New Job Salary Expectations Reality Check

In my previous post I mentioned briefly the importance of keeping future increases in mind when you negotiate your starting salary in a new job. Of course, that does not mean you will receive the starting salary you are hoping for. It probably makes sense to aim as high as you can realistically believe is within reach. However, if your goal is “over the moon” or at least not in tune with what is actually going on, you might find the time has come for a reality check on your new job salary expectations.

What’s a “Reasonable” New Job Starting Salary?

You probably realize the answer is different now than it was several years ago. And a lot of people have something to say about this topic–if you Google the phrase “new job salary expectations,” you’ll come up with about 3.9 million hits!

The one at the top of the list when I searched was “Job Interview Answer: What Are Your Salary Expectations?” by Alison Doyle on about.com. However, what got me started on this tack was an article I just finished reading, which I found referenced on SmartBrief on Your Career (listed as “What managers should consider before switching jobs”). The original Fortune/CNN Money article by Anne Fisher deals with starting salary expectations and is titled “Job hunting? What kind of pay hike to expect”.

So what’s “reasonable”? Here’s a quote from Fisher’s article that gives one indication, based on what’s been happening in recent years. “An analysis by Salveson Stetson of compensation data from the past six years found that job-switching senior managers’ starting pay plummeted by 56% during the downturn. It’s edging back up, but on average, managers are getting offers 34% lower than in 2006 and 2007.” Fisher goes on to say that sales and marketing executives are the group probably least impacted by the downturn, whereas general managers are among the harder hit groups.

How do You Determine What Salary to Aim For?

I hate to say this, but the starting-point is research-research-research. Do whatever you realistically and legally can to uncover information that will help you determine your likely value to prospective employers in today’s job market and the leverage you might have in the eyes of those employers. That is, what’s the probable range the companies will be targeting for someone with a background similar to yours and how does that compare to your situation (expectations, current salary, job security or lack thereof, etc.)?

Fisher points out that every job seeker has some basic resources he/she should be checking out. For starters, she says you should “use sites like Salary.com and PayScale.com, as well as job boards with postings that provide salary ranges, to get an idea of what kind of salary you can reasonably negotiate for. And don’t forget that salary isn’t everything. Perks and benefits can sometimes make up for so-so base pay.”

You can probably find formulas of one kind or another all over the Internet for how to figure your new job salary target, so I won’t bother to “go there” in this post. However, I do have one commonsense approach to suggest:

  1. Figure out what you need to live on without a drastic reduction in your standard-of-living (including your family, if you have one).
  2. Look at what you’re currently making, including bonuses/perks, if you have those.
  3. Research to get a rough estimate of what people with similar experience, education and other qualifications are supposedly being paid. Where are you in that range? If toward the higher or lower end, what factors might be causing that placement?
  4. Identify your drop-dead number (which I’ve previously described as the least you can realistically accept). Then determine a range that starts somewhat higher than that and sets an upper limit you can hope to reach if all goes well.
  5. Brush up on your negotiation skills! See if you can come up with a win-win proposition that prospective employers can’t afford to turn down.
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