Do This Before You Answer, ‘What Are Your Salary Requirements?’

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It’s everyone’s least favorite job interview question: “What are your salary requirements?” And while there are ways to avoid answering until you’re comfortable starting the salary negotiation process, sometimes you’re going to get stuck.

Other times, it’s in your best interests to answer when asked. For example, PayScale’s research has shown that women who refuse to answer a variation on this question (“What’s your salary history?) earn 1.8 percent less than those who disclose prior pay.

But in any case, it’s a question you’re going to have to answer sooner or later — if not during the initial interview or phone screen, then later on, when you’re closing in on an offer. And no matter when you agree to talk numbers, you need to do one thing (besides researching salary) before you speak up.

The Importance of Leverage

Before negotiating, you need to “assess how much leverage you have,” management author Suzy Welch told CNBC Make It.

How can you figure out where you stand? Per CNBC:

Look at any information available through the site where you applied regarding how many candidates have applied to the position and how long the position has been open. The longer the job has been open, the more eager the company may be to fill the role, and the more leverage you may have.

Welch noted that job seekers are “always the seller,” and should “err on the side of caution.” But if the job has been open for a while, you might set your requirements higher than you would if the job of your dreams just opened up.

Other Questions to Ask Yourself Before Negotiating:

  1. What’s an appropriate salary range?

Welch and other experts stress the importance of knowing how much your skills and experience are worth on today’s job market. Don’t go by your current salary — or what your coworker claims to be earning — when you set your salary range.

Take the PayScale Salary Survey and get a free salary report with a range based on thousands of responses from peers in your field. It’s a lot more accurate than asking around.

  1. Are my skills in demand?

Some jobs are harder to fill in general than others, and some skills are more in demand. If you know that you’re in a booming field — and you’re sure you have the skills that employers want in new hires — then you’re in a better position to negotiate.

Not sure where you stand? Start by finding out whether your occupation is growing or shrinking. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook offers a forecast for the next few years. Then, take a look at LinkedIn profiles for others in your field. Do people with your job title have similar skills? What about the next one up the ladder? What could you learn, to upskill yourself into a raise or promotion?

  1. How much do I want the job?

Finally, the real question is always whether you want the job enough to be flexible about pay. That doesn’t mean that you should start off low-balling yourself, regardless. But it might mean that you should think twice before naming a salary that’s a reach, based on your research.

Are you paid what you’re worth? Find out with the PayScale Salary Survey. And for more salary negotiation tips, see PayScale’s Salary Negotiation Guide.

Tell Us What You Think

Have you successfully negotiated a higher salary? We want to hear from you. Share your tips in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter.