You have managed to get an interview for that great job ... the interview has gone well, and you've established a good rapport with the hiring managers ... just a few more minutes to go ... Oh no!  They just asked about salary expectations!

This is where you'll be glad that you did that research ahead of time.  If you didn't,  and aren't sure where to start, here are some tips.  Note: see the end of this article for some great Canadian salary links!

Researching Salaries

If the salary is not stated in the job description, you'll have to determine what the job is worth.  Sometimes you'll be asked to provide your expectations in your cover letter, other times it will come up in an interview.  But the key is to be prepared for this question, as it usually comes up.

There is no one magic figure when trying to determine salary for a particular position. It depends on geographical location, size of the city, market conditions, the company and your own skills and experience as compared with other applicants.  So how do you find out what a job is worth?  Try to use a combination of methods to get as accurate a range as possible.  These may include:

  • look for similar advertised positions which do state a salary range
  • research salaries on the internet, using career sites, professional association sites and search engines (we've provided some starting points at the end of this article) - what is the demand for your skills?
  • visit a local Human Resource Centre of Canada office
  • talk to people in similar positions -- if you don't know anyone personally, take a look at our Guide to Information Interviewing to get started

What to do when you're asked to provide salary expectations in your cover letter?

Many employers ask applicants to provide salary expectations in the cover letter.  This is often done to screen out applicants who expect a higher salary than the employer is willing to offer.  Try to answer with a neutral statement, emphasizing that the opportunity is the most important consideration in your decision and that you would consider any reasonable offer.  If necessary, give a range of what you are willing to accept instead of a fixed dollar amount. 

Salary discussions during the interview

Never bring up salary during an interview.  Always let the employer bring it up.  The same principles apply as above for cover letters.   That is, try to postpone salary discussions until after an offer is made.   Indicate that you are open for negotiation but prefer to wait until after a hiring decision has been made.  Again, if you feel that they are really pushing for a figure, try to give a range, not a specific dollar amount and let them know it depends on the entire package including benefits.

Don't worry if salary is not discussed during the first interview.  It likely will be in the second or at the latest, will when you get an offer!  In fact, salary is usually best left for discussion until after the employer has decided that they want to hire you.  By doing this, you minimize the risk of taking yourself out of the running. 

When an offer is made - negotiating salary

Employers will often provide you with a salary amount when an offer is made.  Take some time to consider it; a day or two is usually acceptable.   Now that they have decided they want to hire you, you may be able to negotiate a little.  But you must decide what you are willing to accept, taking into account the likelihood of receiving other offers, etc.  Take all factors into consideration when making your decision, including the type of work, level of responsibility, working conditions, opportunities for further education, salary, etc.  Ask about vacation, extended health and dental insurance, education re-imbursement plans, etc.

Consider negotiating in some perks instead if the organization has a rigid salary structure.  Depending on the level of the position and current economic conditions, consider asking about a signing bonus, company car, paid professional development, access to a computer for home use and/or stock options.  A flexible work schedule and working from home occasionally may also be possible.  Note: if the economy is in a downturn, many of these perks will not be available (eg. signing bonuses) so use your judgement and common sense when deciding how much room you have to negotiate.

Most people are apprehensive about negotiating for salary or benefits.  Don't be... it is quite common.  But do remember to remain professional about it!  No matter what, don't be rude or arrogant. Think carefully about what makes you worth a higher salary than the one they have offered and be prepared to articulate this to the employer.  It is during this time that you'll be glad you did your research.

More information about negotiating salary can be found at WetFeet: Become An Expert Salary Negotiator

Web Links

Here are a few sites which may help you start your salary research.  Note that information can become out-of-date quickly, so do search the web for up-to-date information.

And one more useful link - the International Salary Calculator - to compare the cost of living in different cities if you've been offered an out-of-town job!

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