Young female professional wearing a pink suit and glasses taking notes about pay with a pen and notepad during job interview

Money can be a touchy subject, but it’s an important one when you’re considering a new job. Even if you come across your dream role, there’s not a very good chance you’ll pursue it if the salary won’t cover your basic expenses like housing and food. Thus, it makes sense that you’d want to find out about compensation before seriously considering any opportunity. 

Asking about pay during a job interview requires tact and subtlety. We’ll explain the do’s and don’ts of bringing up salary and give you some scripts to discuss money before receiving an offer. 

Should you ask about salary during an interview?

The truth is that, historically, asking about pay during a job interview has been frowned upon. The customary advice is to wait until you’ve received a job offer to assess the opportunity and begin negotiating fully. However, this isn’t the best advice for many reasons. 

For starters, times have changed since the days when companies held all the power, and candidates were expected to be grateful just to be considered. With pension plans being largely a thing of the past and the Social Security retirement age getting continuously pushed back, workers bear a much greater responsibility for planning their financial future. It’s no surprise that candidates want hard numbers, and they can factor them into that planning. 

It also makes sense from an efficiency perspective to discuss salary early on in the hiring process. Modern candidates are typically applying for multiple jobs at a time, and having accurate salary information can help them eliminate positions that aren’t a fit for their needs. Companies benefit by avoiding wasted time on candidates who will drop out once they learn about pay. 

Finally, in some states, concealing salary information when hiring has become illegal. Colorado, for example, requires employers to publish compensation or a pay range directly in their job listings. This is helping shift perspectives as more organizations see the value of transparent conversations about wages. 

Why you should ask about pay during an interview

Make an informed decision

As a candidate, you must consider many factors when deciding if a job is right for you. Aside from salary, there’s time off, flexibility, company culture, development opportunities, and more. Asking about pay during the interview process helps you make an informed decision armed with all the facts about the job. 

Respect the company’s resources

In many ways, it’s in a company’s best interest to discuss pay openly with candidates. When candidates are fully aware of the compensation for a role, the company won’t waste time interviewing people with misaligned salary requirements. There’s also a lower risk for bad hires and early resignations as candidates have a clear set of expectations of how they’ll be compensated for their duties. 

Position yourself as a stronger candidate

Asking about salary during a job interview takes a fair amount of guts. If you have the confidence to bring it up and the poise to navigate the conversation successfully, it signals that you’re a candidate who knows their worth and isn’t afraid to advocate for it. This can position you as a more desirable contender for the job. 

Tips for asking about salary during an interview

Wait for the right time

Most organizations have multiple stages in their hiring process, like an initial screening, one or more interviews, pre-hire assessments, background checks, and so on. What you don’t want to do is ask about pay during your first conversation with a prospective employer. You don’t have to wait until you have a job offer in hand, but you should time the conversation for when you have a good idea that they’re interested in hiring you. 

Ask the right person

An HR representative conducting a phone screen may tell you that they don’t know the salary for the position, which could be true. The hiring manager, on the other hand, knows the budget for the job and will be directly involved in the negotiation process, so they’re a good person to ask. A recruiter or headhunter who approaches you about a job will also understand the salary range. 

Prepare for different reactions

Although ideas about wage transparency are shifting, many hiring managers will bristle when asked about pay during an interview. Be ready for this and practice a few responses you might use in different scenarios. Prepare to explain why you want to know the salary–for example, that you want to make an informed and accurate decision about your career–and why you feel you’re worthy of the range you want. Be prepared, also, for them to flip the question back on you and ask how much YOU expect to make (more on this in a minute).

How to ask about pay during an interview

1. Do your homework

The success of this conversation hinges on you coming prepared, so it’s essential to do your homework ahead of time. 

Before the interview, research to gain a firm understanding of the appropriate salary for the position based on the responsibilities, seniority level, location, and amount of competition. These factors, along with similar job posts that advertise a specific salary, should help you come up with a reasonable range.

Find information on industry-standard compensation

Browse our salary data tool to know the current market value for your skills and labor!

2. Know your own salary expectations

As we mentioned above, when you ask about salary, it’s common for an employer to try to get you to name a number first. This puts them in a stronger position to negotiate since you’ve “shown your cards” regarding what you’re looking for. However, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing if you have a realistic number in mind. After all, the negotiation has to start somewhere. 

Be prepared to give a number that’s suitable to you–or better yet, give a narrow range that’s feasible based on your research. Be prepared to explain why you feel you deserve this salary based on your skills, experience, and other strong qualifications.

Need help negotiating? Here are 8 steps to follow when negotiating salary numbers.

3. Be intentional with your language

When asking about pay in an interview, HOW you ask matters. It can make the difference between coming across as someone who’s thoughtfully considering their next career opportunity and someone who’s only concerned about a paycheck. So, be deliberate with the language you use. 

Here are some examples of how to ask an interviewer about salary. 

What is the salary range for this position?

Asking about a salary range rather than a specific figure allows you to get the information you’re looking for without the employer losing their negotiating power. It’s direct yet tactful. Remember, though, that this question is best asked during a second—or third-round interview when they’ve given a clear indication that you’re a preferred candidate for the role. 

After speaking with you, I’m very interested in the job and believe my skills make me a strong candidate. However, before moving forward, I want to make sure we’re aligned on compensation. Do you have a salary in mind?

By leading with your interest in the position, you’re giving the hiring manager peace of mind that if they were to make you an offer, you’d be likely to accept, which is always a plus. You’re also communicating that you respect their time and don’t want to move forward if you’re too far apart on compensation.  

Can you tell me more about the compensation package?

This phrasing gives the employer a chance to sell you on total compensation, including wages, benefits, and perks. Hearing about the full package can make a difference as you weigh your options. For example, you might be more likely to accept a lower salary if the position offers more time off or the option for remote work. 

Asking about salary during your job search can be stressful, but think of it this way: without this crucial piece of information, you risk making a bad career decision. In a worst-case scenario where the pay is bad, and you don’t like the job, you could end up right back in the same boat you’re currently in, job searching once again. So, it’s a conversation worth having before considering moving to the final stages in any company’s hiring process. 

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Pete Newsome is the founder of zengig, which he created after more than two decades in staffing and recruiting. He’s also President of 4 Corner Resources, the Forbes America's Best Staffing and Recruiting Firm he founded in 2005, and is a member of the American Staffing Association and TechServe Alliance. In addition to his passion for staffing, Pete is now committed to zengig becoming the most comprehensive source of expert advice, tools, and resources for career growth and happiness. When he’s not in the office or spending time with his family of six, you can find Pete sharing his career knowledge and expertise through public speaking, writing, and as the host of the Finding Career Zen & Hire Calling podcasts. Connect with Pete on LinkedIn