Sometimes, your job search can be like a staring game. You and a prospective employer try to make one another blink to gain some sort of advantage over each other throughout the hiring process.
One of the most common forms of this game occurs when employers place job ads asking applicants to provide salary requirements. In some cases, the employer isn’t too hard-nosed about it. In other cases, the employer is crystal clear that applicants failing to provide salary requirements will not be considered for the position.
In both instances, the employer is essentially trying to get you to state a specific salary number, which the company might then use to either eliminate you from consideration or, perhaps, offer you less money than you’re really worth.
So how should you handle this difficult dilemma? There is no one right approach that will work in every situation. Instead, career experts say you can use any of the following strategies.
Ignore the Request.
Katharine Hansen, author of Dynamic Cover Letters for New Graduates, says simply ignoring the request is risky, but, according to research, you won’t necessarily be rejected. You may be more likely to be eliminated by stating the wrong salary than you are by saying nothing at all.
Say You’ll Discuss Salary Requirements in an Interview.
"Acknowledge the request but say you are uncomfortable discussing salary in a cover letter and would prefer to do so in a face-to-face meeting," says Hansen. Again, this approach can be somewhat risky, depending on how firm the employer appears to be in its job ad. But you’re at least acknowledging the employer’s request.
Respond But Be Vague.
Sandra Baxter Williams, assistant director of engineering co-op and career services at the University of Maryland at College Park, says being vague is the best option.
"By acknowledging the employer’s request for salary information, you’ve shown that you didn’t just leave it out accidentally or miss the fact that they wanted you to state your requirements," Baxter Williams says. "By remaining a bit vague, you don’t shoot yourself in the foot before you’ve even had a chance to prove yourself. I generally suggest saying something like, ‘While salary is certainly an important factor, I’m most interested in finding a position that is well-suited to my skills and qualifications.’"
Baxter Williams concedes that the employer may still contact you and ask to know your salary requirements. "But sometimes stalling techniques can still be effective," she says. "Rather than putting your requirements in writing, where there’s less room for explanation, you can talk about it in person so you can back up what you’re requesting."
State a Range, Not a Specific Number.
"If the employer insists on the salary information then include a well-researched and fairly broad salary range," says Jayne Hayden, career resource center manager at the University of Waterloo in Waterloo, Ontario.
Jack Chapman, author of Negotiating Your Salary: How to Make $1,000 a Minute, takes this approach a step further.
"Answer the ad and say, ‘I noticed that you requested salary requirements,’" Chapman says. Then, say something like this:
As you can see, I’m a recent college grad. I have work and volunteer experience, but those aren’t much of an indicator of what I should be paid for your job. The best I can tell you is that my long-range goal is a six-figure income. Whatever work I do, I’m going to do it so well that I expect to be promoted to ever-increasing levels of responsibility until I get my six figures. I’ve researched positions like this one, and the range seems to be $X to $Y [give a broad range]. Depending on benefits, location, fit, company philosophy and management style, and potential for bonuses and growth, I would be comfortable with something in this range.
"The rationale is to tell the employer what you think you’re worth, not what you desire," Chapman says.
You may not come out ahead in every instance of the salary requirements game, but at least you’ll understand how the game is played. And you’ll be able to position yourself for the salary you deserve without taking yourself out of the game.
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