The magic number between what a candidate is seeking and what a potential employer is willing to pay is often impacted by factors that are not related to direct experience, relevant education, or matching skills. Compensation is typically more dependent upon labor market conditions, geographic location, company size, and organizational budget than a job seeker’s background and qualifications. Salary structures will also vary between companies offering benefits and perks versus those offering none.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has wage and salary data available by occupation for the nation, region, states, and many metropolitan and non-metropolitan areas and is a good resource for anyone entering the workforce or making a career change. Market salary conditions can also be researched on sites like: LinkedIn.com, Indeed.com, Payscale.com, Glassdoor.com, and Salary.com. There are many on-line resources available to calculate salary based on job title, location, and candidate experience. They will all provide you with a reasonable expectation of earning potential based on your background and skill set.
However, most organizations hiring for an entry-level position, or considering a candidate new to the industry, will still have a hard cap on salary and a firm starting range. This range may or may not match your research. Negotiation is not an option in these instances, and that makes navigating the compensation question even more tricky. Employers understandably want to screen out those who desire more than a position pays, but the “tell me your salary requirements” approach can be frustrating for job seekers. They may be unsure about how much to ask for or don’t want their new earnings tied to a past salary which may have been low. The question naturally causes a disadvantage. If the number provided is too high, it might eliminate a candidate from consideration. Too low and it could anchor a job hopeful at the bottom of the salary range long term.
It is always good to have a general idea of what you can expect to earn, but the market middle will vary depending on the source, and half of workers will earn a salary lower than the median amount indicated.1 Working for less in a position which supports long-term career trajectory is not uncommon for new graduates entering any field. Candidates shifting from one profession to another may also need to consider a lower salary if the position offers a perfect career segue. Keep in mind a flexible work schedule with health benefits may offset a lower pay, especially if the position fits with your career goals and offers a good work-life balance.
I recently blogged about how to use the interview process to determine if a job is right for you.
Part of that process will involve having a dialogue with a potential employer regarding salary. Hiring managers WILL ask what you want to earn. Don’t be afraid of the question. Pay is an important and fundamental consideration in any job search. Every candidate has expectations regarding salary and every employer will have a budgeted amount for their available position. Use the interview to determine if these are aligned. The Internet is saturated with articles about how to win at salary negotiations. They purport to help job seekers deflect the salary question and maintain an “upper hand.” I am not a fan of these. I believe a candid conversation whereby both the interviewer and interviewee can discuss compensation and other employer-provided incentives in a factual and neutral manner will yield the best results.
When you are asked about salary here are three strategic responses that will facilitate a meaningful interview dialogue about wages:
- What did you pay the last person who held this role? Not only can this question illicit an amount from your interviewer, it can also give you additional insights as to why the position has become available. Maybe the company is restructuring, maybe an employee left or was fired, or possibly that individual was promoted.
- What do you normally pay an employee with my education level and skill set? This question can help you ascertain if the company has formal pay ranges or job grades for their positions and structures in place for how pay levels are created and how increases are determined. You may even be able to find out if the company compensates with bonuses for performance or tenure.
- What do you think is a reasonable starting pay given my background and experience? Interviewers rarely dive into a discussion about money unless they are considering hiring you. Most will give a firm amount or a range.
When asked what salary you expect, the questions above should help you further assess the position, the pay, and any benefits or other associated perks. If the compensation package doesn’t compare to similar jobs, then it may make sense to keep looking. Money does matter, but compensation is not just about what you see on your paycheck. When considering any position, it is equally important to assess whether it will set you on a path to career success and professional development. Look at each opportunity from all perspectives and you will reach the right decision!
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1 Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Paralegals and Legal Assistants, on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/paralegals-and-legal-assistants.htm (visited March 08, 2020).
Director of Outreach and Career Services
Tami has an extensive and varied professional background that spans criminal justice, paralegal education, and international school marketing and communication. Her career has been guided by a focus on developing strategic partnerships that facilitate school growth and student opportunity. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Degree in Criminal Justice from Texas State University.