Most online applications ask the “What is your desired salary?” question. Usually this question is a required field, meaning you have to answer it before going to the next section. It is also a numeric field, so you need to put in a number (usually a single number, not a range). Most people believe this to be an unfair question, if you put in a number too high you might be disqualified before even having a chance to present your credentials. If you put in a number too low, you may be locked into that salary. 

Most employers will try to hire the best talent at the most economical price, but I don’t believe that employers are being evil-minded. Employers know that an employee will not stay very long if they feel underpaid. Employers that you want to work for will pay a reasonable salary for the work being performed. 

Our advice is that you should submit what you think is a fair wage and what you would happily accept for the position described. If that figure is so high it puts you out of the running, that still beats being underpaid and resentful.

It is now your responsibility to live up to that salary your defined. At every step of the interview process you need to prove your value by focusing on accomplishments and the value you bring, employers are willing to pay for better quality.

The first thing to do is your homework. That means researching pay ranges on sites such as Glassdoor, Indeed, CareerBuilder and Monster. These sites give insights into industry practices on compensation levels. If an employer is not paying in these ranges either the job requirements are different than the posting or the employer is purposely paying below market value. 

Knowing what you could “happily” accept is a trickier calculation. But for starters, I can’t imagine any “dream job” worth depriving yourself of basic comforts. So don’t talk yourself into accepting less than you can afford to live on just because you would “love to have” this job. Likewise, don’t submit a low ball salary while hoping to pull a bait-and-switch once you’re in the interview or dazzle your boss into giving you a raise once you’re hired. 

One exception: If you get to the negotiating phase and learn that the job requires more skills or responsibility than initially advertised, it’s fair to raise your asking price: “The salary I quoted in my application was based on the description in your job posting. Now that I better understand what the job entails, it seems to me that a salary of [marked-up amount] would be more in line with this position.” If you’ve done your research, you should have no qualms about making this request – and a scrupulous and knowledgeable employer should have no qualms about granting it.


Rick Christensen

Rick Christensen: Director, Career Transition Practice Rick has been a career consultant for over 25 years, serving a very broad-based and diverse clientele. His specialties include effective group facilitation, one-on-one coaching and consultation at all levels including senior executives.

Rick’s passion is coaching individuals through career transitions, developing career management strategies and in identifying and sharpening competencies to open doors to new opportunities. His efforts have assisted thousands of individuals achieve their full potential.

Contact Rick at: Rick@CareerDevelopmentPartners.com