“Oh god, oh god, the hiring manager just asked me about my salary range” is a text I’ve gotten a dozen times from friends and coworkers over the years. For a young professional, it’s usually the most fraught moment in the entire hiring process. And for good reason! Your answer to this question has enormous financial consequences. The right answer can catapult you forward—and the wrong one can set you back years.
How do you know that the number you’re asking for is the right number? Here are some tips that will help you make sure you’re not selling yourself short.
Talk to your peers about salaries
We’ve written about the magical exchange of salary information between peers before.
If you have friends in your industry who would be willing to open up and share their experiences with you, that’s a huge boon—especially if they’ve worked with that exact company before. I live in a large city, but the pool of heavy-hitter employers is small enough that a dozen friendly coworkers will have inside knowledge or direct contacts at each of them.
Sometimes they may even know the exact budgets for the role being hired! Hallelujah gloria!
Find a salary guide for your industry
I’m a working artist, so the go-to for my industry is The Creative Group’s Annual Salary Guide. A new iteration is posted every year, and it’s totally free. They research trends in the industry as they relate to hiring, and collect salary information for a wide range of jobs and experience levels. You can easily find a description that matches you and a range to expect along with it.
Most industries have a similar resource. Even if they don’t, some job hunting sites like Glassdoor and salary aggregators like PayScale are options. They’re probably less nuanced, but at least give you data points to work with. Go out there and find some peer data!
Consider your location
The area you live in affects the salary range that’s available to you. The Creative Group’s 2016 guide suggests a multiplier for several cities. If you live in the painfully expensive and competitive New York City, you can multiply the listed salaries by 140.0; the much cheaper and more laid-back Syracuse gets a multiplier of 90.3.
I made a huge mistake with my first salaried job. I got salary information from peers in my rural hometown, despite the fact that I was now living in a major city with a much higher cost of living. And I asked for $45,000 when I probably should’ve asked for $65,000. No wonder they seemed delighted to hire me!
Screw your courage to the sticking place
So you’ve done your research. You should have a number in mind by now. Write it down. Take a good, long look at it. Really stare it at.
That’s probably the number you should go with.
The best advice I have ever gotten was from my dad, who told me “when you say your number aloud, you’ll know it’s the right number if a part of you is scared that they will laugh right in your face.”
The best advice I have ever gotten was from my dad, who told me “when you say your number aloud, you’ll know it’s the right number if a part of you is scared that they will laugh right in your face.” The older I get, the more wisdom I see in that advice. Most of us have a voice inside of us that keeps us from asking for the moon. Whether the source of that voice is something benign like modesty, or something sinister like our inner impostor, it should be ignored during the salary negotiation process. The stakes are too damn high.
Hiring managers always have a budget allocated for the role they’re seeking to hire, but that budget can be adjusted for the right candidate. I’ve been that right candidate before, so I know it for a fact.
The worst case here is that the hiring manager tells you flat-out that you’re outside their budget, but that doesn’t have to be the end of the discussion. Tell them you understand and you’d like to continue the process regardless. Maybe more of your salary can be structured into a paycheck and less into a companywide bonus. Maybe you can trade for more vacation days or work-from-home days. And maybe, after you meet with them and knock their socks off, they’ll realize they can raid some other budget. When you’re going in for a phone screening, keep this sentence handy: “If the job is ideal in every other way, I’m willing to work with you guys to come up with a mutually agreeable solution, so let’s keep the conversation going.”