What salary range are you looking for?

I’ve had more anxiety about this question, or some variation of this question, than any other in the interview process.  When you need the job, you’re afraid to ask too much.  But after you get a job where you did lower your asking price, you have to deal with the fact you’re then underpaid.  How do I deal with this question…as usual, I deal with it through research.

salary1What is the job you’re applying for?  Database administrator?  Ok, head over to salary.com, and enter “Database Administrator” (or the title that most closely matches the job you’re being asked to do)  into their Salary Wizard, and then the zip code for employer. 

Then hit search.

You’ll get back a range of positions that match your entry. 

Review all the options you see, click “view job details” for the ones you think fit, review the tasks for that job title. You’re looking for the job description that most closely fits the posting you applied to.  Some times you have to alter the job title, especially if you’re a database programmer.  In my experience a database analyst position is actually a programming position, and sometimes a database programmer is actually just an analyst position.  Compare the descriptions more than the titles themselves.

Be sure to review the number of years experience listed in the job description on salary.com, you want to find the one that matches the number of years experience you have doing that job. 

After you’ve found your match, click “view salary info”.  You now see a bell curve showing you the range of salaries for your selected job in your market.  You can get a personal salary report if you have the money, but I haven’t yet decided to purchase one.  You could also sign up for a free account, if you do this, you can enter more information about you and you’re the position you’re applying to, and refine the salary information.

I would suggest doing this for three reasons, you can set up a profile that will help you track your past and current salaries versus those in your market.  This can be helpful during the interview process to see where you are, and where you should be.  It’d also help during evaluation time.

Secondly, by filling out your profile, you can contribute your salary information to help improve the accuracy of their numbers.  While salary.com does hire professional researchers, actual numbers from actual members helps them with their accuracy.

Before I get to the third reason to sign up for an account, let’s go back to the report you pulled.  It should look something like this:


With this default report, you can see the salary range for the job you selected.  You can see the 25th percentile, the median, and the 75th percentile.  Without sharing any more information with salary.com, you can see the range most people are getting for that job in your market.

If you want to see where you should be (according to their research) you can tweak those numbers using the tool bars to the left of the chart, and above the chart.  That’s my third and most important reason to sign up for a free account. By adding years of experience, education, company size and industry, that projected salary will update to fit your profile.  It can help you decide if you should be asking for closer to the 25th percentile, or the 75th.

By having this information on hand, not only are you prepared to answer the question, but you will be equipped to speak in some detail about the reasons why you are asking for the amount you’re asking for.

You can see how your past performance reviews impact your projected salary.  You can see how the size of the company you’re applying to can affect your salary.  If you’d like a complete and exhaustive report on your current research, feel free to order the paid report.  It goes into even more detail.

Before you wrap up your research, don’t forget to click on the “Total Compensation” tab just below the report.  Check out how bonuses and other benefits can affect your total compensation.  They also have a benefits calculator that can really help with this discussion, once you start to nail down the finer points of the job offer.  Part of this conversations really should include a discussion of paid time off, insurance, etc.  This benefits calculator can help you figure out where the market is, and what to ask for, and what to expect during negotiations.

Once you have this information, discussions around “what are we going to have to pay you?”  will be far less stressful.  Trust me, the hiring manager has already done similar research (or at least he or she should have researched it already)!  If you don’t believe me, go back and search for your job description again… you should notice a “Data For Employers” button.  Take a look at that before having discussions on compensation to get an idea of what they expect to pay you. 

Knowing both sides before going in can also give you a clue as to how much they value the position you’re applying for.  If they offer below the 25th percentile, you can recognize the lack of value placed in this position.  Based on that, you can make an informed decision on how to proceed with that job prospect.

So, how do you handle this question when it comes up?  What advice would you share with others faced with this question?  Share your thoughts below!

By Shannon Lowder

Shannon Lowder is the Database Engineer you've been looking for! Look no further for expertise in: Business Analysis to gather the business requirements for the database; Database Architecting to design the logical design of the database; Database Development to actually build the objects needed by the business logic; finally, Database Administration to keep the database running in top form, and making sure there is a disaster recovery plan.


  1. In my experience these are a great tools before and after you get the job. Once you have proven yourself to be a valuable member of the team and the time feels right to get that talk started about a bump in salary, jump on over and utilize those tools. If you do multitude of jobs and there isn’t one name that fits, do multiple searches. Use these to show someone who may not be a technical user, such as HR, what exactly you do. Your manager should be able to back up each of these searches and it gives you a better chance to get closer to that amount you have in your head.

  2. Wearing multiple hats is pretty much required in today’s IT job, yet you can’t get a good handle on what that should do to your salary. I’m trying to work with salary.com. And a couple recruiters to try to come up with a way to figure out exactly what the salary should be. As soon as I have something workable, I’ll share!

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