Broaching the Salary Issue

Liz Ryan

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Everyone has heard that you don’t ask about salary on the first interview for a job.

In the best case, you don’t ask about it at all, because the interviewer brings it up, on the second interview. He or she will most likely say, “We should make sure we're in the same ballpark compensation-wise. " But what if that doesn’t happen?

If you have interviewed twice - the interviews are done, and you’ve left the building - and no one has said a word about what the job is paying, that’s not great. It means that the company is happy to use up your time without bothering to check in to see whether you’ll be interested in taking the job if you get an offer. What if you spend all this time interviewing, and the job pays ten thousand dollars less per year than you’d be willing to take?

When you get a phone call, inviting you back for a third interview (meaning that you’ve been to two interviews already and salary hasn’t come up - and I’m talking about two separate visits to the company, not including a previous headhunter interviewer), speak up.

When the hiring manager, internal recruiter, or search consultant calls, or emails you, to say “We’d love to schedule a third interview, ” say this (or write it in a return email message):

“That sounds great! I am very interested in the position - or, I should say, I think I am interested. I realized after the last meeting that we hadn’t talked about compensation yet. Shall we do that now?”

If the person who calls you, or writes you, isn’t a person who has the authority to talk with you about compensation (or if he or she simply chooses not to), suggest that this person get in touch with someone who can clarify the position’s salary range with you. Without delivering an ultimatum, you want to communicate this:

You’ve had me in to your building for two separate interviews already. Before we do a third one, I need to know whether pursuing this job is worth my time. Before I come in for a third visit, what’s the salary range?

It may happen that the person who’s trying to schedule Interview Number Three says to you, “that topic is on the agenda for the meeting we’re scheduling now. ” You can suggest that you'd hate to waste the company's time, and ask to have the hiring manager call you to chat further before scheduling another interview. Or, you can say, “Terrific. Who will be covering that topic with me?” Get a name. Then go ahead and schedule that third interview, and when you meet the person who's supposed to cover the compensation issue with you, politely bring up the subject within the first ten minutes.

It’s unprofessional of an employer to you to assume that you’ll stay in the process indefinitely, without knowing whether the compensation the company is offering is anywhere near what you require. And while you don't want to broach the subject before it's time, you also don't want to go too far down the pike without determining whether you and the employer are on the same page.

Liz Ryan is a former Fortune 500 HR executive, a workplace expert and the CEO of WorldWIT, the global online community for professional women. Liz lives in Boulder, Colorado. (


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