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?