The elephant in the room: when to talk salary in an interview

Talking about money makes many of us feel uncomfortable. It’s never easy to raise the topic of salary when you’re interviewing for a new role, but it’s important that you do – employers expect you to. Here we explore when and how to approach the topic.

Money is a key contributor to the career decisions we make, yet recent research by SEEK found that 52% of Kiwis did not negotiate their salary at any point in the recruitment period for their current or most recent role. At the same time, 22% of hirers mentioned that they’d had a candidate who turned down an offer because the salary didn’t meet their expectations.

Why you should talk about salary

While it’s not always the primary factor in deciding whether you want to accept a position, Kevin Jarvis, Director of Robert Half Queensland, says being compensated fairly for your skills and experience impacts your overall job satisfaction. “Properly addressing or negotiating salary during the recruitment stage is critical,” he says. “If you’re not completely happy with your starting salary you could face a lengthy catch-up process, or worse, find yourself looking for a new role not long after joining the company.”

Peter Bowen, a managing partner at national HR consulting firm deliberatepractice, says by proactively and accurately discussing your salary expectations with hiring managers and recruiters, you will position yourself as someone who is aware of their value. “By showcasing your knowledge and aligning expectations to this, you are more likely to maximise the salary you are offered,” he says.

The right time to raise salary

“Timing is critical,” says Jarvis. “You need to display suitability for the role and be sure the job is right for you before mentioning money.” Once you’ve read up on salary trends, identified your strengths and fit for the role and you’re confident the organisation is interested, then it’s time to discuss money.

But when, exactly, is the right time?

For James Witcombe, Agency Director of SMAART Recruitment and Founder of The Candidate Coach, it’s important to establish yourself as a strong candidate before raising salary. “If you ask too early, the interviewer is going to remember you as the candidate that asked in the first five minutes. [You] can come across as not seeming genuinely interested in the job and only interested in the money,” he says.

Witcombe believes that the best time to bring up salary is after the “interviewer is impressed with what you’re going to bring.” When “you’ve built yourself up to the crescendo.”

Generally speaking, this happens around the end of the first interview. “When you feel like you’ve answered the questions well, the interviewer is starting to imagine you in the role, [and] you’ve built up some credits,” Witcombe says. At the very least: “You definitely wouldn’t want to have left the second interview without having discussed salary.”

You may also use the “opportunity for questions” portion of the interview “to inquire about what the employer thinks is an appropriate range for the role,” adds Jarvis.

Jarvis cautions against trying to negotiate a salary after the contract is signed and a starting date is agreed upon. “It’s too late then, so if the company doesn’t bring up pay when they make the offer, say something,” he advises.

Witcombe adds that putting forward your desired salary too late might create a “salary expectation shock” between both parties. For this reason, hirers – particularly recruitment companies – will often bring up salary themselves early on in the process, to ensure everyone is on the same page. “If a candidate’s salary expectations are not in line with the role, I don’t want to waste my time or their time,” he says.

How to approach the topic

It’s important to be confident, knowledgeable and prepared to negotiate. “Information is your biggest ally,” says Jarvis.

  • Know current salary trends for your industry
    “Enter a negotiation fully informed,” says Jarvis. “Do your research on what the trends are for your industry, role and experience level.”
  • Know your baseline salary
    “This is the number under which you’d walk away from a company,” says Jarvis. “When a company isn't willing or able to compensate you adequately, it’s probably not one where you’ll be happy in the long run.”
  • Be honest
    Jarvis recommends stating a specific number or range to help figure out if you and your potential employer are on the same page. “Don’t be deceptive about current salary, competing offers or the skills you bring to the role in order to secure more money,” says Jarvis. “Salary reflects the value you bring to the role and is a benchmark of performance. It will become quickly apparent if you do not match the value you projected.”
  • Be prepared to negotiate
    “If you’re eager to take a role but can’t reach an agreement on salary, consider how you can augment your remuneration with employee benefits like extra vacation, flexible hours or a work-from-home schedule,” says Jarvis.

Discussing salary in the right way and at the right time is crucial to securing a role where you feel adequately compensated and recognised for your skills and experience. By following the steps outlined above, you’ll be on your way to discussing money with more confidence and receiving the salary you deserve.

Source: Independent research conducted by Nature of behalf of SEEK, interviewing 4000 Kiwis annually. Published June 2022.

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