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Can I Ask For More Money In My Cover Letter?

If you think you’re worth more than the job is offering, should you let them know right away or hold your cards close to your vest?

Can I Ask For More Money In My Cover Letter?
[Photo: Flickr user Pictures of Money]

Salary ranges in job advertisements are there to manage the expectations of applicants. But what if you think you’d be great for the position but also think you deserve more money? Should you let them know in your cover letter?

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Career expert Alison Green (aka Ask A Manager) helps this reader figure out how to walk the line between being presumptuous and a perfect fit.

I think I know the answer already, but I want to ask anyhow.

I work in a rather “niche” specialty. I am currently employed, but am exploring my options elsewhere. Within my specific field, there aren’t a lot of job openings posted and the pay isn’t great.

I have seen a few job openings that list a pay range that is very low, even for this field. I’ve not applied to these positions because I wouldn’t be willing to accept them at the pay rate they advertise. Would it be completely out of line for me to apply but specify a higher salary range in a cover letter?

I would be interested if they could pay me a more reasonable salary–and I would perhaps be able to take on some more of the higher-level work.

But I also think this could be off-putting, and they could end up thinking quite ill of me–and since this is a rather tightly knit nonprofit community, having my name associated with “difficult” or “expensive” would probably be burning a whole lot of bridges.


It usually isn’t worth doing. They have a range they plan to pay, and they’ve done everyone the courtesy of posting that range so that people know up front what the salary is and can self-select out if it’s not right for them.

There are occasionally times when an employer will realize, after seeing the applications from people willing to work at the posted salary range, that they’re not going to be able to find the type of candidate they want for that range, and will realize that they need to increase what they’ll pay. Sometimes hearing from well-qualified candidates who say, “Your range is too low, but I’d be interested at $X” can nudge them in that direction. Sometimes they get there on their own, and it can be helpful to have your application lying around when they do.

But more often than not, that’s not how it works. They end up finding someone who meets their needs at the range that they’ve posted, and that’s that. Perhaps that person isn’t also taking on the higher-level work that you alluded to being able to take on, but they may not need them to.

So in general, no, I wouldn’t bother applying if the salary won’t work for you.

However, there is one thing you could potentially do (although it’s more time-consuming). If you network your way into contact with the people doing the hiring at the organization, you can sometimes ask about salary flexibility in a way that isn’t off-putting. For instance, if you have a mutual contact and that person is willing to recommend you for the job, you could reach out to the hiring manager and say, “Jane Smith suggested I might be a strong match for the X position you’re hiring for. I read over the posting and your last year’s annual report, and I’m excited about what y’all are doing, and the Y and Z projects this role will be working on. I’d love to throw my hat in the ring. However, I wanted to be up front about the fact that I’m looking for a salary in the $X range–which I know is higher than what you’ve posted. I don’t want to waste your time if you don’t have any flexibility there, but it looked like such a strong match that I wanted to check with you.” (Attach your résumé when you do this so they can do a quick scan and get a sense of whether they might be willing to go up on salary for you.)

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Bonus points if the mutual contact also reaches out just before you do this, and explains why they think you’d be awesome at the role.

That’ll come across differently than just applying and stating up front that their posted salary won’t work for you.

This article originally appeared on Ask A Manager and is reprinted with permission.

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