Dear Sam: I'm relocating back to the city after living in a small town for several years, so I'm gearing up for a job search and I had a question. I've always found it awkward to answer the salary history or requirement question. As far as salary history, I've spent the last few years self-employed, so my income has fluctuated dramatically. When asked for my salary requirement, I've said something about in the range of... but then stated that everything was negotiable. I'm afraid of pricing myself too high, and thereby pushing myself out of the running, or stating a figure so low that I'd have a hard time living on it. Help! - Arietta

Dear Arietta: You are right, those questions are very tricky and unfortunately there is no one right answer. When presenting a salary history, be sure to include it on your résumé, never on an additional sheet of paper. I suggest this as if you present your salary history on a separate paper, it can be used as the sole factor in screening out your candidacy. If, instead, you place your salary figures after your titles throughout your résumé, the hiring manager is sure to glean some information about the value you offer before getting to the potentially disqualifying salary data.

I'd try to avoid providing a salary history if at all possible, solely due to your self-employment and your salary fluctuations. If you have to provide a salary history you might want to present that information in your cover letter instead of the traditional technique described above. In your case, this would allow you to provide your history while not self-employed, along with a statement explaining that your salary history while self-employed varied greatly and is not indicative of your current needs.

When asked for a salary requirement however, there are a few standard approaches, five of which I have detailed below along with their associated risks. Remember to include this information on your cover letter, usually towards the end so to minimize any negative impact it may have. Of course, never offer this information unless specifically requested.

First and foremost, you need to know what you want to be paid, what you are worth, and what the trends are within the industry, employer, and geographic location to which you are applying. As you are relocating, you'll have to do some research on whether the cost of living differs from your current to your new hometown. Do as much research as you can in order to make an informed decision as to what to place on your cover letter. There are several ways to respond (or not respond) to this question each with their own levels of risk.

Approach One: Tell the hiring manager what you want to earn. If you have a base salary requirement state it as such so to tell the hiring manager that you probably expect a little more. The risk in using this approach is that you will be immediately disqualified because your amount is too low or too high.

Approach Two: Give the hiring manager a range. Most employers have a range for each position, and the hope when using this strategy is that your ranges overlap at some point. You can either state that you want compensation in the Mid 50s or are seeking compensation from $50K-60K. The challenge here is not presenting a range where your lowest amount is their highest available compensation or vice versa.

Approach Three: Avoid the question by stating that you are seeking competitive compensation for someone in your field, or are flexible as to your total compensation package. By doing this you avoid answering the question and disqualifying yourself because of a number, yet you answer the question to a certain degree. You also tell the hiring manager, by using the second approach, that you realize that there is more to a compensation package than just your salary. Attractive benefit programs, great working environments, and flexible work arrangements contribute to your total compensation package. The risk here is that you will be eliminated anyway because you didn't give the hiring manager a hard number.

Approach Four: Communicate that you would love to discuss your salary requirement once a mutual interest has been established. This gives you the opportunity to assess the functions of the position to which you are applying, and fairly evaluate what you should be compensated for such an engagement. Again, the risk is that you will be eliminated for avoiding the question.

Approach Five: Don't respond. A lot of candidates take this approach and hope their experiences, accomplishments, and skills pull them through despite avoiding the question entirely. After all, if you sing on paper shouldn't that be enough regardless of what you want to be paid? Well, sometimes not. Unfortunately, if you disregard their request, you résumé might also be disregarded.

Again, there is no one right answer. Making an educated decision on which strategy you want to employ, and being aware of the risk associated with that strategy, is the best approach. I hope your move is a success both professionally and personally. All the best!