Answering the salary question in an interview or on an application form

I’m on vacation until after Easter, so I’m taking a lesson from other bloggers/tv talk shows and will be posting “best of the blog” entries for the next few days. Since I’ve posted nearly 100 entries to date, I have quite a few to choose from. The following was one of my first entries, posted originally on June 20, 2013. But the advice is still good (and the internal link still works)!

My students often tell me that their greatest fear going into an interview is that they will be asked about their salary requirements. And they are not alone. This topic has shown up in many articles over the past six months, and the advice is not relevant to all job seekers. Here’s a logical approach: Do some advance planning so that you will be prepared to answer the salary question when it arises.

  • Read the position description closely to see if the employer provides a suggested salary or salary range.
  • Calculate what you can accept as a minimum salary and still be comfortable, regardless of what job you are applying for. Consider these questions:

What is the cost of living in the area where you would be living? (Tip 9 in my book.)
What are your fixed expenses?
What amount will make you feel that your employer values your skills?

  • Perform research to determine what a reasonable salary should be.

Conduct information interviews with people in comparable positions. (Tip 6 in my book.)
Use online tools from professional associations. (Tip 26 in my book.)
Continue reading below to find suggestions for determining an appropriate salary for a specific job from Forbes.com.

  • Be realistic about the match between the skills you would bring to the position and those required by the employer.

Over the next few posts I’ll review some of the advice about salary that I found in recent articles. First up: Forbes.com posted an article recently titled “How to Know What That Job Pays.”

In the article you’ll find a series of websites that Forbes says can “provide valuable salary intelligence.” For each of the sites, I followed Forbes’ instructions using specific jobs that my students had applied for recently.*

  • Google. I was not able to get any worthwhile information for most positions.
  • Indeed.com. Very helpful. For most positions, I got an estimated salary plus a comparison with average salaries for similar positions in the U.S.
  • SimplyHired.com. Very similar to Indeed.com, although the salary results were not identical. I’d suggest checking both to calculate a range.
  • Department of Labor Occupational Outlook Handbook. As I say in my book (Tips 14 and 19 and Appendix C), this can be an exceptional resource for getting general information about a variety of occupations. The information is not location or company specific, but it does vary by region.
  • Glassdoor.com. This data is user-provided, and I was not able to find results for most of the jobs I used for the test. You have to sign in with Facebook or sign up to join Glassdoor to get data. When you sign in/up, you agree to provide data about your salary. This site also provides information about users’ experiences with specific companies.
  • Salary.com. This site has the potential to give you some good results depending on your ability to be specific about job title and location. For a fee, you can get additional services that may be beneficial.
  • Payscale.com. Similar to Glassdoor, they use data provided by their members and offer data in exchange for your participation. The database is more extensive than Glassdoor, so it may provide a wider selection of responses. This site also provides the opportunity for a customized evaluation of what your skills and experience should be worth in a specific location.

*The jobs and locations used for this test were

  • Reporter, The Goldsboro News-Argus, Goldsboro, NC
  • Marketing and Communications Associate, Southern Environmental Law Center, Charlottesville, VA
  • Director of Development, Building Tomorrow, Indianapolis, IN
  • Editor, Hachette Book Group, New York, NY
  • Camp Counselor, A.E. Finley YMCA, Raleigh, NC
  • English Teacher, Broughton High School, Raleigh, NC
  • Office Manager, Sweeps, Chapel Hill, NC
  • Public School Teacher, North Carolina Teacher Corps, Raleigh, NC
  • Technical Writer, Allscripts, Raleigh, NC
  • Site Coordinator, Communities in Schools, Nashville, NC

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