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I came across a job ad that says to give them an idea of the salary I wanted through the cover letter.

What I was hoping to do was leave out the salary part in the cover letter, then discuss it when they either ask it, or when I have an interview with them; I think it will be hard for me to assess my application if they don't reply, as I won't be able to know whether it was because of my skills or because my idea of the salary didn't match theirs.

Question : When is it generally advantageous to the job seeker to give their idea of a starting salary at the cover letter (at the start) compared to the other option of discussing it when the time actually comes?

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If an employer outright asks for a bit of information, don't avoid giving it; that can get your resume disregarded as someone who doesn't follow directions. There are ways to provide them with enough information without restricting your later options too much.

The rule of thumb I've heard about salary negotiations - which I don't know how true it is - is that the first side to mention a hard figure loses. I don't feel too comfortable giving a hard salary figure in a cover letter, though sometimes - depending on how much I know about the company and its relative compensation rates - I may give a range.

(EDIT: based on a really good comment-and-link from dave, it would seem like giving your acceptable salary range for a given position would be the best way to get your foot in the door, but avoid underbidding yourself too drastically.)

Another tactic is: when asked what your ideal desired salary is (or when asked to put that in a cover letter), use the slightly evasive "I'm aiming for the local market rate for this position." That lets the company know that they're not going to be able to get away with completely lowballing you, but neither are you expecting ridiculously high pay (though it might be a good idea to research the local market rate for the job in question, though; and if you have extra skills that make you a really strong candidate, you might be able to add on some modifiers, and negotiate).

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    Slate had a postcast (here) where they state the first to set the number is more likely to win the negotiation since they set expectation. However, that is for a face to face negotiation. In this case, the employer just wants to cull "expensive" people based on their cover letter. – dave Jul 18 '14 at 4:40
  • @dave, that's exactly my fear : getting cut off the list of possible employees because of the salary I set. I'm much more willing to discuss it over an interview though. – Zaenille Jul 18 '14 at 5:14
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    @Zaenille I would argue if you quote them a reasonably starting salary for the position and they toss your resume they've done you a favor. Is losing an opportunity to be unreasonably underpaid really a loss? – RualStorge Jul 18 '14 at 17:47
  • Now that I'm further into my career I don't hesitate to tell recruiters that come calling what my salary requirements are. Need to know that we're in the same league before wasting anyone's time. If you give a number that is deemed too high, you didn't want the job anyway. – Aaron McMillin Mar 13 '17 at 15:51
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Sometimes quoting a number may result in a setback during the negotiation phase. You could give a range instead of being specific.

  1. Do a research on the salary scale for the position.
  2. Decide on what is base amount you would consider as a good deal to get started.
  3. Then the upper bound on what would get you jumping :)(This should be in line with the research in step 1,else they may not consider you for the position.).
  4. Quote the range in the cover letter.
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