Should you reveal your salary expectations on job applications?

Dear Evil HR Lady,

An online application is obligatory at a certain company, even though the candidate has developed inside contacts in the team (not HR) he wishes to work for. There is a field for “minimum salary.” This is not one of the required fields with a “*” next to it and the application can well be completed without filling it in. There are several potential strategies I have read up on for dealing with such a form:

1. Leave it blank (it is not possible to type a word, i.e. “negotiable”);

2. Enter the number that is the lowest number you are willing to accept;

3. Enter the number that is at the higher range of what you realistically think they might pay;

4. Enter a number that is in between those described in points #3 and #4.

Now, #1 would obviously be the most desirable, as the first rule in negotiation (of salary or anything else) is that the upper edge belongs to the party with the most information. However, although it is not a required question for the application, HR might be using it as a “weeder” question and not want to consider any applicant who has left it blank. (I consider that a bad strategy, since it turns off a lot of attractive and savvy candidates, but it’s a fairly common one, unfortunately.)

The problem with #2 is that you risk low-balling yourself. During negotiations, “Ah! But you said that you would accept a salary of _____” could come up, and that would rather tend to pigeon you during negotiations. The principal problem with #3 and #4 is that such strategies are fundamentally dishonest. After all, the application DID say “minimum salary,” and isn’t it unwise not to tell the truth to a prospective future employer?

Besides, when we are talking about a range of acceptable salaries, #3 and #4 both carry the risk of either low-balling you (if the company’s budget is at the higher end of your imagined range or even higher) or getting you eliminated (if the company’s budget is at the lower end of your imagined range).

What are your thoughts? I know there could be several reasons why that slot is on the application. How is a candidate to work with it without either eliminating himself from consideration or low-balling himself?

To read the answer, click here: Should you reveal your salary expectations on job applications? (MoneyWatch)

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6 thoughts on “Should you reveal your salary expectations on job applications?

  1. No, it is just a quick, lazy and easy way to simply reject people. In today’s “new normal”, HR, nor anyone, should be allowed to think and feel for potential talent on what they will and will not accept for a job opportunity. Life is not always a simple statistic.

  2. @JC: An even quicker, lazier and easier way to simply reject people would be to say “we’ve decided not to move you forward” and not volunteer an explanation.

    It’s not as if employers NEED a sneaky way to weasel out of hiring somebody. If they’d prefer not to hire anyone, the quick, lazy and easy way to achieve that is simply not to post a job! If there’s someone in particular they don’t what to hire, then the quick, lazy and easy way is to don’t. If they want to arbitrary exclude a random selection of the field in order to make evaulation easier, then the quick, lazy and easy way to do that is to throw dice. Or ask everybody which tree they’d be and only consider those who answer the same as the guy you’re replacing.

  3. Our company not only asks for your salary expectations, we also require a copy of a paycheck from your current (or most recent) job and your salary at every job you’ve ever had. It’s very invasive and it does cost us some good applicants. I would say that 8 times out of 10 the salary expectation figure is used to the disadvantage of the applicant and savvy candidates tend to leave it blank. If you have confidence that your skills and experience are a match, leave it alone. They can always call you and ask. Also, occasionally, people refuse to provide us with a pay stub and usually, if they are qualified for the job and we like them, it doesn’t matter. The prior salary history is basically ignored unless there’s a huge jump from say $15/hour at a first job to $100k per year at the next one, with no obvious reason (e.g., finished MBA). If you have this issue, be prepared to explain. When you apply to a larger organization, typically, the compensation bands are pretty well established. The company doesn’t want to have to justify in court why they happen to pay employees in some protected category less than white males, so regardless of what you made before, you will be offered compensation that puts you within $2-3k per year of current employees doing the same job with the same level of experience and education. To get more than that, you have to show that you belong in the next higher band –which could lead to your being considered “overqualified” for the position, so be careful.

    1. Honestly, I’m not sure I could tell you my salary at every job I’ve ever had. And the salary at my last job is deceiving because it was part time.

      And with the pay bands, it’s extra stupid to ask about pay, because as you said, it pays what it pays. And as someone who has spend untold hours battling a wage discrimination case brought by the OFCCP, I know just how important those paybands are. (We won, by the way.)

  4. Evil HR Lady, I do wonder about those salary negotiations. Perhaps in some level executive jobs this goes on, but I’ve been in the workforce for 25 years, and every job I ever had paid what it paid, no matter who the candidate was.

    1. It’s not just executive jobs. There’s almost always wiggle room in exempt level jobs.

      Hourly jobs? Not generally as much.

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