Go Ahead and Ask about Salary

Arm Wrestling Over SalaryI’m revising my advice about when to bring up the subject of salary. It used to be wait until the job offer was extended, or until the potential employer brought the subject up.

This advice was based on a couple of key assumptions:

1.  You disclosed your salary history during the online application process.

2.  Job titles were more standardized and industries not as specialized.

3.  Hiring managers had more flexibility with salary offers.

But the job market has shifted. These assumptions don’t hold true anymore. Waiting to discuss salary isn’t always the best strategy. Here’s why:

Smaller companies, where many new job opportunities exist, aren’t using ATS (applicant tracking systems) because they recruit more informally – send a cover letter (and maybe a writing sample) and your resume. In this case, the potential employer isn’t asking about and has has no idea what your salary history is. (You do know that companies use salary history to help them screen out candidates, right?) If they didn’t have a salary range listed in their job ad, you’re swimming in some murky water here.

Is it appropriate, if you’re contacted for an interview, to inquire about the salary range? Absolutely. If you can’t accept a job making $40K and that’s what the job pays, a hiring manager/ recruiter would rather know that up front than waste time bringing you through the hiring process and then not be able to hire you because of your salary expectations. If salary really doesn’t matter to you (and be brutally honest with yourself here), you can wait to have this conversation.

Have you seen a job title where you had no clue what it meant? Digital asset coordinator, for example? Depending on your familiarity with this position, you might be able to guess a salary range within $10K. The ugly truth is that over–compensation and under-compensation are pretty common in any industry. You probably assume you fall into the latter category, but compared to similar positions outside your industry, your compensation might be higher than average.

Job titles are really lousy for gauging salary. Don’t assume if a position is listed without a salary range it is going to pay what you’d expect in terms of fair compensation. There’s just too much variance in salary ranges. Ask the question. Upfront. Don’t wait for the hiring manager to bring up the subject or ask you about your salary expectations. I’m not saying hiring managers are clueless about this, but many of them think their opportunity is so fantastic; the low salary they’re offering shouldn’t deter you.

Contributing to over/under compensation issue was the latitude given to hiring managers in deciding starting salaries and awarding raises. During a job seeker market, where talent is short and jobs are plentiful, many hiring managers would offer generous starting salaries or raises just to get people on board/keep them on board. But the pendulum has swung and hiring managers rarely have this flexibility. In general, organizations have adopted compensation strategies with fairly strict salary ranges. Positions are “classified” and salaries set accordingly. The advice used to be “get them to really like you and they’ll find the money to pay you want you want.” Notsomuch. Don’t assume the hiring manager can boost the salary if there’s a large gap between the salary range and your expectations.

Is it a breach of etiquette to ask about salary? Probably to some. Norms and behavior standards evolve based on lots of different factors. Don’t get caught up in an old-school practice that might not serve you. Being direct and upfront isn’t vulgar when done respectfully. It’s smart and illustrates and understanding of the hiring and salary negotiation process.

Here are some concrete ways to address the salary question:

  1. “Before we get too far along, may I ask you what the salary range is for this position?”
  2. “Just to make sure we’re on the same page, can you share the salary range for this position?”
  3. “So there aren’t any surprises later on, can you tell me if this position falls within the $xx to $xx range?”

What’s been your experience in negotiating for a salary? Do you bring it up early on, or wait for the end? I’d love to hear your comments…