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How do I answer when an employer asks me what my salary requirements are?

First of all, you may have desires or expectations (realistic expectations, I hope), but you don't have salary requirements. How do you know if your expectations are realistic? Before you start interviewing or even applying for jobs, you should do your homework - visit the ECS homepage and click on "salaries & statistics" to see up-to-date figures. You can also visit ECS in person and ask to see national survey data in the quarterly NACE survey of reported salaries for graduating students across the country. (For copyright reasons, we can't publish this, but we're happy to share data with you.)

So - how do you answer? Whenever possible, try to avoid giving a specific number. They may have thought they would need to offer you a higher salary than the number you threw out without thinking first, but if you ask for less, they'll probably give it to you. Similarly, if you give a figure that's too high, it could be the tie-breaker that leads the employer to select an equally qualified candidate who mentioned a lower amount.

So, here's what you can say:

Option A: "I don't have an actual salary requirement. Of course, I know what the current salaries are for my degree and major from checking the data on the ECS website, and I'm looking for something similar."

Option B: "I hope to be paid the market rate for my degree and major, but the specific number is negotiable."

Option C: "Of course, salary is important to me, but it's not going to be the #1 factor in a job decision. It's more important to me to know that the job is a good fit for me now and there are opportunities to advance in the future."

Here are underlying principles to keep in mind: (1) don't paint yourself into a corner; (2) you have no negotiation power until the employer has decided that you're the one they want; and (3) if the job's not right for you, it doesn't matter how much you get paid - you won't be happy. So focus your interview time on learning as much as you can about the job and company. Our data shows that students fortunate enough to have multiple offers don't always choose the job with the highest salary, which is a good thing! To me, that means that they're carefully evaluating all the factors that go into making a good decision.

"The most difficult thing in any negotiation...is making sure that you strip it of the emotion and deal with the facts."
-Howard Baker
 

Authored by Rosemary Hill.