Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Resume, cover letter, and salary requirements

So, as I've been applying to various and sundry jobs, I have occasionally come across requests for salary requirements. (One employer even wanted to know my salary for every single job on my resume.)

I'm curious about others' thoughts on the salary requirement. I think this may not be something that arises in academia. It might be something that business-school graduates learn about, but I certainly have never had any "instruction" in the matter.

So, if you've ever had to put down a salary requirement, what have you done? Do you play it honest and truly give the minimum amount you need to live (which would be the literal definition of "requirement")? Do you research the matter and put down a number that seems reasonable given your qualifications and the position? Do you put down your current salary, or what you'd like to make?

Thoughts?

22 comments:

science cog said...

On the rare occasion I've been asked, I put down what I make, not what I'd like to make.

Mad Hatter said...

I'm guessing by "requirement" they mean what you would require in order to take the job, rather than what you require in order to live! :-)

I've never been asked for my salary requirement, but I do ask applicants what their salary requirements are when I interview them. The answer really only affects my decision on whether to hire someone if I have a very specific budget for salary, or if the person's required salary suggests that s/he is certifiably insane--i.e., asking for $100K or $5K for an academic research technician position.

So why ask the question? The first reason is the cold, hard truth that no employer wants to pay someone more than necessary. The second is because an applicant's answer to the question can be an indicator of whether s/he has actually done any research at all into the position.

So if it were me, I'd research what the ballpark might be, give my current salary, and perhaps give a range for "desired salary" depending on what is customary in the industry/field the position is in. If you have another offer in the same industry/field, I think it might also be fair game to give that number.

Kevin Zelnio said...

I've researched the position and see what typical entry level pay is with my degree (M.Sc. for me) for similar positions in that area. For instance I've told employers I am looking for a salary in the 40k's in D.C. because it is a reasonable salary for that area with my background.

hypoglycemiagirl said...

I do not like being asked to indicate salary requirement in the cover letter. First, you run the risk of "under- or overpricing" yourself away from an interview and second, you cannot possibly indicate a salary requirement before you get more knowledge about the job (during an interview). If possible I try to dodge the request.

If I'm asked for current salary I'm honest.

The Mad Chemist said...

I ran into this a lot during my last job search when moving from academia to industry.

He who mentions the first number loses. Or so goes one rule of thumb.

I leave it blank in part because until an offer is made, there is really no need to discuss specific numbers. In addition, they have a range to work within and they will decide based on my experience and skills what I am worth to their organization. If you give them a number, and it is lower than what their range is, you just screwed yourself.

Many recruiters will say they need to know so no one has any unrealistic expectations. You can then in return say something to the effect of you expect to be paid fair market value for your skills.

Most didn't question the blank I had left. But if someone presses you, turn the question around--ask what the range is (and no matter how much they deny it, they have a predetermined range for the position). You will notice how quickly they beg off answering. If you need a graceful out, some suggest just saying you signed a confidentiality agreement that included salary.

The same goes true for current salary. Many companies will ask that question. What you currently make is no business of anyone else other than you and your current employer. Some employers consider this number in making an offer to someone so you can lose big time if you are underpaid at your current job.

In the end, do some research. Figure out how much your skills are worth (and this depends on many factors including geography, size of employer, etc.). Don't short change yourself.

The Mad Chemist said...
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The Mad Chemist said...
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okham said...

I can see where Mad Chemist is coming from -- her suggestions seem quite sensible. However, I wish to offer a different, somewhat simpler perspective which has worked all right for me.
It boils down to the following points:

1) I think that in most cases there is a range, i.e., your salary will fall between X and X + &Delta X, with &Delta X << X ( I would say something like 0.3 at the most). I am not sure whether it makes sense to haggle over these numbers. It's later on, when you have built a non-trivial professional experience, that the range of variation becomes more significant.


2) I doubt if any serious employer is going to want to give you less than X; you'd soon find out that you are underpaid, and would start looking for another job. So, if it is your first job you are going to get X, in all likelihood. Is it really worth risking to lose the job for an extra 10% ? We are talking starting salary; there is a chance your salary may go up much more significantly once you are in (bonuses, missions etc.). So, I'd say do some research if you wish, but then why not just say "I have done some research, have an idea of the range an have some minimal expectations, but I am sure your offer will be reasonable."

3) While there is no point in pricing yourself out of the job, if you do have a job you do not want to take a pay cut either. So, I think that, for an entry-level position, it is quite all right to ask to be paid what you currently make multiplied by 1.2.

4) If they ask you how much you are making now, might as well tell them. They know you are not going to quit a job for pennies, especially if relocation and/or other life style adjustments (e.g., commuting) are needed. These people want to hire someone, the costliest scenario for them is to be back at it six months later, I think...

Just my two cents.

CAE said...

I've heard the same thing about not being the first to name a number...

I've never actually had to negotiate a salary, but at one point I thought it was likely to come up. I did a lot of reading about the subject on various blogs and other internet sites and came up with a mix of the best strategies. I was planning to say something like "well I know you have a range in mind. I'd say that based on my qualifications and experience, and on the job description in the ad, I should be placed at about the nth percentile of that range". Luckily I never had to find out whether this was a really dumb idea or not...

okham said...

CAE -- do great minds think alike or what ? ;-)

Silas said...

Most important thing: NEVER EVER lie to HR about an objective fact. In industry, if you get caught you'll get fired, even years later. Who knows what they'll see at some point -- your old W-2, Social Security contributions?

That said, expected salary and current salary are completely different things. Obviously you have a lot more flexibility with expected salary, but you can certainly refuse to provide current salary info. But absolutely don't misrepresent it.

The Mad Chemist said...

Is it really worth risking to lose the job for an extra 10% ? We are talking starting salary; there is a chance your salary may go up much more significantly once you are in (bonuses, missions etc.).

One point to keep in mind: in industry (that is where the OP is looking right? I can't remember--long day.) your future salary increases and bonuses are calculated as percentages based on the starting salary.

Don't know if that is true for academia. My academic salaries were always fixed due to funding. Can someone who is in the tenure system speak to that?

You would think all biology (or whatever science) associate profs would get paid the same but I know from my limited experience that isn't true.....

Mad Hatter said...

Mad Chemist--I'm not on the tenure track, but my yearly salary increases are calculated as a percentage of my starting salary. Opportunities to renegotiate salary are only when I get promoted in rank, e.g., from Asst. Prof to Assoc. Prof. Tenure-track salaries at my institution work the same way. And salaries for any given position definitely vary from person to person, between departments, between institutions, etc.

maddox22 said...

Wow, thanks for all the great comments!

Silas, I agree with you--you should never lie about your current (or past) salaries. But I also agree with several others that I don't think potential employers have any reason to know my current salary. (We actually had a client once--a CLIENT of our company--who wanted to know our current salary information. ?!?!)

Of course, "not lying" can be difficult if the place you're applying to wants your salaries for every job on your resume. How am I supposed to remember my salary for a part-time job I held 8 years ago? (It's relevant to the job I'm applying for, so it stays on my resume.) In this particular case, it was one of those online applications in which you had to enter every component of your resume individually using a web form (possibly my LEAST favorite kind of job application). Because it was a web form, it had "required" fields--and "salary" was one of the required fields! So I can't apply for this job without giving my salary for that part-time job I had 8 years ago. (They also wanted my supervisor's name and phone number for every job. Does that seem ridiculous to anyone else?)

Sorry for the rant.

Your comments are all really helpful. Thanks again!

It's only come up for me once so far

okham said...

in industry [...] your future salary increases and bonuses are calculated as percentages based on the starting salary.
Don't know if that is true for academia.


Not in my experience. At both institutions where I have been, a merit-based annual salary adjustment system exists, whereby a faculty can obtain specific monetary increments based on his/her productivity, regardless of his/her starting salary.

It is also worth mentioning another thing: the type of raise that one can obtain in this way is marginal, especially if we are talking a mid-career faculty. The only way to obtain a substantial salary raise is to obtain a job offer elsewhere. At that point, if your institution deems it necessary to try and retain you, it can make a competitive counter-offer without any kind of constraint or bound. All of my colleagues and acquaintances who have had their salaries go up significantly (we are talking the equivalent of ten years of annual merit increments, to be clear), have gone through this type of negotiation.

I would be very surprised if the same mechanism were not at work in the private sector.

The Mad Chemist said...

I would be very surprised if the same mechanism were not at work in the private sector.

In my experience, here in the US, in the private chemical sector, yes, it tends to work differently.

All of my job offers from companies ranging from big pharma to small startups to food and fragrance companies based everything on the starting salary that was negiotiated.

That is why women tend to get screwed in terms of salary compared to men. Men tend to negotiate more aggressively so their starting salaries tend to be higher (at least according to the talking heads ;-).

Since often times, bonuses and merit raises are percentages of the starting salaries, men end up earning more over time (this assumes the woman does not leave the workforce for childrearing etc.--again this is from the talking heads).

okham said...

All of my job offers from companies ranging from big pharma to small startups to food and fragrance companies based everything on the starting salary that was negotiated.

So, if someone says something like "hey, they are offering me more money, a promotion, better benefits etc at YourCompetitorInc, I am thinking of leaving", is the typical reply "OK, close the door on your way out, see ya" ? If that is the case, if even qualified workers are so easily expendable, it sounds like a very difficult environment to make money...

Pablo Achard said...

"I think that, for an entry-level position, it is quite all right to ask to be paid what you currently make multiplied by 1.2. " (Okham's comment) > Well that all depends in which field you land. Academia is quite underpaid given our education level. So any "alternative" career move can lead to a huge bump in term of salary. To take an example I know well (mine), the multiplying factor is not 1.2 but 2.1 :-)
So one should really search on internet a bit in advance...

The Mad Chemist said...

So, if someone says something like "hey, they are offering me more money, a promotion, better benefits etc at YourCompetitorInc, I am thinking of leaving", is the typical reply "OK, close the door on your way out, see ya" ?

Depends on the company. I have had friends who were in similar situations like you described. Some were asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement and then shown to the door. Others had counter offers made.

it sounds like a very difficult environment to make money...

Chemists are some of the lowest paid professionals out there according to my professional society (I think biologists maybe even lower in industry). This is compounded by the fact many of the pharma companies that hire chemists (and biologists), are in really high cost of living areas.

So yes, it can be difficult to make money (especially if you are paying off student loans). Eventually, if you don't get disgusted with the field and hang in, you can make nice money in pharma. It may mean leaving the bench for management though.

There are companies out there, like mine, where chemists are encouraged to invent and are promised a certain percentage of the profits from their inventions. In places like that, you can really do well.

maddox22 said...

That's another thing that I think is different between industry and academia (although I may be mistaken, never having worked in academia): in most industries (investment banking being a possible exception) you pretty much have to get into management to get into the realm of high compensation.

This is something I've never understood. It seems to me that management is treated (and assumed to be) so much more important than actually doing the work. So it's assumed that someone who is very good at his or her job must want to be promoted to management (where they no longer get to do the job but are instead expected to supervise and take responsibility for other (potentially less talented) employees). The best workers are taken out of the work rotation, and this is thought to be a better idea.

I have never understood this reasoning; it seems to me that if someone WANTS to be promoted and they're good at their job, great...but if they don't want to be promoted, why is that often seen as a flaw or a sign that they're not good enough for the job?

I know this is a bit rant-ish. But I really am curious. Can anyone explain it to me? And does anyone know of any companies/industries in which it is not the case (or less the case)?

CAE said...

Oh god, did you ever read the E-myth? We all basically had to at my last company, and it's all about combining the roles of technician (does the job), manager (organises the job doing) and entrepreneur (big picture thinking). Not a bad topic, but the book was horribly written.

Re: counter offers, I don't know if this is a universal thing, but I was warned never to take one. The story was that if they made you a counter offer, they'd force you out on THEIR terms within a year.

The Mad Chemist said...

This is something I've never understood. It seems to me that management is treated (and assumed to be) so much more important than actually doing the work.

In pharma, there is a dual track for scientists. You can choose to stay at the bench or go into management. I often asked what if you wanted to keep a foot on each ladder. It occurs sometimes but is rare. Once a scientist starts taking on admin responsibilities, there is less time to do bench work.

At small companies where most wear many hats, you can get some admin experience. My manager is leaving to take a job closer to home and next week the scientsts will be trained to "manage our projects." I asked what that meant as I thought that was what I was doing already.

Turns out we will be responsible for making sure our projects turn a profit. Sorta exciting and scary at once!