Should you go high? Should you go low? Or should you say nothing at all if you are asked for your desired salary on a job application?
Here's your quick answer.
Whatever you are currently thinking, never put something like $0 or $9999 or any other figure that makes no sense.
But to fully understand why this is a bad idea, you need to think about why a recruiter or hiring manager wants to know your salary expectations and what their likely reaction to your answer will be.
Let's dive in.
Why you are asked for your desired salary on job applications
Most recruiters and companies are advertising multiple job opportunities at any one time.
Add to this the fact that because it is so easy to click and send applications online, many people apply for jobs for which they don't match the criteria set in a job ad.
I say this from experience.
I get so many applications from candidates where it is obvious that they just clicked send without actually knowing what company I am recruiting for or even what position they are applying for.
Tell-tale signs are, for example, a resume with a profile saying they are passionate about retail – when they are applying for a role in a totally different industry.
Or a cover letter that says they are excited to apply for [company name] – but it isn’t the name of the company I am recruiting for.
These mass applications mean that recruiters and hiring managers are likely needing to screen hundreds of applicants in their Applicant Tracking Systems for their job advertisements each day.
And the harsh fact is that out of those hundreds, most will not be suitable.
Yet they still need to be assessed and they still need to be responded to.
So, when you apply online, keep in mind that every part of your application paints a picture of who you are, what you can offer, and what you are looking for.
A recruiter or hiring manager is looking to find a variety of reasons why they should shortlist or reject you and your desired salary is one of these factors.
Your answer to your desired salary is important for the following reasons:
Due to the volume of applications they receive for each position, recruiters and employers want this information to help them filter out candidates who may be asking for a salary that is significantly higher or lower than what the company is looking to offer. This helps them narrow down the pool of applicants to those whose salary expectations align with the company's expectations and budget.
From an employer’s perspective, your salary expectations may be higher than they like but, if you are a strong candidate, it can be used as a basis for customising a job offer. If a company is interested in hiring you, they may take your desired salary into account when structuring a compensation package that includes salary, benefits, and other perks.
From your perspective, if you advance in the interview process and receive a job offer, your desired salary can serve as a starting point for negotiation. This can be a reference point for discussing compensation and benefits to ensure both parties are satisfied with the final offer.
So, in other words, it’s important to get this right.
But how do you know where to pitch yourself?
If you go too low, they may decide you are not the right quality of candidate or worse, give you a lowball job offer that you can’t accept.
If you go too high, you may price yourself out of their budget and get rejected.
Ultimately you have 5 options – although I would stress that number 4 should never be chosen.
Let’s look at each.
Leave it blank
This is the safest option because although a recruiter would ideally like your answer for all the reasons I gave earlier, it is a great way to avoid playing your hand too soon.
Once you are in the interview process, it is always best to deflect and avoid answering salary expectation questions until the job offer stage because you will then have more bargaining power.
However, you won’t always be able to do this because it may be a mandatory field that needs to be completed to enable you to submit your application.
So let's look at your options for when you have to input an answer.
If desired salary is a mandatory but open field box, you won’t be restricted to numbers.
In this case, put negotiable or a similar phrase.
However, if the box is mandatory and figure based you will have no choice but to enter an actual salary figure.
Give a figure
Usually there are two possible formats for this.
A drop-down menu where you can input a range, or a single figure salary box.
If the salary for the position has been disclosed in the job advertisement, then input that exact figure or give it within a suitable range of the exact figure.
Don’t worry, you can negotiate later when they understand what you can offer them should they want to employ you.
If you don’t know the salary, then it’s time for some thinking and researching.
Research Salary Ranges
You can find typical ranges for the position and industry on websites like Glassdoor, Salary.com, and LinkedIn that provide valuable salary data.
If you are able to, it's a good idea to provide a range rather than a specific number, which shows that you're open to negotiation.
Consider Your Value
Base your desired salary on your skills, experience, and the cost of living in the location of the job. Customize your answer based on the specific job, company, and industry. What you might ask for in one situation may be different in another.
While it's important to negotiate for fair compensation, avoid inflating your desired salary to an unrealistic level, as this may lead to your application being rejected. However, you also need to set a walk away figure that you would not be prepared to accept.
The big mistake you shouldn’t make
I have seen various articles that advise job seekers to just put anything in the desired salary field to get past this problem like $0 or $100.
Please don’t do this.
There are two very good reasons for this.
Applicant Tracking systems may reject you
A recruiter may have set up their ATS to initially exclude any candidates that are not within a particular salary range.
This means that your ‘clever’ answer may cause you to be automatically rejected before they even get to look at your skills and achievements.
It’s annoying and unprofessional
As a recruiter it says this to us – “I know you asked for this, but I refuse to tell you.”
We are naturally left to wonder why?
What’s the big deal?
What’s the story here?
Are you not confident in your own worth?
Or are you overconfident and feel the rules don’t apply to you – AKA a huge red flag.
Trying to ‘game the system’ is not a great look and does not instil any level of trust.
Now, if you have unicorn status and have very specific, unique skills you still may get away with this.
But, if like the majority of people, you are up against equally qualified candidates, this is a big mistake.
Be professional and choose one of the previous options or consider the following, more proactive approach.
The best way to handle answering what your desired salary is on a job application is to not make job applications though online portals.
Instead, apply direct so that your skills and experience are highlighted first.
This way, you bypass the Applicant Tracking System and any specific questions you don’t want to answer.
Here’s an article showing you how to do this.
Still worried about how to answer?
Try not to stress too much about providing your desired salary on a job application because it is simple, common practice.
Instead, view it as an opportunity to start a dialogue about compensation.
No employer will hold you to your original answer post-interview.
It will be logical and reasonable to say “now I know more about this role, I feel it would be in the region of $[more than you quoted].”
However, it's essential to approach this question thoughtfully to ensure that your expectations are reasonable and in line with the job market and the employer's budget.
The reason recruiters and employers ask about your desired salary level is to ensure you are within in the right range, and that is all it is about.
Nothing more, nothing less.
Don’t use ‘clever’ responses because they are more than likely to backfire.
Position your answer within a sensible range for both yourself and the company, and leave the negotiation for later on when they want to make you an offer.