Too much? Not enough? These days, employers aren't waiting until the interview to ask about salary expectations; it's now embedded in most job applications and it's almost impossible to ignore. The prominent red asterisk at the start of the question might as well be a traffic cop, because your application can't advance until the question is answered. Is there a way around it?
"I can tell you what I hear other people are doing," said Nancy Spivey, career development coach and founder of Transformation Consultants, Inc. "They are putting a zero or a one down for the answer. That's allowing them to move onto the next question, but if a company has a set range it's looking for, your application won't get past the parameters."
Welcome to job hunting in the digital age, in which questions like salary expectations are nothing more than a screening tool. "People don't usually ask your family status or your age, but in an application, they get away with everything," Spivey admitted. "Keep in mind, part of the online application process is to weed people out. That's why your strategy has to be so much more than simply completing an application online."
That strategy, she said, needs to prioritize networking and referrals to help neutralize computerized applicant screening. "If you can get a referral, they will still tell you to go ahead and fill out an application online, but you will get the interview regardless," Spivey said. "Then, when you're talking with someone face-to-face, you should be able to convince them you're a good fit for the position."
LinkedIn Basic offers advanced search tools at no cost that can help a candidate track down who they may know directly, or find a friend of a friend, to ask for a referral. LinkedIn Premium offers a 30-day free trial and has a feature which discloses the number of candidates who apply for each job listed on its site. That information can be beneficial when trying to determine if the market is saturated with individuals who share your same skills, or if you have little competition. For example, if you see a job listing that's generated 500 applications in 10 hours, the market is likely saturated. With that kind of competition, Spivey suggests reducing your target salary to comply with the market. And by "target" she means the salary you'd like to make, instead of your previous salary.
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She also says to research job sites, like Indeed.com, SimplyHired.com and CareerBuilder.com, to find posts that list a salary or salary range. She encourages candidates to use that information to help determine if your target is in sync with what employers are offering in metro Atlanta. In addition, many of the government job sites, like USAJOBS.gov, list a salary range, as does Emory University and Emory Healthcare.
Other suggestions include:
• Come up with the lowest acceptable number and put down a salary 10 to 15 percent higher.
• If you are able to answer the question by providing a salary range, do so. Spivey suggests a range that spans at least $5,000. Be practical, she cautions. Offer a range you're truly willing to accept.
• Utilize professional groups. There are scores in Atlanta and often you can attend your first meeting without having to pay a membership fee.
• Also, since job responsibilities vary, don't lock into one salary figure. Determine a pay range for different job titles.
"If a candidate is using a recruiter, most recruiters will already know what the position pays," said Paul Chappell, president and CEO of Crestar Corporation, a national recruiting firm. "But no matter how qualified the candidate, if he/she is currently earning $125,000, most likely a new employer is not going to offer them, say, $200,000 for a similar type of position."
Sam Hall, communications director for the Georgia Department of Labor (GDOL), agrees. "A person should research the employer and job even before applying to know what salary range to expect," he said. "Don't shoot for the moon. Be realistic. But don't undercut your value, either, just to get the job. That can make you appear desperate."
There are several online research tools which offer current, area-specific salary research. Spivey likes Glassdoor.com. "You get the inside scoop by reading the reviews, and salaries for specific companies are also listed," she said. "It's people really telling it like it is. They talk about everything." Other websites that offer real numbers for Georgia wages include payscale.com, careerbliss.com and salary.com. Recruiters are also adamant you put off discussing salary for as long as possible, or until there's an offer on the table. If the question does come up, Chappell said the response should be something like, "I am interested in finding a position that matches my educational background, my previous experience and my interests. I am sure that you are offering a salary that is competitive in the marketplace."