The Dreaded “What is your salary range?” Question

By tessa on February 3, 2016

Today I realized that one companies ideal pay range drastically varies from another companies ideal pay range. When the time comes in your career that you decide to move onto another opportunity, you will have to interview for another job and they WILL ask you what your desired salary range is. So how in the world do you accurately answer that question? The answer is, you don’t.

My desired salary range is a number I pulled out of a magical hat that is based on the salary at my most recent position + the salaries of positions I have either been offered and declined or positions with my same skill set then averaged. However, at the end of the day, I would rather work for a solid, stable company and be paid a little less than to work for a company I despise but make more money.

I may have been passed over for a job based on my salary range being higher than their budget. How do I know that? Because this time around I questioned their “decline letter.” All employers send a generic letter after a certain amount of time basically stating they chose to go with another applicant. What those letters should say is the exact reason why you were not hired. How are you suppose to learn what to change if you have no idea why you actually weren’t hired? How am I to know that my salary range may be too high if no one tells me? How do I know that they actually picked someone else because they already knew a certain framework that I didn’t know? I don’t, unless someone tells me OR unless I pry.

So I pry-ed. I was very passionate about this company and this role so I thought to myself, what do I really have to lose? I sent the manager an email and asked what had changed between their excitement and eagerness at my interview to the dreaded “decline letter (email).” And I was told that the reasoning was mainly that their budget for the role was less than my desired salary range. Well crap. The magical hat has failed me. It made me realize that I was so excited about the company and the work they were doing that I didn’t care if my salary was less than my “number.”

So in the least desperate way possible I expressed my utter excitement for their company and the fact that the role there was more than just money to me. Yes, everyone works for money. However, I am the kind of person that lives to work, not works to live. Yes, I have a family that means more than my job, but there really isn’t much else that means more to me. I love my career and working somewhere that is freaken awesome is something that money really can’t buy.

So my advice to you is to come up with an even more calculated way to approach the “What is your desired salary range” question. Start with a base, maybe this is what you make at your current job or maybe this number is an average for your role in your area and add 5-10% for an overall raise with your next move. Then start a list of benefits that you are passionate about, either good or bad. For example, work from home days are gold to me, so if a company offers work from home days, then I can budge on my salary because those are days I won’t be wasting time in traffic, buying fuel and putting miles on my vehicle. Put a number on these items, how much are they worth to you or how much will you save? Is the health insurance benefits out of this world? Then decrease your range. Do they only offer 5 paid holidays? Bump it up a bit, because let’s face it, who wants to go to work the Friday after Thanksgiving.

It’s all about what matters to YOU. So when a company asks what your desired salary range is, ask them what they have to offer first. Know what matters before your interview and find out what they have to offer and run the numbers in your head to give them an appropriate range.

Now I just need to take my own advice.


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