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How do I determine a reasonable salary?

Student Career Placement Consultant

Sometimes employers will include a suggested salary or salary range in the position description, but from what I have seen, this is fairly rare, especially for entry-level positions. My students often tell me that their greatest fear going into an interview is that they’ll be asked about their salary requirements. That’s a reasonable fear: You don’t want to suggest a salary that’s higher than what the employer will be willing (or allowed) to pay, but you also don’t want to sell yourself short by suggesting a figure that’s lower than what they have budgeted. The best way to handle this dilemma is to do some research ahead of time so that you have a good idea of what a reasonable salary should be.

There are a number of ways to approach your research, and you’ll want to consider all of them to ensure that you are confident with the salary you suggest. All of this research will also be useful when you are actually offered a position, as it will allow you to determine if the offer is reasonable. 

Calculate what you can accept as a minimum salary and still be comfortable, regardless of what job you are applying for.

 

Consider these questions:

  • What is the cost of living in the area where you would be living? (Learn more about this in “Understand Cost of Living” in the Resources section.)
  • What are your fixed expenses? Be sure to include repayment of student loans, along with standard expenses such as housing, transportation, food, and entertainment. However, if you’ve gotten yourself into significant debt, don’t let that lead you to an unrealistic salary expectation
  • What amount will make you feel that your employer values your skills? 

Perform research to determine what a reasonable salary should be.

 

  • Conduct information interviews with people in comparable positions. (Refer to “Conduct Information Interviews” in the Resources section.)

  • Many professional associations provide online tools that can help you identify entry-level salaries. These tools are especially helpful if they show variations in different parts of the country. 

Be realistic about the match between the skills you would bring to the position and those required by the employer.

 

Additional suggestions for determining an appropriate salary were provided in a Forbes.com article, “How to Know What that Job Pays.” To see if the suggestions were relevant for entry-level positions, I tested them by following Forbes’s instructions using specific jobs that my students had applied for recently.

  • The article suggests that Google provides “the easiest, fastest way to get a salary snapshot.” By entering a job title, company name, location, and the word “salary,” I was able to find either a specific salary for a specific position or an estimate of starting salaries for that job title within the city listed.
  • Indeed.com and SimplyHired.com were both very helpful. For most positions, I got an estimated salary plus a comparison with average salaries for similar positions in the U.S. However, the results were not identical! I’d suggest checking both resources to calculate a range.
  • Department of Labor Occupational Outlook Handbook. This can be an exceptional resource for getting general information about a variety of occupations. The information is not specific to particular locations or companies, but the estimates do vary by region.
  • Glassdoor.com: This data is user-provided, and I was not able to find results for several of the jobs I used for the test. You have to sign in with Facebook or sign up to join Glassdoor to get data. When you sign in/up, you agree to provide data about your salary. This site also provides information about users’ experiences with specific companies.
  • Salary.com: This site has the potential to give you some good results depending on your ability to be specific about job title and location. For a fee, you can get additional services that may be beneficial.

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