When a job application asks for my salary requirements, what should I tell them—and will this impact my ability to negotiate if I get offered the job?
I don’t want to put something too high in case I put myself out of their target salary range, but I don’t want to go too low and cheat myself out of what I’m worth.
Can I leave it blank? What is your advice in this situation?
The short answer to your question is that you should include in your job application as high a salary requirement as you can reasonably justify. I’ll explain the “why” in a minute—but first, let’s talk about the “how.”
Do your research to get your number—learn as much as possible about the position and comparable salaries from local and industry sources and job sites such as Glassdoor. See if you can get any insider information, too. Try looking for salary information on the company’s website or doing an informational interview with the position’s recruiter.
You’ll likely come up with a range, and you should put the highest number in that range that applies, based on your experience, education, and skills. And yes, that’s a little aggressive—but bear with me.
Next, I recommend writing “(flexible)” or “(negotiable)” next to your number. If you have room to do so—for example, in your cover letter—stress again that your salary requirement is flexible or negotiable and that there are so many working parts to compensation—benefits, job title, opportunities for advancement—that you’re certain you can find a way to satisfy both of you if you’re a good fit for the position.
Now, I realize that making an aggressive initial offer can be a scary proposition. So let me explain the reasoning.
First, when the value of an item is uncertain—as your services to a prospective employer are—the first number you put on the table acts as a strong “anchor” that will pull the negotiation in its direction throughout the entire bargaining process.
Professor Adam Galinsky of the Kellogg School of Business at Northwestern University has explained the anchoring phenomenon this way: “Items being negotiated have both positive and negative qualities—qualities that suggest a higher price and qualities that suggest a lower price. High anchors selectively direct our attention toward an item's positive attributes while low anchors direct our attention to its flaws.”
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By stating a salary requirement that is lower than your prospective employer might be willing to pay, you not only cheat yourself out of more money, but you might come across as unsophisticated or unprepared. By stating a salary higher than they might be willing to pay, you risk little harm, so long as you indicate that your salary requirements are flexible. And at the same time, you are communicating that you already know your skills are valuable.
Just as important as anchoring high, the second benefit of giving a number at the high end of your range is that you give yourself enough room to negotiate if you’re offered the job.
Research has proven that people are happier with the outcome of a negotiation if their bargaining partner starts at point A, but reluctantly concedes her first couple of requirements before saying “yes.” So, by stating an initial salary that leaves room for negotiation (I recommend room for at least three concessions, or back-and-forth conversations), you’re more likely to get what you actually want.
By far the best advice on making an aggressive opening offer is that contained in Galinsky’s short article, “When to Make the First Offer in Negotiations?” The three major takeaways are these:
1. Don’t Be Afraid to Be Aggressive
Galinksy’s research shows that people typically tend to exaggerate the likelihood of their bargaining partner walking away in response to an aggressive offer, and that most negotiators make first offers that aren’t aggressive enough.
2. Focus on Your Target Price
Determine your best-case-scenario outcome, and focus on that. Negotiators who focus on their target price make more aggressive first offers and ultimately reach more profitable agreements than those who focus on the minimum amount they’d be satisfied with.
3. Be Flexible
Always be willing to concede your first offer. In doing so, you’ll still likely get a profitable deal, and the other side will be pleased with the outcome.
Remember, there’s little to risk if you put out the highest number you can justify, but there’s a lot to lose if you don’t.
This article is part of our Ask an Expert series—a column dedicated to helping you tackle your biggest career concerns. Our experts are excited to answer all of your burning questions, and you can submit one by emailing us at editor(at)themuse(dot)com and using Ask an Expert in the subject line.*
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Cover Letter Example With Salary Requirements
When and How to Mention Compensation in a Cover Letter
Writing a cover letter can be difficult, especially when you are asked to include information that you think could affect your chances of getting an interview. Some employers ask applicants to include a salary requirement in a cover letter, which can feel awkward or uncomfortable. However, there are ways to include this information without hurting your chances of getting a job.
Here are tips on when and how to include a salary requirement in a cover letter, as well as an example of a cover letter that lists a salary requirement.
Also see below for more cover letter samples, and tips for emailing a cover letter and resume.
When to Include Salary Requirements in a Cover Letter
If a job application does not require you to include salary information (such as your salary history, a salary requirement, or a salary range), do not do so. If you request too high of a salary, the employer might not even look at your application. On the other hand, if you request too low of a salary, they might offer you less than you are worth. In some locations, employers cannot legally ask about your prior earnings.
However, if the job posting or application states that you must include a salary requirement, be sure to do so if you are not in a location where employers are prohibited from asking. It's important to follow directions and provide all the information the employer requests. Otherwise, you risk being tossed out of the application pool.
Options for Including Salary Requirements in a Cover Letter
If the employer does not give specific instructions on how to include salary requirements, you have a couple of options to consider.
Include a Salary Range
One way to include salary requirements in a cover letter is to list a salary range. This gives you and the employer some flexibility.
Make sure your salary range is realistic. Research what the position is worth by using salary surveys and salary calculators.
Salary Requirements are Negotiable
You can also state that your salary requirements are negotiable based on the position and the overall compensation package, including benefits.
State That You're Flexible
No matter what, make sure you emphasize that your salary requirements are flexible. This will help keep you in the running and also give you options when negotiating salary later on.
Cover Letter Example with a Salary Requirement / Range
Your City, State, Zip Code
Your Phone Number
City, State, Zip Code
Dear Hiring Manager:
I'm writing to express my strong interest in the Web Design Specialist position listed on Craigslist.
I have experience designing consumer-focused health-based websites. While much of my experience has been in the business world, I understand the social value of the non-profit sector.
My responsibilities have included the design and development of the site's editorial voice and style, and the daily content programming and production of the website. I worked closely with health care professionals and medical editors to help them provide the best possible information to a consumer audience of patients and health care professionals.
Experience has taught me how to build strong relationships with all departments at an organization. I have the ability to work within a team as well as cross-team.
I can work with web engineers to resolve technical issues and implement technical enhancements, work with the development department to implement design and functional enhancements, and monitor site statistics and conduct search engine optimization.
My salary requirement is in the $70,000 - $80,000 range. However, my salary is negotiable based on the overall compensation package.
I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you for your consideration.
Signature (hard copy letter)
Sending an Email Cover Letter
If you're sending your cover letter via email, list your name and the job title in the subject line of the email message.
Include your contact information in your email signature, and don't list the employer contact information. Start your email message with the salutation.
More Sample Cover Letters
Cover letter samples and templates for a variety of career fields and employment levels, including entry-level, targeted and email cover letters for many different jobs.
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