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How To Ask An Employer The Tough Questions In A Job Interview

Confident businesswoman holding an interview with a female professional

“So… how much does it pay?” 

When you’ve made it to the interview stage with a company, it’s 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.  

From salary to vacation time to relocation expenses, there are some need-to-know pieces of information that will factor into whether you accept a job offer. 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. 

How To Ask About Salary

First things first: the money question

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 definitely going to go through multiple rounds of 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. With regards to timing, leave the subject for the end of the interview when it’s your turn for questions (unless, of course, the interviewer brings it up first). 

With regards to wording, try the following. 

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 be wondering 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.
Related: How to Negotiate a Job Offer

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, for example, it could end up costing 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., it doesn’t mean those are the same hours employees work. At some companies, everyone clocks out at 5 on the dot, while at others it’s expected that you’ll be at your desk into the evening. These are the two extremes, of course. For most companies, the norm will fall somewhere in between. 

Ask about it by phrasing your question this way: “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. 

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 it’s 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. 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’s going to 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. 

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. A laugh and a “what work-life balance?!” for example, 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. 

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. Have a read of their Glassdoor reviews (and take both the highly critical and highly complementary ones with a grain of salt).