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When – and how – to bring up salary during an interview
Debra Auerbach | December 4, 2015
Should you even bring up the topic of salary at all or wait for the employer to take the lead? And if you do raise the subject, how and when should you do it?
Some topics are just awkward to bring up in a conversation – like a messy breakup or whether those lips are real or enhanced.
Another awkward subject? Discussing salary during an interview. You don't want to come across as money hungry, but you also don't want to be blindsided by a less-than-desirable offer.
So, do you even bring it up at all or wait for the employer to take the lead? And if you do raise the subject, how and when should you do it?
While every situation is different, and the answer may vary slightly depending on your circumstances (the type of company, the level you're at, etc.), here are some general rules.
Time it right
The problem with bringing up the salary topic too early in the hiring process is that it can take the focus away from the case you're trying to build for why you should be hired.
"The goal in an interview is to convince the company that you are the best person for the job," says Susan Peppercorn, a Boston-based career coach and CEO of career coaching firm Positive Workplace Partners. "By bringing up salary before this happens, the job seeker runs the risk of making money the focal point of the conversation rather than their fit for the job."
That's why most career experts will tell you to wait until you have an offer, or at least have strong signs of an offer, before broaching the subject. To that end, Peppercorn says that not until you hear questions like "When are you ready to start?" or "Can you provide references?" is it appropriate to ask about money.
"The best way to ask the question is to say something like, 'I'm very interested and excited about the opening in your company, and I'm sure that I will be able to meet your marketing challenges. Can you explain the compensation for this position?'" Peppercorn says.
Let the employer do the asking
If you're unsure about when or how to ask about money, it's often best to let the employer take the lead. However, as Certified Career Coach Cheryl Palmer points out, this doesn't mean that you should be totally passive on the topic.
"The job hunter needs to be prepared for the conversation about salary because the employer may bring it up before actually making the offer," Palmer says. "It is fairly common for recruiters to call candidates for a phone screen and ask them what their salary requirements are. This is a way of screening out candidates whose requirements are not in line with what the company is willing to pay."
Even before a phone screener, you'll likely get a question or two on the job application about your current salary and desired range. So, the employer will already know whether or not you're in their ballpark going into the interview.
Have a range in mind
When the topic does arise, answer questions about desired salary by providing a range. That way, you don't back yourself into a corner by throwing out a specific number that's either too high for them to consider or lower than what they had in mind. You can determine that range by doing research on average pay for the occupation via sites such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics or Salaries by CareerBuilder.
Know your worth
Regardless of who brings up salary, or when it happens, you should know what you're worth so you can be prepared to defend your desired salary going into negotiations. "Understanding your value will help you enter negotiations with a realistic outlook," says Frank Gentile, a director at Professional Staffing Group.
Another way to prove your value without even bringing up salary is to monetize your skills when discussing them during your interview. "Where it's appropriate, frame your work in terms that show real monetary value," Gentile suggests. "For example, customer support skills can be framed in terms of how much time or money was saved by resolving issues faster."
So, the next time you're struggling with the salary conversation, avoid a situation like these awkward interviews, and come prepared, time it right and take cues from the employer.