Five responses to one treacherous question: Your “minimum salary requirements”

Ever applied for a job online? If so, you’ve probably been asked to provide your “minimum salary requirements.” And what did you say? Whatever your answer, it was risky. Because the question is nothing short of a minefield: Too high, and your application will get binned before your browser closes. Too low, and your wish will probably get granted.

It’s a treacherous question, so there’s no surefire answer. But some simple do’s and don’ts can diffuse at least a few of the landmines, making at least this small corner of life negotiable. So I will shortly offer five tips for responding to this treacherous question.

But first, let’s answer a possible objection to the whole premise. Isn’t the opportunity to state your salary requirements a golden opportunity to make the first offer, as I’ve often advised? No. Because you’re not yet included in the discussion, and first offers only help once you are. Before you even think about anchoring the other side, you need to convince them to seriously consider your application. Since you’re not yet there, I’d suggest the following five strategies.

  1. Try to get included: Ironically, the best solution to the salary question is to get there right now if you can—to get yourself considered at least informally before you state any salary numbers. Though you can’t always do it, sometimes you can: sometimes you do have opportunities to contact an organization and pique their interest before completing an online application. If you find yourself in that fortunate situation, make the most of it! If they’re already interested before your application arrives, your salary number probably won’t scare them off.
  2. Try to skip the question: Oftentimes we can’t get included beforehand. We really want the job but just don’t know anyone at the company. In that case, you might consider skipping the salary question. It’s a simple strategy and not always possible (see the little red asterisk). And even if it is, it’s not always riskless, as the recruiter may just bin your incomplete application. But if they didn’t require a response, you have to figure they had a reason. Presumably, they wanted to give you the opportunity to abstain. Consider taking it!
  3. Try to answer with words: Sometimes you’ll see the red asterisk next to a text box. The beauty of text boxes is that they allow text. Hence the opportunity to type something like, “I would appreciate the chance to discuss salary once I learn more about the role.” It’s often worth a try. And do type something like that rather than or “…” or “TBD” or “:)”.
  4. Don’t provide a range: Sometimes people see the text box and perceive the opportunity provide words but feel psychologically compelled to provide numbers. I’d try to counteract that compulsion if you can. But if you can’t, then I’d provide a single number. I wouldn’t provide a range, especially one with the higher number being your goal and the lower number being your bottom line. Because then you can pretty much count on getting your bottom line. Although you could provide a higher range, that strategy in this situation is probably too risky.
  5. Do your homework: Sometimes the company’s sneaky programmers not only insert the red asterisk but also require you to enter a number. Worse yet, they require you to pick a number from a drop-down list. Well, then you’re pretty much cornered. So what number should you provide? The best you can do is your homework. Plenty of websites provide plenty of information on the salaries associated with various roles and companies (e.g., Plenty of nodes in our social networks could provide such information or at least connect us to someone who can. So, if you have to provide a number, there’s no substitute for careful research, which will hopefully surface a number larger than your bottom line. And if you’re confident in your number, state it with confidence, knowing that the company has probably benchmarked against at some point or another.

Life is not risk-free, and neither are these strategies. But I do hope they help you diffuse a few landmines, or at least tiptoe gingerly between them.

Have you tried any of these strategies yourself?

Should you accept that job? Defining a reservation price

There comes a time in all of our lives (approximately every three years) when we must decide whether to change jobs. This decision may seem difficult (and it is). But it’s negotiable!

Now, negotiating a new job offer requires a whole host of negotiation concepts and skills, including the ones I’ve described in recent posts. But today, I’ll focus on one that becomes particularly important when you’ve actually gotten a job offer and are deciding whether to stay or go: your reservation price.

To be clear, this is the situation: you’ve already looked far and wide for the best alternative opportunity; you think you’ve found it, and they extended an offer. This alternative job, in the parlance of the last post, is your BATNA. You’re now deciding whether it’s good enough to get up and go.

Now’s the time to consider your reservation price. It may sound technical, but the concept of reservation price is already second-nature: it’s just your bottom line. How you define a reservation price and what you do with it, though, is more like third or fourth nature for many of us. That’s where this post seeks to help.

Suppose, for the sake of argument, that your current job pays $50,000. You like the job; your coworkers are friendly; the commute is manageable; you see a clear career path forward. It’s just that pesky $50,000, which doesn’t seem to pay the bills and still leave enough for that long-awaited Hawaiian vacation. Thus, you decided to hit the job market and eventually found a similar job in the same field. Though waiting for the actual offer, you do have some concerns: your prospective coworkers don’t seem all that welcoming; you would have to drive 45 minutes instead of 20; and you’re not sure of the promotion opportunities. Now—before you receive the offer—is the time to define your reservation price.

In any upcoming negotiations over the new job, you will have a BATNA—your current job—and it will have a value: the $50,000 salary. Yet, $50,000 is not your reservation price; your reservation price is your numerical bottom line, adjusted for all of the intangibles. $50,000 doesn’t yet reflect the intangibles. Since you like your current coworkers, commute, and career prospects, you might say to yourself: “Self, I will not accept the new job with ambiguously-friendly coworkers, a longer commute, and unclear prospects unless it pays at least $60,000. That number, not the $50,000 salary, is your reservation price. The extra $10,000 makes up for the intangibles.

Now the situation becomes a lot clearer. If the new employer extends an offer of $65,000, you should probably eventually accept it; if they extend an offer of $55,000, you should probably negotiate. If you deploy your best negotiation tactics (and hopefully the previous posts will help) but still can’t clear the $60,000 hurdle, then you should probably decline.

Easy enough, right? Yet, few people define a clear reservation before entering into a negotiation. Still fewer both define a reservation price and then resist the temptation to “adjust” it once the offer comes in. Receiving the $55,000 offer, they convince themselves it’s “good enough.” But to perform reasonably well in negotiations, this is exactly what you cannot do. Only by clearly defining a reservation price and sticking to it unless your BATNA changes dramatically can you hope to avoid a poor outcome.

Reservation prices don’t have to be prices; they can be conditions: “My office has to be in Fort Worth rather than the Dallas to accept this job” (for example). Regardless, my advice to any negotiator would be to understand with clarity where the line falls between what will and will not work. Drawing and not deviating from that line, though far from easy, is nothing short of essential.

Have you defined a bottom line in a previous negotiation? How?