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Asking for a salary range: How to start the conversation

June 21, 2022 - 14 min read

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When to ask about salary range

How to research relevant salary ranges

How to ask for a salary range

Why employers ask about your salary expectations

A lot of things are spelled out in job descriptions, but salary range usually isn’t one of them. It’s an awkward dance — the employer has a laundry list of competencies that they expect from you. How are job seekers supposed to ask about the one thing they want in return — their salary?

The salary probably isn’t all you want, but it’s pretty important. Among current jobseekers, salary is the number one consideration in finding a job — and it ranks pretty highly for people who are already employed, too. Along with a lack of respect and poor career advancement, being underpaid is one of the top reasons people quit their jobs

Since salary plays such a big role in finding the right candidate, it makes sense for recruiters and job seekers to get on the same page about salary early in the process. Chances are, though, that you’ll have to be the one to make the first move.

Learn how to ask a potential employer for a salary range, when to ask, and how to negotiate the offer.

When to ask about salary range

First things first — it’s important to start thinking about salary early on in the hiring process. In fact, job applications sometimes ask for salary expectations upfront, so you should start thinking about this as soon as you apply for the job. 

It’s also possible that the recruiter will ask you for your desired salary range in the first interview. This can feel like kind of a mixed bag. On one hand, it’s nice to get the conversation started early so you can make sure you’re on the same page. 

On the other hand, as much as you might want to know the salary range, many people prefer not to be the first person to give a number. As the oft-repeated advice goes, the first person to give a number feels like they’ll lose their leverage. While this can be true, researching salary ranges for similar roles in advance can help you land at a fair number.

If salary doesn’t come up by the first interview, it’s fair to ask before committing to a second interview. Restate your interest, and let them know that you want to make sure you’re all on the same page before you move forward.

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How to research relevant salary ranges

The first step to researching salary ranges is to identify the position you're considering. You’ll want to make note of the exact job title, as well as similar roles. For example, if you’re applying to be an “account manager,” include the terms “customer success manager” and “account executive” in your search.

Once you know the type of job, search the title and salary range on Google. Of the available search results, your best bets will be sites like Glassdoor, LinkedIn, Salary.com, and Indeed. If you can, be sure to broaden your search to include all available jobs of that type in your area or city. Sites like Payscale can help you find specific company and regional pay information.

In addition to the exact title you’re looking at, look at average salary amounts for similar positions in your area. This will help you put together an ideal range and a sense of what’s competitive for your market.

Finally, don’t forget to check the company website. Although most companies don’t list the starting salary in the job description, more and more companies are starting to make it a practice. In a competitive job market, employers are recognizing that sharing a pay range upfront makes them more attractive to potential candidates. In fact, because of the benefit to the jobseeker, some states and cities have begun requiring salary disclosure in job postings.

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How to ask for a salary range

Chances are good that even if your prospective employer discloses the starting salary, you’ll still have to talk money at some point. Many employers leave room to negotiate with the right candidate.

And if they don’t mention it, you’ll want to keep these 5 things in mind so you’ll know how to bring it up — and what to say. 

1. Be direct

Most people will tell you that in a negotiation, it’s better to find out what the employer is willing to pay before you give your expectations. The reasoning behind this is that you might leave money on the table if you ask first and don’t ask for enough. Employers aren’t very likely to give you more money than you asked for, so there is some sense behind this.

However, even if you ask first, the employer might give you a number below what you hoped for. If so, you’ll have some quick calculations to make. Do you really want the job? Are there other perks to the role that would make up for less cash? How does the pay compare to your current salary?

If the answer is no, then it’s okay to politely decline the job offer. There’s no sense in either you or the employer putting more time into the interview process. If the answer is yes, be honest with the recruiter. Let them know their estimated salary is on the lower end of what you were hoping for, and have your counteroffer ready.

2. Be prepared to counter-offer

One piece of advice you should take? Don’t be too hasty to take the first offer. Even if they come in with what you originally were hoping for, take a deep breath (or even a couple of days) before you answer. 

Even if the money sounds good, how does it line up with your research? Have you learned anything new about the scope of work that changes the role significantly? For example, you might have applied for an individual contributor role that will now have to manage others. But once the conversation has started, you don’t have anything to lose by negotiating salary. As they say, it never hurts to ask.

3. Know what you want

Employers will often ask about your salary expectations. Keep in mind that even if you give a high range, they might come back with something lower than you expect. You might worry that you’re pricing yourself out of the role by aiming too high, or selling yourself short by not asking for enough. Life would be much simpler if they’d just tell you what the job pays, right?

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Why employers ask about your salary expectations

Contrary to popular belief, asking for “too much money” doesn’t automatically disqualify you from the role. If they consistently hear candidates asking for more money than they have budgeted, it may mean that they need to raise the budget for the role. 

They also might be using information to subtly probe as to whether you know your worth. I applied for a role once —  years ago — and went through what felt like endless rounds of interviews. To this day, I think I didn’t get the role because I didn’t ask for enough money. It might seem counterintuitive, but asking for a solid range indicates experience and an understanding of industry standards.

Finally, employers are largely prohibited from asking about a candidate’s salary history. That means that a prospective employer doesn’t have any salary information for you other than what they ask for. They may be asking about your salary expectations to make sure you’re both aligned on expectations before they move forward.

If the employer presents a range that’s below market value (and you’ve done your homework), it’s okay to ask for a higher salary. You could say something like, “Based on the skill sets required for this role, I think a range of XX to XX makes sense for this role.” Anchor your requests in specifics that justify the higher amount.

Even if you’re at the top of the range or the employer can’t budge, there are other perks that might be available. Be sure to ask about other parts of your compensation package, like vacation time, employee health & wellness benefits, or Inner Work® days. Will the annual salary cover your cost of living? Would taking the role mean taking a pay cut? Does the position align with your career aspirations

How and when to ask about benefits

Discussing a salary range is often a good time to find out more about the types of employee benefits the company offers. Many of these are often listed on the company website or in the job description. While you don’t have to go as far as asking for the exact percentage of the 401k match, it’s a good idea to reference any information you have from the job description. It’ll provide context for the conversation and reinforce that you’ve done your research.

These questions will determine how you move forward. You may find that there are many aspects of a new job that outweigh a less-than-ideal salary. As important as financial security is, most people will have a hard time sticking around in a job they hate.

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4. Ask your gut: Do you want the job or not?

Think back to why you kicked off your job search. Were you looking for more money, better work/family balance, or a chance to do more of what you love? Those personal values have to direct your decision. Without the dream income, is it still a dream job?

That being said, there’s not much sense in subjecting yourself to financial stress. You won’t be able to do your best work if you’re resentful or anxious about money. Think critically about the amount of money you want, the market value of the role, and what you need to make to live comfortably. Once you’ve considered the full picture, you can give the hiring manager your answer.

5. Be nice, no matter what

Whether you decide to accept or decline the offer, be polite. Thank the interviewer and hiring managers for their time. Be sure to follow up after the interview with a note. Even though this particular role didn’t work, they’ll remember you the next time a spot on the team opens up.

Final thoughts

Asking for a salary range takes a lot of courage. Any salary negotiation takes guts. No matter how many job interviews you’ve had, it can feel like you’re going to mess it up if you don’t handle the salary conversation just right.

If you’re nervous about having the money talk, you could work with a career coach for additional support during your job search. Many coaches were previously hiring managers or have experience in human resources. You can use your coaching sessions to discuss market trends, salary ranges, and practice answering interview questions.

If you need support (at any stage of your career), reach out to a BetterUp coach today.

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Published June 21, 2022

Allaya Cooks-Campbell

BetterUp Staff Writer

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