When to Talk Money

Dear Anita,

I’ve learned to investigate potential companies prior to submitting my resume / application, and in doing so sometimes I cannot find out what the company pays. Is it alright to ask during the interview?

Dear “Show Me the Money,”

shut upSalary DOE could mean the job is DOA when you find out it’s too little for you to live on. While you may not be  able to find out the salary of the exact company to which you are applying, a little research will tell you what the average wage is for the position in your geographic area. Check out sites like Payscale.com (you can search for companies’ salary information as well), Salary.com, Glassdoor.com, and Indeed.com’s salary search. Knowing the market pay rate for the title beforehand will give you confidence to talk about salary when it does come up.

So now that you’re prepared, when do you talk about money?

When you’re being recruited.
If you are contacted by a recruiter or hiring manager and have not actually applied for the position yourself, I think it is acceptable to ask (after ascertaining that you are interested in the role), “Before moving forward, may I ask about the salary range? I’d hate to waste everyone’s time if it is not in the ballpark.”

When they bring it up first.
The hiring company may be the first to bring up the salary. But perhaps not in the full disclosure way you were hoping (“So, we’re planning on paying $80,000-$90,000 a year for this position.”). It’s usually more like, “So, tell me about your salary requirements.” Your wage requirements may be requested in the job board posting, on the job application, or at the first interview.

When responding to a job board posting that requests you disclose your salary requirements along with your résumé, be as vague as possible. “I would expect a salary that is in line with the level and responsibilities of the position and my experience. I’m happy to discuss this further once I have a better understanding of the role and job requirements.”

On a paper application, leave any past salary fields blank, and write “negotiable” if asked for desired salary. Some online applications won’t submit with blank fields, so try using a range. However, you may be forced to enter only one number. (Warning: don’t “adjust” any past pay rates upwards as a negotiation tactic; this can backfire when an potential employer calls and verifies past employment data.)

An interviewer may bring up the salary question if you seem to be a good fit (take that as a small win!). You may want to try answering the question with a question: “What is the salary range for this position?” If you don’t feel that bold, answer without stating a figure (see job posting response above).

If asked about your salary history, The Interview Guys have a great response: “To be honest, I’m not sure that the salary I made in my last position is relevant with regard to this opportunity.  It was a different position with different responsibilities, not to mention with a different company (with their own budgets and salary guidelines).  More importantly, I am looking for a job that can compensate me fairly for my skills and experience.”

The later the better?
Employment Contract
“He who speaks first, loses” is a negotiation adage, but does the principle work when settling salaries? The prevailing view in the hiring world is to wait to discuss salary until later in the game. Multiple interview scenarios are quite common. Some career counselors say don’t address salary negotiations until you have an offer on the table. Advice from Ladders, a career resource for $100K+ jobs, likens the initial interview to a first date and recommends not rushing the relationship (and speaking about compensation) until they have “fallen in love” with you and are ready to commit. For highly-paid big-league positions, it makes sense to take your time when tens of thousands of dollars may be on the line. But many in the minor league job pool don’t have time to waste!

Before the second interview.
I agree with Liz Ryan, CEO of Human Workplace, who in a Forbes article, recommends getting the salary issue out in the open before the second interview. If you think the first interview is going quite well, but the pay rate has not been broached, use the opportunity when the interviewer asks, “Do you have any questions for me?”  Now, this shouldn’t be your first question, but after a few thoughtful inquiries on other topics, ask the interview, “Can you outline the compensation for this position?” Note that compensation includes more than just base pay. Typical compensation packages may include health insurance (be clear on how much an employee contributes), retirement plans, and a vacation/sick time/PTO policy. Perks like performance bonuses, gym memberships, or on-site child care could affect the base salary that you require.

What if salary was not brought up – by the interviewer or you – during the initial interview? If you don’t get a call-back, the issue is moot; you weren’t a good fit whatever the pay rate. But if you do receive that exhilarating request for a second interview, ensure you’re not wasting your efforts. “I’m really looking for positions in the $46-$52K range. If that’s possible for this role, I’m happy to schedule time for a second interview.”

Readers: Tell us about how you have been the first to ask about salary in the interview… and the results.

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

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Count the Cost of Working


I am about to go on maternity leave with my first child, and have been checking into day care costs for when I return after 3 months. Wow! What an eye-opener. Quality child care is pricey. I don’t know if it will be worth it for me to even return to work. How can I decide?

Dear “Penny Wise,”

Child care expensesFirst, congratulations on the upcoming birth of your firstborn!

New moms – and every employed person – should be aware of the actual costs of working relative to their income, if only to be mindful of their budgets. A recent CareerBuilder study found the average U.S. worker spends $3,300 annually on work-related expenses.

Childcare: Penny Wise, daycare will be a new expense you haven’t had to consider in the past. As you’re discovering, quality childcare comes at a price. Of the 29% of the survey participants who had daycare expenses, more than one-third (36%) spend $500+ monthly. According to ChildCare Aware, daycare now costs more than 4 years of in-state college tuition in 31 states! (Working pet owners also spend money on dog walkers or “furbaby” sitters, but much, much less).

Transportation: There’s the cost of getting to and from work. The majority of workers (84%) drive to work and almost half of those spend $10-$25 on gas, and 37% spend more than $25 weekly. The CareerBuilder survey didn’t take into account an unlimited metro card or other public transportation fares, or a car payment, maintenance expenses, insurance, and parking costs. AAA estimates the average total yearly cost of a minivan – you’re getting the official mom-mobile, aren’t you? – is $6,482, or 81.2 cents per mile.

Work Attire: Unless your company provides a uniform, most workers foot the Lunch Tabbill for their own clothing to wear to work (and it is not tax deductible, unless you have to pay for your own uniform). Most employees in the CareerBuilder survey spend at least $250 a year on job-appropriate clothes and shoes.

Meals & Incidental Expenses: You need to eat whether you are working or not. But restaurant meals and $5 designer coffee drinks add up a lot more quickly than preparing and eating meals at home.

The Cost of Not Working: Parents who want to stay home with their new babies – or other readers wishing to start their own business or just take a sabbatical – should consider the cons of leaving the security of their full-time positions.

Insurance: Even if part of your insurance premium is deducted from your paycheck, your employer makes a major contribution. Check your self-funded rates at www.obamacareplans.com to see if you can avoid the ACA penalty. According to Obamcarefacts.com, the annual fee for not having insurance in 2016 is $695 per adult and $347.50 per child (up to $2,085 for a family), or it’s 2.5% of your household income above the tax return filing threshold for your filing status – whichever is greater. You’ll pay 1/12 of the total fee for each full month in which a family member went without coverage or an exemption. (Use this ACA penalty calculator to figure the damage after your COBRA coverage expires.)   

Retirement Savings. Will you be losing out on your employer’s matching contribution to a 401k or other retirement plan? Short-term savings on coffee may not fund your retirement – or your new baby’s college education.

Readers: Have you ever calculated the cost of going to work, or staying at home? Share your results below.

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

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11 Red Flags to Heed Before Accepting That Job


You talk about red flags for companies hiring employees. What about red flags for us job seekers? What should we beware of in a potential boss or company?

Dear Wary Larry,

After last week’s post on what hiring managers should avoid, let’s turn the tables and outline the warning signs job seekers should steer clear of in a prospective employer.

  1. Disrespect. A hiring manager who keeps you waiting for 35 minutes without a very good excuse is not offering you the same courtesy you showed when you arrived for your interview on time. If they seem unprepared for the interview, strike two.
  2. Anger Management Issues. If you overhear your future supervisor castigating a subordinate or rudely yelling at a vendor on a phone call, run, don’t walk, to the exit.
  3. Low office moraleLow Morale. You may me able to sense the stress level when walking through the office, or the demoralized mood may only be apparent when you peruse workplace reviews on Glassdoor or a “rate your boss” website. Online reviews should be taken with a grain of salt, as statistics show that 95% of people who’ve had a bad experience will tell someone about it, and only 87% will share a good experience.
  4. Unclear Job Description. The human resource professional conducting the phone pre-interview may not be able to answer “What is a typical day like in this position?” But if your future supervisor is vague, how will you know if you will be a good fit, much less excel in the post?
  5. Tight-Lipped About Key Criteria. Unless you really do need security clearance to discuss certain aspects of a government job, your potential employer shouldn’t deflect questions about success benchmarks, compensation, bonus structure, or benefits. What are they trying to hide?
  6. Illegal Questioning. You want to work for a company that is up to speed on employment law. Check out my post, 20 Interviewer Questions that Should Not Be Asked, to see the difference between right and wrong ways for interviewers to obtain information.
  7. Chaotic office environmentChaotic Environment. The hiring manager’s desk doesn’t have to look he has OCD, but a disorganized office can indicate a lack of business systems and a helter-skelter approach to such important duties as performance reviews, salary increase and bonus submission, and even day-to-day workflow.
  8. Immediate Job Offer. While being offered a job on the spot may be good for your ego, don’t give an immediate “yes!” It takes an average of 9 days for employers to thoughfully fill open jobs. A desperate employer who hires the first warm body may have a high employee churn rate, and you may not last long.
  9. No Follow-Up. It’s a pet peeve of mine when companies don’t acknowledge an application or résumé submission, if only with an auto responder. A company that does not follow-up after you’ve taken the time to interview is not the type of company you want to work for. A hiring manager who is uncomfortable giving you the news that she’s chosen someone else is not a good leader.
  10. No Opportunity for Growth. Make sure you are satisfied with the answer to your questions, “What kind of person gets promoted in your department?” or “What is a typical career path from this position?” If professional development is not encouraged, you may be headed for a dead-end with this job.
  11. Doesn’t Align with Your Goals. Through no fault of the employer, you may discover after a learning more about the company that its mission statement – or just the open position – doesn’t align with your career objectives.

Even if none of these red flags are present but you have a nagging feeling of unease about the opportunity, listen to your gut and decline the position. Your intuition won’t steer you wrong.

Readers: Have you experienced these or any other red flags when exploring job opportunities? Tell us about it.

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

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Hiring Red Flags


I just became manager of my department a few months ago, and now I’m in the position of hiring my first employee. (The reason I’m losing a team member is a whole other story!) Our company doesn’t have an HR person much less department, so I’ll be handling the hiring process myself. Can you give me some inside information on what to look for or, more specifically, what (or who) to avoid? I don’t want to make a bad hire.

Hiring red flagsDear “On Guard,”

Applicants who make certain missteps, listed below, raise red flags – or at least yellow “caution” signals – for seasoned recruiters and HR professionals. (Job seekers, listen up! Knowing the impression you are making on hiring managers could cost you the job.)

  1. Not Following Directions. In your hypothetical Craigslist ad, if you request a cover letter and résumé, be wary of those who just attach a résumé only. Strike one.
  2. Templated Cover Letter and Résumé. Pirated “Dear Sir or Madam” introductions, résumé objectives unrelated to the position for which they are applying, and generic recitations of job duties indicate a lack of initiative. There’s nothing wrong with using sample résumés or cover letters for inspiration, but job seekers should personalize and make them their own.
  3. Typographical Errors. If an applicant doesn’t take the time to proofread his résumé, how can you trust him to pay “attencion [sic] to detale [sic]” in your position. Even if the cover letter and résumé are flawless, don’t disregard typos and grammatical errors in follow-up emails. This is what you – and potentially customers – can expect in the candidate’s day-to-day work.
  4. Lack of Experience. Sorry, recent graduates. But the learning curve can be steep for applicants have never had a job, an internship, or even a volunteer position. A manager has to consider how much time and resources are available for helping a first-time wage-earner learn the basics of navigating the world of employment, in addition to training for the specific job duties.
  5. Job-Hopping. A short attention span isn’t the curse it was in years past, but I know some companies that still automatically disqualify applicants who have held a set high number of different positions within a certain time span. If the change was a promotion or even a lateral move within the same company, that’s a totally different story.
  6. Gaps Between Jobs. Gaps on a résumé can be a result of life choices such as taking a traveling sabbatical or being a stay-at-home parent, or unexpected circumstances like caring for an ill relative or a layoff. The yellow flag appears when an applicant does nothing to explain in a cover letter the circumstances surrounding any gap longer than a few months.
  7. Extended Unemployment. Though much of this bias against hiring a chronically unemployed person may be an unconscious psychological stereotype (only lazy/dishonest/unskilled people are out of work – not always true!), it can be a legitimate concern that skills get rusty with disuse.
  8. Jobs Don’t Jibe. It may not be blatant lying, but it sure looks suspicious if the dates on a candidate’s résumé differ from his or her LinkedIn profile. If (like me) a job seeker is not great at remembering dates, they should cross-check employment periods entered on applications against their master résumé before submitting.
  9. Social Faux Pas. Many hiring managers make it a practice to check out applicants’ social media presence, looking for red flags such as references to drugs and/or alcohol abuse, inappropriate behavior, even bad grammar (refer to #3 above), all of which could pose potential issues in the workplace. Election Year tip: In this contentious political season, job seekers should keep argumentative comments out of the limelight. (See Facebook: Friend or Foe? for more tips.)
  10. Overqualification. What could be wrong with having too many skills? Savvy managers worry that an overqualified candidate may become bored taking a job a step below a previous position. Learning the reasons why a heavy hitter is applying can possibly turn a red light into yellow.
  11. No Back-up. Applicants who brag about “great people skills” or claim to be a “super salesman” without quantifying and backing it up with data or examples are suspect.
  12. DebbieDowner2Unprofessional Manner. Answering the phone, “Yeah,” or coming to the interview in grossly inappropriate clothing could mean the applicant won’t fit into your company culture.
  13. Negativity. The Debbie Downer who complains during the interview about the traffic, her medical maladies, and the ineptitude of former bosses is not likely to stop kvetching when you hire her.
  14. Desperation. An overly-eager candidate tells you more about why he needs the job rather than how he is the best person for your open position. Keep your emotions out of the hiring decision and never offer a person a position out of pity. Instead, select the most qualified – not the most needy – candidate for the job.
  15. Tepid (or Downright Bad) References. Don’t skip the reference check. While some companies have a strict policy prohibiting their staff from divulging much information during a reference check call, they can often answer the key question, “Would you hire this person again?” Smaller companies less worried about legal repercussions may provide more helpful feedback.

Managers: Have you ever ignored a red flag and hired a person anyway? Tell us what happened.

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

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Re-Entering the Workforce after a Hiatus

I have not worked in over 15 years. I was a stay-at-home housewife and now I find myself unemployed, broke, and hopeless. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how or where to start. Anita, can you help me?

Worried housewifeDear “Desperate Housewife,”

As long as you are breathing, there is always hope! Many people exit the workforce for extended periods for reasons ranging from raising children to taking care of an elderly parent or life circumstances of all descriptions. It may be difficult, but it’s not impossible to get back into the labor pool.

First and foremost, update your skills. Do you know the basics to work in today’s office environment? Microsoft Word, Excel, and Outlook are commonly used in many companies. If you possess any accounting aptitude, QuickBooks knowledge is valued by many small- and medium-sized businesses. Brush up on computer programs with classes at your local community college or online at sites like Lynda.com and Skillshare.com.

Have you been a volunteer during the last 15 years? Many skills used in the do-gooder arena are transferable to the workplace (think organizational skills from chairing that charity event, or sales finesse to charm potential owners into adopting a dog from the shelter). Use a functional format when  creating your résumé; it won’t hide your employment gaps but will focus on your competencies.

Use a cover letter to very quickly explain why you have not worked for a few years, then go on to highlight the skills you have that match the job posting to which you are applying.

As an interim measure or a long-term alternative to a J.O.B., you could join the gig economy. Instead of getting paid by the hour, you can earn money by completing projects or tasks.

If you have talent in bookkeeping, copywriting, data entry, social media, customer service … whatever, advertise your skills on a freelancer site like Upworks.com. You could become a Tasker on Taskrabbit.com, which connects local errand-runners and chore-doers to busy folks willing to pay for someone else to buy their groceries or assemble their latest Ikea purchase. Fiverr.com is an online service where, for a starting price of five bucks, Grocery delivery serviceyou can offer to do any number of projects, ranging from the expected, like graphic design, to the bizarre (someone will paint a message on his body and video himself dancing in a jungle for $5!). Stay-at-home moms or parental caregivers, even pet owners, can translate their nurturing experience into a gig on Care.com or by word of mouth.

Which brings us to the importance of networking. You may have heard the quote, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” Let everyone – friends, relatives, butchers, bakers, candlestick makers – know that you’re looking for work, whether you wish to pursue freelance assignments or a traditional job.

Consider signing up with a temporary staffing agency. By working on assignment in various companies, you’ll discover the types of work you like (and those you don’t care for).  Some temporary positions can even turn into full-time employment.

Readers: How have you successfully re-entered the workforce after an extended absence?

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

Subscribe to receive weekly emails with career tips and advice for job seekers, employed

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Functional Format for Résumés
Hiding the Gray on Your Résumé (and Beyond)
Take Advantage of the Outsourcing Trend
Help People Help You Find a Job


Anita Clew's blog posts are intended for general guidance and should never be taken as legal advice. In all instances where harassment, inequity, or unfair treatment is believed to be present, please consult your HR Department or legal representation.
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