When to Ask About Salary

Imagine this scenario. You have a number of openings, some for senior positions. Maybe you even work for a large company that’s highly attractive for potential candidates. To manage the phone screens and interviews, you send out a pre-interview set of questions. There’s a variety of questions, and the last one is about salary.Stop right there. Do not ask the salary question. Ok, maybe you can ask it of someone with up to 5-8 years of experience. Do not ask the question of an almost-senior person, and certainly not a senior-level person.Here’s why. The senior candidate has compensation in many forms: money and stock are just two obvious forms. More senior people may have more freedom to set strategy, both for their domain and for the business itself. They may have learning opportunities that are not obviously covered in compensation. They might have specific time off or the option to take more vacation. Maybe they get to fly business class for flights of a certain duration. (I do; I wouldn’t consider a job that made me fly coach over an ocean.) But senior people are not going to make these demands at the beginning of a salary negotiation. They want to discuss the context of the job with you, before they start asking.If you ask the salary question before you’ve built rapport in a phone screen or in an interview, you’re telling the potential candidate, “We want to save money on your position.” Of course you do. But do you want to save money before you know what the candidate has to offer?Be smart. Save the salary question for a real-time conversation with a technical hiring manager or a technical person. Too often, the HR folks don’t know the value of all the compensation pieces; just the cost.Salary is a complex issue the more senior the candidate. Don’t make it an elimination question for a senior person, unless you really do mean to eliminate people based on salary. And, if you need to make it an elimination question, why are you looking for someone senior?

2 Replies to “When to Ask About Salary”

  1. To be honest, Johanna, I somewhat appreciate the salary screening question – there’s a problem *I* normally have that perhaps your expertise could shed some light on?
    There have been a couple of times now that I have been interviewed by companies, in a three-interview process where the very tail end of the discussion was literally something like this:
    “So, it looks like you’re an amazing fit and we’d like you to start as soon as possible. What sort of salary are we looking at?”
    Justice: “[dollar value]”
    Interviewer: (awkward silence for a second) “Well, our budget only allows for [much, *much* less than that amount]. Is that okay?”
    Justice: “Well, the current rate for my peers is actually slightly *above* what I just quoted you, so as much as I like your opportunity I can’t really come for much less.”
    Interviewer: “Er, okay, we’ll talk about this with HR and give you a call.”
    Now, here’s my problem:
    I’m relatively highly paid in my field, to the point that spending 6 hours in interviews (when you take into account my rate) is a fairly significant amount of money to me. I really don’t want to be wasting my time with a company that isn’t going to be able to pay, especially if the interview process is 6 hours long! đŸ˜‰
    Any ideas on how to broach this topic with some prospective employers?

  2. It all comes down to negotiation I believe, and the issue of salary can be a minefield. However as and when possible some sort of salary range or parameter should be provided even before the interview process, in order to avoid wasting time for busy professionals, as in the case Justice~! Payroll Hamilton

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