Answering The “What Is Your Desired Salary?” Question

What’s your desired salary? It’s a question that can make any job candidate’s stomach drop, whether they’re reading it on an application or hearing it from an interviewer. And I completely understand the stress around this—you don’t want to give a lowball answer and have to settle for less money than you’re worth, but you also don’t want to seem like you have crazy-high, unrealistic expectations.

Here’s what you need to know about answering the desired salary question in the way that will benefit you most in the long run.

Define Desired Salary

Desired salary is simply the amount of money you’d like to make at your new job. It’s also the realistic amount of money you expect to make at your new job based on your level of skill and experience. (Otherwise, we’d probably all have a desired salary of $10 million.)

When a potential employer asks you this question, they’re expecting an honest, realistic answer—but giving your answer too soon could actually end up hurting your chances of making the amount of money you’re worth. More on that in a minute. First, let’s talk about how to figure out your true desired salary.

Ways To Determine Your Desired Salary

Before you can even think about giving a concrete answer to this question on an application or in an interview, you should have an actual number in mind—even if you don’t reveal that number right away (or at all). You should know what you’re aiming for so you can be confident about the salary offers you will and won’t accept. But I get that it can be difficult to land on a number or range, so here are a few factors that will help you figure it out:

1. Research Is KEY

A quick Google search can usually tell you the industry standards for salary in your desired position, and most job search websites will let you search for the standards in your geographical location as well. Sometimes pay ranges vary depending on state or region. The size of the company you’re looking at and its level of success will also affect the pay scale.

Another way to research is by asking other employees in similar roles what their pay is like, but keep in mind that it’s personal information that not everyone might be comfortable sharing. You could also ask any recruiters in the field (who don’t work at the company you’re applying to) if they can share the average salaries they see for the type of position you want.

2. Determine Your Skill Level And Experience

If you know me, you know I’m a big believer that you don’t have to get a four-year degree to get a great-paying job—and I stand by that! But education and training will still be taken into consideration at many companies, depending on the role. Having more years of experience working in a given industry will usually mean higher pay too. So, even if you don’t have a ton of education but you’ve spent years getting hands-on experience in jobs that are related to the one you want now, your pay should reflect that.

Another thing to consider is skill level. Of course, you can expect to be paid less for entry-level skill than for high skill. But skill level isn’t necessarily equivalent to the amount of time you’ve spent working in an industry—some people graduate from college with a higher level of skill than somebody who’s already been working in the field for a while. Be honest with yourself about your skill level, and if you know you’ve got a competitive edge, factor that into the amount you think you should be paid.

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