5 salary questions you must ask during a job interview

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When you’re hunting for a job and are in talks with hiring managers, one topic will always stand out: salary. It’s a loaded subject, so, naturally, there are a ton of questions you should consider asking about it. Here are five key salary questions you should keep in mind during the interview stage of the hiring process.

1. What salary range do you have budgeted for this position?

This is the most basic, useful, and versatile question you can whip out when the salary topic crops up. Not only does it put the onus on the employer to show their hand first, thereby giving you knowledge with which to frame your own asking price around, but it also shows you’re flexible. 

Inquiring about a range shows you’re not married to one particular number and are open to negotiation. Herein lies the importance of semantics. A pro-tip from a Mac’s List article on this subject advises interviewees to be careful with their phraseology. For example, say “compensation” instead of “money,” since the former adds a layer of tact to your otherwise blunt, crassly capitalist question. Little tweaks like this can make all the difference in terms of how your question is perceived and responded to.

You won’t need to ask this question at all if the employer cuts to the chase and clearly states the range they’re able to offer, but in case they want to play coy, have this query at the ready. It beats employers to the punch so they can’t kick off salary discussions with the annoying, loaded question “what’s your expected salary?

2. How is that [salary] number determined?

This is a bit of a trick question, since you’re not actually aiming to hear the hiring manager’s answer in earnest—you’re listening to find out whether they’re toying with you, hence why you should only ask this question if you’re unhappy with the proposed salary range. If you’ve done your research on the job you’re applying for (you should have), then you’ve looked up the general salary range of your potential position at similar companies in order to have a frame of reference. With this knowledge at your disposal, then, the employer’s response to the “how is that number determined?” question should tell you a lot.

If they offer you a number way below market value and try to explain it away by claiming their rates are competitively calculated, it’s possible they’re opportunists looking to trick you into an unappealing marriage. If they’re straight about not having a lot of cash, at least you know they’re honest. And if they say something along the lines of “based on your skills, we feel you’re only worth X amount,” then you know it’s best to look elsewhere for an employer who’ll value you at your actual worth.

3. Are raises or promotions on the table?

Many people go into job interviews hoping to find an employer they click with and can commit to long-term. If you’re one of those people, asking about raises and promotions is important, since the employer’s answer will tell a lot about how fulfilling your future there will be. If the hiring manager or interviewer tells you promotions and raises aren’t the norm, watch out—that’s coded talk for “you’ll be doing the same job at the same salary indefinitely.” Stagnation is never a good thing, especially in regards to careers and finances. So suss out if there’s upward mobility in the role you’re interviewing for and how that’d translate into salary increases.

Lillian Childress, in an advice piece for Glassdoor, the famous online job board, recommends this question as well. Childress sums up its benefits succinctly, stating “this information could tip the balance for an originally unattractive salary offer.” If you see a future for yourself with the company, it’s always good to know whether investing in them long-term will result in your loyalty and skills being rewarded with raises and promotions.

4. Are any aspects of the salary or benefits negotiable?

Depending on how the employer responds to the aforementioned questions, you may need to find out if there’s wiggle room with which to carve out a good starting package for your prospective job. After all, if the initial offer isn’t amazing and the employer stresses raises and promotions are a rarity, you’re going to be stuck with your starting deal for a while—so make it a good one. Ask if any components of the offer can be improved to better suit your needs. 

 

A good way to ask this is to preface your “is there any more money in the well” question with an explanation of why you’d need more. Maybe your commute is expensive or you’ll have to relocate to a costlier, closer neighborhood for the job. Whatever the case, if you have a legitimate reason to ask for more money, it could help in securing a better offer, so consider including it in your inquiry.

5. Is the salary hourly or annual?

Certain companies label their compensation packages as “salary” when they’re really hourly, the presumption being that you will be paid an annual salary as long as you work “X” amount of hours at “Y”  rate in order to achieve it. 

This style of employment can work in your favor: some companies that use this model offer their “salary” employees overtime pay for work on holidays, weekends and work weeks longer than forty hours. So if you find the company structures compensation like this, realize you might make more than what they’re offering thanks to overtime.

Salary questions, in short

With these five key questions, you should have a straightforward time getting the salary answers you crave, as well as some useful supplementary info to help inform your decisions throughout the hiring process. Whatever answers you receive could make or break your interest in the company, so be ready for anything. However, don’t spring these questions too early. It might be best to ask them once you’ve already gotten past the first interview and wowed the potential employer. By then, you’ll hopefully have a bit more bargaining power, and these inquiries will stand a greater chance of netting favorable answers.

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