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Career Q&A: How to answer questions about salary

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A lot of the jobs I’ve applied for have asked for me to state my salary expectations in the application. How should I handle this so I don’t get screened out at the earliest stage of the competition?

This is a tricky question and one we often get from clients. Frankly, we don’t really understand why organizations do not state the salary range in the posting. When we worked at an NGO and were hiring for a coordinator-level position, we experimented with not posting a salary range and we made the mistake of not asking for salary expectations. We sifted through hundreds of applications, shortlisted, interviewed, offered the job to our top candidate – only to have him turn it down with a laugh (yes, laugh) when we discussed the salary range. Like most nonprofit organizations, we had a defined budget and salary scale that we had to manage within and there wasn’t much room for negotiation. We wasted our time and his time because those expectations weren’t clear from the outset.

So, at least being asked at the outset of the application process helps to manage expectations on both sides! Here are a few things to think about as you prepare your application:

1. Don’t ignore the question. The quickest way of getting your application in the red instead of read pile is to not provide requested information.

2. Be honest about your needs and expectations. Know how much you realistically need to live on. Know how much you will need to feel happy and respected in the position and not resentful – now and over at least the next year.

3. Do your research:

  • Ask around your network for salary ranges for comparable positions or organizations.
  • Use your online professional community to find and ask people in similar jobs or pose the question to a discussion group.
  • Check out other job postings for similar-level positions at similarly-sized organizations to see if they have posted ranges. If the organization is a registered charity, you can check out its T3010 for the salaries of the 10 highest compensated permanent full-time positions (go to http://www.cra-arc.gc.ca/chrts-gvng/lstngs/menu-eng.html, enter the “Charity name”, click on "T3010 Return", then look for Compensation information). Note that not all nonprofit organizations are registered charities. You may have to seek out financial information in the organization’s annual reports. Knowing the highest salaries and gauging where your position falls within the organizational hierarchy can help you keep your expectations realistic.
  • And, of course, there’s always CharityVillage’s Salary Survey Report.

4. Keep in mind that compensation is more than a paycheque. Sometimes lower salaries in nonprofit organizations are balanced out with generous health benefits packages, plentiful vacation time, professional development opportunities, language training, or flexible work arrangements.

To address the question in your application, you could include a $5,000 to $10,000 range that you feel would be acceptable both to the employer and yourself and a statement that your salary expectations are flexible (if you really are) based on the overall compensation package.

Good luck!

Nancy Ingram and Christa McMillin are co-founders and partners at Foot in the Door Consulting which specializes in helping nonprofit professionals build sustainable, satisfying and values-driven careers. Together, they have over 30 years of experience on both sides of the hiring and management process in the nonprofit sector. They can be reached through www.footinthedoorconsulting.com.

To submit a question for a future column, please email it to careercoach@charityvillage.com. No identifying information will appear in this column.

Disclaimer: Advice and recommendations are based on limited information provided and should be used as a guideline only. Neither the author nor CharityVillage.com make any warranty, express or implied, or assume any legal liability for accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of any information provided in whole or in part within this article.

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smkh@rogers.com smkh@rogers.com
My time is as valuable to me as the time of the selection committee's is to them that means I often do not apply for a position if the salary range is not provided. Having said that, if I do apply and when I am asked that question I respond with the range I am currently making and indicate that the compensation I am expecting is in line with my current salary including all the benefits. I am searching for government to non-gov level positions so this may not apply to everyone. Research is key!
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