Skip to Main Content
by Cathryn Vandewater | November 29, 2010


You aced the first interview, and now you're pressing your suit for a second. The prospects are looking good—you have a feeling you might get an offer. But before you get too excited, make sure you know what you will (and won't) accept salary-wise--before you're in the room.

Why? Because you might very well be asked to name your price. Budget is a big factor in hiring these days, and you need to be careful when about choosing your number: too high, and you may remove yourself from the running; too low, and the interviewers might start to wonder why you're undervaluing yourself (and if they take you up on it, you could lose out on thousands of dollars over the years).

Thus, it's best to learn as much as possible about the workload, benefits, and advancement potential of the position before answering—and to factor that in when calculating the following three figures:

1. The Average Pay for the Position

This is a necessity for orienting yourself in the current market and grounding your expectations in cold, hard reality. The average salary for a job title can be obtained from a variety of websites--like (ahem) this one--to the Department of Labor's online handbook. A general range should give you a loose number to begin playing with--the eventual goal being to factor in your¬ years of experience and special skills for an "asking price."

Remember: your location is a big factor in the wage equation, since cost of living varies from place to place (executive assistants, for example, make nearly double in New York City what those in a small town in middle America do). Be aware of this, especially if you're relocating, so that you're able to keep up your standard of living on the new salary.

2. Your Minimum

Now that you have your average pay range, take a look at the numbers on the low end of the spectrum. Make lists of big expenses like rent or mortgage payments down to weekly groceries and regular deposits to a savings account. Considering your budget, what's the smallest amount you could comfortably maintain your lifestyle on?

Consider too whether non-monetary benefits to a job may be worth adjusting your standards of living for. Would tuition reimbursement for your MBA be worth a pay-cut? What about great health coverage for your family? Maybe work/life flexibility like telecommuting or a shorter workday could be more valuable in the long run than a certain dollar amount.

3. Your Desired Amount

Now the fun part: finding the highest salary you could justifiably ask for. Consider the difference between your average and minimum numbers to approximate. (For example, if your minimum is $80,000 and the average salary for the position is $90,000, you might consider $95,000-$100,000 a "want" range). As for the justification, write a few bullet points for the value you'd add to the company that makes you worth the big bucks. Be sure to take into account any previous track record for success as well as other offers you've received.

Also important to know: would you be willing to accept a higher salary for fewer benefits? What about more hours at the office? Have a clear picture of your boundaries before the meeting so that you won't make promises you can't (or won't want to) keep.

Salary is never an easy or comfortable conversation to have, but being prepared to discuss it takes a lot of the anxiety out of the process. Just keep in mind that knowledge really is power: the more questions you can get answered about the position (its benefits as well as its pitfalls) before putting a number on the table, the more likely you are to suggest and receive a salary that everyone's satisfied with.


Filed Under: Salary & Benefits