When Should We Ask About Salary During A Job Interview?

interview tips

When do you think is the appropriate point of time to ask for information about the compensation package during a job interview? To be honest, this question never crossed my mind until I became a recruiter.

Recently, I read a piece of news entitled ‘This Woman’s Job Interview Was Cancelled Because She Asked How Much She’d Be Paid’ . I found this interesting and given that the topic seems relevant to job seekers today, I believe that it is important to share my thought on this issue.

First of all, I hold the view that asking about salary information before accepting a job offer is absolutely valid and reasonable. In fact, salary is one of the factors that many would consider as crucial when they are planning to make a career move. As much as we are motivated to work for a purpose or to make a meaningful contribution, we still require money for livelihood and to sustain our living. I believe this is an undisputable fact. However, the issue here is principally to do with timing; when is the right moment to ask about compensation during the interview stage? What are the implications of asking this question at an inappropriate point of time?

When to ask for salary information

The answer to this depends on how you came across the job opportunity in the first place.

In the event that you are approached by a recruiter/head hunter to explore a job opening, you may ask the recruiter about the salary budget of this role before you even agree to send your CV to him/her, assuming that in most scenarios, the recruiter would not know your expected salary and you won’t want to waste everyone’s time if the salary budget of the job does not match your expected salary. As long as you make your intentions clear to the recruiter before you ask this question, I think it should be fine. Anyhow, an experienced recruiter would take the initiative to check whether your expected salary is within the budgeted salary for a particular role before proceeding to recommend you to the potential employer.

Therefore, it is not difficult to ascertain when to ask the question on salary when you are dealing with a recruiter. In fact, this is one of the advantages of dealing with a recruiter in job hunting.

On the other hand, in the event that you apply for a job directly on your own or you are recommended by recruiter and have been shortlisted to attend an interview directly with the potential employer, when would be the right time to raise the question regarding salary package?

The short answer to the question is – you don’t raise the question of salary until the potential employer raises it, especially when you have informed the recruiter of your expected salary or you have stated your expected salary on the employment application form or on your CV, in which case, the potential employer is already well-informed of your expectations in terms of remuneration.

The logic behind this answer is that your expected salary is also one of the crucial information which an employer needs to know before hiring you. In view of this, if the potential employer does not discuss your expected salary with you during the interview, there are 3 possibilities as to why:

1. They may not be keen to hire you so they don’t need to discuss this with you at all. If this is the case, then they don’t need to bother to ask;
2. They are keen to hire you but would prefer to discuss this with you via the recruiter; or
3. They are keen to hire you but they already know your expected salary based on the information given by the recruiter and/or on your application form or CV.

Implications of asking about salary at a premature stage

This depends on how early you raise the question about salary. Below are several possible scenarios:

1. Asking the question about salary when you first meet the potential employer even before any discussion about the job takes place– this is a big NO NO. This clearly shows that your only motivation to apply for the job is money and nothing else other than money. If money is the only motivational factor, it is reasonable to assume that you will quickly move on to another job whenever you are offered a higher pay. Employers are not keen to hire this kind of employee as job-hopping disrupts the work productivity in a company.

No doubt, as mentioned, money is one of the most important factors which motivates us in our working life. However, when it becomes the only motivating factor to join a company, it may not be good for the development of your career too.

In addition, such action also reflects that you are simply too blunt and lack the ability to assess when to ask or to say something and when to wait for a more appropriate moment. This weakness is harmful to a team. I am sure you have come across such a person in your working life who in fact may be a kind person without bad intentions, but are just somehow rather thoughtless and annoying when they open their mouths.

2. Asking about salary after discussing the job, but before the potential employer raises the issue – as mentioned above, though it seems premature to ask, sometimes it may still be regarded as acceptable by some employers.

If an employer would get annoyed by this question after having discussed the job scope, even going to the extent of canceling the second interview on the assumption that you are too money-minded, this reflects that the potential employer is rather judgmental. In this case, you need to think twice before accepting any job offer from such an employer.

In conclusion, I always advise my candidates not to raise the question of salary before the employer raises it, since asking such a question at an inappropriate time may ruin the first impression that the potential employer has formed on you. Just like before when a boyfriend proposes to a girlfriend, if the girl’s first response is to ask him the amount of monthly living allowance that he can provide her after their marriage, I guess the boyfriend may really end up thinking twice if he should marry the girl after all.

Instead, during a job interview, you should take the opportunity to focus on discussing and understanding the role, the expectations of the employer, career prospects, and the company culture and direction, as these are more crucial information that you will need before you make an informed decision on whether or not to move to a new job.

About the author:

Eddie Law is a lawyer turns legal career adviser. He is currently the managing director of eLawyer Recruitment which specialises in helping lawyers to secure jobs in both law firms and corporations. eLawyer has more than 8,000 registered members (and still counting).  Eddie was described by Malaysian SME newspaper as a person who set the benchmark of legal recruitment industry in Malaysia. Eddie is passionate and generous about sharing his thoughts and experience on legal career related issues with young and potential lawyers, giving insight views of the career path of a lawyer, inspiring lawyers to excel in their profession, harness their leadership skill and personal growth. To-date, Eddie has spoken at Kuala Lumpur Bar, both public and private universities and appeared in numerous conferences, local radio stations, newspapers and online TV.

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