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How to Ask Questions in an Interview (Pay, Benefits, & Culture)

Female job candidate sitting across from male interviewer asking him questions while he holds her resume

“So… how much does it pay?” Knowing how to ask questions in an interview is vital in showing your interviewer you are interested in the position and to help figure out if this role is right for you.

When you’ve made it to the interview stage with a company, pay is a question that’s no doubt at the top of your mind. If the job listing included a pay range, you’re likely wondering how to ask about salary in a way that narrows it down to an exact figure. If there was no range given in the listing, it’s even more paramount to find out how much it pays sooner rather than later, lest you waste your time or that of the company.  

Some need-to-know pieces of information will factor into whether you accept a job offer, from salary to vacation time to relocation expenses. Asking about them, however, can feel awkward and, when done incorrectly, can position you in a bad light. Here, we’ll discuss the tough questions to ask during job offer negotiation, like how to ask about salary, and share some tips for navigating the conversation with poise and tact. 

What questions should you ask in an interview about the role and company? Check out these questions to ask a hiring manager checklist.

How to ask about salary

Conventional wisdom advises against asking about salary in the first interview; the idea is that you should focus on the problems you can solve for the employer, not what the employer can do for you. This is not bad advice, and if you know you’re going to go through multiple interviews, it is probably better to save the question for the second or third round. 

On the other hand, if you think this is your one chance to talk face-to-face with the hiring manager, or if they’ve given you an indication you’ll be moving forward in the process (like asking how soon you can start), it’s not a faux pas to broach the subject of pay. Additionally, another reason would be if you’re on the fence about the job and the salary will make or break your decision to move forward.

Asking about pay tactfully comes down to two things: your timing and your wording. Regarding timing, leave the subject for the end of the interview when it’s your turn for questions (unless the interviewer brings it up first). 

Tips for wording the money question

If the position included a range and you’re trying to narrow down a number: “The job posting listed a salary range between X and Y. Can you give me an idea of where my skills and background might put me within this range?”

If no range was given: “I’m very excited about the opportunity and what I could bring to the position. Can you give me an idea of the salary range you had in mind for the right candidate?”

Depending on the position, you might also wonder about bonuses and other monetary incentives. If the hiring manager doesn’t cover that in your initial conversation about salary, it’s appropriate to ask for more details in the final round of interviews or once you’ve secured an offer.

Looking for a higher salary, more vacation days, or the ability to work remotely? Learn how to negotiate a job offer here!

How to ask about benefits

Benefits, like health insurance and retirement contribution matching, are frequently cited as the most important factors other than salary when deciding whether to take a job. It’s only practical that they’re among the top questions to ask during job offer negotiation.

A company’s benefits—or lack thereof—indirectly impact your finances (if the company has poor insurance options, it could cost you more out of pocket to pay for healthcare). Further, whether or not a company chooses to invest in these things can tell you a lot about how they view their employees. 

Most employers that offer standard benefits like health, dental, vision and a 401(k) plan will advertise as much in the job listing, so you should have a good idea of what they generally offer. For more granular details, like information on deductibles and open enrollment periods, the time to ask about those things is after you’ve received an offer. 

If you haven’t already been in contact with the company’s HR manager, your best bet is to ask to be connected to that person, who can make sure you get a full summary of the company’s benefits package and answer any specific questions you have. 

How to ask about work hours

Just because a company’s business hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. doesn’t mean those are the same hours employees work. At some companies, everyone clocks out at 5 on the dot, while at others, you’re expected to be at your desk into the evening. These are the two extremes, of course. For most companies, the norm will fall somewhere in between. 

Tips for bringing up hours

“What does a typical schedule look like for someone in this role?” This should prompt the interviewer to talk more about the day-to-day duties that will be expected of you, which should give you an idea about the length of the work day and the office norms around things like working overtime. 

Enroll in Coursera’s free class: Advanced Interviewing Techniques, for additional interview guidance on negotiating your offer and asking questions about the position.

How to ask about upcoming vacation time

It’s unreasonable to put your personal life on hold for the entire time you’re job searching. After all, you never know if finding the perfect role will take a month or a year. 

This means that even if you’re excited about a job opportunity, you’ll probably still be thinking about getting the time off to be a groomsman in your cousin’s upcoming wedding or taking that beach vacation you’ve been looking forward to for months. This is normal and something you can and should bring up before accepting an offer. 

The best time to check in on whether your upcoming plans will be a conflict for your employer is when you begin to discuss your potential start date.

Tips for phrasing PTO questions

Phrase it this way: “I was planning on taking a few days off the week of [Date]. Would this be feasible if I were to start on the day we discussed?”

It’s important to note that while asking about a few days off within the next few months is fine, it will come off as out of touch if you’re hoping to take, say, a two-week European vacation right after starting a new job. You may need to push back your more elaborate vacation plans or shift them from a multi-week trip to a long weekend.  

How to ask about work-life balance

Candidates value work-life balance more than ever, but this can be a tough aspect of a company to decode, even if you pointedly ask about it during your interview.  It is unlikely you will get the full picture from the interviewer’s answer. 

One of our favorite ways to get an accurate read on work-life balance during the interview process is to chat with current employees who aren’t involved in the hiring process. You can do this by making connections on LinkedIn, asking for introductions from mutual acquaintances, or even asking the hiring manager to connect you with a few people you could talk to in the department. 

Techniques for wording and evaluating this question

When you ask this question, pay attention not just to what employees say but how they say it and the body language that goes along with it. For example, a laugh and a “what work-life balance?!” is probably a red flag.

Another super-stealth technique to get a read on work-life balance: if you have a say in your interview time, try to schedule it around the lunch hour. You may be able to observe whether employees are casually strolling out for lunch or gobbling down food while glued to their computer screens.

How to ask about company culture

Like work-life balance, company culture is one of those things about an organization that tends to become clear only after you work there. Still, you can piece together a pretty solid picture of a company’s culture based on how employees describe working there and through your own research. 

Advice for wording workplace culture questions

You can be direct when asking about culture, like this: “How would you describe the culture of [Company name]?” 

Also, look at the company’s social media channels to see what types of content they post and what kind of tone they use. Use Google News to search for recent headlines about the company. Read their Glassdoor reviews (and take both the highly critical and complementary ones with a grain of salt). 

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