This Is the Right Way to Approach a Salary Question in an Interview
It used to be taboo to ask about salary—while that's no longer true, there's a right way to go about asking for and negotiating salary.
You know how to prepare for most tricky job interview questions, but you’re probably not sure how to ask about the salary. It used to be taboo to ask about salary in an interview, but that’s changed. As things get more expensive, we must know we’re applying for a job that meets our financial needs.
The pandemic changed how we live and work, and LinkedIn career experts predict more changes for 2023. Employees have started acting their wage, aka doing exactly what they’re paid for. A large part of this is knowing your worth and being compensated with a fair salary based on your education, skills, and experience.
There are things Human Resources won’t tell you about salaries and raises, so if you’re job hunting, you need to learn the right way to approach the salary question in an interview.
Should you ask about salary in an interview?
There are plenty of reasons to ask about the salary—it saves time for both the job hunter, the recruiter and the hiring company—but there are also some reasons not to, and timing is important. Brandon Bramley, founder of The Salary Negotiator, warns against talking about salary expectations with recruiters.
“We know recruiters are working for the company, not the job seeker,” Bramley says. “If the job seeker shares a lower compensation than what they could offer, they are more likely to offer you that low compensation.” Bradley also says it doesn’t make sense to discuss compensation too quickly. “Learn more about the role, the company’s benefits and culture, the typical compensation breakdown, and whether those aspects feel like a good fit for the job seeker.”
Michael Samuel, founder of CEOMichaelHR—a company that helps job seekers with everything from resume writing to professional branding—agrees that it’s best to wait until the recruiter or hiring manager brings up the topic of compensation instead of bringing it up yourself. “If the topic isn’t addressed, it is appropriate to ask about it during the interview process,” Samuel says, “but be sure to do so in a way that does not come across as overly aggressive or entitled.”
Samuel warns that asking about salary during an interview may make you appear overly focused on the financial aspect of the job rather than the actual role itself. But at the same time, you don’t want to put energy into the interviewing process for a position that isn’t going to meet your needs. If the interviewer is offended by a respectful question about salary, it may be a sign you don’t want to work there anyway.
“In the first round of interviews, you might be one of three to five candidates, and your interviewers are still getting to know you,” says Kelly Donovan, principal of Kelly Donovan & Associates, a job search company. Donovan reports that a movement toward salary transparency has begun, and “a growing number of states and municipalities around the country now require employers to include salary ranges in job postings.”
“If a candidate is really curious about salary, I recommend waiting until the second round of interviews,” Donovan says, “Sometimes employers have flexibility with their salary range, and getting to the second interview allows you to thoroughly impress them by the time you get to the salary topic.”
How to ask about salary in an interview
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You should have some idea of the salary range before applying and certainly by the time you reach the interview process. “Have a thorough read of the job description and website content, as a salary range may have been mentioned,” suggests Andrew Fennell, former recruiter and Director at StandOut CV. “And check out the salaries for identical or similar roles (particularly those in your city at similar-sized businesses) so that you have a clear idea of what to expect. I typically recommend someone collect at least ten examples of salaries and take an average.”
“Be prepared for the interviewer to deflect the salary question and use it as an excuse to ask about your salary requirements,” Donovan says. “At that point, you can say you don’t have a firm number, but if you’ve done your research and are confident in your worth in the job market, you can provide a salary range that you were anticipating and ask if it aligns with their budgeted range.”
“Salary is a zero-sum game—every dollar in the pocket of one side is less in the pocket of another,” recommends Mark A. Herschberg, author of The Career Toolkit: Essential Skills for Success That No One Taught You. “Never simply give a number,” Herschberg advises. “This isn’t a bazaar haggle where one side goes high and the other goes low. Each side should justify why that number is the correct one. Otherwise, it’s just passing numbers back and forth and finding an arbitrary middle point.”
Do your math
Career coach Brian Fenerty recommends doing your math, which includes taking your monthly expenses, doubling them and adding 20% to that number. “That’s your target salary,” Fenerty says. “The goal of the exercise is to base your target salary on your actual situation and negotiate to get as close to that number as possible.”
Ask for a salary range
You don’t need to get too specific. “A good way to approach the salary question is to ask about the general salary range for the position and explain that you are simply trying to gauge if the opportunity is a good fit for your experience and expectations,” Samuel says.
We want you to get the salary you want and need, so we recommend aiming high. “You should enter any negotiation with the aim of achieving a little over the salary that you want to allow for the recruiter’s counter-offer,” Fennell says.
Stick with the process
“A good negotiation is a process, not an event or meeting where you sit down in an adversarial struggle to get the other side to give you something in some confrontational way,” explains M.L. Miller, founder of Ethical Recruiters. That said, your negotiating power is largely tied to the labor market. If the market is tight—meaning there’s not enough talent to meet the demand—the employer may be more likely to concede to your salary requirements.
Know your worth
It’s OK to ask about the salary in a way that is respectful. Jon Hill, CEO and Chairman of The Energists, an executive search and recruiting firm, recommends asking, “What compensation do you anticipate offering for this position?” or “What is the typical salary range for this type of role in your organization?”
How to Dodge 8 Tricky Interview Questions—Including Flat-Out Illegal Ones
- LinkedIn, “Career experts predict what changes 2023 will bring for the US job market“
- Brandon Bramley, founder, The Salary Negotiator
- Michael Samuel, founder, CEOMichaelHR
- Kelly Donovan, principal of Kelly Donovan & Associates
- Andrew Fennell, former recruiter and Director at StandOut CV
- M.L. Miller, founder of Ethical Recruiters
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Job Openings and Labor Turnover“
- Jon Hill,CEO and Chairman of The Energists