The Bottom Line...

There seem to be different schools of thought on the subject of salary and at what point during the job interview process it's acceptable to discuss compensation.

During my recent job search, I've read multiple times that it's considered gauche to ask a potential employer about salary too soon.

In an article featured on The Ladders, Marc Cenedella likens early interviews to first dates and equates asking how much you'll be making to leaning in for a random first kiss too early. It'll blow your chances, he says.

But, as employers increasingly ask for more (i.e. What's your theme song?) on their applications, one can't help but wonder, how much time do I want to invest if ultimately I could make the same wage ringing up organic tampons and quinoa cakes at my local Whole Foods? If you're asking me to send you three story pitches, critique your website and link to multiple examples of the outstanding use of UCG before we've even met, I want to know that there's the potential to bring in more than my kids do at their lemonade stand. So, just when is the right time to bring up the bottom line?

About a month ago, I received a call from an editor regarding a resume I'd sent for a digital writing and editing position. After listing many positives about the role, he cut right to the chase. The salary, he explained, was jaw-droppingly low. He said he wanted to let me know before we went any further. I appreciated this because why should we waste each other's time? Sadly, it seemed I could earn more delivering that paper than I could editing it so I declined a possible interview.

Now I know what you're thinking: Woman, you're on the verge of having to sell fireworks out of the back of your mini-van, are you really in a position to turn anything down? I hear ya, but if I spent hours with that editor that would take time away from looking for other jobs. Ditto if I got an offer and accepted it.

But, unfortunately, not all employers are so forthcoming and many keep the compensation details close to the vest for as long as possible. A friend and former colleague who was laid off with me was just offered a job this week. She's ecstatic and I'm thrilled for her but... and this is a big Kardashian-sized but(t)...she wasn't told the salary. Even hours after the offer was made, she still hadn't received that crucial piece of information. Because they'd been interviewing (read: grilling) her since February and because she really wants the job and will be excellent at it, I believe she'll take it even if they really low-ball her. With so much time (and hope) invested, it would be nice to know what you can expect and plan to negotiate accordingly.

Here's another tricky piece: what if an employer asks what salary you're looking for first? Awkward. You don't want to price yourself out of a job nor do you want to give the goods away too cheaply. CareerThinker.com offers helpful advice and suggests turning the tables and asking your interviewer what the compensation range is for that position. The site also recommends saying that's a topic you'd like to revisit when you learn the scope of responsibilities the position entails and more about the overall compensation (health insurance, 401(k), vacations etc.) package.

Ideally, experts say, the conversation should take place when the company wants to hire you and you want to accept the job. But it's still a good idea to do some research. To paraphrase a line I love from The Joy Luck Club, "Know your own self-worth!" Do some online digging or ask trusted colleagues in your field and find out what the range is for the position you're seeking.

Because creating a poll makes me feel like Bill Gates, I've added one below and I'd love to know what you think.


When's the right time to discuss salary?
Right from the get-go
Somewhere between the phone and in-person interview
If you're given a post-interview assignment that's more challenging than translating 'Gone With the Wind' into Tagalog.
Once you've been made an offer
Poll Maker

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