Career Corner: The Salary Riddle

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It can be difficult to hit the bull’s-eye when answering questions about desired salary. – Courtesy photo / U.S. Air Force, Airman 1st Class William Tracy

By Angela Copeland

There’s a riddle hidden at the end of job interviews. As a candidate, you show up to an interview believing you’ll be talking about fit. And, you do – at first.

You go through your work background. You give your elevator pitch. You explain why you want the job, why you’re looking for a job, and what would make you a great candidate. You cover the basics.

If things go well during the interview, you assume you’ll go to the next round. But, before you do, there’s usually a riddle standing between you and interview number two.

You must correctly guess the answer to the question, “How much money do you want?”

To the company, this is a simple question. They have a budget and they need to know if you fit in it. The problem is: different companies pay different amounts for the same job. I am beginning to think that many companies aren’t aware of this fact. Or, they assume the job seeker is tied to a specific dollar figure.

There are layers of problems to giving a salary number. You don’t know what the annual bonus is going to be yet. The target bonus could be zero percent or 45 percent of the base salary. You don’t know yet what the 401K match might be. You don’t know if there are other perks, like stock. You also may not know yet how big the job is. These things should all factor into your estimation of how much a job may pay.

The other issue is this. Many job seekers aren’t tied to a specific salary – especially not 20 minutes into learning about the job. Many job seekers are looking for overall fit. And, they might accept less at an organization they really love, or for a job that has a different set of responsibilities.

Guessing a salary is like throwing a dart with a blindfold on. If you work in a field with a narrow salary range, you might hit the bull’s-eye. But, in many industries, a pay band can be as much as $100,000 wide. If you happen to guess too low or too high, the company will very often eliminate you. They will assume that you are not a match if you don’t guess within a few thousand dollars of their target.

If you’re a candidate, be prepared. Do as much research as you can ahead of time, so you’ll be prepared to make your best guess. You can also ask the company if they’re willing to share the pay range with you (after they ask your requirements). They will sometimes do this.

If you’re a company, consider adding your pay range to the job description. Consider being up front about it. Ask the candidate if they’re comfortable with the pay range. It’s a much better hiring tactic than asking the candidate to guess a riddle they are unlikely to solve.

Angela Copeland, a career influencer and founder of Copeland Coaching, can be reached at copelandcoaching.com.

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