Interviewing for a New Job? When to Bring Up Compensation

A young woman sitting across the table from a man in an office for a job interview.

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Here's when it is and isn't appropriate to talk salary in today's job market.


Key points

  • Many people have quit their jobs during the pandemic and are seeking new ones.
  • It's important not to bring up the topic of pay too early in the course of interviewing for a job.

Chances are, you've heard the term "Great Resignation" in the news lately. It refers to the record number of people who have quit their jobs in the course of the pandemic. And while some members of the workforce may be opting out of a job temporarily or choosing to retire early, others are quitting their jobs in hopes of finding a better role.

Of course, there are different interpretations of what constitutes a better job. For some, it means more interesting work and more upward mobility. For others, it means the chance to earn more money.

But that begs the question: At what point during the interview process is it okay to talk salary? Here's what you need to know.

Striking a balance with salary talk

In years past, job candidates were often told not to bring up the topic of salary until their prospective employers brought it up. But in today's labor market, job applicants have a bit more leeway. The reason? Many industries are grappling with labor shortages and are struggling to meet their hiring needs. In an effort to not waste anyone's time, it could make sense to bring up salary a bit sooner than usual.

So what does that mean? As a general rule, you shouldn't introduce the topic of compensation during an initial interview or phone screen. At that stage, a company is merely getting to know you and determining whether you're a viable candidate. It's generally too soon to ask what you'll be paid.

But once you make it to a second interview, it may be more acceptable to bring up the topic of salary. At that point, the company in question has expressed a clear interest in pursuing you as a job candidate. You shouldn't feel awkward about bringing up salary to make sure everyone is on the same page.

That said, you'll want to broach the topic respectfully. For one thing, don't make it the first point that comes out of your mouth during that second interview. Instead, answer all the questions you're asked. Then, if your interviewer asks you if you have any questions (which they'll likely do at the end of that discussion), you can bring up compensation politely -- especially if your interviewer indicates you should expect a call for a third or follow-up interview.

You can phrase your inquiry as follows. "I'm really interested in pursuing a job opportunity here. Before we go any further, I think it'll help to make sure we're on the same page compensation-wise. What are your thoughts there?"

Now, your interviewer may or may not be in a position to answer that question. But that way, you've put the topic out there. And chances are, you'll have your questions answered by someone at the company before your next interview.

Look at the whole compensation package

You may have a specific salary in mind in the course of pursuing a new job -- one that allows you to pay your bills comfortably and have enough money left over to pad your savings and meet other financial goals. But keep in mind that the salary you're offered is only one part of your total compensation package.

You may be looking for a $60,000 salary. And if you're told the company is looking to pay between $55,000 and $57,000, you may be tempted to drop out of the interview process. But if your $55,000-to-$57,000 salary comes with stellar benefits, like health insurance that's 100% subsidized by your employer, free money for your retirement savings, and lots of paid time off, then it may be worth it to take a salary that's a bit lower than you were hoping for.

Finally, remember that you can always negotiate a salary offer that falls short of your expectations. Many companies today are pretty desperate to hire, so you may have more wiggle room than usual. And if you go in with salary data you've researched in support of a higher wage, you'll have a greater chance of getting the number you want.

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