In a game of poker, showing your cards to your opponents would put you at a great disadvantage. No surprise, then, that when an employer asks you to list your salary requirements in a cover letter, you feel a tad vulnerable.
But there is a simple logic behind this standard request: If you require compensation far beyond what a company is prepared to pay for the position, it doesn’t want to waste its time—or yours—going through the interview process. So if you’re asked for salary requirements, especially if applications without them won’t be considered, it’s time to tip your hand.
Websites like Salary.com and Glassdoor can show you what you can expect to earn based on your industry, location, skill set, and experience. If you have industry contacts, inquire what entry-level employees typically make. Or go straight to the source, says Ellen Gordon Reeves, author of Can I Wear My Nose Ring to the Interview? “You can call the HR department of a company and simply say, ‘I saw a job advertised at your company and I’m wondering what the entry-level salary is for this department.’”
SET A RANGE
Your benchmarking should help you determine a bottom line—the absolute minimum you’ll accept. But rather than a single figure, present your requirements in a ten-thousand-dollar range. This increases the chances that your expectations and the employer’s budget will overlap and gives you some room to negotiate later on. Reeves suggests writing, “My salary requirements are in the $30,000 to $40,000 range, depending on the type and scope of responsibilities.”
Unless the employer is feeling generous, you’ll probably be offered a salary on the low end of your range. But you still have some wiggle room. Salary is only one part of an employer’s offer; employee benefits also carry a lot of weight, and can be used as leverage. If you feel the salary is on the low side given the responsibilities of the position, it can’t hurt to bluff a bit and say that you expected more comprehensive employee benefits and will need a higher salary to offset this.