Salary requirement: A bazillion dollars

A lot of the jobs I’ve been
applying to ask for my “salary requirements.” Am I the only one who has
a complete panic attack over this question? I’m always torn between
“Enough to make rent and eat out once and a while” and “a bazillion
dollars.” It’s a pretty loaded question. Mostly because, as Americans,
we’re pretty tight-lipped about the whole salary thing. 
So, in truth, I
don’t really know what a fair salary is for most of the jobs I’m
applying to. In fact, I never really knew what a fair salary was for
the jobs I actually had.  And, obviously, if a company is willing to
pay me a bazillion dollars, I’ll take it. But then again, if writing a
high salary requirement means my application gets tossed in the trash
bin, I’d probably be better off underestimating my worth.

(Entering panic mode)
(Leaving panic mode)

I recently read Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not)
Getting By in America
,” and was interested in what she had to say about
the work force’s perpetual fear of revealing how much we do or do not
make. She suggested (in not this many words) that we should shout our
salaries from the rooftops. Because our silence allows the employers of
the world to *ahem* nickel and dime us.

Since she wrote the book, a lot
of handy tools have popped up on the internet, like and,  but job titles can be deceiving and have multiple
definitions across employers. For instance, my husband’s title (before
grad school) was Senior Research Associate, a title usually reserved
for six-figure salaries and PhDs. But he had neither. And when I was a
reporter, the same title seemed to offer anywhere from $20,000 to

I should also say that when I did finally break the silence
about my salary to a friend working in a similar job at the same
company, we learned that my friend was getting paid a wage that could
be loosely defined as “one constitutional amendment away from slave
labor” in comparison.

So, what do you say Chicago? Should we start telling everyone how much
we make? When the waiter asks if we’d like another glass of wine: “No
thank you. I make approximately $30,000 per year, which isn’t really
enough to get drunk.” Or we could start having “Here’s how much I make”
parties where everyone dresses up as something associated with their
income bracket. Charlie could dress up as a nice stock option. Hilda
could dress as an employee-funded health plan.


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  • I think you pose interesting questions. I'm always curious to know what others make, not for jealousy reasons, but for knowledge-sake. There are so many variations on what's an appropriate salary for this job or that, which leads to so much confusion.

  • Compensation is important. But value is more important. The value you will bring to the company. And the value the company will contribute to your overall career, either with that specific employer over an extended period of time or for the short-term duration of your employment with that employer. Compensation is important. Performance is crucial. The value the employee and the employer each receive is the vital element of success. And don't forget to look at the equation from the employer's perspective; they are seeking productivity and profitability. How will you contribute to their objectives? For that matter, if you reading this comment is in HR, you could help me. Looking at the U.S. Worker Productivity numbers released this week, annualized rate up 6.4%; I have some questions regarding how HR professionals challenged with layoffs and attrition are managing sustained productivity by maintaining employee performance and loyalty.
    Share your ideas and solutions at

  • It's an intriguing idea. I think one reason we are close-mouthed about what we make is the deeply ingrained conviction that our salary reflects our worth--our value to our employers, to our profession if we identify with a profession, to society, to our family, even our worth as a human being. Maybe we guys are especially susceptible to this--I don't know that for sure, though. I do know that one of the nasty side effects of my choice of profession has been a nagging sense of shame over my measly salary, especially as I see other men my age making twice what I do and preparing for comfortable retirements. If the party conversation turned to "let's put our incomes on the table," I'd probably sidle out of the room. Unfortunately that does empower employers to lowball us.

  • I've always been sensitive when it comes to the salary issue, especially when sharing with friends. So what IS the best way to share with potential employers? Websites such as and are very limited, I believe when averaging out salaries per title. At the last firm I worked, titles meant more than salary. I told my boss, they could refer to me as janitor as long as they paid me for the work I was producing. Now, being unemployed, what does that mean on my resume by not showing a title? Does that mean that the potential employer won't actually read my resume to review the actual experience I have before being considered for a position? It's a tough world out there!

  • I'll gladly tell you how much I make! Ask me what I weigh, and well, that's a different story! But seriously... salary? It means NOTHING to me other than the obvious: I'm able to pay the bills and have something left over. It doesn't make me better than, worse than, more/less valuable, more/less intelligent, or anything else. I'm lucky to a) have a sense of self that stretches far beyond material things, including money and b) feel as though my employer values my time and efforts, and my pay is a reflection of this. That's it.

    In terms of answering the salary requirement question, I use and present the following: "Given my experience and (naming a particularly relevant skill or asset I can bring to the company/position), I feel a range of $$$ - $$$ is appropriate and fair compensation" - always padding the numbers a bit. ;o)

    It WOULD surely be a lot easier to answer that question if we could all get over ourselves and this American (or perhaps Western in general...) idea that more money = a more worthy or "better" person, and be more transparent with our salaries.

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