Monday, May 3, 2010

"Please provide your salary expectations."

First-time PR job applicants are often stymied when prospective employers ask: "what are your salary expectations?"

To the applicant, it seems like a cruel test: unless they know someone "on the inside" at the organization, how could they possibly know?

Advantage: psychics?

No. (Well, on second thought, it couldn't hurt!) When employers ask this question, they aren't expecting you to correctly guess what they're planning to offer you. They're wanting to know if you're reasonable, and if you're approaching the opportunity with the right mindset.

Additionally, there is a huge range of jobs in PR, and employers vary from the richest of muti-nationals and governments to the most modest of non-profits; from employers of hundreds of thousands to mom-and-pop shops. As a result, the level of responsibility for a "Director of Public Relations" in one organization can be far superior or inferior to its similarly-titled counterpart in another. The hiring employer may ask this question, in part, to get a better sense of the "stakes" involved in your previous experience, since they can't necessarily assume they know the meaning behind the title.

So... what should I say?

In asking your salary expectations in advance, the employer wants to know three things: a) how you value your own skills; b) how accurate a picture you have of the employer's situation (if you come to a non-profit demanding government-level bucks, you betray a lack of understanding of its business); and c) how reasonable you are with your own demands.

Here's a simple approach that has always worked for me:

  1. Do any research you can into the potential employer's business and/or industry, and see if you can find any benchmarks to help you make a reasonable request.
  2. Decide what salary you really do expect; there's nothing to be gained in lowballing the request if it's going to result in an offer you can't accept.
  3. Tell the employer that, given your education and experience, you'd expect something in the range of [provide a range based on #1 and #2], but that you understand there are numerous factors that go into compensation, from work-life balance, to benefits, to salary, to experiences, to opportunities to grow, so can be flexible on the salary. If you're applying to an organization with a good reputation, you can say so, adding that you appreciate its excellent reputation and know the compensation would be fair.

This approach shows that you've done your homework, that you have a realistic view of your own professional "worth," and that you'd be a reasonable employee... and puts the ball back in their court to make an offer.

Will I "guess" myself out of a job?

Not unless your salary expectations are wildly out of line with their business realities (e.g., asking a charity for the same salary a major corporation might be able to pay) or your own experience (e.g., demanding six figures for your first industry job).

As long as you're in the ballpark and you seem reasonable, they'll make the offer -- leaving you in the enviable position of deciding whether or not to take it.


  1. Good class refresher for me as I have an interview tomorrow morning. Thanks Melanie!

  2. This is really handy advice! Bookmarking this (and the previous entry). Thanks Melanie :)

  3. I have JUST been asked this question by a company I applied to this morning. Naturally it sent me on a bit of a tailspin but feel much more confident on how to respond having read your article. Thank you, thank you, thank you...

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