What to Put for “Desired Salary” on a Job Application (+ Interview)
Wondering what to put for "desired salary?" There are two places where you might get asked to answer your desired salary during the job application process and the job interview process. Both portions are important to your job hunt. And the strategy you take while discussing salary is imperative as a job seeker.
You don’t want to answer with a salary that’s too high, immediately pushing you out of the running for the job. Or answer with a question that’s too low. Causing you to answer with a salary number that makes you regret it at a later date. Which could cause you to have a reservation with your new employer and leave too soon.
Before we dig into what to put for the desired salary on your job application. Let’s figure out what your perfect salary should be.
Filling out a Job Application
Before filling out a job application, read the guide below. The answer to "desired salary," "salary history," or "current salary" can have an impact on whether a job applicant is asked to interview.
This information is used to screen candidates. To test whether the candidate has knowledge of the industry and their relative worth in the industry. For example, a candidate who answers with too high of a salary doesn't come across as experienced; they come across as potentially unrealistic.
The second reason this question puts candidates on the sidelines is that they may be too expensive for the position. A candidate with a lot of experience might have a more difficult time finding a job fit. Unless the employer is explicitly looking for an experienced candidate.
It's best to refer to the job description or job advertisement to understand what experience level the potential employer is seeking before filling out this information on the job application.
Tip: If the job has year-end bonus benefits, consider that alongside the base compensation that's being requested.
Determine Your Salary Range, First
There are two methods for figuring out what your salary range should be. The first method is to take your current salary range and “give yourself a raise.” A typical raise is around 8% of your existing salary. That means you would take your current salary and add 8%, which would be the range of your salary expectations for the new job.
The second method is to use a tool like Payscale.com or Salary.com. Of which both will help you to see the average salary range. And not only the job you’re applying for but the geography you’re applying to as well.
This can help those moving to a new state. And those who need to think about the cost of living. And average salary as part of their salary negotiation for the position.
You can use both methods in combination as well. Take your existing salary and be sure you do the math to figure out your relative scale in the new geography. And then add 8% to that, giving you a range.
Try not to decide on an “exact figure” as this shows you’re not willing to be flexible on a salary offer. By showing a range, it means you’re willing to consider the entire compensation package as part of your benefits and compensation.
What to Put for Desired Salary on a Job Application
Listing your desired salary on an online application is important. But it isn’t a requirement. Some employers will ask about your salary history (but it's illegal). They may ask what your current salary requirements are as a way to determine this as well. And ultimately, this becomes what gets put into your job offer.
Many job seekers are confused about what to put in the job application. Because most online job applications require a hard figure versus a range. So they are faced with an exact number that can be difficult for them to answer.
The best way to do this is to list “999”, "0", "1," or some other infinite number on the job application and desired salary field. This implies that you are looking to have a conversation about salary during the interview. Or during the on-site session that you both might share. Or leave the salary field blank if the online application allows.
Other options for what to put on the "desired salary" portion of the job application:
- "To be discussed during the interview"
- "Discuss salary later"
The interviewer or hiring manager may even call you to have a phone interview. And when you place that number on the job application. It can be beneficial for both of you to ensure that you and your future employer are on the same page. Especially in regard to salary range and salary expectations.
Try not to stress what to put for the desired salary on your application. Additionally, you don’t need to include that as part of your cover letter or resume. It is not a requirement. A recruiter will be more than happy to have this conversation with you as part of the prospective employer's interview process. Just remember not to place a specific number on the application.
Pro tip: Always research average salaries so you have an idea of the desired salary employers are going to expect in the application. Be sure to look up fair compensation for the geography and job title you're applying for.
How to Answer Desired Salary Interview Questions in an Interview
Speaking about compensation and pay during an interview can be difficult for both you and the employer. It indicates that you might negotiate their job offer if they provide one. But by the interviewer asking you this question early on, it can help to save time for both you and them. Don’t be surprised when you get the desired salary question in a phone interview or on-site interview. But recognize this is not the time to negotiate.
So how do you answer the interview question “What is your expected salary?” when asked.
Before answering the interview question
It's best to refer to the job description or job advertisement. And to understand what years of experience the potential employer is seeking. And do this before filling out this information on the job application.
See, if the candidate responds with too high of a figure. Then it shows they haven't performed their research about the job title. And don't have realistic expectations of what they're seeking. A job candidate should have a firm comprehension of the average salary range across the United States. And then position themselves within that range based on these factors:
- Work experience
If the interviewer asks about salary history, that's a big mistake. It's illegal for an interviewer or hiring manager to ask about salary history.
Before answering this interview question, understand this question is not simply about the expected salary. But also about industry knowledge and experience in the field.
Best interview question answer
The best answer is to be very literal with your calculation. This is because it shows leadership and selfless nature to your response. Even if you’re asking for a higher salary, it provides you a platform to quantify why. And it has nothing to do with a skill set you bring to the table. Remember, always give a range rather than an exact number.
Pro tip: Always be truthful. Speak about the impact you had at your previous job and why that's impacting your job search. Always consider the full package when determining salary. This includes stock options, health insurance, performance benefits, and more.
Here’s an example "good answer" to this interview question:
That answer can be brilliant because it includes your current job. And also including what makes you a great candidate, and that’s your ability to quantify yourself. This is your best way to speak to salary requirements in any setting. Phone interview, on-site interview, group interview, or other.
If the job has year-end bonuses, the candidate should answer the interview question like this:
Job applicants who don't provide as much supportive reasoning for their answer display inexperience to the hiring manager and interviewer. Be sure to consider stock options as part of this calculation, too. Keep in mind the value of the employee benefits.
You Aren’t Asked About Salary At All
This is a common scenario; job seekers aren’t always asked this question right away. They are asked to have a phone interview, on-site interview, and more. Then have to wait until they receive an offer to hear about compensation. So how do you fix this as a candidate?
The best way to fix this is to ask about compensation right away. Just ask the hiring manager and potential employer what the salary range is in this role before you proceed. They will be more than happy to answer it for you. And they most likely already have a predetermined budget for the role.
Common Job Seeker Mistakes
Below are common mistakes to avoid.
Don't have a "salary expectation"
Find a job that you'll love. And then have a salary discussion with an employer that you value and respect. It's important not to consider compensation as the main factor of any job. And if the job is "your dream job." Then consider the experience that might be gained and the exposure to learn new things that might advance a career.
Set a healthy base salary
Don't undercut yourself. Set a decent base salary so that the employer takes you seriously as a candidate. Always put yourself on the upper end of the expected salary when answering the interview question. By answering with too low of a figure, it might lack confidence.
Look out for the salary history question
An employer asking about salary history is illegal. If the interviewer asks about salary history, state, "I'm not comfortable providing that information. But I'm happy to inform you about what I might expect in terms of base salary from this position."
Don't avoid the answer
Not having an answer or a desired salary looks as poorly upon the candidate as answering with too high of a salary. The candidate should know "their worth" and articulate that to an employer or interviewer.
Not asking about raises or bonuses
Don't engage in salary negotiation when this interview question is asked. It's not the proper time for that. Instead, ask about the future. Are there company incentives? When do raises happen? When do promotions happen? These qualifying questions can provide more helpful insight into having salary discussions later in the hiring process.
Not mentioning lower pay than a current job
If the employer shares their desired salary for the role. And it's lower than the candidate currently makes, the candidate should say, "This is a lower salary than I currently make." And let the interviewer guide the conversation from there. Always speak up when the salary is lower than the current pay.
Thinking this "is it" in terms of salary discussions
When the interviewer asks this question, it's simply a qualifying question. Compensation expectations can assist in the qualifying process. It does not mean that the final pay scale will be decided through this interview question. It's simply an interview question to test whether the candidate is prepared and knowledgeable about the industry. For example, the hiring manager tests whether the candidate is prepared for the salary expectation question and whether they have a good answer. The question is about measuring the candidate's communication skills and how prepared the candidate is.
It's important to know that real salary discussions and salary negotiations will happen after a job offer is made.
Changing the salary numbers too rapidly during the job offer stage
When this interview question is asked or when this question is placed on the job application, it's a rough figure. Meaning, the hiring manager and HR team aren't going to "hold" the applicant to this number. It provides everyone an opportunity to make sure there's a "good fit" between the employer and the employee.
Let's presume the candidate answers this interview question according to the answer guide provided in this article. And if the candidate learns more about the company. And decides they would like to change their answer or change their "desired salary" later in the interview and hiring process. Then they mustn't change the figures too rapidly.
For example, a jump from $80,000 per year to $120,000 per year is drastic. And the HR manager and team aren't going to look fondly upon this change of response. Doing this presents to the employer that the job "is too difficult and requires higher pay."
A better way to change the figures is to use the same answer strategy defined in this guide. Explain to the interviewer or HR manager that research was performed once more and that the answer is changing due to new information. Explain what that information is whether it's improved research into the average salary figures in the market. Or whether it's learning more about the job title and understanding, it's no longer an entry-level position, meriting a higher sum from the employer.
It's best to provide the "reasoning" on how the answer arrived. From there, engage in either negotiations or final questions before a job offer is made or revised.
Using a "friends" salary to determine your salary
A common mistake amongst job seekers is to perform research by asking friends or family members what "they are paid." This is not a great way to explain to an interviewer how the arrival of a salary figure was determined. The reason this isn't a great way to determine salary is that it doesn't factor in job experience. Or skills, age of the candidate, and other merits that the job applicant doesn't have.
When using industry-wide figures, experience and skills are averaged out. Meaning, there's more commonality amongst job seekers in the market. And that's why it's better to use salary research tools, including the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, to arrive at an answer.
Asking the interview question
Don't confront the interviewer if they don't ask the question. It can be that the interviewer performing the job interview doesn't know the expected salary range for the position. The candidate chosen to ask the "expected salary question" to the interviewer can cause discomfort. Instead, wait until the interview "comes to you" with the interview question and be prepared with a well-research answer.
Know when to turn the salary range into an exact figure
Turn it into an exact figure after the job offer has been made. Or right before the job offer has been made. Be sure to provide an exact figure within the salary range that was provided. If the interviewer or HR manager asks for a figure to write an employment contract. Then it's time to provide the manager with an exact figure.
The way to do this is to say something along these lines. "When we discussed the position, we agreed on the average range for this figure was somewhere between $80,000 and $86,000 per year. After our discussions, I would love to be at $184,500 per year. If you see any significant issues with that, please let me know. I would prefer not to risk this amazing job opportunity over not agreeing on salary."
Salary Expectations Email Sample
Sometimes, an interviewer and hiring manager will bring the salary discussions to email rather than asking by phone. This provides the candidate an opportunity to answer the question with "less stress." It's considered a polite and acceptable method amongst hiring managers.
In the interview, the manager might say, "I'd really like to know what your salary expectations are. We don't have to cover it right now. But if you could please think about it and email me in the next 48 hours, that would be appreciated." When an interviewer or HR manager does this, it means that the employer is thoughtful and considerate.
Here is what an email response might look like when that's the case.
Email subject: Salary expectations - [Candidate Name]
When sending a salary range email
Are you sending an email like this? The job applicant has the opportunity to be able to provide a link to the resources that were used to determine the salary range. This could be Payscale, Salary.com, or the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. It's advised to add one or more links in the email. Links that allow the hiring manager to read the same resources used to determine the salary range. This is a great way to build trust between the HR manager and the candidate. And in some circumstances, they can inform the employer of new "expectations" they may need to have. Mostly regarding the job title, role, or function within the business.
Why would it do that? Many employers don't do "the research" in determining what the average pay should be for a position before posting a job description. Including relevant resources on average salary ranges in the market allows the employer to "correct" their guidance and expectations on compensation for the role.
Our favorite resources are included below.
Job interview resources
- Common Interview Questions by Marquette University
- Prepare for Behavioral Interview Questions by Marquette University
- Preparing for Job Interviews by the University of Kansas
- Mock Interview Handbook by CSUCI
- Interview Guidebook by Lebanon Valley College
Resume and cover letter resources
- Writing a Resume and Cover Letter by USC
- Resume Writing Tips by the University of Wisconsin-Madison
- Resume and Cover Letter Guide by Harvard University
Job search resources
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