When Is the Best Time to Talk Salary During the Interview Process?

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In a perfect world, employers would list salary ranges in job ads. Here in our imperfect world, well, things usually work pretty differently.

“Employers who play coy on salary — including employers who do pay competitive salaries — will often tell you that it’s because everyone assumes they should be at the top of the pay scale and then they get upset or disappointed when that’s not where their offer is,” writes Alison Green at Ask a Manager.

She adds: “Of course, the answer to this isn’t to play silly games where you refuse to give candidates any information at all, even after they’ve applied and you can see from their application where they’d fall in your range … but that’s what ends up happening a lot of the time anyway.”

If you’ve been around the block a couple times, job-search wise, this probably won’t come as a shock. But it does put you in a tricky spot: you know that the employer probably won’t volunteer their budget, but you don’t want to waste your time on a job that won’t pay appropriately.

So, when’s the right time to bring it up? Keep these guidelines in mind:

1. Don’t discuss it during the initial phone screen unless the hiring manager brings it up first.

Yes, this is frustrating, because it means that you might wind up sinking time and energy into the process, only to find out that your expectations are out of sync with their range. But it’s also necessary.

“The goal in an interview is to convince the company that you are the best person for the job,” says Susan Peppercorn, CEO of career coaching firm Positive Workplace Partners, in an interview with CareerBuilder. “By bringing up salary before this happens, the job seeker runs the risk of making money the focal point of the conversation rather than their fit for the job.”

The good news is that many hiring managers and recruiters will bring up salary ranges during a phone interview. They don’t want to waste their time any more than you do.

If that happens, it’s essential to remember that your salary range should be based on the market rate for the job and the value of your skills, education and experience — not your current salary. You can get a free salary report in less than 10 minutes by taking PayScale’s Salary Survey.

2. Wait until the salary negotiation phase — meaning, after you have an offer in hand.

“You would never meet someone for the first time and immediately lean in for a kiss,” writes Andrea Sobel at The Ladders. “In the same way, the salary discussion is much more appropriate once the company has ‘fallen in love’ with you.”

Holding off on the salary discussion also allows you to get specifics on the job and the duties involved. Job titles can be misleading: it may be that the actual job description involves duties that require more valuable skills and expertise. Allow yourself to be boxed in too early, and you could wind up bound to a much lower salary than you deserve, given the role.

3. Focus on what’s important. (Hint: not your salary history.)

It’s an unfortunate fact that many hiring managers still ask about salary history during the interview process. Even more unfortunate: depending on who are you, it might make sense to reveal your past pay, even if it was below market.

PayScale’s data show that women who decline to disclose salary history earn 1.8 percent less than women who share that information. Men, on the other hand, earn more if they play their cards close to their chest.

Whether you choose to share your salary history or not, your offer shouldn’t be based on what you earned at another job, for another employer. Steer the conversation back to what matters, and focus on negotiating the right pay for the job under discussion.

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