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Divulging salary history
Entry-level salary
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Q "Salary for an entry level job"
I am in the process of  changing fields. While I'm trying your approach I also found an ad (I know, I shouldn't use them, but what the heck) and they want to know my salary requirements. I'm fairly well paid as an actuarial assistant but don't want to price myself out of a possible entry job into this field. What's the best way to go about this?

A  Think twice before providing a desired salary range in writing before you meet the employer. You risk having your resume rejected because you're not there to defend the numbers you provide. Check the FAQ about Divulging salary history.

Ordinarily, I'd suggest that you put your required salary range on the table from the start. (Again, I'd only do this in the interview.) This avoids wasting everyone's valuable time. Contrary to the conventional wisdom, you're not jeopardizing some outlandish salary that they might offer if they don't know what you're looking for. That's silly wishful thinking. The manager has a budget, and she's not going to break it to hire you.

When you're changing fields, however, it's much more difficult to establish your value. First, if you're willing to make a salary concession to get in the door, you don't want to narrow that door by asking for more than they think a novice is worth. Second, since you've never worked in the field, your estimates of what the job is worth likely won't be very accurate, no matter how much research you've done. So, your objective should be to learn more before you commit to a range. Buy yourself some time.

The best thing to do is tell the employer that although you've done a lot of research on this kind of work, you'd like to base your required range on more detailed knowledge of the actual job he needs done. "I'd like to give you a range once we're done talking, if that's reasonable to you."

If the manager is in agreement, proceed with this: "My goal is entry into this field. I realize your salary structures are probably different from what I'm accustomed to. I'm sure we can work that out once we decide we want to work together. Let's first discuss what I can do for you if you hire me." This helps delay the salary discussion by substituting something the employer wants: an indication of your motivation, and an opportunity to hear you explain what you can do for him. It also turns the interview into one you have more control over. The more you can demonstrate your potential value, the higher you can set your range. (This is covered in more detail elsewhere in Ask The Headhunter.)

As you gain a better understanding of the job, share your thoughts about the salary you'd require with the manager. Ask him how much he'd want to be paid if he were embarking on such a position. Be prepared to discuss how your fundamental skills could be applied to the job to speed up the learning curve for you, and the profitability curve for the manager. In fact, you can ask the manager how he thinks your current skills could be useful. (Just don't turn this into an exercise for the manager!) Since your specific skills will be lacking, you must base your salary request on the value your existing skills and your "learning skills" will bring to the situation.


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