No, you can’t ask about money in the job interview

So often I see it posted to reddit: “When do I ask about money?” You don’t. You don’t ask about money in the job interview. You wait until the company brings it up, often in the form of a job offer. There’s a time and a place for everything, and the time and place for compensation discussion is in the job offer, or when the company chooses to bring it up.

When you go into a job interview, your focus must be on the company’s needs, or what work the hiring manager wants you to do. You want to talk about what you can do for the company, not ask about what they can do for you. Asking about salary, benefits, vacation, or other forms of compensation tells the interviewer that you’re more concerned with what’s in it for you, rather than how you can help her. Whether that’s true or not doesn’t matter. You still run a risk of coming across that way.

(This is also part of why an objective is the worst way to start a résumé, because it says “Hi, I’m so-and-so, and here’s what I want from you.”)

The goal of a job interview is for you to get a job offer, or to move closer to getting one. If you don’t get the job offer, it doesn’t matter how much the job pays.

An interview isn’t a one-sided affair, of course. It’s also about you finding out about the company, about worklife, about the sorts of projects you’d work on, because these all fit into things of benefit to the company. Compensation, however, is a one-way benefit to you. What if the interviewer doesn’t discuss salary? Then you just wait for the second interview or the job offer, where the specifics of compensation will all be laid out.

People have countered my stance on this with “I just want to know what it’s paying so that I can save time for both of us by not going through an interview for a job that’s not going to pay enough.” That’s what we programmers refer to as a premature optimization. Just as it doesn’t matter how fast your program runs if it gives the wrong answer, it doesn’t matter how quickly you get through the hiring process if you don’t get the offer.

Have some patience. Focus on selling your skills and experience to the interviewer. Talk to the interviewer about her problems and how you’ll solve them. And don’t ask about compensation.


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6 Responses to “No, you can’t ask about money in the job interview”

  1. Christian Walde Says:

    Something related i noticed in the past years:

    With the expection of educational institutes, the pay in a job i looked at always related to the interview impressions i got from them. The less they knew about tech and the worse the job environment seemed, the less they were willing to pay and the most enticing jobs also resulted in the highest numbers for me.

    So waiting to ask does not mean one has to wait to find out how they pay. Just find out how well they treat employees and their work in general and you’ll get a good idea of whether it’s worth to go for them money-wise.

  2. Someone Says:

    I disagree with the “it doesn’t matter how quickly you get through the hiring process if you don’t get the offer.” Of course it matters. If I don’t get the offer, or the offer is going to be way below what I’m willing to accept, I want the hiring process to be finished as soon as possible. Now, that doesn’t mean I’m going to ask about compensation during the interview – unless it’s brought up by the other side, but saying the length of the hiring process doesn’t matter is very short sighted. It does, whether there’s a job offer at the end or not.

  3. Kevin Says:

    So conversely, what does it say about an employer that asks you early on what your salary requirements are? I’ve had several interviews like this and personally it turns me off. I feel like they’re not looking for talent but rather cheap labor. I also feel like if I give too high an amount that there will be no further negotiations. ( I had one employer say it was too high and asked how much lower I would go.. but they never did suggest a number that worked for them)

  4. Andy Says:

    If the interviewer asks right out what your requirements are, or worse, they won’t even consider your resume without salary requirements included, it tells you that they’re more interested in the dollars than finding the best candidate who may be willing to negotiate.

    Demanding salary requirements up front tells you you’d be working with a company that demands it hold all the power in the relationship.

  5. JacobM Says:

    I disagree, because salary is often a useful marker of the level of the position. A “web developer” job could be an entry-level HTML jockey, or could be a senior-level web application development technical lead. Job descriptions, sadly, don’t always make it clear. An early discussion of the general salary range can eliminate some serious wastes of time on both sides.

    You said “Just as it doesn’t matter how fast your program runs if it gives the wrong answer, it doesn’t matter how quickly you get through the hiring process if you don’t get the offer.” But my experience is that the vast majority of job listings are jobs I don’t want. In that situation, it does matter how quickly I get through the process _for the ones I don’t want_, so that I can move on to the ones I might. The equivalent programming concept isn’t premature optimization, it’s the idea of “fail fast”.

  6. Esquire13 Says:

    This is very “old school” thinking. The interview is not at all one-sided, but is a chance for you both to determine if this is a fit. While the old school thinking is that the interview is your chance to tap dance for the company and sell yourself in the hopes of going on three interviews and getting a job offer that you ultimately find out doesn’t work for you – that can’t possibly be what people believe in 2013. In this day and age of telecommuting and job-sharing I believe that we have evolved enough to be able to find a tactful way of discussing what is beneficial about the position to BOTH sides. I am not applying for a volunteer position. I am here because I have a set of skills that you are willing to pay for. So I can do XYZ – now what are you willing to pay for that? That should have always been the conversation. And it’s clear by this post and several like it, that we’re not there 100%, but if enough qualified candidates start respectfully and tactfully shucking tradition and broaching the question, then it will become just as much of think of the past as waiting for the boy to ask you out, or call you first.

    My time is just as valuable as the prospective employer’s. If their salary range is unacceptable, I would love to know before I even submit my resume so that I don’t waste my time. Here I am sitting here chatting it up with you about my skills for an hour when I’m missing out on an opportunity that is actually worth my time. I wholeheartedly disagree.

    Karen L. Mills, Esq.

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