how to handle the dreaded pay question when applying for a job

A reader writes:

I’m interested in applying for a job that asks for my salary requirements to be stated in my cover letter. This feels like a loaded question: if I shoot too high, am I pricing myself out of a job? If I shoot too low, am I condemning myself to be underpaid?

You can read my answer to this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and often updating/expanding my answers to them).

{ 95 comments… read them below }

  1. Jen*

    I am actually a fan of greater transparency in compensation from both sides. As a candidate, I also don’t want to waste my time if the employer will not be able to meet my salary expectations. I had an interview recently that was a frustrating experience because during the last five minutes of a 2+ hour meeting when the hiring manager raised the salary question, it became clear we were not on the same page. Had we clarified expectations before the interview, I would not have taken a half day off work.

    1. YandO*

      if transparency is their goal, then they should start with posting salary ranges in the job posting

      1. Merry and Bright*

        My opinion exactly. It saves all the dancing around the issue, the pretending that a salary is incidental and not finding out the salary until right at the end because you must not mention money!

      2. AW*

        Yes. This.

        If a company won’t give salary information up front they can’t reasonably expect applicants to do so.

        1. Charlotte Lucas*

          Even better, my current company posts job listings with paygrades only (the actual pay is location based), but I’ve worked here 15+ years and never really known what the actual ranges are! (As far as I’ve every been able to determine, this information is only shared with those who manage exempt employees – and they don’t share with their staff.) And now there’s a new way of applying for internal promotions that’s done through LinkedIn, where they even require internal applicants to list salary requirements. I just list the paygrade that I know for the position, since I’m not going to get myself knocked out of the running for an internal position because I couldn’t guess their target accurately. (And saying, “More than you’re giving me now,” doesn’t seem like a good career move.)

        2. Koko*

          They also need to recognize that people who are reasonably well-paid and happy in their current jobs (i.e. people who are likely good at what they do and pleasant to work with) but are curious about what’s out there are very unlikely to apply for a job without a salary listed. When you don’t have abysmal pay or bad working conditions lighting a fire under you, it’s simply not worth the time to write a cover letter and tailor a resume for something that could very well pay comparable or less to what you’re currently making.

          1. PlainJane*

            This – exactly. The last time I was on the job market, I was mildly discontented but not desperate. I got tired of trying to guess salary based on position title and responsibilities and didn’t bother applying for jobs if I couldn’t get some inkling of what the pay range might be. It’s a lot of work to put together an application package for an academic job (read: hours of work). I wouldn’t have applied for my current position (which I love) if the institution hadn’t posted the salary range, because based on the job title and location, I wouldn’t have expected it to pay enough to meet my needs.

            1. Melissa*

              Yeah, exactly, especially since in academic jobs you’re usually moving (often many hundreds of miles) to a new location for the job. When I was checking out academic jobs I usually used the AAUP Faculty Salary Survey and, for public institutions, the publicly available salaries of the most recent people hired in the department. But the AAUP survey has limited usefulness since their salaries are posted by rank and not broken down by years experience or subject.

      3. Kyrielle*

        One reason I loved LinkedIn job search. They don’t let you filter by salary range unless you have a premium account, but if you filter the list by _other_ attributes, only the salary ranges in the list are “enabled” (black instead of grey), even tho you can’t use them. So if you narrow it down far enough, you can work out the range or ranges the position you’re looking at falls into. :)

      4. Melissa*

        Bingo. Then I can decide whether or not I want to apply for that job and we can eliminate wasting any time. This is especially irritating for jobs that want to know my salary history or current salary without volunteering any information of their own.

  2. YandO*

    How do incorporate that sentence into a cover letter in a way that feels natural?

    I’ve always struggled with that.

    1. zora*

      Well if they are specifically asking for that information, you don’t have to make it ‘feel natural.’ They are looking for it so you put it there. You’re overthinking it. I usually put it in my last short paragraph that says stuff like. “I am available to start X date. My salary requirement is X, etc etc. I look forward to talking to you more about this opportunity at your earliest convenience.” (whether i have a car/state driver’s license. Any other practical info like that they have asked for in their job posting)

      If they are not asking for it, you should not put it in the cover letter at all, so you don’t have to worry about it being natural.

  3. Workfromhome*

    I agree with the comment above that companies that do not make the range clear before taking up someone’s time in an interview are really quite rude. I wnt though this before (I was employed at the time so not at all desperate for the job). We had an hour long conversation where we discovered that I had all the qualifications they wanted and more. Only to wait till the very end to discuss Salary and find out that they had actually hired someone for a similar position a month before and were paying them over 10K less than what I currently made. As much as they loved me they felt they couldn’t hire someone at 10 K more than the last person! What a waste of time. They KNEW what their range was. They just hired someone so they certainly knew what they could afford to pay. Why not put that out there from the start?

    As for the article this part is TERRIBLE advice:
    ” you can say what you’re currently making — “I’m currently making $X, with an excellent benefits package, and like anyone, I’m looking to increase that if I move to a new position.”

    What you make now is NO ONE’S business. What you made in your previous job has no relevance to what you should be paid for a new,different job at a different company.

    If you are forced to give out a number you can say “I am exploring opportunities in the XXX range depending on the the total compensation package and the positron. Does this position fit in this range? If they say yes you can keep going and negotiate details later. If they say “sorry this position is in the XXXX minus 10 K range then you can decide if you want to take a pay cut or simply tell them you are not aligned and end the interview.

    1. AW*

      What you make now is NO ONE’S business.

      Unless you work for the government, in which case it’s everybody’s business and easy to look up online. Or you work for one of the few companies that makes pay common knowledge within the company.

      1. Marcy*

        Yes, this. And I keep losing staff because everyone knows exactly how much to offer them to entice them to leave. And since it is government, I can’t pay enough to keep them. I’m training people for other employers….

    2. Jen*

      I think whether or not the advice is good depends on what you’re making. I am very well compensated, so I often use this as a strategy. If someone is looking to take a considerable jump up in salary and/or they are not fairly compensated now, it may make less sense.

      “What you made in your previous job has no relevance to what you should be paid for a new,different job at a different company.”

      While this may be true, knowing your current salary gives potential employers a sense of the scope of your position and responsibility.

        1. mskyle*

          Or you’re applying for a job that with different responsibilities/schedule/benefits/location/industry…

          1. SlothLovesChunk*

            Or your significantly over paid. I’m currently making a lot of money(for what I’m doing) in my gov’t contract job. I don’t expect to make this much right away in my next permanent role.

            1. Revolver Rani*

              The last time I changed jobs was a major career change. I was in a notoriously highly-paid career and was applying for jobs in a much more modestly-compensated area of work. The manager who eventually hired me asked about it in my phone screening – I don’t remember exactly what she said, but it was something like “What are your salary expectations? You know this job doesn’t pay anything close to what you are probably making now, right?”

              I knew the question was coming, obviously, so I was prepared with an answer. I told her that I had looked at Glassdoor and similar resources to find out the range for comparable jobs in my area, and I went into the application process aware of the pay cut it would mean for me, but I am committed to the career change because ….

              So I didn’t exactly give her a number, but I conveyed that the market range was fine for me. In the end the offer she gave me was even a little bit higher than I expected based upon what I had seen on the web, so I was pleased.

              1. zora*

                ooo, that is really well done. This is very relevant to me right now, I will steal this. Thanks!!

      1. Steve G*

        I concur (of course I don’t exactly have job offers rolling in either!). I am hoping someone sees my salary and thinks “mmmm, this person wouldn’t be making that amount if they weren’t really good at what they did!”

      2. Workfromhome*

        No it doesn’t. That is something one commonly hears from recruiters. I am vastly underpaid.Its quite common these days for companies to lay off people, dump their responsibility on those that are left without giving them a pay raise. There are many people who have a scope that is vastly greater than what they were hired for or supervised 0 people when they were hired but now supervise 1 2 even 10 people. But they have not gotten a raise (thus the reason they want to leave this job) . The salary actually contradicts their job responsibility (as does their tittle).
        If you are “overpaid” or are making a movement to a lower position for wherever reason revealing your current high salary knocks you out of the running.

        1. Melissa*

          Well, not if you handle it like Revolver Rani did above – making it clear that you know the job you’re applying for probably pays less than the one you’re in now, but that you are willing to take the pay cut because of the opportunity.

      3. Koko*

        Yeah. It’s not relevant if you’re underpaid as an excuse to pay you less, but it’s certainly very relevant if you’re very well-paid and wouldn’t even consider a job that pays less.

    3. YandO*

      I think it depends on whether you were paid under or above market value in previous jobs.

      If you were paid above and expect a salary that matches your current salary, then telling them “I make X and I hope to stay in that range” helps the company understand where the higher number is coming from.

      I had high salary X at my old company. I moved to cheaper location and took a job with a small business, my salary went down by 20K + who knows how much in benefits. I have found ti to be the most productive/straight forward to tell interviewers “I took a pay cut because I saw this job as an opportunity but now I am ready to get back to my range X from my previous job”. I have gotten a few “Thank you so much.That’s really helpful to understand where you are coming from.”

      Maybe that’s a wrong approach, but I feel it is much better than dancing around the issue or throwing our a random number.

    4. J.B.*

      But in your example your salary at the time was the final factor in the job. You didn’t want a cut, they didn’t want to pay you what you were currently making. In general I would prefer not to get into my current salary but would use Alison’s wording if necessary, articulating the other factors that are important to me. My current salary is low for my field with a lot of flexibility. I have a “give a crap” number that is substantially more than my current salary if it meant less flexibility.

    5. Retail Lifer*

      It’s theoretically no one’s business, but I’ve never NOT been asked that. It’s going to happen. Your wording is perfect, though, and I’ll definitely use similar phrasing in the future when it happens again.

    6. The IT Manager*

      What you make is relevant if you have determined will only leave for a new job with equal or better compensation. A lot of people do make this a determining factor because they don’t want to or plain cannot afford to take a pay cut so this is a way of giving a range. The assumption that no one would willing take a job that pays less is one of the reasons “overqualification” is a concern for hiring companies.

      But I agree that a better alternate may be to figure out your range (equal to or above your current salary) and say that without noting what exactly your current salary is.

    7. John*

      It is not terrible advice. Note that she didn’t say to come out with this right away…just if the employer pushes. Giving your salary is one approach to helping the employer evaluate whether you will be in their range. As AAM says, you could instead give a range. Depends on your level of comfort (with sharing your salary or with knowing a realistic range for the position).

      Giving your salary doesn’t tell them what you’d be willing to accept. As AAM indicated, if you are currently employed, most employers will realize it will take a premium to lure you away.

    8. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Hey, I totally agree that your salary is no one’s business (and have preached about that constantly), but when you’re being forced to talk salary in order to move forward in a hiring process, some people prefer to talk about what they’re currently making rather than what they’re looking for. That’s a reasonable option if they prefer it.

    9. Stranger than fiction*

      Unfortunately they can easily find out what you’re currently making by making a few calls if they really want to know that badly.

      1. Koko*

        Maybe, maybe not. Some companies consider salaries proprietary information and don’t want their competitors to know what they pay, so they won’t share salaries with someone who calls. Other companies may not consider it proprietary but have enough respect for employee privacy that they won’t divulge pay information.

  4. ConstructionHR*

    Our industry usually covers this first for the workers. Staff, maybe not the first thing but it usually occurs early in the conversation. Benefits (and timing) certainly come into play, my current employer puts the 401k match in on payday; my previous employer on put it in the February after the year end (and you had to be a current employee).

  5. De Minimis*

    It’s even worse when you’re moving to an area with a different market rate for salaries. I think I’m underpricing myself a lot of the time…I think one of the reasons I tend to be focusing so much on government positions isn’t just because that’s my most recent experience, it’s also that at the very least all the jobs I see have a pay range stated up front.

  6. Retail Lifer*

    I hate this question. I always answer with what I’m making now and give a range based on what info I can find on I’ve found to be really inaccurate.

    As an experienced retail manager who is looking to change fields, I usually price myself out of any job I’m qualified for. It’s a waste of everyone’s time to proceed when I’m not going to be able to accept a $6000 paycut, so might as well take myself out of the running sooner than later. I’ve also fallen into the lowballing trap, but that was my fault for not doing better salary research ahead of time.

    1. Steve G*

      The salaries on always seem WAY too high, I don’t know who is entering the information, but I’d love to work at companies that pay what says they do!

      1. HRWitch* and both use self-reported income, which means the numbers are often really iffy. It’s worth doing some research for industry-specific salary information. If you’re having trouble, Robert Half has some decent information for administrative/IT/finance area jobs; for positions outside that realm, ask your local SHRM chapter to point you in the right direction!

        1. cali_to_carolina*

          Ive also found Robert Half’s Creative division salaries high too. They put out a salary guide for marketing/ad/pr types and I’m gobsmacked by the numbers!

      2. Retail Lifer*

        Agreed. I’ve never come CLOSE to the salary estimates on Apparently I’m worth at least another $5000 but I have yet to find a company that agrees with that.

    2. Spooky*

      I’ve started including my current salary at the bottom of my resume for just that reason. I make a fairly high salary for this industry, and if employers can’t at least meet it, then it’s not worth my time to even interview.

    3. FJ*

      Anyone tried Does it seem accurate to you?
      It seems pretty close to glassdoor and in the ballpark.

      1. Parfait* just told me I am in the 7th percentile for my job title/experience in my city. Geez. I knew I was underpaid, but that’s just depressing.

      2. Melissa*

        For the industry I’m looking in, Payscale’s salary average is about $20,000 lower than Glassdoor’s.

  7. Thinking out loud*

    I currently have a job I adore that will be moving to another state in about two years, so although I’m looking now, I’m not desperate. I’ve been extremely honest with interviewers – “Fit is more important than a few thousand dollars, but I currently make $X and would like to make something in that ballpark at my next job.”

  8. Amber Rose*

    I hate the pay question. HATE. I have no idea what I’m worth. I spent so many years making minimum wage that I am at a loss for my real value. Especially since I’m something of a jack of all trades, master of none. I’d say I’m rather good at admin type work, but I also have a hand in 100 other things and experience with 100 more in previous jobs. :/

    1. Not Yet Seeking*

      Agreed on all counts. I’m super-smart and under-educated, and I pick up and improve processes with ease. So many people have abused the phrase “quick learner” on resumes that it means nothing, and you can’t easily quantify it. :/

    2. _ism_*

      Me too! I’m currently doing admin work, and I know I’m underpaid but I’m at a loss as to just how much. I’ve got a wide variety of skills and experience, but there is significant admin experience among that. I don’t have a degree either so I think hiring managers see me as some kind of super deal. I’m paid not much more than minimum wae now.

      1. Amber Rose*

        My last boss started me at 6 dollars an hour more than minimum and then I earned a few big raises and I thought I was overpaid. Except my current boss started me at the wage I ended on at oldjob, so I guess I was still being underpaid.

        Its not that easy to figure out.

    3. Stranger than fiction*

      See that’s the sad thing. I believe they don’t list the range precisely because they think there’s a chance they can get someone really cheap that’s a superstar but just really underpaid.

      1. Amber Rose*

        I’m sure it happens. I have a slightly better feel for my value now, but I know I’ve been screwed before.

  9. AdAgencyChick*

    Why do employers do it? Because when they get away with it, they get a very obvious short-term benefit. The people who make these policies don’t care about the lost hours on your end as a candidate (they have nothing invested in you) or even on the hiring manager’s part (most likely the hiring manager is exempt and it’s not like the bean counters see the cost of wasted time). They see that, in some cases, you can get a candidate for far lower than the intended range because they’ve been underpaid or just don’t know how much to ask for.

    And the costs to the organization of having people find out they’re underpaid and leaving…again, not as obvious and easy to point out on a balance sheet as it is for an in-house recruiter to point out when it’s time for her review, “Look, I got 20% of candidates in this year at below our starting ranges for positions! Aren’t I doing a great job?”

    I still think it’s an incredibly shortsighted policy…but one that’s going to continue for that reason.

    1. Three Thousand*

      It’s even more shortsighted now that there are sites like Glassdoor making the issue more transparent. A lot of people won’t discuss their salary with folks they know but will talk about it anonymously online. People now have much more information about salary available to them than they did a few years ago. I honestly don’t think the ability to significantly underpay people is going to last for decades to come.

  10. HRWitch*

    Our company policy is to “Salary DOE” – where ‘dependent on experience’ refers to where your experience puts you in our salary ranges. I have been expressly forbidden to give our salary ranges to candidates and am required to solicit the candidate’s salary requirements. I ask for a range – the lowest figure at which they would accept the position, and their ideal annual number, and then advise whether or not they are in our range. I hate this process, haven’t figured out a more humane way to do it, and continue to advocate for transparency.

    1. Delyssia*

      Unless I’m asked the question pretty far along in the process, I can’t know for sure what the lowest figure I would accept is. To have a firm number, where I can honestly say “I won’t accept less than $X,” I need to have a pretty good idea of the expectations of the job and a pretty good concept of the overall benefits package. If we’re talking numbers on a phone screen, I can give a potential lowest number I would accept, but that would be subject to change based on a better understanding of the job and the benefits package.

      I understand that this is the structure you have to work within, but as a candidate, I would struggle with how to answer you.

    2. Harryv*


      When I am asked this question, I always almost exclusively give my salary range for my position then counter ask what their salary range is. Usually they would respond that it is within their range or not. That usually weeds out people who were hoping to get talent for pennies. The only issue is when you are filling out an online application and it asks you for your salary. I have heard different views on this. If it is a job I really want, I would fill out my pay + bonus.

      1. HRWitch*

        Sorry, I should have provided more context!
        I’m not phone-screening the initial pool of candidates. Our phone interview with HR actually comes later in the game – I talk candidates who have already interviewed with the hiring manager and presumably have a reasonable grasp of the job requirements. When we get to the salary portion of the program, I explain that we have ‘cast in stone’ salary ranges, which are not negotiable. I carefully explain what I’m looking for, to underscore that this isn’t a game – the numbers have to be realistic from their perspective. If either end is in range, I tell them so (“Thanks, we can work with that range.”) If there isn’t a match (i.e., even their minimum is above our maximum), I tell them that as well, explain that we won’t be moving forward, thank them for their time, and wish them well. There is no upside to hiring someone for less than they want – only leads to dissatisfaction, poor performance, lousy morale…don’t get me started!! And only the CEO can authorize a salary range exception, and in the 8+years of his tenure, has never done it.

        Sorry, turned into a ‘HRWpedia’ rant! You can tell this is a hot button for me! ;~)

        1. Melissa*

          I know that this is preaching to the choir here, but if the salary ranges are “cast in stone”, based explicitly on experience and not negotiable, it seems like it would make more sense for the employer to state what they are and let the candidate decide whether they fit into that range – rather than asking the candidate to tell them their salary requirements which seem to not matter in any case.

  11. PumpkinEverything*

    I actually just went through this with my new employer. I had to apply online and list BOTH my current salary and my expected salary. I tried being vague, but the fields wouldn’t allow text. I tried listing all zeroes, but the fields wouldn’t allow that either. My old job was vastly different from my new one and so the market range was also different. There was no information for the new job on Glassdoor, Indeed, etc. I also have access to a proprietary compensation survey, and the range was so wide that it was impossible to come up with an expectation that was reasonable. The new company made me an offer (25% lower than my old salary), and I countered with a 15% bump. They came back with a 3% increase, and I took it without negotiating further. Why? They are a large company with a stellar reputation, they are drowning in work, and I had someone on the inside who told me that they try their best to be honest and fair – i.e., they don’t lowball, and they are interested in retaining good employees. That being said, this was truly a tricky one for me. If I didn’t have a friend on the inside, I don’t know what I would have done.

    1. Harryv*

      Unless I was without a job or moving to a much lower cost of living area… I would’ve been offended and walked away.

  12. Looby*

    When I’m asked to include salary requirements, I put in a range and then add something about being negotiable depending on the overall package.

    I do wish more companies would put their salary range on the job postings. I don’t want to waste my time stressing over the perfect cover letter if the highest offer is less than what I’m prepared to accept.

  13. The Other Dawn*

    This was such a difficult thing for me when Old Company closed and I had to look for work. I’d been in one company for 17 years, and the company was very, very small and mostly unprofitable, so salaries were below market. When it came time to look for a job, I really had nothing to go on, because I wore so many hats at Old Job. I ended up taking my ending salary and adding 10,000.00 as the number to shoot for. I didn’t get that much at the new job, but I was happy at the time. Then I applied for my current job and added 10,000.00 to what I was making at the job I was leaving and I got it. Too easily. But I’m happy.

    So, yesterday I’m handed a salary admin guide for managers and all the pay grades and ranges are listed. It’s awesome, because there’s no guessing at what amount and when I’ll top out in the range. (And I found out that my starting salary is in between the minimum and mid-range, which means I have a lot of room for salary growth.) Is this available for regular employees? No, but we’re encouraged to talk to our employees individually about their pay grades and the salary potential. It’s not some big elaborate secret.

    1. zora*

      Uh Ohs!!!! I just found a new place to waste time on the internet! Thanks a LOT, grasshopper! ;o)

  14. Who was that masked man?*

    There was a discussion on negotiation here awhile back, and I really liked what someone said, which was “don’t specify a salary range – just give a number.” Which makes sense. I’m sure that on occasion someone gets a Happy Surprise, but if you say “$50K to $60K”, they’re probably going to come back with a number closer to $50K.

  15. Belle Jolie*

    I agree that more transparency on the part of the company at the very beginning — like in the add — would be beneficial to all sides. I like being able to self select which jobs I don’t want to apply for.

    That being said, I had a phone interview the other day and the question of salary came up. They asked what I currently make, their base pay is slightly lower. However, there are possible bonuses and he sent me the benefits package to look over between now and my upcoming in person interview and the benefits are way better than what I have now and more than make up for the cut I’d be taking if offered the job. So there’s more to it than just the hard and fast salary number.

  16. Kyrielle*

    Also, while it wasn’t asked for in the cover letter, I was asked for my expected range in the initial HR phone screen for the job I just started at. My reply was “At least $X, dependent on the job and benefits.” My offer was more than $X by an amount that pleased me but didn’t floor me. I don’t think they were trying to lowball me at all; I have a lot of experience, and they had three open positions, two of which I was potentially a candidate for (more and less senior versions of the same role), so giving me their range would’ve probably led to a $20k-$40k spread, making it so vague as to be useless. I think they were just trying to determine a) whether they could offer me a salary I might accept for either of the two and b) whether they should offer me the lower-seniority of the two if I didn’t qualify for the higher-seniority after the interview.

    But I ended up very pleased with the offer in terms of salary and benefits, and definitely felt they were fair and it was not a lowball offer. (This company has an excellent rep for being good to employees, so.)

  17. Long Time Reader First Time Poster*

    I always try to beat employers to the punch on this question — on the very first phone screen, I’ll just ask right up front: “So, before we get too far down the path, I just wanted to make sure we were in the same ballpark when it comes to compensation expectations for this role. What kind of salary range are you currently considering?”

    If we are really out of whack, I say thanks but no thanks and the process ends quickly. No time is wasted, no hopes are gotten up.

    If the range sounds like something that could work for me, I don’t precisely commit to that amount, but say something like “okay I think we can keep going then!” and move on to the next topic.

    Just doing a quick temperature gauge at the beginning of the process is SO helpful. It stinks when a job that sounds good to me is way under my range, but I’d rather know sooner than later when I’m already invested!

    1. Ann*

      Totally agree – why waste everyone’s time! But what about the advise to not discuss salary until you get later in the process?

  18. Ashley K.*

    I’ve priced myself out of consideration before, despite being very clear that I truly was looking for the right fit. So it goes.

    I have always had strange interviews — “we never do this!” — but the one for my last job took the cake. I went in at 4pm on a Friday, interviewing for a mid-level associate position. My experience was a little below their requirements but I had quite a lot to show that, despite fewer years, I really knew what I was doing.

    So about an hour later, I’ve met the team, seen the office, and feel like I’ve totally nailed the interview. I spend another 20 minutes talking about the job and the company with the hiring manager. Then… the dreaded question: “What are your salary expectations?”

    I deferred (something something “depends on full benefits”), he deferred (something something “want to be sure we’re on the same level”), I deferred again, he deferred… and then we both laughed because we realized how ridiculous it was. I caved and gave my number, based on research, experience, the area, other people in the industry, etc. I thought I was asking for a lot given my position.

    He chuckled and I freaked out inside a little. Then: “Actually, I was thinking $65k. That’s the top end of our hiring range (aside: I later found out this was definitely true), but you clearly have what we need and I want to make sure you know it.”

    Then, at 6pm on a Friday night, they made me an offer at $65k.

    I wish all negotiations would go that way!

    1. Ann*

      Good thing for honesty on his part and not bringing you in at your requested lower rate! That would be really crappy.

      1. Ashley K.*

        Absolutely! He continued to be an amazing boss as well. I really miss that job.

    2. Emily*

      I was once being interviewed by the woman I’d be replacing, who was leaving on good terms to move halfway around the world. She asked for my salary range and I said $35-40K which was pretty much a guess because it’s a fuzzy field and I was new in it. She paused for a moment and then said, “I’m going to write down that you asked for $45,000.”

  19. Jerry Vandesic*

    If they need a number, I usually try two approaches to avoid mentioning my current salary. The first is to turn it around and talk about what you are looking to be paid in a new job. Don’t mention what you are currently being paid.

    If that doesn’t work, talk about “total comp” instead of simply base salary if they ask and won’t take no for an answer. Include all benefits, including 401k and vacation as well as the cost of health insurance. Add in any bonus potential, stock, etc. Include any educational assistance. The goal is to get to a number that is close to what you would look for from a new opportunity.

  20. Stranger than fiction*

    I’d add to Alisons answer “…and the total scope of the role” because responsibilities for the same job title can vary greatly and I’ve known so many people including myself that accept the offer them get on the job and find out there’s much more involved and they don’t always give you a complete description

  21. Ann*

    What about when the salary requirements box is hard-coded to only accept a number and is mandatory? The dreaded online application process where some algorithm decides the fate of your application.

    1. CAA*

      If you really don’t have an answer, put a zero in the box. If you’re worried that the wrong number will get your application kicked out of consideration, then putting a zero cannot result in a worse outcome.

    2. BeenThere*

      …or put 1,000,000 if it won’t accept zero. I’m going to assume anyone at that paygrade isn’t actually being hired via taleo and all the other candidate screening autobots out there.

  22. Eric*

    This happened to me. I was pressed to give a range so I did without really knowing what the job market would bear (I was moving across the country) and when they offered me the job they offered me the absolute lowest end and wouldn’t budge because they were in my range.

    Oh well. Live and learn.

  23. LizB*

    Yeah, I hate this question, especially as someone who’s fairly new to the job market. I know how much money I need to live, and I’ve done as much research as I can about what people in the kinds of positions I’m looking at are often paid, but that doesn’t tell me what my work is worth. I have a number that I would be happy with, but I only give it when I absolutely have to and also include language about flexibility, depending on benefits, etc. etc..

    I had a phone screen a few weeks ago where the interviewer told me upfront (I think it was the second question in a 20-minute conversation) what the expected compensation was and asked if it was in my range. I’m glad he did it that way instead of asking me for a number, because the number he gave me was 20% higher than what I’d been hoping for! My jaw dropped. I now have an in-person interview with them next week, and am preparing as thoroughly as I can, because the job sounds awesome and pays so much better than I was expecting.

    1. CAA*

      Good luck! This is information you can use even if you don’t get the job though. Now you know that the market is paying more than you thought.

  24. Hermoine Granger*

    I’ve grown to actually prefer having at least a basic check-in on salary early in the process. I no longer have any qualms about stating my salary history or expectations. I really don’t care about who names a number first as long as it gets put out there and we’re in the same ball park.

    This is a result of a past experience with a company that waited until the offer stage to discuss salary. They were asking for a lot so I (wrongly) assumed they’d value the position and offer a salary to match their expectations. I got through the interview process (by the end of which I had a few reservations) and they extended an offer.

    They weren’t outright rude but seemed to become passive aggressive during the later stages of the hiring process. The offer was about 15-20k below the lower range of salaries I’d seen other employers offer for similar positions. The benefits were average so not spectacular enough to make up for the low salary. Yet they seemed to be under the impression (or at least were trying to convince me) that the salary and benefits were amazing and were quite pushy about me responding to the offer quickly. They threw a lot of numbers at me regarding benefits but seemed annoyed and weren’t as forthcoming when I asked for clarification / details. I got an uneasy feeling that they were probably being dishonest about the financial health / condition of the company along with a few other things. Ultimately, we decided not to move forward but I learned a lot from the experience.

    1. BeenThere*

      The exact same thing happened to me during job search 2012. I’d been clear I was flexible provided their benefits were awesome and leave was great etc. When I finally got the details they weren’t at all, right on the average and the position had now power where it actually needed it to be effective. Nope nope nope. I will no be an underpaid scapegoat thank you very much.

  25. Audrey the Secretary*

    When I negotiate salary, I prefer to do so early on to make sure we’re on the same page. As a candidate, I’ll approach the situation with a range in mind, I just make sure the bottom of my range is a number I know I will be very happy with. Most employers I’ve run into will try to meet the middle to upper half of my range anyway, so I often end up happy with the offer and not needing to negotiate further.

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