When can we talk about salary?

No matter how many times you’ve gone through the interview process, deciding how or when to ask (or indeed whether to ask at all) for salary details can be extremely difficult; for some, it’s even a little awkward. Ideally, a company will include their salary offer on the job advert or job description, but in recent times, this is something that a significant number of organisations are choosing not to do. This could be for a number of reasons: (1) they may not want information like this available to be made public (i.e. online); or (2) they may be trying to get away with underpaying and undervaluing talent.

Either way, candidates can feel confident that asking about salary during the interview process is largely accepted, with research showing that almost 80% of executives are happy to answer salary-related questions during interviews, before a job offer has been made. Human resources consulting firm, Robert Half, found that 31% of the managers they surveyed believe that it is acceptable for candidates to ask about pay in their first interview; another 38% believe it to be acceptable in the second interview; and 9% are even happy to answer these questions during phone interviews.

Paul McDonald, senior executive director at Robert Half, is a big believer in candidates asking about salary during an interview, so long as it is done professionally and strategically: “Don’t concentrate on salary alone,” McDonald advises. “What is this position going to do for your career? Are you learning skills that will be on the cutting edge of your profession? Does the company have a nice track record of promotion and movement from the position that you are interviewing for? There’s so much to discuss.” Focusing solely on potential earnings could, rightly or wrongly, indicate that a candidate is only concerned with money. Most executives don’t want to employ someone who is only motivated by money (unless, perhaps, you’re in the sales field). Most companies want to employ an all-rounder: someone who is ambitious (this includes being financially ambitious), someone who is passionate and full of potential.

Employment agency, Reed, offers some safe advice on their website: “First thing’s first: there are no set rules on talking about salary within an interview. It’s all about gauging the situation, and approaching the subject with caution. To make sure you don’t bring it up at a time when it won’t be well-received, use aspects like the interviewer’s approach, and the intensity of the questions you’re being asked, to figure out whether money is a good topic of conversation.“ The piece then goes on to say that if you know there will be a second interview, it might be best to have the discussion then. By this point, the interviewer knows the candidate a little better and has had time to evaluate whether or not they would like to employ this person. In a situation like this, they are less likely to be thrown by a discussion about money.

For candidates, there are some other benefits to holding off the conversation, including the extra time that it gives applicants to go away and research average salaries in that field and role, providing them with invaluable knowledge for negotiations. But refusing to discuss salary expectations in those first few meetings could have negative consequences for everybody involved. If the hiring executive and candidate are on completely different pages regarding salary, there is the potential for a lot of time-wasting. Discussing this right at the beginning could be helpful for both parties.

Another consideration is that this conversation has to happen at one point – why not sooner rather than later? The hiring process has changed dramatically, so that it is no longer a process that spans over a number of weeks. If hiring managers are too slow and reluctant to give out crucial information, talent may simply move on to the next opportunity. The rise of social media and the importance of networking means that HR executives and hiring managers no longer hold all the cards.

In the end, each company will have a different strategy for tackling this issue – and there is no right or wrong decision. Executives might prefer to keep information like salary private, but it might be useful to consider the benefits of releasing some figures – if not at the very beginning of the hiring process (in the job description), then at least at some point in the interview stage. This can allow candidates to decide for themselves whether they are a good match for the role – saving the company’s time and resources.

Iimaan Shayma (6 Posts)

Cambridge University graduate and professional career sector writer.

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