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They didn't teach me this in grad school...
August 3, 2012 7:44 PM   Subscribe

Problem: what to write on the "expected salary" line. Difficulty level: academia-to-industry transition.

Hello. I'm a PhD graduate applying for a position in industry. The application process involves filling out a form that includes the dreaded "what is your expected salary" question.

Details:
- This job is a 1 year contract.

- The requirements state they want a bachelor's or master's degree.

- I have no industry experience, I've only done academic research. My degree is in the right field, and the job is a research-focused position, so there is some overlap. However, the topic of expertise / techniques required are not a perfect match with what I've been doing. I'd say it's a 60%-70% overlap. (I'm fairly confident that I would be able to learn the missing 30-40% quickly, but I guess you never know.)

- The technical expertise I got from my PhD might be interesting/useful to this company, but probably not for the current role for which they're hiring.

- I've looked online (glassdoor.com, various others), and the starting salaries tend to be in the $50K - $70K range. (I'm not sure how contracts factor in to this, I assume these are salaries for permanent positions.) I doubt that most people starting in this field have PhD's, though some obviously do. I would be very happy with $60K to start.

- On the other hand, friends are telling me to treat it as entry level, because the company is only asking for a bachelor's degree, and because I have no industry experience. I don't really know anyone IN that industry that I could ask.

- I am REALLY interested in this job. I am willing to take a temporary salary hit to get the industry experience and get my foot in the door, so to speak. But for a variety of reasons, $50K would be the realistic minimum I would need to make to be comfortable. I could possibly swing $40K, but it would be quite difficult/stressful.

- Job is in North America. I really do need a job, and very soon.

Questions:
1.) Do true entry-level positions (non-finance non-business BA-level) really start in the $50K+ range?

2.) If I put my range as $50K - $60K, and they can actually only afford an entry level salary, will I have shot myself in the foot?

3.) The alternative is to give a range of $40K - [whatever], and hope for the best. But I really don't want to lowball myself right from the start, especially since $40K is the bare minimum for me. I would have to think long and hard to see if I could/would take it for $40K.

4.) Can I really just say "negotiable" on the form? I worry that this will make the employer think I'm priced out of their range, especially given my advanced degree. Or just annoy them enough that they toss my application out.

Throwaway email: AskMeMoose@gmail.com
Thanks, everyone.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
You really can say "Negotiable" or "Negotiable depending upon overall compensation" if you want to get really explanatory.

If they ask, tell them that you realize there's more to compensation than wage, and would be happy to hear their offer once they decide that you're the right person for them.

My rule of thumb in negotiations is that the person who talks first is in the weaker position, so I would try to avoid stating a number unless you're really backed into a corner.
posted by dotgirl at 7:50 PM on August 3, 2012 [11 favorites]


What field is this? I think that will impact answers here. Science PhDs will probably be able to demand more in this situation than art history PhDs. (Not that those aren't valuable either, says the education EdM)
posted by smirkette at 7:55 PM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


smirkette is right that it really depends on your field.
Based on all fields with which I have any experience (government, arts, literature), the answer to your question number 1 is no.
Why not just write "negotiable"? I doubt that will make or break your application.
If you really don't want to do that, why not put a range starting at $45k? You don't want to set it too high, but you don't want to make it look like you're devaluing your experience, either.
posted by mlle valentine at 8:30 PM on August 3, 2012


or "within the range of $45-55k (or whatever) but open to negotiation"
posted by mlle valentine at 8:32 PM on August 3, 2012


I think the field really matters a lot here. But if starting salaries are 50 to 70, that should be your range, at least to start. I would not start off by lowballing yourself, so if you're not comfortable saying 60 or 70 and starting negotiating from there, I would just indicate that you're willing to negotiate.
posted by J. Wilson at 8:45 PM on August 3, 2012


As everybody else said, field is a huge differentiator here. Use a tool like Salary Calculator, and do your research. See if you can find out what entry level employees in that position usually make.
posted by KGMoney at 8:56 PM on August 3, 2012


If 50 is what you need, ask for 50. If you want to see what you're worth to them - 50 to 70.
posted by heyjude at 12:47 AM on August 4, 2012


Leave this field blank.

They have a pay range in mind, and will make you an offer with that range.
posted by zippy at 2:16 AM on August 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


I would just say "Negotiable". This question is a game that employers play to try to gain an early advantage. Don't play the game. Research what you can reasonably expect to ask given your experience (or lack of), age and field, and then negotiate at interview, depending on how you think it's going, how badly they want you and how badly you want them.
posted by Decani at 3:36 AM on August 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


If you are really interested in the job rather than the pay, I would also say 'negotiable', as it clearly is for you. There's a range they have in mind, and unless your previous salary is at the top end / just above you aren't going to win anything by putting a figure in.
posted by skippy_gal at 6:27 AM on August 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Not telling what field you are going in will reduce the number and accuracy of responses you will get here.

Answers:
1.) Do true entry-level positions (non-finance non-business BA-level) really start in the $50K+ range?

Yes. In engineering they do.

2.) If I put my range as $50K - $60K, and they can actually only afford an entry level salary, will I have shot myself in the foot?

If they think you are a good candidate for the job, and if they cannot afford your range, they will come back with a counter offer (with lower salary but perhaps with other benefits).

3.) The alternative is to give a range of $40K - [whatever], and hope for the best. But I really don't want to lowball myself right from the start, especially since $40K is the bare minimum for me. I would have to think long and hard to see if I could/would take it for $40K.

I would not do this. (J. Wilson's answer is a good one.) There are many reasons for this. A few:
- It may give the message that you are desperate and that you will immediately start looking for other jobs.
- It may give the impression that you do not value your expertise/knowledge.
- In the event that you get the job with the lower salary, you may end up questioning your decision, which might lead to resentment as you learn more about how much your coworkers are making, etc. (this is highly speculative obviously but a possible outcome).

4.) Can I really just say "negotiable" on the form? I worry that this will make the employer think I'm priced out of their range, especially given my advanced degree. Or just annoy them enough that they toss my application out.

Yes you can say negotiable, though they may press you for a figure in which case I would start higher and indicate that you are willing to negotiate.
posted by eebs at 10:23 AM on August 4, 2012


I have no idea what field or location you're in, so here's some random datapoints.

I paid an almost freshly minted Materials Scientist MS (still has a couple of classes to complete), $75K (and we're helping pay for those last few classes). I would pay a freshly minted Chemistry or Chemical Engineer $100K and if they had 3 years of relevant post doc research that could be as high as $130K (if I really really liked them). Even a BS Chemical Eng would start at about $65K.

This is all Bay Area in California.

Kids, study math, its worth it!
posted by Long Way To Go at 3:00 PM on August 4, 2012


Leave it blank.
posted by wrok at 3:11 PM on August 4, 2012


Go higher than you think. You should be the one benefiting from any anchoring effect that happens.
posted by gregglind at 3:42 PM on August 4, 2012


I am not a fan of saying"negotiable" only or leaving it blank--if they are asking for a salary expectation give it to them. I am assuming one of the reasons they are asking the question is to avoid wasting time interviewing people who expect a salary higher than they can/will pay. If there is a bottom line for you they need to know that and not waste your/their time. My suggestion is you suggest a range (bottom line to high reasonable) and let them know the final salary depends on a better understanding of their expectations and your fit for the position--in that sense it is negotiable but with in a range. Good Luck
posted by rmhsinc at 4:44 PM on August 4, 2012


I wanted to expand on my answer for why to leave this field blank.

A company normally has a salary range they expect to pay for a given job, and by putting a number here you reduce your and and their flexibility to come up with an appropriate salary, because ...

Let's say they are willing to pay 40 - 55k/yr for the position, and you say "I need 45k" on this form. You would then look flaky to push back on an offer of 45k, and they might at the same time wonder why they would offer you what they originally thought you were worth, which was 52k, when they now know what you will accept.

They're not offering here to disclose what they think the position is worth. So you need not feel bad that you have declined to answer a question they themselves are not upfront about.

Let them make the first offer, which includes a description of all the benefits, and go from there.
posted by zippy at 5:46 PM on August 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


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