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.

Subscribe to receive weekly emails with career tips and advice for job seekers, employed people, and managers and supervisors.

The Dreaded Salary Requirement Conundrum
Truth About Salary
Quitters Never Win… or Do They?
The True Cost of Employees

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


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.
%d bloggers like this: