Without a doubt, the "What is your desired salary?" question is one of the hardest to answer — either on a job application or in an interview situation. An online application doesn’t usually offer a box to tick for "I’d be willing to negotiate, within reason."
Don’t just make something up.
If you’re faced with a dropdown application box, remember that you have two tools available to you. First, do your research. Find out what the industry standard would be for that role in that geographical area, and ask for that (or a little higher or lower depending on your particular skills and experience). This is vital for not being weeded out based on asking for far too little or far too much.
Most companies have hiring policies that dictate they will pay new hires the midpoint of the stated salary range they are prepared to offer. Negotiation technique would suggest you ask for just a bit higher than the midpoint, in order not to be offered less than policy would get you.
Use your application to explain your reasoning.
A good use of your cover letter is to justify the number you selected. This is where you can add in that important sentence about being open to negotiation. Or explain, with numbers, why you feel a percentage increase from your former salary is called for — based on performance appraisals, market trends, new skills or experience, etc.
How to figure out and verbalize what you want.
There are different ways to go about this. You can ask for a flat salary number per year, which is usually negotiated and standard across a wide variety of industries and careers. Or, you might be looking for a job where you’re asked to state what you would expect to make per hour. In both cases, it’s important to ask for just a little more than you expect to be offered — usually 10-15 percent above what you really need to make.
In the case of hourly pay, make sure you’ve done the calculations to figure out exactly how much you need to make per hour to make ends meet. Most workers can expect to work about 2,000 hours per year. Don’t forget to factor in sick days and vacation time — for which you will often not be compensated in an hourly wage job. Don’t accept a job for less unless you absolutely have to! And don’t forget to ask about overtime and bonus pay, if applicable, so you can factor that into your calculations as well.
Sometimes you’ll find yourself in a situation where you don’t particularly care what you make for salary, as this number might be standard or nonnegotiable in your industry, but there are specific benefits you’d like to negotiate towards. If there are any deal breakers for you in the benefits package, make sure to focus on these when asked about your salary requirements.
The bottom line.
Make sure you know the minimum you need to make. You can always use that as your answer, "I can’t accept this position for anything less than [AMOUNT]." And be prepared to hold to it. (These calculations are important and should be done with care.) If you prefer a softer touch, you can always answer, "I think [AMOUNT] would be a fair salary for this position."
Peter Jones is a career advice journalist for TheJobNetwork.com, where this article was originally published. He investigates and writes about current strategies, tips, and trending topics related to all stages of one’s career.