How Can I, Early in the Process, Make Sure a Potential Employer and I Aren't Way Too Far Apart in the Potential Salary for a Position?
June 12, 2009 11:45 AM   Subscribe

Does formal, or politely euphemistic, language exist by which, early on in the job-hunt process, you can make sure you and a potential employer aren't considering salary ranges that are half a planet apart?

Like many Americans, I am unemployed and job-hunting. The career I last worked in has an extremely wide range of salaries, spanning a large chunk of the range of five-figure numbers.

Some job listings do provide the salary range the employer is looking to pay, but finding that information is a real hit-or-miss affair. For those listings that do not, how can I ascertain a job's salary range, pre-interview and early in the process?

I do understand employers oft make salary offers based on an applicant's experience.

However, the problem I find with solely relying on that is that either:

(a) Despite that variability, an employer can still be working with a salary ceiling in their mind which is still impractically low (either impractically just for me or, more often, impractically for anyone), or

(b) Many employers don't factor an applicant's experience into the salary they're willing to pay for the position, yet still don't make that number public to the applicant until the very end of the process, after a lot of time and effort has already been invested in the process by both applicant and employer. This can be a source of ... frustration, to understate it.
posted by WCityMike to Work & Money (8 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
In my experience, the euphemisms have been "entry level", "intermediate level", and "executive". Sometimes I've heard "this is on par with an associate producer job" or something like that, in which case it has been useful that I know the ballpark payscale for my union.
No matter what euphemisms are being euphemed, just make sure you *never* say an actual number before they do- that will bite you in the butt negotiating every time.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 12:01 PM on June 12, 2009 [2 favorites]

My career has relatively similar ranges among public and private sectors based on experience. Most private employers, if interested in your qualifications will work to match your salary expectations. In no circumstances is it worthwhile to lowball your salary. It can be negotiated if they can't afford you. Extra vacation or benefits can make up the difference.
posted by JJ86 at 12:01 PM on June 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

number of years experience they are looking for is a good indicator. It depends on the field but the <4 years of experience is usually a dead giveaway that you better like having a roommate and eating ramen.
posted by birdherder at 12:03 PM on June 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

I suppose it depends on the field but I've never run into this issue. Given the requirements there's usually a pretty clear range. If you want to be crystal-clear state upfront what you made at your last job. You don't have to tell the truth, but say "Just to be clear - I made $88,000 at my previous job" That's a veiled way of saying what your expectations are.
posted by GuyZero at 12:07 PM on June 12, 2009

Best answer: I don't think you need a euphemism. I would just ask "do you have a salary range in mind for this position?"

Employers don't like to waste time any more than job seekers do. It's very annoying to spend a lot of time interviewing a candidate, only to find that they can't (or don't want to) accept what you can offer.
posted by alms at 12:07 PM on June 12, 2009 [2 favorites]

In my experience, the recruiter will bring that up in the screening interview ("what are your salary expectations?"). You can answer something like, "In my last position, I earned XXX a year and I hope to earn something in the same range in my new position. But I understand that this is a down economy and am willing to negotiate."* Right after your answer, you can ask what their salary range is. That way you know if you're going to be rejected because your range is out of their reach. Which is okay - it saves you both time, right?

If they don't bring it up, it's okay to ask politely. At the end of a screening interview they'll ask if you have any questions. That's your queue to say something like:
"Have you established a salary range for the position yet? This sounds like a great fit for both of us and I just want to make sure that we're both in the same ballpark."

Just be matter of fact and don't dwell on it, you just want a range at this point. Usually, the recruiter doesn't want to waste time any more than you do. Just be prepared if they turn the question on you. If they do get bent out of shape by your question, that tells you that the salary they're offering is low compared to the market rate.

*This flies in the face of most career advice which says never give your desired salary first. But if you do your homework and research what your expertise and experience is worth, I think it's okay to do so. And, push comes to shove the company can just say, "we can't proceed further without knowing your salary expectations" and I've never seen a graceful way to refuse at that point.
posted by txvtchick at 12:14 PM on June 12, 2009 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I usually use terms like "market rate" or "mid-range for a [[job title]] with X years of experience". There are several sites like PayScale that have salary information for various jobs; some will even factor in cost of living for a particular area.

A better, more accurate source would be an professional association for your particular industry. Many do yearly or bi-yearly salary surveys and publish them for their members.
posted by elfgirl at 12:24 PM on June 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If the employer is a not-for-profit, you can look up their 990 tax form (link takes you to a searchable database) which will tell you how much the five highest-paid employees make. This will at least give you a sense of where their ceiling is. For instance, say I need at least a salary of $50K. If I see that the President only makes $70K, I will know I'm SOL.
posted by lunasol at 4:47 PM on June 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

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