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This is the first article of the Money Talks series.

The interview is going well. You’re smiling. The panel laughs at your jokes and nods along as you share your experiences from your previous work in sports.

Then, the question arises:

What are your salary expectations?

This is a tough question to answer if you didn’t prepare. Sure, you could give a vague answer but employers want to know how you value yourself. After all, don’t you want to feel appreciated at your job?

Let’s take a look at how you can determine your value and answer the salary question:

Gather Input

Before you can even start thinking about money, consider what your true strengths are. Look at what you studied and what you accomplished, and review your past performance.

Contact previous employers and ask for their feedback. If you saved paper copies of your performance reviews, look back at those to see what they praised you for.

Let’s say during your internship at a media company, your boss highlighted your writing skills and video editing as your best qualities during your exit interview. Take note of that. Create a list of your top skills in a document as you continue to research.

Keep Score

When you’re looking for work in sports, identify what the skills gap looks like for you. Think of this exercise like creating your own baseball card.

Instead of compiling performance statistics, list skills and traits necessary for prospective roles. Then, rate yourself on a simple numeric scale, from one to 10. This helps you visualize what skills you have and which ones you need to develop.

Keep a list of common skills and traits and continue to add to this as you discover more roles you want to pursue.

So if you want to work in sports marketing, score yourself on your communication skills and analytical abilities. Review sports job listings to see what’s in demand and note how you measure up to employer expectations.

Research

Compensation varies because of several factors so finding an accurate range can be tricky. Don’t just trust one resource. Instead, use several tools while you research so you can compare your findings.

Online tools determine average pay in your region, role, and industry. Here are a few free tools to use:

Compile all the salary results from these tools, then consider your variables.

For example, if you want to find work in sports sales as a manager, but you only have three years of leadership experience and you live in small town in the Midwest, you’re not going to make the same amount as a more experienced sales manager in New York City. Be sure your expectations are reasonable for the region you’re looking in.

If you’re contemplating a move, use Payscale’s Cost of Living Calculator. This way, you’re not undervaluing yourself before relocating. You can determine a comfortable salary range that aligns with your experience and the location of your potential employer.  

Ask Your Network

These tools are excellent, but you also need to supplement this data with some real-world context. This is where your professional connections come in.

You can speak with them directly to better understand your value within the industry. If you don’t have a strong network, it’s time to shake some hands.

Consider joining professional organizations that align with your field and the sports industry. Knowing people who work in sports is critical to your career success.

Not only does networking help you meet people and better understand the industry, but also it’s attractive to potential employers. In fact, our survey found that 21 percent of employers say that joining professional organizations helps candidates stand out.

Prepare for the Question

Ok, here you are, back at the interview. The question hangs:

What are your salary expectations?

This is a great opportunity to ask for more information about the role and responsibilities if you’re still unclear about the position. Also, inquire about non-salaried benefits and ask what range they had in mind.

This opens the dialogue so you can see if they’re flexible and understand what the total compensation looks like. If you just see a salary that’s higher than you expected but you have to pay more out of pocket for health insurance, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.

Remember, you deserve to feel valued fairly. If you’re not, the employer-employee relationship is already soured and your employment starts off on the wrong foot.

As the employer sheds more light on their expectations and their benefits package, keep in mind your research. In fact, bring your research with you so you can refer to it.

Remember how you looked at past work in sports and other experiences relevant to the role, and gathered data from both online tools and your personal network. At this point, you’ve crunched the numbers, factoring in your skills, location, and region.

Phrase your response in a way that highlights your flexibility but emphasizes your experience and value. Reiterate what you bring to the table and share how your expectations align with the salary information you found.

Employers respect professionals who do their homework and know their value. This shows that you’re prepared and attentive. While they might not offer what you expect, you at least started a dialogue to determine if the fit is right.

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