December 16, 2014

Professional Development

Goldilocks and Salary: Getting it “Just Right”

By: Claire Kittle Dixon


Remember the fairy tale “Goldilocks and the Three Bears?” Our girl Goldi didn’t want the porridge too hot or too cold; she wanted it just right.

And so it goes with salaries and job applications. We don’t want to list a salary that is too high or too low; we want to list one that is just right.

A big thanks to my friend Alex in Kentucky who suggested this topic (which we started to address in last month’s e-newsletter). He wrote:

“Can you provide guidance on how to handle salary requirements on a job application? I don’t want to lose out if an organization is willing to pay more than the salary I provide. On the other hand, I don’t want an organization to look at my salary requirement and say, ‘That’s so far beyond what we want to pay. Toss that resume in the trash!’ ”

Alex raises the same concerns I hear frequently from candidates. Let’s address both issues.

What if my salary range is higher than what the organization wants to pay?

The concern here is that an organization will dismiss your candidacy immediately, if not sooner, when they discover your price tag. Some things to consider:

  • Better to find out now! – I have a friend who interviewed a candidate five times before asking about salary. Sadly, the candidate needed to earn about 50k more than the organization could afford for that role. Yowsers. I bet both parties wished they had addressed the salary question much earlier in the process! This is precisely why my clients insist on knowing a salary range up front – out of respect for their time and yours. Take this as a positive.
  • You aren’t necessarily toast. – Just because your stated range is higher than what an organization has in mind doesn’t necessarily mean it’s over. If your background is appealing to the hiring manager, he/she may well continue the dialog. Or, he may ask how firm your salary range is. Finally, the organization may decide to increase the budget for the role or consider you for another position.

What if my salary range is lower than what the organization is willing to pay?

The fear here is, of course, no one wants to leave money on the table. As a capitalist pig, I completely understand this trepidation. Some thoughts:

  • Organizations do their homework. – Candidates sometimes think along these lines, “I’m currently making 60k and my stated desired salary range was 65-70k. But I just learned the organization was willing to pay 100k for the role they offered to me at 67k. I left money on the table!” Um, probably not. And here’s why: most organizations do their homework before they make you an offer. They find out what your last salary was; some even ask for a salary history. They base the offer on those numbers, your experience, work history, and how much value they think you will bring to the role (among other things). Just because they allotted 100k for the role doesn’t mean they will blindly make an offer without making sure the offer makes sense for that candidate.
  • You may be a more appealing candidate if you’re a bargain! – If you’re a solid candidate who has a reasonable price tag, many organizations will be attracted to you – especially when they look at the comparable candidate with an outlandish salary sticker. Of course, you don’t want to look like you’re in the scratch and dent section, either; so, don’t low-ball yourself too much!
  • It is what it is. – I love it when people use profound yet nonsensical sayings like that. Anyway, what I mean is that the job application process doesn’t provide us with perfect information. We can look at 990s and study salary surveys; but at the end of the day, it’s possible we’ll leave money on the table. It stinks, but it is what it is. (See what I mean?) Just remember this: if an organization asks for salary information, provide it. You can argue, put up a fuss, stomp your feet, or just flat refuse to offer it. But that’s only hurting you. My advice is to give a reasonable range based on your experience (and all of the other factors we went through last month) and kick rear end in the interview process.

With these thoughts and our tips from last month, you are sure to pick a range that is not too high or too low – but is just right. Goldilocks would be proud.


Claire Kittle Dixon, Executive Director of Talent Market.