Careers advice

When and how to talk about salary in a job interview

Let’s talk money.

What you’ll learn:

  • Why talking about salary is important
  • When to bring up salary in a job interview
  • How to talk about salary in a job interview

While a good job is much more than just a salary, how much you get paid is important. Not only does your salary impact your daily life, it’s also a measure of how the company values your contribution to their organisation and its goals. A decent employer should compensate you fairly for the time and effort you put into your job.

Regardless of the importance of a fair salary, it can still feel awkward raising the subject of money in a job interview. People worry about this for all sorts of reasons – for example, that the employer will think they’re in it for the wrong reasons, or that they will have wildly different ideas of how much the role should be paid. However, for the reasons we’ve mentioned, it’s crucial that there’s an open and transparent discussion about salary expectations in a job interview. Here, we’ll cover the essentials of when and how to talk about this.

You need to time this conversation well.

Why you should talk about salary in a job interview

One very simple reason you might be forced to talk about salary in a job interview is because you could be asked to. The ‘what are your salary expectations’ is a common one for interviewers to ask, and you’ll need to be prepared with a well researched and thought through answer.

However, even if this question doesn’t come up, which might be because you answered it on the application itself, there are several reasons why talking about salary in a job interview is a good idea. These include

  • Because you should feel valued: your salary is a reflection of your worth to the organisation. If you feel you’re being underpaid, you could start to resent the job, even to the extent where you feel you have to leave.
  • Because life is expensive: we’re all experiencing a rise in the cost of living at the moment, and your salary is your primary way of dealing with this.
  • Because your salary will follow you: if you undersell yourself now, chances are you’ll have similar problems in the future. This is because future prospective employers may ask what you’re being paid, and base their offers on this.

Job interviews: when to talk about salary

This is a careful balancing act. You don’t want to be peppering the interviewees with questions about salary from the very start of the first interview, but you also don’t want to miss your chance to have this important conversation.

Therefore, the first step is to fully understand the stages of the hiring process. It’s common in New Zealand for companies to have two interview stages when hiring. And the perfect time to ask about salary is at the end of the second interview, when the panel asks if you have any questions for them. However, if the company you’ve applied to is one of those that only does one interview, you’ll obviously need to have that chat during this meeting.

There are a few reasons why it’s a good idea to leave this question until near the end of the interview (regardless of whether it's the first or second):

  • You need to show them you’re who they want:  your first priority in a job interview is to show the panel that you’re the person they’re looking for. There’s little point in knowing what the salary range is for the role if you’ve done nothing to convince the interviewers that you’re the right person for the job.
  • It looks better: if you start the interview off by asking about salary, the employer might start to think you’re just there for the money. While decent employers will understand that salary is important, they also want to hire people who are passionate about what their organisation does, and who will contribute to the company culture.
  • It gives you time to break the ice: talking money is always a little awkward, even when everyone there knows it needs to be done. By leaving this conversation to the end of the interview, you’ll all have had the opportunity to get to know each other a bit, meaning you can slide this question in more comfortably.

However, perhaps the most important reason to leave this question until late in the interview is that there’s a good chance that the employer will ask it themselves. This takes a bit of the pressure off you, but still allows the conversation to be had.

You'll want to do your research prior to talking salary.

How to talk about salary in a job interview

Regardless of who brings the topic up, there are a few golden rules when talking about salary in a job interview:

1. Don’t negotiate until you have an offer

Let’s say you’ve asked the interviewer what the starting salary is for the role you’ve applied for. If they reply with a figure lower than you were hoping for, this isn’t the time for a negotiation. At this point in time, you’d be dealing in hypotheticals anyway, as they haven’t offered you the role, and this is likely to make them think that you might just be in it for the money. What’s more, you want to keep your cards close to your chest for now, so that you can negotiate properly when you’re offered the job. Don’t give away too much too soon.

2. Know your facts and figures

Never enter into one of these conversations without a good grasp of what roles like this are normally paid. This means doing your research on what average salaries are for your industry, role and experience level. A good place to start is by using online salary guides to get a gauge of the current market.

3. Know your ‘walkaway salary’

As Kenny Rogers so wisely sang: “You gotta know when to walk away, and know when to run.”. While he may have been referring to poker, the same logic applies here. You need to decide what would be the minimum salary you’d accept for the role ahead of time, and stick to this.

The reason this is important is because if the company isn’t prepared to compensate you at a level that you think is fair for the skills and experience you’ll provide, you’re likely to start resenting them in the long run. So if, when you ask the question, the interviewer responds with: “The absolute maximum we could pay for this role is $65,000,” and your minimum is $70,000, you know this probably isn’t going to work out.

4. Talk in ranges

While you’ll likely have precise numbers in your head for your desired salary and walkaway salary, it’s best to talk in ranges when discussing pay with an interviewer. Chances are, they’ll be doing the same when providing the company’s perspective, and this can be an easier way of working out if you’re on roughly the same page as each other.

5. Mention other perks

It’s always a good idea to find out about other perks the company might offer to its employees. In some instances, these might have quite high monetary values, for example a paid parking spot or health insurance benefits. Having this information will help you make an overall decision on whether the combined package that might be offered to you is something that you’d be happy with.

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