Here’s one mistake you should avoid making in salary negotiations

How early in the job process should you ask about pay? It’s a delicate dance. Too late, and you’ve wasted a lot of time for a job that can’t support your obligations. Too early, and the question looks presumptuous.

That’s the thorny patch that, Taylor Byrnes, a woman in Winnipeg, fell into this week. She asked about pay after her first interview, at which point the company representative, offended, cancelled her second interview.

Byrnes tweeted about the experience, and it became a viral sensation, capturing the frustration of many job candidates who have trouble with salary negotiations.

Here’s what happened.

After an initial phone interview at SkipTheDishes, an online food delivery service that operates in Canada and the U.S., Byrnes had decided to email human resources about benefits and her potential salary  It was here where things went awry for Byrnes.

Your priorities about pay “are not in sync with those of SkipTheDishes”

Byrnes emailed SkipTheDishes, “how much do you think I’ll be getting paid an hour? Benefits will also be included, right?”

She didn’t get the answer she wanted.

In her reply to Byrnes, Victoria Karras, a talent acquisition coordinator for the company, cancelled the next interview, saying, “your questions reveal that your priorities are not in sync with those of SkipTheDishes.”

In a follow-up email to Byrnes, Karras expanded on what exactly those priorities were: “Our corporate culture may be unique in this way, but it is paramount that staff display intrinsic motivation and are proven self-starters. For these reasons, questions about compensation and benefits at such an early stage is a concern related to organizational fit.”

Some on Twitter followed Byrnes’ call to boycott SkipTheDishes, believing that asking about benefits was the sign of a motivated person. To count an interviewer out for asking about pay was a red flag about the company’s labor practices, they argued.

SkipTheDishes apologizes, offers Byrnes that second interview

After Byrnes’ experience went viral, SkipTheDishes co-founder Joshua Simair wrote a statement explaining how the company had been wrong.

“We are very disappointed in how it was handled. We do share a compensation package prior to hiring. As soon as we became aware of it on Monday, we reached out to Taylor to apologize for the email and reschedule her interview,” he said, adding that staff would receive “additional training.”

How SkipTheDishes could’ve handled this better

There are takeaways for job seekers and employers with this story.

For companies and hiring managers: don’t treat pay as a frivolous question. It’s a core part of why people work. SkipTheDishes should have reframed their tone. If Karras really felt that pressed about the salary question, she could have just told Byrnes that this was not an appropriate time to ask about salary and left it at that. There was no need for backhanded insults about an applicant needing to show “intrinsic motivation” — especially in an email which could be taken as a screenshot and distributed all over the internet, as this one was.

Human resources’ departments are often the first impression a job seeker has of a company. Give a bad impression and your company may get dragged on Twitter.

This question could also have been avoided if SkipTheDishes had included more information about the position’s salary to signal what kind of applicants they were looking for. A quick line about “pay commensurate with experience” can go a long way. The CEO himself acknowledged the importance of pay when he said the company does disclose compensation and benefits packages beforehand.

When should a job seeker ask about money in an interview

Byrnes could have handled this better too. First off, there are better ways of conducting salary negotiations than by email. Salary talks are a crucial part of the discussion for a new job, and talking in person gives candidates the ability to judge the facial expressions and tone of the executive on the other side of the negotiation.

For Byrnes’ next SkipTheDishes interview, some career coaches advised waiting until the job offer is secured to ask about money.

“You don’t want to be negotiating salary until they’re at their maximum love—their maximum enthusiasm for you,” Sarah Stamboulie, a former human resources manager for Morgan Stanley and Nortel Networks said. As a job seeker, you have the most leverage when an employer tells you you’re their first choice. That’s the moment when you press that advantage and ask for the salary you want. There will be a back-and-forth after that, but the goodwill from previous interviews will bolster your case.

Nick Corcodilos, a Silicon Valley headhunter, said that above all, if you’re asking about salary, do your research about what’s an appropriate salary range. It may have helped Byrnes if she had not just asked about salary and benefits, but also justified what added value she could bring to the job — which is, again, a task better left off email.