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When Is the Best Time to Talk Salary During Job Interviews?

When Is the Best Time to Talk Salary During Job Interviews?


By Dr. Marie Gould Harper
Program Director, Management at American Public University

During the past couple of years, there has been much chatter about salary discussions during the interview process. Two prominent questions are: When should you discuss wages and how much information should you divulge about your salary?

The old-school model says you do not bring up the topic until the very end of the interview, and you wait until the hiring manager brings it up. However, the new model suggests you should initiate the conversation about salary at the beginning of the second interview.

How Much Information Should You Divulge about Your Salary?

During the early years of my career, like others, I dreaded that question. Talking about salary is as sensitive as conducting a performance appraisal.

I’m not quite sure why money is an uncomfortable topic, but I have some ideas. For example, many people do not like to discuss their past and present salaries, because they don’t want a potential employer to pigeonhole them into a category.

Unfortunately, being uncomfortable discussing salary goals can cause you to shortchange yourself. Some companies will offer you what you think you are worth. If you have not done your homework, you might be offered a salary that is below the market rate.

There are still companies with hiring managers and HR professionals who will offer you the lowest salary possible to save the company money. Do not assume they will offer you the “going rate.”

Another topic of debate is whether or not you should supply your salary history during an interview. My opinion is the answer depends on the individual. It’s a personal choice.

For example, if you are in need of a job, you may want to provide salary information because you don’t want to pass up any employment opportunities. However, if you are a passive job applicant, you can be more selective and get the information you need before making your decision.

Some Hiring Managers Insist on Learning Your Salary History

One of my mentees changed jobs because she needed a flexible position that would allow her to care for her terminally ill mother. However, once her mother passed away, she sought another job with a salary more in line with the market rate.

She encountered some HR professionals/hiring managers who insisted on having her salary history. They offered her a starting salary more in line with her most recent compensation package. She kindly declined those positions because they did not meet her financial needs.

If you think about it, how does your salary history correlate to your future job performance? Why do companies need to know your salary history other than to have an idea of what you settled for in the past?

Think about it. Do you want or need to work for a company that wants to “secure” you at the cheapest bargain rate? What does that tell you about the culture of the organization?

Massachusetts recently passed legislation making it illegal to ask for a person’s salary history before offering the applicant a job. Hiring managers are required to state a salary range up front.

Some companies already embrace this practice. As Massachusetts State Senator Pat Jehlen said in a recent New York Times article, “Very few businesses consciously discriminate, but they need to be aware of it.”

The legislation is an opportunity to “assist” companies in doing the right thing. You get what you pay for, and high-performing candidates tend to know their worth.

The law was introduced as an equal pay initiative to close the wage gap between men and women. Historically, men have made more money than women performing the same duties. Over time, women and minorities have earned lower wages and salaries that followed them throughout their careers. Asking for your salary history supports this type of systematic discrimination in earnings.

Steps to Protect You from Derailing Your Salary Potential

As a former human resources executive, I think of salary as similar to the performance appraisal process. Most people are uncomfortable discussing their pay and their performance, in part because their responses can determine whether or not they move along for consideration.

How can you handle such a delicate matter? Do your homework so you are prepared to discuss money. In other words, talk about salary with confidence by knowing what you want. What are the first steps?

  • Search job boards to see if you can find similar jobs with salary information.
  • Find websites such as salary.com or bls.gov. Learn salary ranges by providing information on job titles and job locations.
  • Go to a designated company’s website to see if you can find salary information on any open or archived jobs.
  • Research the salary ranges in the geographic regions you’re targeting.
  • Do your homework by comparing the tangible and intangible costs of taking a position.
  • Network with professional associations in your field to see if they can provide salary ranges for you.

I have had headhunters contact me because they believed they had the ideal position for the next step in my career. There were three problems with those offers:

  • The positions were ones they would take if they were in my situation.
  • They assumed that my career aspirations were based on a career ladder established by the industry.
  • There was an assumption that an increase in base salary and a job title were sufficient to entice me to leave my current employer.

These issues could have been alleviated if the headhunters had:

  • Spent time finding out what was important to me and what type of offer I would consider as a legitimate motivator to change positions.
  • Presented an argument that was more holistic versus base salary.

Know what you are worth and what your ideal job pays in your preferred geographic region. Make sure you don’t jump from the frying pan into the fire.

About the Author

Dr. Marie Gould Harper is the Program Director of Management at American Public University. She holds an undergraduate degree in psychology from Wellesley College, a master’s degree in instructional systems from Pennsylvania State University and a doctorate in business from Capella University. She is a progressive coach, facilitator, writer, strategist and human resources/organizational development professional with more than 30 years of leadership, project management and administrative experience. Dr. Gould Harper has worked in both corporate and academic environments.

Dr. Gould Harper is an innovative thinker and strong leader, manifesting people skills, a methodical approach to problems, organizational vision and an ability to inspire followers. She is committed to continuous improvement in organizational effectiveness and human capital development, customer service and the development of future leaders.



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