Should you disclose your target salary during the interview/application process?
Them: What is your desired salary for this job?
Short Answer: No, if you aren’t asked for it. Yes, if you are asked the question directly.
A key question on everybody’s mind during the application process is salary.
From the applicant’s perspective, it’s asking themselves, “How much will this position compensate me?”. For the company, the question is “how can I attract and retain talent for this position, without breaking the budget?”.
In other words, there is often a disparity between an applicant’s intentions– which is to make sure they get paid as fair and competitive salary (benefits included) for themselves as possible. Whereas for the employer, they are seeking to find out what the lowest possible compensation package they can use to attract the candidate.
Disclosing this on a Cover Letter…
A friend of mine was applying to his dream company. He wanted the job desperately and money was not an issue for him. So when sending the cover letter over to explain his passion for getting the job… he asked if he could be honest and tell them: “Hey, I honestly don’t care about salary at all”.
My professional advice to him was that this would be a bad decision. Why? Well let’s look at the pros and cons:
Pros: You are plainly laying it out there for the hiring manager to understand that you are more interested in the job requirements, position title, company values, and the professional development their position offers you (or at least I imagine all of the above sounding attractive) OVER base salary. As a manner of persuasion, depending on the right company and industry, this may be a very sound thing to communicate.
Cons: You are disclosing a key factor of what gives you leverage when you are negotiating salary (or if salary is “non-negotiable”, still other aspects of the position may be, like benefits, bonus, relocation, sliding compensation tied to performance, etc. etc.). In other words— if you do get the job offer, and you want to negotiate a higher position for yourself— you already gave up your key bargaining chip by saying you ‘don’t care’. On another small and unrelated note, depending on how you word it— you may also come off as slightly desperate (which let’s face it, there’s an inherent bias in recruiters, hiring manager, and darn near anybody to be more attracted to the confident person who knows what they have to offer and knows their professional worth).
We interviewed a professor from my Alma Mater on the subject. It’s a two-parter and fairly long, but if you want to hear someone who knows much more than me on the touchy subject of salary negotiation and you have some time during your morning commute listen here: “Cornell Professor Discusses Salary Negotiation (Part 1- Youtube)” or on &
Disclosing this on the online application portion…
If you have filled out an online application in the last 5 years, you’ve likely been asked this question point blank:
“What is your desired salary?”
NEVER LEAVE THIS BLANK. Seriously, pro tip here: not filling out an application in its entirety is a surefire guarantee to not getting a callback. After all, if you can’t follow the rules on a 20 question application, you likely won’t be a good rule follower in the workplace (either that or you don’t care about your application to the company at all).
My biggest piece of advice here is to do your research. Find out what similar positions are paying for in your area (check out the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ occupational and salary information for your geographic area, type up the position in the search bar for the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Search (O*NET), or hop on over to glassdoor.com).
One of the key takeaways from this negotiation’s podcast, and one that Professor Simons would preach on a regular basis during his Negotiations course, is to do your research. Coming to the table during an interview and being unprepared for this question is one of the worst disservices you can do for yourself. Know what equivalent candidates are asking for. Know what the company can afford (think of the difference in budget between Apple corporate and your local Hobby Lobby). Be in the general range for what you think the company is willing to pay, otherwise:
- Risk selling yourself short– and you may be unwittingly signing yourself up for a smaller check.
- Way overshoot the salary range– and you may be signaling to your potential employer that you are not a right fit for what they’re looking for.
And in either case, you’ll likely be turning off the interviewer/reader of your application since they can obviously tell you didn’t do your research and know what the position entails. And if you want to find out exactly what number to say… I’ll let you listen to the episode and find out for yourself (from someone with way more experience on the subject than me).
Cheers, and here’s to a better future!