Clients frequently ask me how soon they should disclose their salary requirements or histories. Typically, I advise them to hold off on revealing these numbers and to postpone discussions about compensation, until there’s a job offer on the table. This guidance is “Salary Negotiation Rule #1″ advocated by one of my mentors, veteran career coach Jack Chapman and author of Negotiating Your Salary: How to Make $1000 a Minute.

Jack’s declares that it’s in candidates’ best interest to avoid talking about money too soon, because it can weaken bargaining power in negotiating a fair compensation package. He says that if you talk money first and if the number you quote is too high, you may be disqualified; if you quote a number that is too low, you’ll run the risk of settling for the lower end of the salary range of the job, if offered to you.

Despite these wise words, jobseekers are stumped about how to handle this issue when completing online job applications. “Current Salary” and “Desired Salary” are required fields in most cases; and there’s usually no option to quote a salary range or to select “Negotiable.” If these fields are left blank, the application can’t be submitted. So you are either forced to put in these numbers or forgo the opportunity.

The question is: how can you apply for the job as a qualified candidate without putting yourself at a disadvantage by talking money first? Here are some ideas:

  • Determine if the job is the right fit before you apply. The salary might be attractive, but if the job would not be the best use of your strongest skill sets, you are better off passing up the opportunity.
  • Submit a well-researched “desired salary” figure for the job. Some excellent resources for salary research are, and
  • Factor your “ideal range” into your “desired salary”. In his book, Jack Chapman talks about the importance of knowing your Ideal (highest), Satisfactory (acceptable) and No-Go (unacceptable) salary numbers; your “ideal range figure” should be the average of the “Ideal” and “Satisfactory” number, leaving room to negotiate up.
  • Be truthful about your salary history because these figures can be easily verified for accuracy. Employers disqualify applicants who submit falsified information, which is a far more serious issue than quoting a desired salary that may be too high.
  • Look for additional ways to communicate. If the application allows you to submit a cover letter or commentary, you can explain that your “desired salary” is negotiable, which you’ll be glad to discuss further when appropriate.

Nick Corcodilos, a.k.a. “Ask the Headhunter” has other insights about handling salary info online. In a recent blog post, he said: “Ignore the application and “find a better way in the door…” He also cautions that companies who want salary figures upfront may be reflective of a “herd mentality” culture. “If you don’t cooperate [by refusing to submit your salary info online] the company has plenty of other applicants who will do what they’re told, and destroy their ability to negotiate… It wants cows, not people who think and act outside the box. Join a company like that…and soon you’ll be looking for yet another job.”

Salary negotiations can be tricky, especially if you have to reveal your salary history and requirements when applying online. If you skillfully use the strategies above, you’ll get your foot in the door and be able to negotiate your best compensation package – after you get the interview and are offered the job.

© 2012 Joellyn Wittenstein Schwerdlin, The Career Success Coach. All Rights Reserved