What salary should I ask for?

The salary expectation question is something we are increasingly coming across at the Postdoc Careers Service. Employers are asking for this information in online applications, cover letters, phone interviews, way before it feels appropriate to talk about money.


You are asking us how you should handle it. Here are our tops tips to help you navigate this tricky question:

tower of coinsUnderstand why they are asking it

Why on earth do they need to ask such an awkward question before they’ve got to know you?

Well, organisations have salary budgets and the recruiters who first come across you probably have a budget they need to stick to. So, it’s one way of ruling out people who have unrealistic salary expectations. On the other hand, they don’t want to put you off with an offer so low that you’d reject the job out of hand.

Appreciate that they are not setting you a trap, just doing some broad reality checks.

The best tack is to do some salary research before you apply

How much do I ask for?

Yep, it’s the million dollar question but in truth they are not really asking you how much you’d like to earn but what are you worth to them.

The best tack is to do some salary research before you apply.

Our Careers Service alumni platform, Alumni Careers Connect, gives you access to Cambridge graduates who could give you an idea what someone with your experience might expect in this role and sector (as opposed to what they earn).

If you are stuck for time, ask around colleagues or friends for what they reckon people starting in the role should expect. The website Glassdoor is useful to get some insights – people post salary info anonymously. If that doesn’t yield results, the online careers education website Prospects gives average salaries for the entry and longer term progression in a wide range of job types.

How do you present this information to the employer?

If possible, it’s best to give the employer a range, let’s say £5K range rather than one figure.

This gives them a bit of wiggle-room so they don’t feel in a corner. If it’s a conversation rather than a digit to fill in on a form, give them reasons why you think you justify this salary.

Your reasons should be about your value to them and not about your increased costs or inconvenience taking the position.

What’s wrong with asking for more or less than they expect?

Asking for too much means that you sound unrealistic or even arrogant, especially if it is a lot more than your current salary.Happy person

If you are asked about your current salary, though, do mention the benefits of working for your current employer (e.g. pension, annual leave, subsidised childcare).

Asking for too little could give the impression you are not ambitious, and invites them to make a low offer. Keep in mind it takes time to climb up the salary scale.

Your reasons should be about your value to them and not about your increased costs or inconvenience taking the position.

Cultural expectations

Whereas in the UK and a lot of Europe, salary negotiations are uncomfortable for many people, in other countries it’s a must.

For example, in the US you will be expected to negotiate. Do your research on the salary range and also the cost of living in the area.

A former postdoc now working in biotech in the US Bay area said UK based postdocs will be shocked at how much you need to ask for!

It’s a package and not just a salary

Sure, a salary figure is a headline, but what else are they offering?

Many organisations offer other benefits: training, share options, flexible working, health insurance, gym membership. The greatest benefit of all, though, is how the role will help your confidence, career and employability in the longer term. Some people take a lower offer with the prospects of longer term salary benefits and employability.

Later stage salary negotiations

The ideal stage to give you salary expectations is when they have offered you the role.

If you are aiming at the highest figure, give the employer clear reasons why you are worth it. Ask how often and what is the process for salary review.

By Anne Forde, postdoc careers adviser

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