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As I hunt for a developer job, I'm seeing a number of job listings that ask applicants to submit their salary expectations along with their resume, as the first step in the application process.

The standard advice on StackOverflow (and elsewhere) seems to be that applicants should delay naming a salary as long as possible, playing up the value they'll deliver and trying to get the interviewer to name a number first.

What should I do when they want a number up front? I see a few options:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Treat this whole thing as a red flag and discard job listings that ask about salary expectations.
  • #4. Back when times were tough, companies could push people around like that. Today, not so much. – Wesley Long May 15 '16 at 20:00
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    Might as well do #1 as #4, surely? Small chance of them meeting your highball demand is better than just tossing the job listing isn't it? :-) – Carson63000 May 16 '16 at 1:45
  • @Carson63000, I disagree about #4. 90% of the time, #4 is a third party recruiter with no exclusivity agreement, and it works against you if your resume comes with a mandatory commission the company has to pay because you went through that recruiter instead of submitting your resume without going through him. To find out if this is the case, see if the recruiter omits or obfuscates the actual name of the company in the job listing. If the actual name is missing, then that posting was most likely posted by a third party recruiter. – Stephan Branczyk May 16 '16 at 3:30
  • @StephanBranczyk I hadn't considered the correlation between "what is your salary expectation?" and recruiters fishing for business, but that does make sense, for sure. – Carson63000 May 16 '16 at 4:35
  • The best thing is to do your market research, and figure out a range that you find acceptable. Eventually finding out that you're being underpaid by something huge means you've miscalculated your market value. But that can be considered as a measure of job security and a strong negotiation point for a raise in the future. It can be much worse to be overpaid, believe it or not. – teego1967 May 16 '16 at 10:47
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What should I do when they want a number up front? I see a few options:

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 expectations.

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.

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    Thanks for answering. It would be great if I could take a job and know that I'm being paid a fair amount relative to my peers. It seems like the most straightforward way for that to happen would be transparency on the company's part. I don't like the idea of some people getting paid more because they're more forceful or charismatic, but I maybe I shouldn't worry too much about what other people get paid. – DawnPaladin May 15 '16 at 22:44
  • "Any company requiring your salary expectations isn't going to let you dodge the question - otherwise why would they bother to ask?" I don't know. They could ask, hoping you will answer (which will strengthen their salary negotiating position), but not requiring it. – user45590 May 16 '16 at 8:00
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    @dan1111 - Isn't this predicated on whether or not they want to hire you more than you want to work there? Most jobs aren't that hard to fill, so why bother with someone playing games? – user8365 May 17 '16 at 14:29
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As a software developer, I can tell you I hate an application wall. I try to avoid them if possible. Do you know anyone who works at the company that could pass your resume in? Can you reach out to the recruiter via LinkedIn? Is there a career fair in your area that you could attend and can apply in person?

If you can't do one of those things, try looking up the salary ranges for the company on a site like Glass Door or looking up what people with your skill level make in the area, then give that range. That way you know what the going rate is and you know that you're not going in too high.

Or, you could just leave it off. If it's a required field see if you can put in "To discuss". Mind you, if you do that you might not get a call back. But, if you have a good application I don't think this would be a deal breaker.

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