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What do I do when an employer asks me about my salary or wage expectations?

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This is a tricky question for many job search newbies. If you’re just starting out, you may have no idea what most people earn doing the job that you’re applying for. And if you’re thrilled just to be getting a job, you may be tempted to take the first offer without negotiating.

It’s a difficult balance—you don’t want to price yourself out of a job, but nor do you want to undervalue your skills by asking for too little.

Here are some tips:

  • Go in prepared. Before your interview, find out as much as you can about typical salaries for the work you want. Check out the Wages and Salaries section on OCCinfo. Contact the professional association for your job (if there is one), search for similar job postings that may list a salary range, and explore employer review and salary information sites like GlassDoor or Indeed.
  • Avoid the topic until the employer mentions it. Then say you’re confident the employer will offer you a reasonable salary and benefit package. This makes you seem flexible.
  • If the employer presses you to name a salary or wage, avoid naming a specific figure. Instead, quote the range your research uncovered. Say you’d expect to be paid at the same rate as others with similar qualifications.
  • The employer may contact you with a job offer after your interview. Remember that the offer may consist of more than a salary or wage. It can include a benefit package as well. For this reason, it’s a good idea to ask for the offer in writing. This gives you time to analyze the whole package, do more research and get a second opinion.
  • If you have to negotiate during the interview, you will need to think on the fly. Decide whether to accept the offer or make a counter offer. If countering, make it clear that you want the job, but ask if there is any flexibility in the salary or wage offer. If the employer can’t or won’t negotiate on salary or wage and you still want the job, try asking for other perks, such as more vacation time, health benefits or a flexible work schedule.
  • At the end of the interview, if you’ve reached a verbal agreement, ask for confirmation in writing.

Understand that if the employer makes you an offer that seems low, you won’t usually be risking the job by countering it. Many employers expect you to negotiate.

That said, some entry-level jobs may pay standard amounts that you can’t negotiate. In this case, the employer will probably tell you so up front.

No matter what you get in the end—and even if you ultimately refuse the job—the key is professionalism. You may feel uncomfortable negotiating a salary if you haven’t done it before, but as long as you remain polite, engaged and professional, you will leave a lasting positive impression.

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