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Discussing Salary in the Interview Process

Discussing salary can be tricky. When do you bring it up? In this guide, we'll talk about when and how to discuss salary in your interview.
Discussing Salary in the Interview Process

Why can’t companies make it easy on us and just share salary information in their job ads? That way, we wouldn’t have to panic about discussing salary information during the interview process.

You aren’t alone if you’re losing sleep over the salary questions you’re about to encounter in an interview. As much as you want to avoid the topic altogether, you can’t. It’s going to come up at some point, and it’s best to be ready for it.

This article will guide you through the details of when and how to ask about salary in an interview. We’ll also leave you with tips on determining if a salary is right for you. But first, let’s shine a light on the current social norms around discussing salary.

Social Norms Around Discussing Salary

There was a time when people took the first salary offer a company presented without hesitation or negotiation. However, today, social norms around discussing salary are much different. It’s more than acceptable to ask about salary even before the first interview. It’s also encouraged to negotiate your desired salary and walk away from offers that don’t suit you.

Younger generations are huge contributors to the societal changes around salary discussions. For example, Generation Z is incredibly forward about its finances.

Gen Z also isn’t afraid to bring up salary needs in the interview process. This is because they’re focused on the company being a good fit for them as much as considering what they can bring to the company.

But when is it really appropriate for someone in any generation to ask about salary in an interview?

When to Ask About Salary in an Interview

When determining when to ask about salary in an interview, the first thing you want to think about is who approached whom, you or the employer.

To explain further, if you sought out the employer and applied for an open position, you don’t have as much clout to ask about salary early as you would if, say, a head hunter or talent acquisition specialist reached out to you.

If your experience isn’t the latter, the interview is your time to ask about salary. Here are four good times to attack the subject in an interview:

After the interviewer brings up salary

Waiting until the interviewer brings up salary is always a good rule of thumb. It’s likely that the interviewer will ask about salary or share their proposed salary range with you at some point in your discussion. Be prepared with an in-depth response that respects the company and your desires.

When the interviewer asks you if you have any questions

There’s always a point in an interview where the interviewer asks you if you have any questions. This is an excellent time to ask about salary. It’s hard to bring up money without the fear of looking money-hungry, but the key is to be genuine.

Preface the question with an explanation about why you and they need to be transparent about salary at this time.

Discussing salary in the second interview

It’s great when a company loves the first interview so much that they call you back for a second interview. If you didn’t talk about salary in the first interview, the second one is a good time to bring it up.

Hopefully, the interviewer brings it up first. However, if they don’t, ask questions about salary when they allow you to ask them questions at the end of the interview. Prepare your salary questions beforehand to come off as respectful and professional as possible.

Don’t discuss salary in the interview at all

Sometimes, the first, second, or even third interview isn’t the place for salary discussions. Not asking about salary until you get the job offer is typical for many people. It gives you more leverage in the salary conversation when you wait until a company decides they want you.

If you’re going to go this route, do it over the phone. Don’t drag out the negotiations over email. Set up a time with the hiring manager to discuss things in detail. If they want you, they’ll work with you until you come up with a salary you both are satisfied with.

How to Ask About Salary During an Interview

Knowing when to ask about salary during the interview is the first part of the process. The second part is knowing how to ask about salary in the most tasteful, respectful way. Here are a few tips to help you:

Do your research first

The best way to come up with your salary expectations is to do your research before the interview. Find out what people in the role you’re interviewing for are making right now. Start with an internet search and lean into job search engines for salary research.

Come up with a salary range and a concrete median number to throw out once it’s time to do so.

Wait until you learn the job responsibilities and expectations

It’s good to wait until you’ve learned about the job responsibilities and expectations before entering into any salary discussions.

When you know what’s expected of you in the role and what your day-to-day work will look like, it’s easier to come up with a fair salary. It’s also easier to determine whether the company is making a reasonable offer.

Push off your response as long as possible

When the door to salary talks is opened, try to push off your response as long as possible. Don’t be the first to talk about it if you can help it. You don’t have to give the interviewer a number right away just because they ask for it, either.

When they ask what salary you’re hoping for, start with a response like, “Well, honestly, I’m willing to discuss any competitive offer should we decide to move forward with one another.”

Let the interviewer make the first offer

If you manage to push off your response, the interviewer will likely make the first offer, and that’s exactly what you want. When the interviewer shares their thoughts on your potential salary first, you have somewhat of an upper hand.

You’ll learn the company’s budget for the position. You can get an idea of the value they place on you. And you can see if they’re willing to negotiate when you push back.

Don’t name a concrete number too quickly

Don’t share it too early in the interview, even if you have a concrete number in mind. Giving the interviewer a definite number for a potential salary too early in the process could bind you to something well below what you deserve.

Instead, give the interviewer a range if they insist you provide them with a number to work with. The lower number should be the minimum salary you’ll accept, then go up from there.

Inquire about other perks and benefits

If an interviewer is firm on what they can and can’t offer you salary-wise, inquire about the rest of your compensation package. See if you can make up what you aren’t getting in your salary with other perks and benefits.
Discuss the following with the interviewer to determine if a fuller overall compensation package is available:

  • Bonuses
  • Flexible work schedules
  • Mental health resources
  • Professional development
  • Paid sick and vacation days
  • Medical, dental, and vision insurance
  • Retirement savings plans and a company match

Be prepared to make a case for yourself

As wonderful as it would be for a hiring manager to pay you what you want without pushback, they may challenge your salary suggestions.

So, be prepared to make a case for yourself. Be confident about why you deserve what you’re asking for and back it up with facts.

Also, have firm answers for the salary expectation and current salary questions. If there’s a considerable difference between the two, be ready to explain it.

Deciding Whether or Not a Salary is a Dealbreaker

Once you get a job offer, it’s time to decide whether the salary they’re suggesting works for you or not. Consider the following to make an informed decision on whether the salary a company is offering you meets your needs:

Your work-life balance

The salary you accept should allow for the work-life balance you envision or come somewhere close to that vision.

If you’re going to be stressed about money all the time because the salary is on the lower end, it may not be the best fit. Also, if the pay is good but attached to a heavy workload and long hours, this might be a dealbreaker too.

Think deeply about your work-life balance and if the salary you’re being offered helps or hinders your ability to live it out.

Your proposed responsibilities

Consider the proposed responsibilities for the role when thinking about accepting a salary. Doing a ton of work for little pay isn’t ideal. Instead, your salary should match the workload, responsibilities, and expectations.

Assess what you’ll be doing day-to-day. Then, evaluate whether the salary fits what the company asks you to do.

If you’re truly honoring yourself if you accept it

Of course, you must consider the going rate for someone in the role you’re pursuing. However, there’s only one you. This means only one person in this world can do what you do for a company. It’s important to honor this when deciding whether or not a salary is a dealbreaker.

Factor in your unique skills, personality, abilities, and experiences when deciding on accepting a salary offer. Negotiate for fair pay, but you also want to fight for the compensation you deserve for who you are and what you bring to the table.

Final Thoughts

Discussing salary in the interview process isn’t something to shy away from. Instead, think about this part of the process as something that will help you and the interviewer determine whether or not you’re the right fit for each other.

In addition, knowing when and how to talk about salary in the interview process can help ease the scariness of salary discussions. And when you do get an offer, be sure you’re honoring your life, work, and self before accepting it.

If you’re looking to make the best of your salary negotiations, here are some resources you’ll find useful:

  1. This article on how to answer “What Are Your Salary Expectations?”
  2. Top Tips for Negotiating a Job Offer
  3. This free video lesson on how to negotiate the salary you deserve

Good luck!

Pamela Skillings
Pamela is the co-founder of BigInterview and an expert interview coach on a mission to help job seekers get their dream jobs. As an HR authority, she also provides consulting services to companies wishing to streamline their hiring process.

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