“What is your wage expectation?” It’s an awkward question, but important to answer with confidence. When you know the value you bring to a business, you can advocate more effectively for yourself.
Whether you’re applying for a new job, seeking a promotion or negotiating a pay rise, landing on a reasonable pay rate is a two-way street. An employer will pay based on the value they believe you bring to their organisation. Find out what will help you prepare a confident case for yourself.
Wages are calculated on budget, pay rates for similar roles, and the value of the benefits package. Outside factors like market averages, competitor pay and laws around fair wages also weigh in on the calculation. Small businesses or start-ups may have flexibility in their processes, but are often constrained by budget. Most larger companies are bound by fixed salary structures.
But, of course, there is some room for movement, otherwise the pay conversation wouldn’t happen. Wages for a given role can slide up or down depending on what you bring.
You are unique, and different aspects of your situation will impact on the pay rate you can expect:
Years of experience
Location in which you’ll work
Hardship of the job (eg: working with hazards, working in isolation or extensive travel demands)
Answering the question about your desired pay is tricky. Too low, and you might not achieve the full rate you’re worth. Too high, and you might be considered ‘too expensive’. That’s why it’s important to have thought this through.
These strategies can help:
Digital databases are a good starting point for identifying accepted wages, but bear in mind that no source is completely reliable. Each platform gains their data in different ways.
Glassdoor.com uses voluntary worker reports
Salary.com obtains data directly from companies
LinkedIn uses job adverts and worker reports
Payscale’s data is from voluntary salary surveys
You may find different recommendations for the same role when you compare the platforms, so make sure you do a few different searches.
Ask peers, managers or people in similar roles in other companies. Talking about pay is still taboo in many cultures and industries, but it can be an accurate guide to what is realistic. There are ways to ask without being too direct:
What would you expect a job like X at a company like Y to pay?
What do you think someone in my position should earn?
This is what I think the market rate is for the position. Does that match what this company offers?
Reach outside your usual circles. Business networking events or industry-related online groups are useful places to enquire.
Recruitment companies like ours negotiate wages on behalf of our clients every day. Our knowledge of market trends is current. We can also help identify aspects of your work experience that employers will value.
Once you’ve gathered the information you need, decide on a target figure you’d be happy to settle for.
When you’re asked the question, it’s better to answer with clear numbers, rather than a non-committal answer about fair pay. Usually, the hiring team wants you to state a number before they do, because it tells them how much you think you’re worth. If you’re uncomfortable naming one figure, you can suggest a pay range.
Many candidates wonder if they should ask for more than the amount they’ll settle for. Usually, that’s a good strategy. Without revealing it to the interviewer, add 10% to your target wage as your first answer. This gives you wiggle room for negotiating.
It’s wise to enter negotiation with three amounts in mind:
your target pay rate
the higher rate you’ll ask for
the lowest rate that you would accept
Now you’re ready to enter the pay discussion.
Think of this process as showcasing your value.
The goal is to present your best points in a way that is meaningful to the employer. Alison Sullivan, the data and economics communication manager at Glassdoor, says it’s especially important if you’re a woman or person of colour. She advises being clear about what you think you should be paid for the value you bring to the organisation.
A hiring team is looking for someone who aligns with the mission and values of the business. They want someone who will enjoy the workplace culture and have the right skills to be successful in their role. That person is good value because they’re likely to do their best work, and stay.
Mastering common interview questions like these allows you to shine:
What can you bring to this company?
Why do you want to work here?
Why do you think you are a good fit for the role?
Avoid generic answers like, “I’m a hard worker” or “I’m a good team player.” The better your experience matches the specific role requirements, the higher you can slide in the pay range.
Show detailed examples of how you’ve been an effective worker and brought value to a company. Evidence of your performance makes it harder for a company to decline your request, especially if they think you’ll consider moving on.
A helpful tool for highlighting your worthy contributions is the STAR method. It helps you remain clear about how you bring value.
ST: Situation/Task - Explain the situation or task so others understand the context.
A: Action - Give details about what you did to handle the situation.
R: Result - Describe what you achieved by the action and why it was effective.
Apply the STAR framework to your work experiences. Here’s an example:
Skill: I can bring a calm, level head to stressful situations.
S/T: Where I used to work, I sometimes had to deal with difficult customers.
A: Calming them down was hard, but by staying calm myself and not being defensive, I could figure out what the person wanted and help find a solution.
R: I was so efficient at solving problems that our company began to receive fewer negative reviews.
There are different approaches to negotiating with a manager when you’re seeking a promotion or pay rise. Collaboration works best, according to a study published in the Journal of Organizational Behaviour.
Motivating for higher pay should not be reduced to putting a figure on the table with a “take it or leave it” attitude. Instead, be open to discussion. You might enter the conversation with an explanation like this:
“I’d like to discuss my pay level. This is the information I’ve collected on current market trends. How does this compare to where I am in the company?"
Consider how both parties might gain value from your promotion. If you gain better pay, you can provide more value by improving your skill level or responsibilities, and making a positive impact.
Most times, you’ll reach for the higher end of the pay range for your role. However, it’s not always appropriate to push your employer. For example:
If the company is in financial trouble and there are budget freezes
If the company’s offer is already generous compared to trending pay rates
If you discussed your wage in an earlier interview and their offer exceeded your expectation. Don’t get greedy in later rounds of interviews.
When your employer can’t increase your pay, consider negotiating your benefits package instead. For example, to have more flexibility at work (like shift scheduling or childcare arrangements) or training that would set you up for a promotion.
Your pay negotiations might be unsuccessful. It doesn’t mean you have to walk away. Accepting the role after being declined your desired wage is not foolish. Make sure you understand why you were declined, to gain insight on how you can work towards success next time.
It’s important to equip yourself with information that helps you identify a realistic pay rate for the skills and experience you bring to a business. When you structure your answers to employer questions with specifics that show your value, you’re well on your way to successful negotiation for the pay you’re really worth.
We deal with pay negotiations every day, so we’re a well-informed source of data on trending pay expectations in the job market.
Contact us for support in getting the best out of your next job role.