"What are your salary expectations?"
This common interview question, posed by hiring managers to candidates, is one that's increasingly being seen as problematic. Yet, the question still has some staunch defenders — like one anonymous small business owner who recently wrote into the popular Ask a Manager blog. And her controversial stance on the subject quickly went viral.
"(I) learned early on when I am hiring to ALWAYS ask the candidate their salary expectations before giving any information out about the range I am willing to offer. Why? Firstly, the money comes directly from our pockets and, frankly, if we can get away with paying $20/hour instead of $22/hour, why wouldn’t we? It also gives us room for raises, bonuses, etc. without taking too much of a financial hit. You always advocate that employees look out for their own interests. Why should that be so different for me as an employer? Maybe we tend to think of employers as BIG CORPORATION, but at least in our case, it’s just hard-working individuals hoping to keep expenses in check."
By asking candidates what their salary expectations are upfront, it creates clarity, the reader advocated. And without that sense of clarity, the interview process could be a waste of time for both parties.
"I want to know if they’re likely to be unhappy with (the) salary. Hearing that they expect $24/hour is very valuable information for us to have! And if I can get it, I will."
For a lot of job seekers, though, being asked what their salary expectation is — before the company has disclosed its salary range — isn't a popular practice. Most people on the hunt for work, after all, want to know what a company would be willing to offer them — or at least what a company generally has in mind — so that they don't undersell themselves. Besides, leaving pay in the candidate's court can disproportionately disadvantage women, people of color and other minorities who are less likely to negotiate.
It's a question women are asking themselves in the FGB Community, too.
"I've had most of my jobs for years at a time, so I've only interviewed a handful of times in my life," wrote FGB'er Holls1229. "You'd think that at this stage in my career, I'd be able to smoothly handle the salary requirements question, but I found myself struggling with it recently. I don't want to price myself out, but I also know what I'm worth, and I've been surprised by many interviewers bringing up this question much sooner in the conversation than they did in years past."
She asked other FGB'ers for a smooth and professional way to answer the salary expectations question when you don't know what the exact range is for the position and don't want to price yourself too high or too low. Here's what other women had to say.
"I’ve turned the question back to them and asked them what is the range of this position," an anonymous FGB'er says. "If it’s within my range, I tell them that’s acceptable, and I’ve gotten the second interview (and negotiate hard for the top end). If they are way low, I’ve told them that it is too low, and I was looking in the X-to-X range. Sometimes they’ve been willing to pay that; other times they say that’s it."
Others agree that you should ask the company about their range.
"The way I usually approach it is to ask if they are working with a range and usually they share if they are," says Jennifer Swayne. "If it's the same that I was thinking, then I share that I am comfortable with that and interested in continuing the process. If not, but it's close, I share that I was looking for a little higher but it's negotiable based on the full benefits package and responsibilities, and that I am interested in continuing. This is essentially kicking the can down the road until an offer is made and you are in the strongest position to negotiate salary, benefits, etc."
If it's way off base, she adds that she'll share that she was looking for a much different range based on her understanding of the responsibilities and market pay for similar positions.
"I do my research on what the company pays (range-wise) and what other companies pay for similar positions," says Dawn Cross. "I let my requirements fall where I [think it's] applicable based on all of the above."
Mary Wilkins adds that you need to do your homework so you don't low ball yourself.
"Do the research for pay scale in your area and field," she says. "I have a minimum hourly figure pre-determined for what I will accept in an offer, based on job requirements, experience required and commuting costs. When I am asked, I typically go a bit higher and give a range. If I want $20/hour, I would put 44 to 46k based on a 40-hour week."
Some FGB'ers in the hiring position even add that they're impressed by candidates who've done their research.
"I would definitely be impressed to see that a candidate had done her research — and equally impressed that she isn't afraid to point it out," says Holls1229.
Don't forget to consider other parts of the package, like benefits.
"If there is some 'extra' you want (flexible schedule, work from home sometimes, extra vacation, etc) this can be the perfect time to bring it up," says Jen Stephens. "'My salary requirement would depend on the overall compensation package. I value a flexible schedule (vacation time with my family), and would be open to a reasonable compromise.'"
FGB'er BalancedSoul does just this.
"I usually ask for the range although, at times, they catch me off guard and ask what is the lowest I'll accept — and then I tell them," she says. "And I'm truthful, but I also say, it depends on all else — the whole package."
"It is okay to tell them what you are looking for," says Paula Striefel. "I gave them a number and they topped it. This question isn't something to be afraid of. Most companies go after the quality candidate and are willing to pay a little more to get a 'yes' to an offer."
After all, would you even want to work for the company if they're not willing to pay you what you want or need?
*In an earlier version of this article, we misattributed the letter about salary expectations that was published on the Ask a Manager blog to the owner of that blog, Alison Green. The letter was submitted to the blog by an anonymous reader.
AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreport and Facebook.
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