Some job postings ask you to include a salary requirement as part of your application. Others may ask you to list your most recent salary or several years of salary history when you apply for the position.
You may not feel comfortable naming your price, especially early in the process. So, how do you know when and how to disclose your compensation requirements when you apply for jobs?
Why Companies Want Your Salary Information
Companies request compensation information for various reasons. If your salary requirement (or salary history) is too high, employers can screen you out because they don't want to pay that much, or because they think you won't be happy working for less money.
On the other hand, if your salary requirement (or salary history) is lower than the company is willing to pay, they may offer you a lower salary than another candidate.
To avoid being screened out or offered a low salary, you need to be careful how you describe your salary information.
Read below for tips on how to provide this information without hurting your chances of getting a job while still receiving a fair salary.
What Are Salary Requirements?
A salary requirement is the amount of compensation a person needs in order to accept a position. Salary requirements are based on several factors such as:
- Salary history
- Previous work experience
- The industry
- Cost of living
Occasionally, an employer might ask you to include your salary history instead of (or along with) your salary requirements. A salary history is a document that lists your past earnings. The document typically includes the name of each company you worked for, your job title, salary, and benefits package.
The difference between the two is that your salary history is what you actually earned in your previous job. Your salary requirements are what you expect to earn in your next position.
Is It Legal for an Employer To Ask for Your Salary Requirements?
Employers can legally ask you to state your salary requirements or expectations. However, some states and cities restrict employers from requesting information about your past salary.
Depending on your location, it may not be legal for employers to ask about your salary history.
Check with your state department of labor for the latest information on this issue, as well as on the laws that apply in your city and state.
Salary Requirements: Include or Leave Out?
If the job listing doesn't mention it, don't offer any salary information at all. There's no need to make an issue out of something that may not be one. Ideally, you want the prospective employer to bring up the topic of compensation first.
If you’re asked to include salary requirements with your application, you could ignore the request, but that means you risk not getting an interview. There is nothing employers like less than candidates not following the instructions in the job posting.
However, there are a few ways you can provide the required information while limiting your risk of being screened out or offered a low salary.
Tips for Including Salary Requirements
To stay in the running for the job—without committing to a lower salary—try one of the following options:
List a Salary Range
When asked to include salary requirements, you could include a salary range rather than a specific amount. This kind of answer gives you some flexibility and it prevents you from locking yourself into a low salary (or being screened out).
This range should be based on the salary research you've done. For example, you can state in your cover letter, “My salary requirement is in the $35,000 to $45,000 range.” When stating a salary range, make sure that the range is realistic:
- Use salary surveys to determine the typical salary for the position you are interviewing for, or for a similar position if you can't find information on the exact job title.
- Use salary calculators to factor in cost-of-living expenses and to estimate what you should be paid in a particular location. There are a variety of salary surveys and calculators, including industry-specific and geographic resources, available online.
Say That Your Requirements Are Negotiable
Another option is to state that your salary requirements are negotiable based on the position and the overall compensation package, including benefits.
Don't Mention Salary
You could also not mention a specific salary, leaving it as an open question for negotiations. Keep in mind though, that this may not be the best strategy if the employer only considers applications with the requested information.
Tips for Listing Salary History
If you’re asked to include your salary history, you can also list your previous salaries as ranges rather than specific amounts. But again, always follow any specific instructions about how to include salary history. And remember that you are not required to share it in some locations.
If the employer gives specific instructions on how to provide salary requirements, follow those guidelines. For example, if he or she says to give a specific dollar amount (rather than a range), do so.
No matter how you include your salary history, always be honest. It's easy for potential employers to check your salary with previous employers. Any false information will get you screened out of the application process.
Where and How to Include Compensation Requirements
Salary requirements can be included in your cover letter with sentences such as "My salary requirement is negotiable based upon the job responsibilities and the total compensation package," or "My salary requirement is in the $40,000 to $45,000+ range."
Keep your reference to salary requirements brief, so the employer can focus on the rest of your cover letter. If the employer asks you to include your salary requirement in a different way (for example, in your resume), be sure to do so.
There are a few ways you can include your salary history:
- You can include the history in your cover letter, briefly stating what you earn now. For example, you might say, “I currently earn in the mid-40s.”
- You can include an itemized list of your previous salaries (or salary ranges), either in your resume or on a separate salary history page that you enclose with your resume and cover letter.
Review this example of a cover letter including salary requirements, along with a free template to download.
- Some employers may ask you to include your salary requirements or salary history when you apply for a job opening.
- In some locations, employers are legally prohibited from asking for your salary history.
- There are several ways to provide salary requirements, including naming a salary range and saying that you are open to negotiation.
- Always follow the instructions in the job posting—if the employer asks for salary requirements, it’s best to provide them.
The information contained in this article is not legal advice and is not a substitute for such advice. State and federal laws change frequently, and the information in this article may not reflect your own state’s laws or the most recent changes to the law.