Let me start off by saying I have no idea. Certainly not when I don’t have the career experience that would allow me to gauge the monetary value of my labour and give me the confidence to demand it. I find the whole subject awkward (hence how I last ended up working for 6 months without a contract!). I was recently forced to deal with it head-on, though, when I found a job application for which I could actually consider myself vaguely qualified (not requiring a PhD and 10 years of experience as Director of a UN agency). It all seemed great till I scrolled to the very bottom of the page:
“Salary: commensurate with education and experience.”
No range, no hints, nothing. In your application you are required to state your minimum salary requirements.
This seems somehow dishonest to me. Like a way for the company to pay people less than they are really prepared to, by assuming applicants would rather undersell themselves than risk alienating potential employers with a too-high demand.
Which is pretty much the thought process I had. On the one hand, I thought, I’m way on the bottom of the career ladder, so I can’t really be asking for too much and if I do, they’ll just laugh at throw out my application. Would I genuinely jeopardise my chances by going too high? On the other hand, the role is quite intensive and I should be rewarded for the high level of work I’d be expected to do. It’s just not fair if they pay me less than they had earmarked because I was afraid to ask for more.
And then this “commensurate with education and experience” thing was particularly troubling. I had less experience than was required but far more education than called for. How was I supposed to juggle that? I had to start making complex mental calculations:
Salary= (overeducation –underexperience +responsibility load + working on weekends – flexibility of hours – great value of experience)* (stress of being expected to actually know what you’re doing)/ (fear of employer laughing hysterically once they see your demands).
Finally, I turned to my favourite friend in crisis situations: Google. I tried searching for what the average pay for my job title was. It didn’t help one bit since the position exists in fields as diverse as biological engineering and IT management…I could be both a prince and a pauper. I tried again, being more specific. No results.
But then I found a fabulous little site (www.glassdoor.com) where employees can anonymously post their salaries. Some people from the particular organisation concerned had done just that. It would’ve been too good to be true to expect a person with the same position as on offer to have posted their earnings, but it at least gave me some idea. But then it began raising new questions: am I worth more than an accountant? Less than a Design, Monitoring and Evaluation Officer? More mental arithmetic.
Finally, I picked a random sum, hesitated, typed it in the application, hesitated again, did some more googling, and finally clicked Send.
But now it’s phase 2 of the anxiety: With every day that goes by without a response, instead of just assuming they discarded my application as usual, now I have to worry that they read it, laughed heartily at my presumptuousness, and then threw it away. Did I miss out on a great chance by being greedy? And it doesn’t end there. If I’m ever lucky enough to get the position, every long night I have to work, every Saturday given up, every person’s mess I’m expected to clean up, I’ll wonder whether I undersold myself.
I just wonder what the point of this is. Why can’t companies just be upfront and state what they’re willing to pay you for the job they expect you to do?