Though attitudes are changing, asking about salary in a job interview requires a delicate touch. You want to be polite and sensitive but don’t want to get pulled into a salary negotiation too soon. And, of course, you may think you shouldn’t ask at all! But knowing how to ask about salary in an interview puts you in the driver’s seat and lets you decide if you should continue pursuing the role.
- Why You Should Ask About Salary in an Interview
- How to Ask About Salary in an Interview
- Sample Questions for Asking About Salary in an Interview
- Frequently Asked Questions
Why You Should Ask About Salary in an Interview
Before you accept a job offer, you’ll consider many aspects, like how much paid time off there is, what the fringe benefits are, or what kind of work-life balance it offers. But salary is probably the biggest thing you’ll consider. After all, your paycheck has a significant impact on your life.
Though times (and laws) are changing, not every job posting includes a salary range. And not every recruiter or hiring manager will bring the subject up, so it may be up to you to ask about salary in an interview.
That said, the thought of asking about salary during your interview may make you nervous. You might worry that bringing it up is rude or could tank your chances of getting a job. But, says Tanja Hinterstoisser, assistant vice president, career design and employer outreach at Champlain College, “If the employer does not approach you with any salary information it’s definitely appropriate to bring it up.”
What if the Interviewer Doesn’t Know the Salary?
That depends on who you’re talking to!
If you’re talking to a recruiter, they may not know the salary range. So, if they say, “I don’t know,” that’s OK. Likewise, if you’re interviewing with potential coworkers, they also may not know the salary specifics.
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However, if you’re interviewing with the hiring manager, they should know the salary for the role. At the very least, they should know what amount is budgeted for the position and be able to relay that information. If the hiring manager says, “I don’t know,” or “We haven’t determined that yet,” proceed with caution.
It’s possible the hiring manager is waiting for you to throw out the first number and use that to start the salary discussion. But this could be a red flag about the organization. If the hiring manager doesn’t know the salary range, what else are they unaware of?
How to Ask About Salary in an Interview
To be clear, asking about salary in an interview is not the same as negotiating a salary. In this case, you’re asking what the possible salary is, nothing more. It may be difficult but try not to get sucked into a salary negotiation before you have a written job offer in hand.
That said, it’s also critical you’re prepared to talk about salary in an interview — including the employer asking you what your salary expectations are! Here’s how to ask about salary in an interview politely and carefully.
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Prepare for the Reaction
Though some interviewers won’t bat an eyelash when you ask about salary during an interview, some may not have the most positive reaction. “It’s a downer,” says Hinterstoisser. “People don’t really like to be asked.” But she also notes that how the interviewer reacts can give you an idea about the values and culture of the organization.
For example, an interviewer who seems comfortable discussing pay and benefits likely feels that way because the company values transparency and honesty around salary. Likewise, an interviewer who dances around the topic may not feel that they can talk about pay because the company discourages it.
Hinterstoisser says the best way to handle a negative reaction is to remain confident in your ask. So, don’t apologize for asking. Instead, explain that it’s critical for you to understand all aspects of the job and that one of those aspects is the salary.
Hinterstossier says you can respond with, “My decision to join the company is an important one and I want to be sure that on the financial front I am being paid adequately.” You could substitute “adequately,” with a more specific explanation, such as explaining that if you’re relocating, you want to ensure you can afford the change in the cost of living.
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Time It Right
In some respects, it makes sense to ask about salary early in the interview process. If the job doesn’t pay enough for you to cover basic living expenses (rent, food, student loans), it’s unlikely you’ll accept the job.
However, the reality is that salary isn’t generally brought up in the early interview stages, and that’s OK. Hinterstoisser advises candidates to hold off on asking about salary until the later stages of the interview process. “You want to be sure that the employer is interested in you as a candidate and starts getting a sense as to what your worth really is.”
She also notes that holding off on asking about salary allows you to evaluate if the pay range is representative of the actual work.
Do Your Homework
The “risk” in asking about salary in an interview is that the interviewer will flip the question back on you and ask what kind of salary you’re looking for. But don’t skip asking the question because you don’t want to take that risk!
Instead, do your homework and have a salary range in mind. Hinterstoisser says that Salary.com, NerdWallet, and Indeed are all great places to start. Keep in mind that many of the tools show the average salary range for all experience levels. Make sure to use the filters to see the salary range for someone with your level of experience.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Hinterstoisser points out that while asking about salary in an interview can be a dicey proposition for everyone, it can be especially hard for first-generation college students, people from various racial and ethnic backgrounds, and even women.
To help you feel more comfortable asking about salary in an interview, Hinterstoisser says to practice in a mock interview, with an advisor, or even a friend you trust. The more you practice asking about salary, the more confident you’ll feel bringing it up when the time comes.
>>MORE: 15 Questions to Ask the Hiring Manager (and 5 to Skip)
Sample Questions for Asking About Salary in an Interview
Hinterstoisser says there’s no right or wrong way to ask about salary in a job interview. But one crucial point is that you should ask for a salary range. She says that asking about the salary range “shows that you’re aware an organization has a budget for a role and the budget is determined by [the] company for whatever factors they deem necessary.”
Hinterstoisser suggests starting with, “We haven’t spoken about compensation. I’m wondering what you have budgeted for this role?” If that’s a little too direct for you, she suggests asking, “I’m curious what the pay band and benefits are for this role?”
Other ways to ask about salary in an interview include:
- Can you tell me what you’ve budgeted for this position?
- I’m really excited about this job, but I want to make sure we’re on the same page in terms of compensation. What is the salary range for this role?
- The role aligns really well with what I’m looking for in my next job. Can you tell me more about the compensation for it?
- We haven’t had a chance to talk about compensation. To make sure we’re on the same page, what is the salary for the role?
Got an interview coming up? Learn how to prepare with our interview tips.
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes! If you run out of time during the interview, you can ask about salary via email after the interview.
“Appropriate” is a relative term. If salary is a deal-breaker for you, you should definitely ask! It’s better to have that information upfront, so you can bow out of the selection process if you need to.
Of course! There’s more to a job than the salary, and you may discover that the entire compensation package is exactly what you need.
Stay strong and confident. Explain why you’re asking and be prepared to state a salary range.
If it’s important to you, then yes. Examples include vacation, paid parental leave, flexible work schedule, training and education opportunities, and career advancement.
Try not to react to a salary that’s less (or more!) than what you expected. If you’re truly interested in the role, the company may be able to compensate you with additional time off or other types of benefits.
Absolutely! There’s no rule that says you have to bring it up first. Just make sure you’re clear on what the compensation package is before you accept the job offer.
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