In the next few minutes, I’m going to show you what to put for desired salary on job applications, and the best answers to, “What is your desired salary?” in interviews.
Let’s start with the most important rule: The best answers for, “what is your desired salary?” on applications and interviews will AVOID telling the company your specific salary expectations.
In fact, you want to wait until you know the company is interested in offering you the position to reveal your salary expectations. Sharing desired salary before this point can cost you thousands of dollars or cost you the job, and I’ll explain why.
Let’s get started…
The best way to answer desired salary or salary expectations on a job application is to leave the field blank or write ‘Negotiable’ rather than providing a number. If the application won’t accept non-numerical text, then enter “999,” or “000”. Then, look for a notes section later in the job application and write, “Regarding desired salary, this is negotiable and can be discussed in the interview.”
It is not beneficial in any way for you to write your desired salary on job applications.
But at this stage, they know NOTHING about you, and they definitely don’t know if they want to hire you yet.
So they’re a lot less likely to want to stretch their budget.
When you’re filling out your desired salary on a job application, you know nothing about the job yet.
So maybe you put $40,000 on the job application, but you realize during the interviews that you feel $50,000 is much more fair because this job involves a lot more than the other jobs you’re interviewing for.
If you said $40,000 on the job application form, you’re going to have a difficult time getting $50,000 at the end of the process.
(They’ll say, “Well, when you applied, you said $40,000 was what you’re aiming at, and we’re prepared to offer you that amount.)
So it’s a lose-lose. You gain absolutely NOTHING by telling them your desired salary on a job application form, and you could potentially lose a lot (thousands of dollars, or the opportunity to continue interviewing at all).
You can leave the desired salary field blank, write “negotiable,” or put “999” or “000” if a number is required to submit the online application.
Then, if there’s a place to put a note later in the application form say, “Regarding starting salary, this is negotiable and can be discussed during an interview.”
I’ve had a few readers email in recently saying, “Biron, I can’t put what you said for desired salary because the form won’t let me.”
I’ve also heard reports of employers asking for desired salary in your cover letter, too (not cool!)
Anyway, my point is: You may have to get creative and adjust this on a case-by-case basis.
No two online applications are the same. You may able to leave a few blank. Then you might find an application that says you must enter numbers only.
Test different things. If it won’t let you leave it blank or enter “000”, then try “999”. Or if you must, enter a range. That’s better than giving a single number. I’ll explain more about how to provide a good range instead of a single number later in this article.
Now let’s talk about what to do if they ask about your desired salary in an interview…
The best responses for “what is your desired salary” in an interview will inform the interviewer that you’re focused on finding the best-fitting position for your career and you don’t have a specific salary target in mind yet. This will prevent the interviewer from “pushing back” and continuing to pressure you for a desired salary.
Once you know they want to offer you the position, then you have some leverage to negotiate with! But don’t share your desired salary before then.
One tactic you can use is to share your most recent salary instead. This is a good option if you feel you were highly-paid or fairly-paid in your most recent role.
You’re giving them some information about your compensation so they can tell you if the company can at least afford to pay you an increase over your last role. But you’re not putting yourself into a corner by telling them the exact number you’re targeting.
“I’m currently earning a base salary of $45,000. I don’t have a specific number in mind that I’m targeting for this next position, though, and I’m willing to consider an offer that you feel is fair.”
It’s also possible to answer questions about desired salary without revealing your last salary, either.
“At this point in my job search, I’m focused on finding the position that’s the best fit for my skills and career. Once I’ve done that, I’m willing to consider an offer that you feel is fair for the role.”
If you feel you were not well-paid in your last role and don’t want to be held back by that salary, you can respond like this.
This is a great answer because it’s polite, professional, and makes it unlikely they’ll try to “push” you further… because you’ve said that you don’t have a number in mind.
If they push back or insist on getting a number from you, just repeat:
“I really don’t have a number in mind yet.”
They can’t push you for a number if you don’t have one!
“I don’t have a specific number in mind yet. At this point in my job search, I’m focused on finding the position that’s the best fit for my career. Once I’ve done that, I’m willing to consider an offer you feel is fair.”
This is just one more way of phrasing the same idea above. You can choose the sample answer that sounds best to you. They’re all good options for how to answer desired salary questions in a job interview.
You can also redirect the question back at the interviewer by asking what they’ve budgeted for the role.
This is a bit more direct but can work (while providing you with some useful info about what they’re willing to pay!)
I like combining this tactic with some of what we covered above. You’ll see this in the example coming up below. You’re deflecting the question by saying you don’t have a specific desired salary in mind yet, AND you’re asking what they’ve budgeted.
“At this point in my job search, I’m focused on finding the best-fitting position for my career and I don’t have a specific number in mind yet. What range did you have budgeted for the position?”
Maybe you’ve gone on a few interviews and they waited until now to ask about desired salary.
For cases like this, there’s a different type of answer you can give.
“I usually reserve salary discussions for when I know I’m being offered the job. Is it alright if we discuss the role further to determine if this is a good potential fit first? After we know it’s a good match for both sides, I’d be happy to talk about compensation.”
Or maybe you’re not sure if they’re offering you the job or not when they ask, “what is your desired salary?”
“I usually reserve salary discussion for when I’m being offered the job. Is that the case here?”
If they say “yes,” then you can negotiate.
If they say, “no”, then you can respond:
“Perhaps we can finish discussing the role and then discuss salary after we’re sure it’s a good match. What else can I answer to help you determine if the job is a good fit in terms of my background and skill set?”
If pressed, or if you believe that you must provide a figure to proceed to the next stage in the hiring process, you can state a broad range rather than a specific desired salary.
This is preferable because you’re less likely to rule yourself out and get eliminated by going too high, and you’re less likely to limit your job offer later by going too low.
So before going on your interview, be prepared to state a range. Research the rate of compensation for the role you are aiming to fill. You can do this by looking at job sites, industry newsletters, and salary surveys, or by using a salary calculator. In addition, research cost of living in the area.
If you decide to share a range for desired salary in the interview, always make it a broad range, like $40,000-60,000.
And state your desired range boldly. Don’t be tentative, or offer the range in the form of a question. Then, immediately shift the conversation back to the skills and value you will bring to the role.
Another effective way to avoid being pressed about salary expectations too early in the process is to sidestep the preliminary screening process entirely.
Remember that your goal in the early stages of the hiring process is to sell yourself in the role. If you do this well enough you will be negotiating from a position of strength and your next employer should be willing to pay you what you are worth.
Remember the main goal of everything we’ve covered above… whether you’re deciding what to put for desired salary on an application, or preparing to face the topic in your interview.
Before you know the company wants to hire you, you have no leverage to negotiate with or make demands with.
So when employers ask about desired salary on applications and interviews, the best thing to do is to delay the discussion until they want to offer you the position.
Re-focus the conversation on your skills and their job responsibilities, to determine whether it’s a good potential match. (That’s the whole point of going on a job interview).
Ask them questions about the job. Share examples of your past work. Tell them one or two things about the job that excite you.
But keep the conversation focused on their job and your skills/abilities (as they relate to the job).
Then, when they decide to offer you the position, you can discuss salary and bonuses with them knowing they are interested in hiring you and are likely to meet some of your demands if they’re reasonable.
You know what to put for desired salary on applications and how to handle questions about desired salary in the interview. This will help you get more interviews and stay calm all the way through the process – up until you receive an offer!
Biron Clark is a former Executive Recruiter who has worked with hundreds of job seekers, reviewed thousands of resumes and LinkedIn profiles, and recruited for top venture-backed startups and Fortune 500 companies. He has been advising job seekers since 2012 to think differently in their job search and land high-paying, competitive positions.
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