Talking salary with a hiring manager during your job search can feel awkward.
It seems like there’s never a right time or place to broach the subject. “You don’t want to wait too long, but the last thing you want to do is bring it up too early and annoy the hiring manager,” says Lynn Taylor, a national workplace expert, author, and leadership coach.
“Prospective employers are not jumping at the chance to divulge salary ranges because they typically want to leave their options open. If they were to immediately blurt out that the position pays between $80,000 and $100,000, they know you’re not going to shoot for $80,000,” she explains. So how do you navigate the timing of the big money question?
“If you’re hearing the advice that you should absolutely wait until the second interview to talk pay, or that you must find out in the first phone conversation, consider this: There are no rules, just variables,” says Taylor.
Here are some steps you can take to determine when and how to bring up salary:
Figure out if the employer is even interested in you
Before you bring up money, try to get a better sense of how interested the employer is in you.
“Pay close attention to the length and quality of your initial email or phone screening,” says Taylor. “Ask yourself: How long did the initial phone call last? Was there laughter? Did the email reveal enthusiasm? These are initial indicators of how aggressive you can be.”
If you feel fairly certain there was no chemistry and a job offer isn’t in the cards, hold off on the salary discussion.
Do your homework
Before you make a fool of yourself or put anyone in an awkward position, do some research to figure out what you’re worth, what someone in this role typically earns, and how this company stacks up to its competitors when it comes to compensating employees. This way, when you do throw out a number, you won’t come in way too low or way too high.
Sites like PayScale, Salary.com, and Glassdoor can provide useful information on pay.
Consider your level of experience
If you’re fairly new to the job market, say entry level, this is one more factor to consider, Taylor says.
“At this point in your career, it’s more customary to hold back on salary discussions before you enter the job interview versus being a mid-manager with five to 10 years experience.”
Know the risks of bringing it up too early
It’s no secret that money is important to most people — but you don’t want the hiring manager to think that’s what drives you, or what’s most important to you.
Bringing up salary too soon can send the wrong message, so if you really love the position and know deep down you’d take it regardless of the pay, it might not be worth bringing it up until the very end.
Listen to your gut
Job candidates often play it too safe and wait for the company to make the first move.
“If waiting for this critical piece of the puzzle is driving you crazy during a very promising conversation, then follow your gut and ask,” says Taylor. “It’s disheartening when you are excited about a position, only to find out at the eleventh hour that the compensation was reminiscent of your salary five years ago.”
Wait until they start selling you on the job
There may come a moment in the process where you suddenly feel like the tables have turned: You’re no longer trying to sell your skills or qualifications to the employer — the employer is trying to sell you on the job.
When that happens, you’re in the clear.
Ease into it
Once you feel like it’s the right time to bring it up — and remember, there’s no “magical time” that’s right; it’s different in every situation — you can ease into the conversation is by asking: “Would you be the right person to discuss salary with? (Pause.) If so, is this a convenient time to discuss it?”
It can make things less awkward than just blurting out: “How much does the job pay?!”
Plus, if the interviewer isn’t the right person to talk money with (maybe that’s someone in HR’s job), that’s good information to have.
Expect a vague answer
Even if you feel that the question flowed well with the conversation, you may not get a straight answer.
The interviewer might just say, “The pay is very competitive.” So be patient — it might take the interviewer more time to get to know you before they’re ready to reveal that information, says Taylor.
Be prepared for the question to be flipped back to you
If you do ask for the salary or range, be prepared to be asked what range you’re looking for, or what you’re currently making, Taylor says.
Know ahead of time how you want to answer these questions. Responding with lots of “ummms” and “uhhhs” will make things even more uncomfortable for both of you.
“If you’re asked about your current or recent salary, try to give a range first,” she advises. “Try not to back yourself into a corner. This can seem like a ping-pong match, but you can still defer politely by saying that you’re more interested in the opportunity than salary itself.”
Have a threshold in mind
Know in advance the lowest salary you’d accept. “You’ll lessen your chances of awkward exchanges if you know exactly what you want and stick with it,” she says.
Be prepared to negotiate
Not only do you want to have a “minimum” number in mind, but you should also have a plan for how to get there.
Being prepared will make things a lot less awkward, and will certainly help you get closer to the number you feel you deserve.
Don’t obsess over the money
Yes, money is important — but don’t obsess over it.
Again, bringing it up too early, or too frequently, will send the wrong message. Focus more on why you’re excited about the opportunity and less on how much the salary will influence your decision on whether or not you’d take the job.
It’s especially important that you not make threats like, “If you can’t give me $100,000, I won’t take the job,” or, “I’ll only accept if you give me $100,000.” Even if that’s what you’re thinking, don’t say it out loud.
Watch for red flags
“Some companies may drag out the salary discussion to the point that you question whether you can trust the employer to deliver on their initial interest or promises,” Taylor explains. “Or they may be vague and leave you not knowing what you can really earn, especially with sales-based positions where there’s a large unknown.”
If you have this uneasy feeling, follow your instinct and continue your search.
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