Does the salary question belong in a first interview?

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Nearly all candidates look forward to the day when they will have a chance to speak face-to-face with a hiring manager at their dream company. Likewise, human resource professionals enjoy meeting new candidates who may be the perfect fit for their company goals. Yet, the one thing that’s common with both sides of the hiring desk is nervousness over what interview questions are appropriate to ask in a first interview.

Is the salary question appropriate for employers to bring up in a first interview?

Why First Interviews are Like First Dates

First interviews are a lot like dating. A candidate browses job advertisements for weeks looking for a dream job…finally finding your company profile among a list of others on a friendly career directory. After reading through the description of the company and the job at hand, he or she decides to pursue things further by submitting a resume. The recruitment team then reviews this profile, decides if the candidate is worth getting to know further, then an invitation to connect takes place. The first meeting is set up, both parties anxiously anticipating what it will be like.

As a seasoned HR or recruitment pro, you are likely to have experienced many of these “first dates” with candidates. Oftentimes, you’ve prepared a set of questions which you’ve grown to rely on as a way to understand the value of each candidate. These questions help you to understand if a candidate may be a good fit for the assignment and your corporate culture, or not.

Much like the way a single person will decide if a new mate is worth pursuing for the long-term, a first interview can provide a glimpse of what a candidate may offer in terms of return on staffing investment.

Remember, the actual purpose of a first interview is to gather as much information as possible about the candidate, from their career background and credentials to the way in which they behave and perform in certain job situations. It’s also a time to determine if a second interview is warranted or not, based upon the way this first interview has gone. Asking the salary question is generally on a case-by-case basis, according to a vast majority of HR professionals.

Achieving Recruitment Success by Attracting the Best Candidates

From a business standpoint, the overall goal in a recruitment strategy is to attract and secure the best candidate who can bring superior skills to the table, as a benefit to your organizational growth. Yet, without talking about salary and other compensation offerings, how can you accomplish this when an amazing candidate walks through your doors?

To better understand if and when to bring up the subject of salary in the first interview, here are some ways to manage this from the employer side.


  1. Know what salary is fair given the industry and job requirements. Each job has its own set of unique attributes, including those of the industry your company is involved in, the assignment requirements, and the skills of the role itself. You can get a much better picture of a fair salary offering by doing your research before advertising for the job opening. Conduct a thorough salary and compensation survey so you have some reasonable talking points for any subsequent interviews.
  2. Add a salary range in the job advertisement itself. One way to make the salary question more productive is to list a general salary range in the actual job advertisement itself. In this way, you know that the candidates who have applied are willing to work for the salary you are offering. You will have a better chance of finding a candidate who has a certain level of earnings expectation walking in, instead of engaging in heavy negotiations with a demanding candidate.
  3. Ask the salary question in the application process. An employer can also make things more streamlined by pre-screening candidates during the application process. Add a question about the salary requirements of each candidate within your online application system, then weed out candidates who are looking for outrageous salary ranges your company cannot support.
  4. Have a generous compensation and benefits program. Very often, salary can be gently introduced by sharing an overview of all the benefits and compensation that is offered to employees. This can be organized into a single list, handed to the candidate during the first interview to look over. Or you may decide to use this as part of a candidate introductory presentation. Either way, it’s important to explain to all candidates all the tangible and non-tangible benefits of working for your company.
  5. Ask the salary question only if a candidate has indicated that this is critical issue. Some candidates may bring up the topic of salary and compensation during the first interview, even though it is still viewed as a taboo topic. However, this is an indicator that they are weighing your opportunity with others, so you will want to share a little more information at this point. You may simply ask “what kind of salary range are you looking for?”, then let the candidate know if your company is within that range.

Salary and compensation offerings can be the main selling point with some candidates, therefore it must be handled carefully. If you sense that the candidate is worth your time, you can then decide if you want to bring this up in the first interview, or if it’s better discussed in a follow-up interview. Prepare yourself as a recruiter by understanding industry rates, and then offering salaries and benefits that can help your business attract and retain the best employees.

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