salary history, what are _you_ doing? Are you really refusing to answer? How's that working out for you?

Ask a Manager July 27, 2010 at 3:29 pm

Anonymous, I'm actually not on the job market myself, so I can't address that part of your question.

This post was about handling requests for salary expectations, so I didn't really get into how to handle requests for salary history (aside from the comment at the very end), but I've written about that in the past: http://askamanager.blogspot.com/2009/11/how-to-handle-requests-for-salary.html.

John Burrows July 28, 2010 at 1:33 am

Asking for a particular salary at this point is like asking them to marry you on the first date.

Your first step is to get them to want you.

Richard August 19, 2010 at 9:02 pm

I've always been told that discussing salary requirements in a job where it may be negotiable actually puts you at a disadvantage: Leaving it ambiguous prior to an offer allows the potential employer to put together an offer based on what they think they should offer you, once it's on the table, you then have the ability to negotiate the salary, benefits etc.

This could of course mean that you end up interviewing for jobs that will never meet your salary expectations, and whilst this does end up being a waste of your time, I'd say that once you do find a job that pays you what you think that you're worth, that wasted effort will be rewarded with improved compensation for your work. If you're planning on staying the position long term, the benefits are probably worth the extra interviews.

Anonymous March 31, 2011 at 10:02 am

How would I state my desired salary range when requested on a cover letter, but that it is also negotiable? In my case, on the job post, the employer notes the salary is $40k. My desired salary is $48k – $53k. My response would be $45k-$50k because I wouldn’t want to sell myself short, but at the same time, I wouldn’t want to lose my chances of getting a call back. What to do????

Anonymous August 4, 2012 at 5:53 pm

“My salary range is $50k+, but negotatiable dependings on full compensation package.”

Compensation package includes benefits, vacation time, etc.

Danielle February 2, 2012 at 1:00 pm

I have a question!
I asked my current employer to match an offer I recieved. And now i need to make a decision. They Even included an assistant. What do you think.

Nan November 14, 2013 at 5:57 pm

I am having a bit of trouble with starting a relocation process. I’m looking for a position in purchasing or general management in another state (trying to leave Florida) but am unwilling to do so it the salary is less that 47,000. As such, I would like to place salary requirement in my cover letter but I’m apprehensive as it seems to be “bad form”. Any suggestions

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