Should You Ever Ask About Pay During a Job Interview?

NO! YES! I DON’T KNOW! WHY ARE WE YELLING!?

This question gets asked so often by all levels of individuals who are going through a job search. Entry levels to seasoned professionals, no one really knows the correct answer, because, like most things in life, it depends on so many factors!

First off, you look like an idiot if you show up to an interview and in the first few minutes you drop the pay question!

“So, yeah, before we get too deep into this, how much does the job pay!?” 

Mistake #1! 

First, if you’re asking about what the job pays in a real face-to-face interview, or virtual interview, you’re doing it wrong! The time to ask about pay, is almost immediately, even when you’re desperate for the job. Usually, this happens during a screening call, email, text message from someone in recruiting or HR. Talent Acquisition and HR Pros expect this question, so it’s really not a big deal.

The problem we get into is this belief that somehow asking about pay and salary looks bad on us as a candidate. “Oh, all you care about is the pay and not our great company!?”

Mistake #2! 

Actually, TA and HR would prefer to get this big issue out of the way, right away, before they fall in love with you and find out they can’t afford you. Doesn’t matter if you make $15/hr or $100K per year, everyone involved needs to understand what it’s going to take to hire you. As a candidate, even when you desperately want the job, you still have power. You can still say, “No”.

The best thing you can do is get the pay question out of the way, up front, so both you and the company can determine if you will truly be the best hire. The worst thing that can happen during an interview, is you both fall in love with each other, then at the end find out it won’t work financially! That’s a killer!

Mistake #3! 

As a candidate, you get referred to a position and you have a pretty good idea of what the pay will be. Your friend works at the company, even in the same position, and makes $45K, so you’re not going to ask because you feel you already know.

The problem is, the company might not see your experience and education the same as your friends, or the market has shifted (like a Pandemic hit, and now the market pays less for your skills). For whatever reason, you are thinking one number and they are thinking another. This gets awkward when it all comes out at the end of the hiring process.

So, once again, be transparent. “Hey, my friend actually referred me and loves her job and the company. She also told me what she makes. I’m comfortable with that level, but I just want to make sure we are on the same page for a starting salary/wage before we keep going.” Simple. Straight-forward. Appreciated.

Yes, ask about Pay! 

Yes, ask about pay, but “no” don’t ask about pay as the last step of the interview process. Calm down, you’re not some wolf of Wall Street expert negotiator who’s going to wow them with your brilliance and get $100K more than others doing the same job. Most jobs have a set salary range that is pretty small, so you might get a little movement, but there is really no need to play hardball.

In fact, from a negotiation standpoint, getting your figure out early with a statement like, “I just want to make sure we are in the same park, I’m looking for $20-22/hr in my next job. Does this position pay that?” Gives you and the company some room to negotiate, but it’s a safe conversation since you both put some bumpers around where that conversation will go.

Also, if you decide you want more, it’s a great starting point. “Yes, I really like the job and the company and I’m interested in working for you. I know I said I was looking for $22/hr, but Mary told me I would also be doing “X” and honestly, I think that job pays a bit more than $22/hr. Can we discuss?”

Discussions of pay can be difficult because we often find talking about how much money we make taboo. I blame our parents! They never talked to us about it and if the subject was ever brought up, we got hushed immediately! Raise your hand if you knew what your Dad made when you were 12! Not many hands are up!

The reality is, it should be a very transparent, low-stress conversation. This is where I am. This is what I want from this job. Are we on the same page?

5 thoughts on “Should You Ever Ask About Pay During a Job Interview?

  1. PREACH!!!!! I am firm believer in getting the elephant out of the room! LITTERALLY first question I ask in every interview: “What are your wage expectations for this role?”

    Do I understand non-monetary benefits, and share those? Yep.
    Do I explain the full comp package? Yep.
    Do I ask out of respect for the candidates? You’re damn right!

    You put it perfectly how asking this questions prevents the heartbreak of fulling in love and learning it can never be. Nobody needs THAT kind of heart ache…especially HR.

  2. I had a developer once who told me his expectations matched our expectations ($90k) and when I got to the offer stage, he told me he wouldn’t come for less than $110k. I explained to him we have internal equity issues offering him that high a rate and that we have people with more experience making less than his expectations. He talked in circles, telling me that he was worth that much (he had one year of post-grad experience AND he needed a visa) and he won’t take less. I told him in understood if he wanted to not accept our offier. He kept telling me that he accepts $110k. I explained, until I was blue in the face, that we would not offer him more than the $95k we offered and that was our final offer on the table. He told me “I accept your offer of employment at $110k.” I finally just told him we were rescinding the offer and good luck in your future.

    THEN, he called me 6 months later telling me he will accept our offer of $95k. I told him the job was filled and the offer is no longer valid. He didn’t want to take no for an answer. Finally, I had to get blunt with him and tell him we didn’t have a job open for him and probably never would. 🙁

    this is the short version…
    elisa

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