A common concern for job seekers is how to deal with the issue of salary; and because society tends to discourage conversations about our salaries, it makes sense that this is a challenging issue. As a result, job seekers often report that they feel uncomfortable, even rude or selfish to raise this issue with employers. Making it even harder, employers don’t always want to talk about it, and candidates are not clear about how much to ask for, or how to go about asking.
Considering how difficult this question is, the best way to make sure you get what you need is to be as prepared as you can.
Prepare. Gather the information you need.
Let’s look at what it takes to prepare for the salary question:
1. Figure out your specific minimum acceptable income
Make sure you know what the minimum income is that you need for yourself, considering your particular financial situation. Evaluate how much you would be willing and able to accept. Look at your budget and expenses. Consider your need for benefits such as health, vacation, and others, which might be useful to discuss as part of the salary negotiation as well.
2. Gather information about what you could realistically expect
Not everyone will be paid the same for the same job. Salaries ranges will vary, depending on where you live, and given the experience and skills that you bring to the job; you will not be necessarily paid the same salary in a big city as you may in a small town, nor would you not be paid the same salary if you have 10 years of experience, versus if you are entry-level.
This is not easy information to find. To get information about salaries offered by local employers, check online – look at websites that offer salary ranges such as salary.com, as well as large job sites such as indeed.ca. Another excellent source for this information is the Government of Canada’s Job Bank, which will help you not only see the salary ranges across the country, but provide you with additional information about your field, such as labour market trends and more.
One of the most accurate ways to gain relevant detailed information is to consult with people in your target field. Reach out to people (LinkedIn is a great place to do that) and tell them that you are researching the field. Don’t worry: you won’t be asking for their salary, but rather just a general idea of the pay range and benefits.
Other factors to consider might be whether the position is unionized, which would restrict space for negotiation. Also, consider the size of the company and its capacity to pay the higher end of salaries. Other factors to be aware of are whether the position is permanent full or part-time, and permanent, contract or temporary.
Have a close look at the company to which you are applying — look at their website to see if they have indicated salaries on their hiring page. Also, do an online search; sites such as Glassdoor might offer you some insights into the salary ranges paid for that particular position at that company.
3. Formulate your “ask”
Next, identify the salary range that would work for you, based on existing salary ranges, your skills and abilities, and how much you are willing to accept.
To negotiate effectively, it helps to be able to explain why you deserve a particular salary. For example, if you know that the company offers a range of $50-$60,000 for the job, consider how much you could ask for and why; if you think you deserve the higher end of that range, be ready to defend that request. Be prepared to tell the employer what you bring that makes it worth their while to pay you more — maybe it’s the amount of experience you have, the special expertise you might bring, or any other unique assets you think you bring to the position.
Once you are clear about the salary range as well as your argument for your specific expectations, think of how and where you are going to have this discussion.
During the hiring process, some employers will raise the salary issue early – even in the job posting itself. If the employer asks for you to specify a salary in the posting, I would not necessarily recommend answering it specifically in your cover letter — it may be better to simply say in your letter that you are open to negotiating the salary at the interview; otherwise, you might be restricting your capacity to negotiate later.
In the interview, unless the employer raises it first, it is best to hold back this question until later on. Your goal is to make such an outstanding impression on the employer, that by the time the salary discussion comes up, the employer has become firmly invested in your candidacy and might be more open to negotiating. So make a point of making a great impression during the interview; and as the interview comes to an end, possibly at that moment when they ask you whether you have any questions, raise the salary issue. If the interviewer doesn’t invite you to ask questions, make sure to squeeze it in anyway… “I just have one question…”. Word your question with care: it may be easier to start the discussion by simply asking “at what point will salary be discussed?”. But be prepared for them to say, “let’s talk about it now”.
Some candidates prefer to accept the given salary and to negotiate later, perhaps a few months after starting the job. If that is your approach, it might be worth mentioning that at the interview. That way, when you raise it later, it will not be a surprise.
To sum up:
There is no reason to not be prepared for the salary question. If you indicate to the employer that you take this seriously, then the employer will too. Be prepared with a good suitable range and be willing to defend your particular request. Keep in mind the other factors influencing your decision — if the job is more important than the wage for you right now, perhaps you’ll accept an entry-level salary; if the wage is essential for you to be able to survive, then perhaps fight a little harder for the salary that you need.
The more confident and well-prepared you are, the better an impression you are going to make on the employer.