When to bring up salary during the job interview process

Is now a good time?
Is now a good time?
Image: Reuters/Toru Hanai
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Q: When should I talk about salary during the hiring process with a prospective employer?

Dear Cashing Out,

Money is an awkward topic of conversation for many professionals—even more so when you’re busy trying to make a positive impression on a prospective employer. Luckily, following a few simple guidelines can help you make sure the numbers add up without coming across like you’re all about the bottom line.

For starters, the focus early in the interviewing process should be on building awareness and relationships, and convincing employers that you’re the right person for the job. While courting them, keep the focus on making a good impression. If you shift the focus of conversation to finances and away from your key selling points before others have bought into the concept of you coming on board, you run the risk of spooking prospective employers, who may feel that the cart is being put before the horse, or risk pricing yourself out of an opportunity before you’ve had a chance to make a compelling case for yourself. It’s wiser to wait to broach the subject of money until you’ve had a chance to set yourself apart from other job seekers and line up some allies and advocates.

Once you’ve had a minimum of a couple interviews, and received signs that the company is interested (inquiries about references, start dates, and future interviews with specific higher-ups can be helpful indicators), you can begin to bring up the subject of money. Even then, it should be considered a secondary topic of conversation. More important during this phase of the hiring process is to convince potential employers that you’re excited about the role and opportunity, and motivated by factors other than cold, hard cash. Now is a good time to talk about the responsibilities that might come with the position, types of projects you’d be contributing to, opportunities for growth inside the organization, etc. Having  established your genuine interest in the role and firm, you can then transition into discussions about salary.

A helpful way to broach the subject is to ask several questions about the position you’ve applied for, such as who you’d be working with, and on what kind of schedule, making compensation just one of many subjects of discussion on the list. Alternately, you can wait until the employer takes the lead and floats either the topic or a specific number. Do be prepared prior to all interviews, however. You should have a preferred salary range in mind (online searches, compensation reports, surveys, and discussions with peers can all help in your research) so that you’re ready to dive in no matter when the subject gets raised.

Likewise, be prepared to negotiate: It’s important to do your homework so you know the facts up front and don’t price yourself too low or out of an opportunity altogether. Demonstrate a willingness to be flexible and be prepared to stick to your guns. Knowing what you’re worth; being able to talk specifics in terms of your strengths, skills, and experience; having facts at-hand that definitively demonstrate the benefits that you bring to the table—all of these are things that can help you command greater value.

And remember, from better benefits to more flexible work hours and greater learning opportunities, there are many ways to structure a package that works for you, even if you’re offered a lower starting salary than you were hoping for. And before you pull the trigger and accept a job offer, make sure to get anything you’ve negotiated in writing.

Granted, money isn’t everything when it comes to building a fulfilling career. But by applying a little more strategy to the hiring process, you can help get the question of dollars to make more sense for all parties involved.

Scott Steinberg is the author of The Business Etiquette Bible.

Do you have a workplace etiquette question? Submit it to Scott by emailing work@qz.com.