Establish a salary range
You need to be sure your salary requirements request enough to pay the bills without pricing yourself out of the market.
It's perfectly natural to want to jump at the first job offer that comes along. But at the same time, there's no point in taking a job that won't pay the bills. That wastes everybody's time and can lead to frustration as well as financial problems for you down the road.
One of the most common questions I hear is, “What should I say when I'm asked to define my salary requirements?”
Establishing a realistic salary range that reflects your actual income requirements is important. Once you've done that, the whole process of finding a job becomes much easier, because you know how low you can go and can eliminate prospective jobs that fall outside your range.
Develop a budget
You need to do some research to come up with your realistic salary range. Take a hard look at your living expenses. Which are fixed? Which are variable? Which are discretionary?
Whip out the checkbook and start adding up fixed expenses, such as a mortgage payment, rent payment or car payment—the predictable, ongoing expenses. Add in the variables, like a 12-month average of electric bills, telephone bills, heating bills and grocery bills. Finally, do a monthly average of discretionary expenses, things like entertainment, travel, gifts and credit card purchases. Add all that up, and you should have a fairly accurate picture of what it costs each month to maintain your current standard of living. This is the amount of take-home money you must earn to at least maintain your financial status quo. While that number may not represent the salary level you want, it will tell you the amount of income below which you cannot go without making some budget cuts.
Trim the fat
Depending on your personal financial situation, you might want to consider reducing some of your discretionary expenses, especially if you've been out of work for an extended period of time.
Set realistic salary expectations
Many people seem to get caught up in the “they're not offering what I'm worth” syndrome. Realize that what you may think you're worth really doesn't matter as much as what the prospective employer thinks the job is worth.
Determine your range
Once you've determined your salary requirements to keep body and soul together, make that the bottom of your salary range, and add $10,000 to that number to establish the top of your range. Some argue that you should add $20,000 to establish the top of your range, but where you put that top amount depends on how willing and able you are to negotiate once an offer is made.
Now, if you're asked to provide salary information as part of the application process, you can do it without worrying about pricing yourself out of the market or grabbing a job that won't pay the bills.