By: Betty Punkert, Employment Facilitator/Computer Instructor
“Please provide salary expectations in your cover letter.” Cue terrified scream.
Money. We’re taught not to talk about it, most of us have no idea what we’re worth, what we actually need to make to survive, or even what the going rate is for the work we do. This question in a job ad causes the most panic of anything I encounter in my appointments.
Breathe, young padawan. We’ll get you through this. wise and reassuring Jedi nod I walk people through this all the time and the basic framework is the same.
1. Figure out how much you need to survive.
Okay before we even apply for jobs, we should know, more or less, how much we need to earn to make the bills. You can think of this as a per hour figure or an annual salary, but this is what you need to pay all your bills, keep a roof over your head, and eat at least a couple of square meals a day. Yes, I am making you figure out a budget. Yes, I am a terrible human being. Don’t care, get on with it. In all seriousness, this absolutely must be your first step. Because if you can’t survive on less than $13.00 an hour, you need to know NOT to apply to jobs that only pay $11.50. Got it? (To convert hourly wages to an annual salary, multiply by 2080 for 40 hour workweeks and 1920 for 37.5 hour workweeks.)
2. Add 10-20%
Because who wants to be just surviving? Seriously, you deserve dinner out once in a while and a movie. All work and no play yadda yadda yadda.
3. Figure out what the going rate is for that kind of work in Manitoba
You should have a figure. The next step is to figure out what people are actually paying for that kind of work in Manitoba and see if there’s even remotely any kind of alignment there. If you need to make $17 an hour to make ends meet, you’re not going to get that salary as a fresh out of high school administrative assistant with no experience. You might need to adjust your career goals or your budget (check steps one and two).
To get an idea what the going salary is for your line of work here in Winnipeg, go to the Canada Job Bank (jobbank.gc.ca). Click on the Menu button, and on the right under Labour Market Information, click on by Occupation. Type your job title in the box, or something close (e.g. legal assistant) and pick the closest match from the drop down list. Type your postal code in the box below, choose the location from the list provided, and click Search.
Click on the second tab, which says Wages, in the search results. Information specific to Winnipeg is usually at the bottom of the list. There’s a low and a median and a high. High salaries tend to be government jobs or really extreme qualifications. Most people are going to be suggesting a wage in between Low and Median depending on their qualifications or the complexity of the job.
Calculate that number for yourself. Is it in line with the figure you have in section two? Great, let’s continue. If your section two figure is astronomically higher than the number you’re calculating here, this might not be a financially viable line of work for you unless you have some really good reason to demand that kind of salary.
4. Provide a range of values
Nobody likes an ultimatum, so once you’ve done all your math, you need to give the employer some wiggle room in this conversation. Typically, I will give a range that is around the X+10% to X+30% range (where X was your section one baseline), rounding to make it easier to look at.
Here’s my real world example:
For me, it doesn’t make sense to accept much less than $30k per year. I can’t meet my financial obligations on less than that. But since I do like the occasional movie, I’d like to make MORE than that. Given my usual lines of work (communications, mid-level admin, high end customer service), that isn’t out of line with any of them in terms of regional salary averages. Therefore, I would probably start from a salary of $33k (that’s X+10%) and go to about $38k (this isn’t quite X+20%, but a five thousand dollar range is normal and provides us with some space for conversation).
Given my experience and the current labour market in Winnipeg, I would be willing to discuss a starting salary of $33,000 – $38,000 annually.
5. Leave an escape hatch / olive branch / fig leaf (pick your metaphor)
What if the job is so awesome you can’t even get your heart around it, BUT they don’t have enough to afford you? This happens a lot, especially with smaller companies and non profit agencies. So it’s always important to express that you would be open to discussing the issue – remember, we don’t want an ultimatum. You often don’t know what the benefit package is like, or how much vacation you’re going to get, or if there are on the job perks. (I spent YEARS trying to get on with Great West Life because hey, on-site fitness facility and it’s two blocks from my house!)
Money isn’t everything. By showing you’re willing to be flexible, it eases the reader’s mind a little bit if you’re just out of range. But be careful, know what your bottom line is and don’t cross it (see section one) because you don’t want to not be able to pay your bills.
This is, of course, open to negotiation at the interview depending on the scope of responsibilities and other benefits available.
That is basically how you decode the salary question. The most critical piece is that you need to start with knowing – not guessing, KNOWING – what your bottom line, will not budge, figure is. Everything else grows out of that. Sometimes later in your career that number ends up high enough to eliminate a lot of jobs for you, but you might as well be honest with yourself and employers about that.
Stuck on step one? Here’s some budgeting software for you:
Mint for Canada (Free): Designed to integrate with your banking information automatically, owned by Intuit (the same folks who make Quicken and TurboTax)
MoneyStrands (Free): Phone app, there are several great e-books that teach basic budgeting skills on their website, even if you don’t decide to go with their app
Toshl Finance (base plan is free, others $$): Light and playful approach to budgeting