If a job application asks you to list your salary preference, does it put you at a disadvantage to say “salary negotiable”? If an application requires you to give an actual salary figure and you don’t know the salary range, what’s the best practice for dealing with the question?
Typically, an employer asks for a salary requirement to identify early in the process job candidates whose salary needs may be larger than what the position can pay.
Putting “salary negotiable” on your application doesn’t necessarily put you at a disadvantage unless you appear overqualified for the position. In that case, the recruiter might assume your salary expectations will be too high. But a good recruiter will ask you about your expectations early in the process – likely in an initial screening interview – so no one’s time is wasted.
As for setting a salary expectation, you don’t want to undersell your talents, but you also don’t want to price yourself out of consideration.
It’s always good to consider what you believe your true market value is. Do some homework to determine comparable salaries for jobs in your area. Career websites such as CareerBuilder.com and Monster.com have salary tools that can help you determine your market worth and offer typical salaries for various job titles and responsibilities.
From HR’s perspective, the key to salary negotiations is to find the “sweet spot” – that is, a salary well within the desired pay range for the position but that also considers the candidate’s education, knowledge, experiences and skill set.
As a job candidate, you probably have a magic number in mind – whether it corresponds with the job you’re currently doing or reflects what you anticipate earning in the job you seek. But it’s important not to overestimate your worth.
Once you’ve done some research, provide the potential employer with a reasonable range that includes your sweet spot and some flexibility in case the position does not pay as anticipated.
Many job-seekers get stuck on this question, so please know you’re not alone. Doing some research and using available tools can set you up with a good ballpark number.
Johnny C. Taylor Jr., a human-resources expert, is tackling your questions as part of a series for USA TODAY. Taylor is president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management, the world’s largest HR professional society.
The questions are submitted by readers, and Taylor’s answers below have been edited for length and clarity.
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