How to Determine Your Ideal Salary Range (and Ask For It)

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It’s unfortunately no secret that there’s a wage gap in the United States and it doesn’t work in women’s favor. In 2020, on average women make just 82¢ on the dollar compared to men. That’s right, in 2020 women are still earning at least 20% less than their male counterparts. 

There’s more, depending on factors like lifestyle and race:
  • Moms earn 70¢ on the dollar
  • Black women earn 62¢ on the dollar
  • Native American women earn 60¢ on the dollar
  • Latina women earn 55¢ on the dollar

Smart employers realize the value of women in the workplace though, especially moms. A study by WerkLabs, the research and insights division of The Mom Project, revealed that mom colleagues and managers in the workplace drive more collaboration, productivity and higher employee morale. 

On that basis alone, you’re a valuable asset to your employer and should be compensated as such. But knowing exactly how much you should ask for can be confusing. There are a lot of factors (both within and outside of your control) that influence salary ranges for your position, your experience and within your company. 

Here’s how to determine your ideal salary range and how to ask for it. 

Determining and Communicating Your Salary Range

Setting a salary range

Because there are many factors that impact your final salary, it’s a good idea to set a salary range rather than a set and final number when looking for a job and negotiating your offer. Be prepared to answer firmly but with flexibility: “I’d like to make between $XXX and $XXX per year, depending on the benefits you’re also able to offer.” 

When it comes to determining your salary range, your experience and job title will be the driving factors. But there are other influences that impact your salary range:

1️⃣ The cost of living: Salaries can be higher in large cities because the cost of living is higher. A similar role in a smaller city or rural area may pay less because the overall cost to live in the area is lower.

2️⃣  The cost of labor: Some companies rely on the cost of labor instead or in addition to the cost of living, especially in larger, highly desirable cities such as New York or San Francisco. Cost of labor is generally what a particular geographic market offers as the “going rate” or compensation for its jobs, regardless of cost of living.

3️⃣ The size of the company: Generally, larger companies will pay more than a similar role in a smaller company.

4️⃣ The company stage: Is the company a self-funded start-up or an established corporate business? The overall liquidity of a company will determine potential salary ranges.

5️⃣ The industry: If you’re moving into a different industry, the average salary for your role in that industry may be higher or lower. 

When less is more

You don’t want to sell yourself short, but there are some trade-offs that can offset a lower salary. You may be willing to accept a lower salary if an employer:

  • Covers a higher percentage or even all of your health insurance premiums each month
  • Offers a flexible schedule that allows you to reduce your dependency on childcare and the associated expenses
  • Bonuses or performance commissions that will increase your annual take-home pay 
  • Any kind of stock benefits such as RSUs or grants

👉 Listed salaries will be the gross annual or hourly rate:


💰 Gross pay is your annual salary before any deductions like taxes, health benefits and retirement.

💸 Net pay is also called your take-home pay. It’s the amount of money you earn on each check after these deductions are made.


💵 To determine your hourly pay rate, divide your gross annual salary by 52 (weeks in a year), then by 40 (hours in a work week). This is your hourly rate before any deductions.

Woman typing on a computer

How to Evaluate a Job Offer

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Check your salary expectations

It’s helpful to know what others in your role and industry are making before setting your range. Thankfully, there are some tools that make this really easy.

These free salary calculator tools and reports will show you potential salaries for your role and experience and allow you to adjust for factors like location and industry. These are helpful in establishing a baseline for your salary negotiations or in determining what the salary may be for a role if it’s not in the job listing.

PayScale - a calculator that provides a free salary report based on information like your job title, education, skills, location and experience. You can dive deeper into your results here to see what your role is worth in different parts of the country, if you had a different degree or if you were at a different company.

The Salary Project - a database of more than 30,000 salaries for women internationally. It’s a great way to see what others in your field are earning and give you a baseline for your own salary negotiations.

Know Your Worth from Glassdoor - Using self-reported data from their users as well as market trends, Know Your Worth provides a recommended salary that changes often based on economic factors. It’s a great way to check in and see if you could be making more, or if you should stay put for now.

LinkedIn Salary - a great tool for considering non-salary compensation factors like stock options and annual bonuses. It also provides a forecast of how your salary will change as you gain more experience in a field. 

👉 A note about job titles: If your company has creative job titles (like Honest Tea’s “TeaEO” instead of CEO), readjust your title to the industry standard version before using a tool like this. Similarly, if your title doesn’t accurately reflect your role (you’re a Senior Project Manager but really acting more as the Director of Marketing for a small company), use a title that does.

How to talk about salary in an interview

While it’s illegal in most states to ask a candidate what their current salary is, it’s not illegal to ask what they’d like to make. You should expect this question and answer confidently based on your research - when the time is right. 

When discussing your salary range in an interview:

  • See if you can get an answer from the employer first: Respond by saying something general like “I’d really need to learn a bit more about the role and responsibilities before I can give an exact number. Can you give me an idea of your range for this role and the benefits that are available?”
  • Expect the minimum offer: It’s in the company’s best financial interest to get the best talent for the lowest rate, so never agree to the first offer. 
  • Respond with a range: If pressed for an answer, give the interviewer a tight range like “Based on my experience, $75,000-$90,000 is a competitive range depending on several factors like benefits and work schedules.”

It’s best to stick with a range rather than a firm number until you have a job offer. At that point, you can weigh the salary offer against the other benefits being offered and propose your final number. 

Your job searching time is valuable and it’s important that your salary range is aligned with your employer’s. Having these conversations sooner rather than later ensures you’re on the same page with your potential employer. 

Successfully negotiating your salary and earning what you’re worth is bigger than just your current role. It lessens the pay gap women face, and it makes a difference in your overall lifetime earnings. Win-win.

📖 Read more: How to Effectively Negotiate a Job Offer

Find more advice on how to advocate for yourself in your career

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