How to Talk about Your Salary Expectations - America's Future Foundation

May 15, 2020

Career Advice

How to Talk about Your Salary Expectations

By: Anastasia Uglova

Are you staring at the field in the job application that requires you to input your salary — especially numerically — so you can’t even get away with writing “negotiable”? Don’t know how to answer?

I have a better way for you to apply to jobs that require this of you:


At least not directly within the Applicant Tracking System (mostly useless anyway).*

*(Please note, the rules are slightly different if you are applying for nonprofit jobs or jobs with companies that are more price-inelastic with respect to their compensation structures. Scroll to the bottom for more information about how to handle those.)

This is an antiquated practice, and this information asymmetry should be rejected, en masse, by job applicants until it is discontinued. Companies are collecting data points from individuals, but the information does not flow back down. In fact, you are actively discouraged from sharing it with your peers, and often do so only at professional risk to yourself.

It’s bad practice. When I see this on applications, I gently suggest that my client not apply.

Instead, I encourage the client to use LinkedIn’s powerful search to identify the hiring manager, contact the person directly, and attach the cover letter and resume as a PDF. The client can write in the email: “If you believe I am qualified and a good fit for your team, I would love to learn more about the role and discuss my salary expectations.” Your resume should speak for itself and a hiring manager will not refuse a phone call if he or she finds your qualifications to be an asset to the position, regardless of personal views on ATS input fields.

Here’s a video on how to identify the hiring manager for almost any role using nothing but LinkedIn and your fingertips:

Two reasons to do this:

1. It gets you a direct line to the hiring manager and bypasses the ATS (and you should be doing this anyway with all your applications).

2. It speaks poorly about the company, but often the hiring manager is neither party to nor in control of HR policies, so this gives you, the hiring manager, and the company an opportunity to improve its practices. You should not penalize the hiring manager for shortsighted HR behavior on the part of the company.

Asymmetrical information creates market failures, including adverse selection, moral hazard, and monopolies of knowledge.

The point: Discuss your salary expectations only during the interview process, when it’s a fair negotiation.

Should you choose to apply within the ATS anyway, here is what to do:

For a step-by-step script and information specific to nonprofit and impact-sector careers, continue to the original post on Joy Adjacent.