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Kathleen Furore

Kathleen Furore

DEAR READERS: I’m always surprised to see job listings that ask about an applicant’s salary requirements — especially if the listing is for an entry-level to mid-level position and doesn’t include information about the salary range for the job. So I reached out to career search experts for guidance on how to answer the salary question — whether it’s asked online or during an interview.

The good news, according to Tiffani Murray, corporate HR executive and career consultant at Personality On a Page, is that this question might eventually become moot.

“There are changes coming in the next year in some states that won’t allow a company to ask you what your current salary is, which will assist job seekers with avoiding being stuck with a salary that may not have been aligned with compensation studies and norms,” Murray said.

That won’t help anyone looking for a job now, so until laws change, doing your homework is an important first step.

“Research salaries for your current role and the role you’ve applied to,” Murray said, who notes that websites like Glassdoor, Salary.com and LinkedIn are good places to start. “You can also ask the recruiter [if you are working with one] what the range is for the role.”

The appropriate answer also will depend on several factors.

Recent college grads, for example, “may want to be a bit more conservative in terms of salary demands,” Murray said. However, mid-level professionals and above should be careful to not undervalue themselves when quoting a minimum salary, she advised.

Your current employment situation is also key.

“If you are approaching a company downsize or layoff, you may want to be a bit more aloof with your salary requirements,” Murray said. Then, if you’re eventually offered a salary lower than what you desire, you can be more candid about what it will take for you to leave your current employer, she added.

Is some version of “negotiable depending on benefits/overall compensation” OK?

Yes, the experts say.

In fact, Chris Chancey, founder of Amplio Recruiting, advises steering clear of specific numbers if you’re unsure about the company’s salary range.

“A good response would be, ‘I don’t have a specific number in mind, but I would like to be compensated fairly for my skill set and experience. I am open to discussing what you think is a fair salary based on the responsibilities of the job,’” Chancey said. “This response highlights your value, but it also makes it known to the hiring manager that you are flexible.”

The approach, Chancey said, might be a little different if you are applying for a higher-level position.

“Even if you are flexible, employers prefer specific numbers,” he said. “To come up with an expected salary range, use your current salary, assuming that your current employer is not grossly underpaying you, as well as industry and geographical averages for the kind of position you are applying for. If you are looking for a raise, it might be safe to up your salary by 10 to 15% without overpricing yourself out of the job.”

A good response, Chancy said, might be something like this: “I am open to discussing what you believe is fair compensation for this position. With my skill set and experience, I would expect a salary in the range of $X-$Y, based on what I understand to be the industry average pay for a similar position in our area.”

Marc Cenedella, CEO at Ladders, a leading professional careers site, agrees that the job level will determine your approach.

“If you’re a recent college grad, ask what the pay levels are like for new hires,” Cenedella said. “It’s more likely you won’t have a lot of negotiating room. When it comes to more experienced professionals, ideally you’d like the other side to go first.”

He suggests starting with a generic answer such as “market rate” or “consistent with comparable roles,” with the goal of getting the employer to indicate their pay range.

However, if there is a talented recruiter on the company’s side, “they’ll generally be able to outmaneuver you on this question — after all, it’s what they do for a living,” Cenedella said.

In that case, “It’s in your best interest to give a range and indicate that the high end of that range is a number 10 to 15% above what you need,” Cenedella said.

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Kathleen Furore is a Chicago-based writer and editor. Email her career questions at kfurore@yahoo.com.

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