Figuring out what to put for “desired salary” on a job application and learning how to answer this question can be tough. And this is especially true if you haven’t gone through this process before!
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This guide will teach you everything you need to know when it comes to handling questions about your desired salary. When done right, you’ll go into the negotiation process prepared and confident.
The Ideal Time to Discuss Your Desired Salary
Questions about desired salaries and compensation can come up at any time. While there are best practices for specific industries, every company’s hiring process is different.
You might encounter that question during your initial application before you even speak to a hiring manager. In some cases, it comes pretty early during the first interview. Some encounter it much later in the hiring process. Whatever the case might be, you have to be prepared to answer this question.
So when is the ideal time to discuss your desired salary?
The best-case scenario is to do salary negotiations after you already have a job offer (or you’re seeing strong signs that you got the job). When you reach this point in the job interview process, the employer has communicated their expectations and you have a much better feel for what the job entails. If you attempt to negotiate salary any time before that, you’re at a disadvantage. You haven’t had the chance to discuss how your skills and experience will benefit the company nor do you know if the company wants to hire you.
Not only that, by attempting to discuss your desired salary too early, you could inadvertently ruin your chances of negotiation later or take yourself out of the running altogether. Your goal during the interview process is to make the hiring manager want to hire you. Once you’re at that point and receive the elusive job offer or an indication that they’re prepared to make you a serious offer, you can begin negotiations and get yourself the salary you deserve.
You want to know what the job pays before you invest too much time. The company feels the same way.
But what do you do if the desired salary question comes earlier than that? And you probably will be asked earlier.
How to Answer If Asked Earlier
There are several things you can do. Guiding the discussion elsewhere might help you postpone answering before you’re ready.
For example, you could say you’re not ready to discuss your desired salary yet because you’re focusing on finding a position that fits your skills and career goals. Most hiring managers will respect that because it shows that salary isn’t the main priority.
Alternatively, you could stall the discussion by asking more questions. Ultimately, you want to be sure the position is right for you before the topic of salary comes into the equation. Ask more questions and get the information you need.
Another tactic to ask what their budgeted salary range is. Before you talk about your desired salary, ask what the company has budgeted for the role or what their range is. This gets the company to disclose their range so that the desired salary range you specify falls close or within theirs.
Or you could choose to avoid answering desired salary questions and state that you prefer to discuss salary requirements after you get a job offer. The recruiter will either accept that answer and proceed with the interview or stop the conversation and reject you as a candidate.
It’s always a good idea to respectfully delay answering this question until you get a job offer. While that’s not always possible, it’s important to remember that answering the salary question too early and before you understand the full scope of the job, can either make your salary too high or too low.
What to Put for “Desired Salary” on a Job Application
The earliest time you will see questions about your desired salary is on a job application. Unfortunately, with the popularity of online applications, it’s becoming increasingly common to encounter the question. It’s often used to determine if the candidate is within the company’s budget.
Here are some ways you can fill out that section while still moving through the application process.
1. List a Range
Figuring out what to put for your desired salary can seem tricky, but being straightforward is always an option. If you’re confident in your chosen salary range, feel free to put it in the application. In some cases, you might have no choice due to the input restrictions placed on the web form.
Make sure to do your research first and put a realistic desired salary range. We’ll go into the details of this in a second, but the goal is to stay within the going rate or market value.
There are plenty of resources out there to give you a good idea of what jobs like the one you’re applying for pay. Stick to a median or midpoint range so that the desired salary range you list doesn’t raise any red flags.
Here are some salary calculators to check for salary ranges. Use more than one and take an average. You will notice that these tools offer a low median and high salary range. If you are in an industry that notoriously pays low (such as higher ed or not-for-profit, use the lower end of the scale. If you are in technology or a highly competitive industry or an expensive city, use the higher end of the range.
Learn more about The Best Ways to Find Salary Information.
Keep in mind that your desired salary information can be used to weed you out or filter you into the interview process. If you put a range outside of the company’s budget, they may not want to waste time speaking to you, especially if they think they can’t afford you. Similarly, if you put a range that is too low, they may think you aren’t qualified for the job.
2. Leave It Blank
Ideally, you might have the ability to leave this field blank on your application. This isn’t always the case, as many forms require you to fill out all blanks before you can submit them.
But if it’s possible, you can leave the desired salary fields blank on the application. That way, you can rest assured that your desired range won’t get your application tossed out.
3. Fill in with 000 or 999 and Discuss Later
If you must put something in the desired salary field and you don’t want to provide a range, try putting something like “000” or “999” That should fit the numerical character requirements, allowing you to submit the form. Most hiring managers will see those numbers and know that you don’t want to discuss salary figures until later.
You can also leave a little note to be on the safe side. Many applications have a spot to leave comments. Refer back to the salary question and mention that you’re willing to negotiate salary at a later time.
Remember, the ideal situation would be to hold out until you have a job offer. That’s why putting these filler numbers in for your desired salary is an option to push things back a bit.
How to Answer This Question in an Interview
Whether questions about your desired salary come up on the application or not, there’s a good chance you will hear them during your interview. Some hiring managers will bring it up pretty early to take care of the details before diving into the more open interview questions. Others might leave it to subsequent sit-down interviews or not bring it up at all!
It all depends on the hiring process. To ensure that you’re not caught off guard, you should think long and hard about this question before going into your interview. Here’s how to answer desired salary questions when they come up.
Prepare Ahead of Time
Never go into a job interview blind. Research is a must! Doing your due diligence and practicing how to answer desired salary questions before heading into an interview can give you a significant edge.
You can learn about the company’s work culture, job outlook, and so much more. More importantly, you can take that time to understand what this position typically pays (is it entry-level or a six-figure job). Knowledge is power, and having a basic understanding of average salaries can go a long way in the negotiations.
The Internet is a goldmine of information. In just a few minutes, you can understand basic salary ranges for your field. If you’re applying to a well-known company, you might even see reported salaries from previous employees in the same position!
But even if you can’t find something as specific as that, you shouldn’t have any problem learning more about standard compensation. As always, remember that all companies are different, so invest time researching your desired salary range.
Other factors will come into play as well when it comes to realistic salary expectations. Viewing high-level salary numbers can get you started, but you’ll also need to consider work history factors like:
- Work experience
- Certifications or licenses held
- Your specific skill set
Typically, applicants with years of experience and proven training in the field fetch a much higher salary than those entering the job market for the first time. Take that into account and review your own work history to determine a reasonable desired salary range.
And don’t forget geographic location. If you’re moving to a brand-new city for a job, the cost of living could be significantly different. Salaries in major cities tend to be higher than those for the same job in more rural areas.
That’s because it’s expensive to live in large metropolitan locales. If you model your salary range to an area with a low cost of living while finding a job in a major market city, your quality of life could suffer.
As you perform research, rely on facts and reliable sources. Whatever you do, don’t put too much stock in the feedback of your friends or colleagues. Even if they work in the same industry, you don’t have the same background.
Everyone is different and brings something unique to the table. As a result, salary negotiations will vary from one person to the next. Not only that but there’s a decent chance that the person giving you advice could have undervalued themselves during salary negotiation. Relying on someone else’s input can put you in a bad spot and make you unprepared to go through proper negotiations.
Don’t forget to consider bonuses and the complete benefits package. Benefits will likely come up when you discuss your desired salary as well, so it’s important to keep non-monetary compensation in the back of your mind when creating a range.
When it comes to answering questions about your desired salary, the worst answer is not having one at all!
You can attempt to steer the discussion away from salary expectations to postpone answering if you’re not ready. However, there’s only so much you can do without sounding pushy or rude. If the interviewer insists you answer, you need to have a salary range in mind.
Being wishy-washy, overly vague, or not having a desired salary range because you failed to do any research doesn’t reflect well on you. There are a couple of reasons for this.
For one, it can actually come off as disrespectful. Recruiters and Talent Acquisition professionals try to move the process along and find a suitable fit for what they have to work with at the moment. In most cases, the person interviewing you has no stake in the budget. They’re usually not the ones responsible for determining pay.
Being ambiguous could feel like you’re intentionally wasting their time.
Secondly, it can make you look unprepared. Beating around the bush can show a lack of confidence and inadequate preparation. It indicates to the interviewer that you’re not taking the process seriously, which could take you out of the running.
When practicing how to answer desired salary questions, the goal is to be straightforward and confident. Prepare your answer ahead of time and practice reciting it in a way that makes you sound secure in your stance. You can be steadfast in your desired salary range, but don’t dance around the topic too much.
Explain Your Reasoning, But Don’t Go Overboard
The best way to sound confident in your salary expectations is to lay out the facts. Don’t be afraid to defend your salary range. You should have plenty of evidence to explain your reasoning if you did the research.
Bring up competitors and talk about what you have to bring to the table. Link it all back to your research and your desired salary, and hiring managers won’t have much basis to argue with you. At that point, it simply becomes a matter of whether or not the company can meet your expectations.
The goal is to create a convincing argument for your chosen salary range. However, you don’t want to get too deep into the details. There’s no need to go overboard and talk about every little piece of evidence you have.
Keep things short and to the point. Going too deep into the explanation can have the opposite effect of what you want. You may come off as arrogant or only interested in the money, which is never a good thing.
Explain your salary expectations, but keep it brief.
Example Answer #1
In this example, the desired salary question comes early in the interview before you’ve received a job offer. When asked, you could answer with:
“At this point in my job search, my focus is on finding a position that fits my skills and career goals. I’d love to keep discussing the role so that we both have more insight into what fair compensation would be based on my skills and experience. I have a few more questions about the job I’d like to ask, and I’d be happy to discuss salary at a later time.”
This answer side-steps answering the desired salary question and redirects it to another topic. It’s respectful, short, and lets the interviewer know that you’re not ready to discuss those matters just yet.
Example Answer #2
Here’s an example answer for desired salary questions that you can use if you feel you’re close to getting a job offer. It’s a way to clarify where you stand in the application process while also letting the interviewer know that you don’t want to do salary negotiations until you have an offer.
This answer is best utilized when you feel reasonably confident in your standing. For example, you might be several interviews deep into the process. You could say:
“I prefer to discuss salary expectations when I’ve been offered a job. Is that the case in this situation?”
Your interviewer could respond in many different ways. They could let you know that you’re getting a job offer, or they’ll move on to the next question. Either way, this is a respectful and straightforward answer you can go with.
You can also use this desired salary answer to ask about commissions, bonuses, benefits, and other types of compensation.
Example Answer #3
In this example answer, you’ve researched fair salaries and want to “make your case” without being over the top. You could answer with:
“Based on my research, I’m asking for a salary between X and Y. I came up with that range by looking at average salary ranges for this position and the cost of living. I also took into account my several years of experience and the skills I would bring to your company.”
The answer is brief and to the point. It doesn’t go super deep into the research, but it justifies your salary expectations without much room for counterarguments.
Why it’s Useful to Answer with a Range
If you’re thinking about providing a single number, it’s best to rethink that approach. It’s always better to answer desired salary questions with a range rather than a firm number.
If you provide a singular salary expectation, it proves that you’re a bit inflexible. You want to indicate that you’re open to negotiations. Having a single number as your desired salary shows that you might be unwilling to do that.
Not only that, but it could hurt your standing in the negotiations process.
For example, say that your number is too high. A high salary expectation is a potential red flag that could take you out of the running entirely. Remember, many companies ask for your preferred salary in the application because they want to weed out candidates that don’t fit and stick to applicants that work within their budgetary restrictions.
Having salary expectations that are too high could eliminate you before you even get the chance to make an impression with the hiring manager.
On the other hand, you might provide a salary that’s too low. In that case, you would leave little room for negotiations later on.
Let’s say that you learned more about the position after doing research and realize that your initial expectation was far lower than the average. If you try to negotiate a higher salary later, the interviewer can come back and say that you only asked for a salary of X and they were only prepared to offer a job at that number. Asking for any more could end the negotiations before it gets anywhere.
That’s why providing a desired salary range is the best approach.
As a good rule of thumb, provide as broad a range as you can! That way, there’s plenty of wiggle room to get the compensation plan that’s right for you.
Now that you know what to put for “desired salary” on a job application (and how to answer if you’re asked directly), it’s time for you to start practicing. Do your research, run through your answers, and you’ll give yourself a great chance to land the job!
Hannah Morgan speaks and writes about job search and career strategies. She founded CareerSherpa.net to educate professionals on how to maneuver through today’s job search process. Hannah was nominated as a LinkedIn Top Voice in Job Search and Careers and is a regular contributor to US News & World Report. She has been quoted by media outlets, including Forbes, USA Today, Money Magazine, Huffington Post, as well as many other publications. She is also author of The Infographic Resume and co-author of Social Networking for Business Success.