The one area of the job search that aggravates me more than any other is the question relating to salary. I see job postings that require me to put a salary history or a salary expectation and I immediately start to think that if I put what I really think I’m worth, I won’t get a job interview. In other cases, I’m afraid my salary history might indicate I’m not qualified enough (or too qualified) for the position. And in other cases, I’m willing to work for less than what I’m used to making because I like the job, but am afraid my salary history will scare the employer away. How do I deal with salary questions in a job posting?

This is one of the most confusing parts of the job search for job seekers.

As stated above, on one hand, you want to get paid what you believe you’re worth, but on the other hand, you want to indicate some level of flexibility so you can at least get an interview and into a negotiating position with the company.

And many mid-career job seekers tell me the salary of a job is no longer the number one criteria for a job; more and more professionals are looking for opportunities where their top criteria is to work with ethical, stable companies that give them a strong life/work balance, opportunities to grow and a dynamic work culture.

Your past salary trajectory is most likely based on increased responsibilities, management duties, education, etc. You bring with you to the job hunt a specific monetary value, based on what you believe you are worth. But what you believe you are worth and what a company is willing to pay you could be two very different things!

Going into the job search, there’s a bit of internal ego massaging that you might need to consider. You might believe your value allows you to command a certain salary, but really, the value of anything is based on how much someone is willing to pay.

Consider this question: What is the lowest salary I can work for? The salary that can pay my bills, allow me to invest in my retirement, take a vacation and pay for all the other things that are important to my life. When you are at that number, you are now at the point where you can say, “I can’t work for less than….” Now, I’m not suggesting that you negotiate for the lowest salary. This salary threshold might not be the salary you had in the past or the salary that you think you are worth, but with this threshold number, you now can start to eliminate jobs whose salaries fall below what you are able to work for.

Taking all of these things into consideration, you should be able to come up with a salary range that you are willing to consider. It is a salary range that you are confident with—confident enough to negotiate on your terms and confident enough to walk away from a job if it doesn’t match your criteria.  

Saying all of that, here’s a general outline of what a company is considering when they are determining a salary for a job they are about to post.

When companies are posting a job, they worked hard to identify a fair salary range for the position. They want to get it right, because they want to attract good professional talent for the job and they also know they are competing with other companies for the same talent.

The HR professional will look at a variety of things in determining a salary range. Sometimes larger companies already have pre-determined salary ranges for specific jobs. But HR professionals are also constantly researching and analyzing salaries to make sure they are up-to-date and competitive within their industries.

HR professionals use generally accepted analysis of workforce salaries to help them to determine the pay grade of positions they are posting. This analysis is done nationwide and looks at a variety of criteria to determine salary ranges, including:

Years of experience
Job titles
Specific industry experience
Licensure requirements
Specific technical skills
You can find this regularly updated salary analysis on salary calculators available for free on a variety of legitimate websites. lists different salaries of positions at specific companies and also allows you to search for general salary ranges based on keyword criteria. Also, if you simply search “salary calculator” through Google, you’ll see a variety of legitimate websites that can help. Salary ranges posted are typically within a $5,000-$10,000 range (for example, $40,000 – $50,000). While some companies like to be transparent about salary and will list the range in their job description, others use the salary question as a screening tool.

Personally, I think questions of salary should be dealt with up front and directly; it shouldn’t be an awkward question. It can save a lot of time on both ends to know what the target range is. There’s nothing worse than going through the entire job interview/hiring process and then getting to the job offer and realizing the job salary is completely off the mark.

The salary range doesn’t mean the new hire is expected to start at the lowest range. It is a range, meaning the company will be attempting to negotiate the salary within that range. Often, through the hiring process for that job, companies might go higher than the range depending on the slate of qualified candidates. Rarely will they negotiate less.


A couple of final things:
If the job posting requires you to post a salary history or desired salary range, you must do so or risk not being considered for the job. Not following specific instructions on the job posting can be an immediate red flag and a typical recruiter will not track you down to get information you didn’t include. They will simply eliminate you from consideration.

If you get a phone call, or the ‘pre-screening’ phone call from a recruiter, it is completely appropriate to ask “What does the job pay?” or “What is the salary range for this position?” Of course you need to know this information before you decide to invest your time and energy going through a laborious interview/hiring process and you should not feel awkward about asking this question.

Don’t let your mind be polluted with ‘stinking thinking’ relating to salary! If you do the research and analysis and are confident with a salary range you believe is fair based on your background, then boldly stick with that salary range and don’t second guess it.
There are a lot of other questions and issues related to negotiating salaries and determining how to best position yourself based on your own salary targets. Many of these issues are specific to roles, industries, age, seniority, etc. and in the future, I will be writing more about these specific issues. As always, please feel free to email me questions you’d like answered. I’m at

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