One thing I've learned from my relatively short time working as a speech-language pathologist is that compensation is all over the place. Sure, there are average salaries you can look up, but they can be misleading. One problem is the different types of compensation structures, full employee vs. independent contractor, salaried vs. hourly. All of these structures come with their own fine print attached.
For much of last year, I worked as a contractor in a local school district, but was compensated as a full employee by the company that hired me. So, in essence, I was taxed as a full employee (independent contractors pay a much higher rate of taxes) and had access to benefits (but not the stellar benefits offered to employees of the school district). I was paid an hourly wage for 7.5 hours out of the day. The catch was that I did not get paid for days when school was not in session, including breaks and snow days. I was offered the chance to renew my contract, but knew that I didn't want to be a contractor forever, and decided to hit the job market again. When I interviewed, and people asked about my salary expectations, I told them what I was making as a contractor. What I didn't fully realize was that the company I worked for paid me a somewhat higher hourly wage to make up for all the times during the year that I wouldn't get paid. (Note to any new SLPs reading this: Some contractors will not be as generous, and will just expect you to either subsist on ramen noodles or get a second job for when school isn't in session).
I learned the error of my ways when I was interviewing for my current position. I had actually had preliminary conversations with them some weeks prior and then they stopped contacting me. Someone in HR let it slip that the reason they hadn't followed up was that my previous hourly wage was more than they were willing to pay me. As it happened, while I would have preferred not to take a pay cut, I was still interested in the position because of the sort experience I stood to gain. So it worked out, but it made me wonder if I had inadvertently priced myself out of other opportunities I had interviewed for.
My preference is for employers to just say what they're willing to pay, either in the job ad or in the early stages of the interview. But at least in my field, a lot of them don't, and a lot of them ask about salary expectations and press hard for a number. In spite of the generous free socks offered by my current employer, I'm applying for other jobs again. I spoke to a recruiter for a job I am very interested in today, and, of course, the question of compensation expectations came up. I started by giving the usual answer about how I liked to consider the full compensation package, but then turned the tables on her and said, "May I ask what is budgeted for this position?" Not only was she able to give me a very specific range, I learned how they decide what to pay their employees (completely based on years of experience, in this case). I'm glad I asked because (a) I didn't price myself out of the opportunity, (b) I won't be surprised at the figure if I go forward in the interview process, and (c) I know now how they decide on compensation. Now that I've cleared that hurdle, I just have to hope for luck as I (hopefully) move forward in the interview process...