How to Handle The Pesky Salary Expectations Question

How to Handle The Pesky Salary Expectations Question

You begin applying for an online job, answering the basic questions, and uploading a resume.

Suddenly, you get a question that reads:

“What are your salary expectations?”

And then they put a little asterisk (*) next to it, which means you have to write something.

Your mind races because you do not want to say too much and weed yourself out of the running.

But at the same time, you do not want to give the farm away for a handful of magic beans either!

You're not ready to spill the beans, so to speak, by putting out the magic number.

(You aren't even sure what the magic number is!)

So, what do you do?

Try the following advice.

Please note: This question is not related to requesting “Salary History,” a hot topic that has led to some recent laws passing in the United States.

  • It is okay to ask what people expect.
  • It is not always okay to ask what they were paid in the past.

1. Respond With a Phrase or Word

If the form allows for text, answer with “Negotiable” or “Open.” 

It really is that simple.

You don't need to add any other information or commentary.

In fact, the less you add, the better, as this will lessen the chances of the hiring manager fixating on this one aspect of your job application.

However, it won't always be this easy because some forms require numerical answers.

2. Respond With a Nonsense Number

These days, the “desired salary” field on an online application form often requires you to enter a number.

In this case, it won’t let you proceed without entering something.

Here is what you do (and this is something recruiters have even recommended to job seekers).

Add a number that pretty much says, “I won’t tell you until we negotiate.”

  • $0
  • $1
  • $0000001

Stating that your salary expectations are $0 and $1 pretty much says, “We will negotiate later.”  

Any smart company seeking savvy business people will look beyond this field to your actual qualifications.

They can ask you about your salary later during your interview.

The risk involved with nonsense numbers:

Applicant tracking systems may get tripped up if they see an outrageous number.

If they are set to flag applications unless a certain salary is entered, you may get eliminated from the process by an automated setting.

Even more, a person may think you are blowing off the question or not taking the application seriously.

If this concerns you, try the following.

3. Research Salaries on Glassdoor and Enter a Salary Range

If you do not want to be taken the wrong way and cannot enter text, try adding a salary range.

Do your research on Glassdoor (easiest) or by reaching out to former/current employees at the company of interest to get inside information on the salary. 

Then, enter your floor and ceiling salary expectations.

For example:


The key here is doing your research.

  • Show that you know the nationwide salary ranges for your type of position.
  • Know your worth and use what you discover.

If you find a position pays in the low $140K’s, then try a range of $135,000-$155,000.

Adding a salary range gives you room for negotiation during a later interview.

4. Respond With Specific Numbers After Researching

You are an honest person.

You hate games and like to be direct.

If this is true, the best bet may be to give a straightforward answer.

Again, research on Glassdoor and come up with a specific number.

You want to do this to make sure you are not asking for too much or too little.

If what you want is aligned with what the company is offering, you will get through the process quicker.

The con here is that you might disqualify yourself from the opportunity.

Don't get too caught up on salary when the position may include:

  • Bonuses 
  • Stock options 
  • Other forms of compensation

You can negotiate harder after receiving an offer, too, if they want you for the job badly enough.

Many times being "direct" and entering a safe value will get you exactly what you ask for.

Sadly, this usually means you could have asked for more.

5. Don’t Put Yourself in a Position to Answer the Question

The fact is, online job applications are not the beginning and end for all job seekers.

  • In fact, 80% of all jobs are found through networking.
  • Additionally, 94% of recruiters use LinkedIn to screen candidates.

When you network, you get to skip all the technology, extensive forms, algorithms, and junk job boards.

Networking leads to meeting key decision-makers, giving you the best chance to make a first impression.

Negotiating salary comes later after the hiring manager is already sold on you.

(Read 3 Useful Tips for Job Seekers on LinkedIn.)

Closing Thoughts

If you have passed the initial job application stage and are preparing for an interview, you should be ready to discuss salary at some point with the hiring manager.

In this case, you will also need to know a few helpful negotiation tactics.

Check out our article "What Are Your Salary Expectations" for more on this topic.

Perhaps you've already had a job offer and hope to negotiate for a higher salary.

If so, we recommend you read "How to Negotiate a Higher Salary After a Job Offer."

If you need assistance in the area of job interview prep, resume writing, or improving your LinkedIn profile, look no further.

Here at Find My Profession, we would love to help you land the perfect career.

We are a top-notch resume writing service on a mission to create effective resumes that convert into offers.

We also offer career coaching services with a focus on senior and executive-level job seekers.

Simply tell us about your previous experience and we will research where your skills could be best applied.

Get in touch today and let us help you navigate every step of your job search.

Our goal is to help you find vocational success.

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