When to Ask About Salary During the Interview Process

There’s no denying salary is one of the most important topics you’ll discuss during your interview process. But timing is everything, and you’ll want to broach the subject tactfully with any prospective employer. My rule of thumb for candidates on when to ask about salary? Discuss compensation questions early and often, especially with your recruiter. The more upfront you are about your needs and expectations, the more likely I am to find opportunities that suit your needs.

When to Ask About Salary – And Why It’s Important to Speak Up

As a recruiter, I serve as a liaison between you and potential employers. If you’re not transparent with me, I can’t accurately represent you. And if clients feel that you’ve been misleading as they’ve gotten to know you, they may pull their offers. Candidates often keep certain expectations or needs quiet early in the interview process because they don’t want to scare employers away. If they’re getting married in a month and have already booked a three-week honeymoon, they may think the employer will be put off by their impending absence. Or they’ve just received a raise at their current job, but they don’t want disclose that up front to avoid uncomfortable conversations about money.

“More often than not, employers will negotiate with high-quality candidates, and they can be surprisingly flexible when it comes to lifestyle circumstances.”

Once they receive an offer, however, they have to share that information. Where an employer might have been willing to accommodate a lengthy vacation or negotiate on salary before, they may decide not to work with that person, period, because now they seem dishonest. You’ll always achieve more by being straightforward. More often than not, employers will negotiate with high-quality candidates, and they can be surprisingly flexible when it comes to lifestyle circumstances. But even if your compensation or travel needs are deal-breakers, it’s better to find out as early as possible. The last thing you, the hiring manager, or your recruiter want to do is spend weeks in interviews and negotiations, only to have it all come to nothing.

How to Approach Salary Discussions

Decide what you need before you meet with your recruiter, and be consistent throughout the process. I’ve had candidates tell me they expect a salary of $200,000 a year and then tell hiring managers they need $225,000. Recruiters and their clients speak frequently throughout the interview process, so the discrepancy in the ask will definitely come up and will cause you to lose face in both relationships. Honestly asserting your needs is far more effective than dancing around the topic until you absolutely must mention the potential conflict. This goes for everything from salary expectations to vacation needs to other extenuating circumstances. The hiring manager is a human being, too, and you can’t know how sympathetic they’ll be to your circumstances unless you tell them the full truth. Perhaps they, too, received a new job offer right before their wedding, and they get how important it is to take that time off. Maybe they or their spouse became pregnant unexpectedly, so they know all too well how financial needs change overnight. Throughout the country, and especially in the Bay Area, there is a growing awareness of the need for better family leave policies and enhanced work-life integration. Don’t assume that your prospective boss is immune to these discussions and that they aren’t interested in what you have going on outside of work. When you’re candid with people, you give them an opportunity to relate to and support you. If a hiring manager has asked you to sit for an interview, they think they might want to work with you long-term. They’re unlikely to dismiss you at the first sign of a potential scheduling conflict. But if they think you’re being deceitful, they will almost certainly decide not to hire you.

Know Your Worth

It’s perfectly acceptable for a candidate to push back on an offer and ask for more as long as the ask is reasonable. Your recruiter will be able to guide you on where there might be room for negotiation.  

“It’s perfectly acceptable for a candidate to push back on an offer and ask for more as long as the ask is reasonable.”

One trend that recruiters often see is that men tend to feel more comfortable than women when it comes to asking for a higher salary. Don’t be afraid to ask for more (as long as you do it respectfully!) The worst thing that can happen is that the hiring manager says “no”.  And even if they say “no”, at least you know you didn’t leave money on the table. Have the confidence to trust in your worth.

Your Recruiter Is on Your Side

The job search process can take up to six months, and recruiters know that a lot may happen in that time. They don’t expect you to put your personal life on hold until you land the right offer. You might get engaged, start a family, buy a house, or receive a raise or bonus that changes your compensation standards. Any one of those might force you to reconsider your salary ask. Communicating about these changes with your recruiter will help them advocate for you. They want you to succeed. A good recruiter will be your champion throughout your career, and that means adjusting course as your life circumstances shift. But if you leave them and prospective employers in the dark, you’ll miss out not just on the compensation you want but on great job opportunities as well.

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