Savvy Answers When Ads Require Salary Data

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Posted: Oct 03, 2010 12:01 AM

DEAR JOYCE: When a job posting or ad asks for a cover letter including salary requirements, what is the best way to respond without giving a specific number so that your chances are better of at least getting an interview? Although I've tried salary ranges, I guess I'm not hitting the mark. -- F.B.

Jack Chapman, based in Wilmette, Ill., is my favorite salary coach (salarynegotiations.com). The author of the classic guide "Negotiating Your Salary: How to Make $1000 a Minute," Chapman is a seasoned salary consultant to job seekers.

Here's Chapman's creative response to a question that's become an increasingly frustrating problem in a digital age where rigid online figures can destroy hope for employment.

Goal Post. In responding to a request in a posted job or ad to state your salary requirements, never forget that your No. 1 priority is to get an interview while maintaining your integrity. You have a number of options; pick one you like.

1. Text compatible. In the unlikely event the application box accepts text, write a single word -- "Competitive." It's the raw truth: You want a competitive wage. This should not screen you out.

2. Numbers only. Usually, however, numerics are the rule. In that case, research a competitive salary using Salary.com, Payscale.com, Indeed.com and GlassDoor.com. Despite your disappointment in the use of salary ranges, see if you can enter a range, because it has better results than a single number. A range says "competitive wage."

3. Single number. When the application box won't accept a range and requires a number, enter a number that is in the 50th percentile of the range -- even if you want more. Salary research sites list salary ranges by percentiles. (Example: For a range of $30,000 to $50,000, the 50th percentile is halfway between, or $40,000.) You are saying that all you need is a competitive salary. Get into an interview and negotiate up when the time is right.

4. Two tries. If you think the employer is gathering ammunition to lowball you, apply twice. (Some systems won't let you go back for a second bite of the apple ... ah, well.) This time around, put a number in the application box that's in the 25th percentile. At this stage, don't worry about your problem with a lowball -- you can negotiate for more later. Again, your mission is to get inside to interview.

5. Risky tactics. When a posting or ad asks not for salary requirements but salary history, interpret the request to mean the employer wants to know if you're affordable.

If the application box accepts text, write one word: "Affordable."

If not, and if your current or last salary looks "unaffordable," you can do the Negotiation Two-Step. Step one: Avoid being immediately screened out by writing a lower number, or a vague figure, like "50s." Step two: Once in an interview, immediately clarify your monetary evasion for what it was -- your strong interest in the job, and your attempt to be evaluated up close on merit. If you fess up right away, you have a chance; if you're caught in a lie, you're finished. What can you possibly say? Try this approach:

"By the way, your application asked for salary history, and I interpreted that to mean you want to know what salary is acceptable in light of my history. So my actual numbers are a few percent higher than the numbers I entered. I thought that would be a more accurate barometer for your selection process. I'm sure we can come to a good salary agreement if I'm the one you want."

For a limited time, get more of Chapman's salary coaching on free webinars (now in Beta) by visiting LucrativeCareersInc.com.