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The Question:

How do I determine my salary expectations? I've been asked that question in interviews and on certain job websites. I don't want to price myself out of the market, but how can I make sure I don't undersell myself either?

The Answer:

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In any negotiation, knowing what' s important to the other party can help you secure the best deal possible, and salary negotiations are no different. To determine your salary expectations, first consider how companies set their salary bands.

Several factors can play into their formula: years of experience required for the role, company size, benefits package, potential bonus structure, cost of living within a geographic region, etc. Risks that come with the job, and learning or growth potential can also affect salary levels.

Work-life balance also has an impact. Companies may offer a higher salary for a job that requires considerable travel to compensate for time away from family. Conversely, a work-at-home position may offer a lower salary.

Marketplace competitiveness and salary surveys also influence salary bands. If there is a scarcity of talent in a niche area, those local salaries may rise based on supply and demand of qualified talent.

Consider all of these variables in your salary research.

The government's National Occupational Classification (NOC), various online salary calculators, and even job postings that list the salary offered in a particular industry position, can help you frame your salary expectations. Conduct information interviews with industry veterans, too, to get their sense of expected salary levels.

Throughout this process, beware of one mistake that many job seekers make: confusing self-worth with job worth.

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For example, if you've worked as an executive assistant for 15 years, your salary would have increased over the years, based on your level of responsibilities and growing expertise. However, if you are now applying for a position that calls for two years of experience and limited job responsibilities (compared with your previous role), that job may not pay a premium for your previous experience or seniority. Also, having a higher level of education can sometimes make job seekers think that they are worth more money, even if the job they are applying for doesn't call for such knowledge.

Your salary expectations should be based on the specific job you are pursuing, not on your personal worth. Keep in mind the level of responsibilities involved, and what the company needs within your local marketplace.

A well-researched candidate will know all the factors at play in a job, and will be able to negotiate the highest salary possible within that context.

Julie Labrie is the president of BlueSky Personnel Solutions in Toronto.

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