What should I do when they want a number up front? I see a few
Highball the initial number, naming the maximum amount you'd expect
the company to pay and expecting them to negotiate downward from
there. If you guess too high, they won't call back.
Name a range of
salaries, e.g. $X-$Y per year. I've been told that this is no
different from asking for $X per year, because companies will almost
never pay you more than the minimum you ask for.
Use vague words
instead of a number, e.g. "A competitive amount commensurate with the
position and experience." This risks having your application thrown
out because you didn't answer the question..
Treat this whole thing as
a red flag and discard job listings that ask about salary
There's one other option that you don't see for some reason:
Submit your real salary expectations. That way, you have fulfilled the stated requirement and the company now knows what you expect.
If their budget doesn't meet your expectations, they won't call back. But then you wouldn't want them to call back anyway, since you expect more than they can deliver.
A range might be acceptable to most hiring companies, provided your range isn't too wide, and you would actually be happy with an offer anywhere within the range. You'd be wasting your time submitting $X - $Y per year if you wouldn't be willing to accept $X. You'd also be wasting your time if you submitted the equivalent of $0 - $infinite.
If you "highball" you might get lucky. But you are more likely to just have your submission tossed.
If you submit a vaguely-worded expectation, you'd likely be wasting your time. Any company requiring your salary expectations isn't going to let you dodge the question - otherwise why would they bother to ask?
You could to choose to treat these jobs listing as red flags. It's reasonable to avoid applying to a job whose listing bothers you. But obviously, you would be narrowing your choices (needlessly, in my opinion).
If your goal is to find a good job where you can negotiate back and forth a lot and in that way feel like you will get the maximum dollar that the market will provide - some employers don't want to play that game. You can choose to walk away from such employers.
If on the other hand, your goal is to find a good job that will meet your salary expectations, and also meet your other job/career needs - then it seems reasonable to provide your expectations and see where it leads you.