Career coaches will often tell you to avoid asking “me” questions in an interview, not to put your needs ahead of those of the employer. Employers hire because they have problems and as a potential employee, you should focus on how you can solve these problems. At the same time, figuring out if an employer can meet your personal standards and needs for salary and benefits are a key determinant of whether a job is a good fit for you.
So how can you ask about salary and benefits without putting off the hiring manager?
You can get the information you need without coming across as overly-demanding or dismissive of the company’s needs. It’s definitely a delicate situation, but with the right strategy you can make a great impression and get the answers you want.
Strategic Approaches to Tough Questions
The key to this balancing act comes down to tact. You can’t simply march into the interview and demand to know how much money and vacation time you’ll get. Instead, you need to approach these topics with diplomacy and finesse.
Here are few things for you to do to set up tactful, effective questions about salary or benefits:
Do Your Research
Never, ever ask a question without having established background knowledge on the topic. Do independent research on the issues you care about. This helps you frame your specific questions and shows the interviewer you have done some proactive homework on the organization. Moreover, research gives you ammunition to have an informed and honest conversation with the interviewer about these topics.
Look on sites like Glassdoor and Comparably to get a sense of the company’s salary range and benefit structures. If possible, connect with existing employees on LinkedIn and ask them about the organization’s culture.
At the very least, make sure you reread the job description and review the company website. It’s possible that this research will give you all the information you need so that you avoid having to ask an awkward interview question altogether!
Be Careful About Your Wording
There’s always more than one way to phrase a question. Style and approach help you get the information you want. Choose your words and phrasing carefully when asking about what an employer will do for you.
Let’s dig into this. Sometimes using specific words can make all the difference. If you’re asking about salary, use the word “compensation” rather than “money and ask for a range rather than a specific number. Likewise, if you want to find out about work-life balance, it may be more useful to approach the topic in terms of “office culture.”
Timing Is Everything
There’s a right time and a wrong time to ask about compensation. I already mentioned the wrong time (as soon as you walk in the room.) The right time is generally after you’ve captured the interviewer’s interest by showing them you are a good fit for the job. Focus first on selling yourself and wait for the right opportunity to ask about benefits.
Look for strong signs of interest from the interviewer before broaching the topic of salary. Questions like “When can you start?” or “Can you provide references?” are generally a sign that an offer may be in the cards. This is when you have leverage to push the interviewer for more information about benefits.
How to ask about salary
But how do you actually phrase the question? Here are some examples of how you can diplomatically ask awkward questions about salary and other benefits.
The confident, direct (risky) approach
“In my job search I’m focusing on roles in the $60,000 range, which is the going rate for people with my skillset and experience. Is this position in that range?”
Sometimes it pays to be proactive and put your expectations on the table. It’s a bold move, but you’ll definitely find out, one way or another, if the job will meet your salary demands. Just make sure you’re not overly ambitious with your range. Ground your number in real data from people with comparable skills and backgrounds in your area.
The broad conversation starter
“How does the compensation for this position compares with the current market rate for similar roles?”
If you’re too anxious to put all your cards on the table, this might be a better way to go. Just make sure that you know the market rate before you ask. (Your interviewer might not know what comparable professionals make, so you might need to tell him or her!)
The conversational, positive ask
“I’m really excited about this opportunity. If we decide to work together, I’m sure we’d find a salary that matches the value I’ll bring to your organization. Can you give me an idea what you’ve already budgeted for this position?”
Here, you’re grounding your salary question in your enthusiasm for the position and the skills you bring to the job, rather than your own needs. This language of this question (“if we decide… we’d find a salary…”) subtly gives you more agency in both the hiring process and salary negotiation.
How to ask about benefits & work-life balance
Bring it up softly
“Can you tell a bit about the internal culture in your organization?”
This is, admittedly, a broad question but the interviewer’s response will tell you a lot about the organization’s expectations for employees. An organization with a highly competitive internal culture probably means long hours in the office. A company that describes itself as “family-friendly” or “laid back” is generally going to be more generous in terms of work-life balance.
Ask a more granular question to gain an understanding of schedule
“If I were to be offered the job, what would my average day / average week look like?”
This is a bit more pointed than the previous prompt, and will give you a better sense of the employer’s expectations for your specific role. Again, this will illuminate general schedule for your work life.
Ask the interviewer
“What do you like best about working for this company?”
Get the interviewer talking about their own experience in the organization. Interviewers are people too, and they may share some of the office perks that wouldn’t come up in a more direct question.
Establish your work-life boundaries
“Having dinner with my family is important to me. Would it be possible to start my workday at 7:30am so that I can leave, most days, by 4pm?”
Again, it’s usually best to reserve these very specific questions until later in the interviewing process, when you have the most leverage with the employer. Even then, the best way to structure the question is to include a solution as part of of the query. This way, you don’t put the pressure on the employer to figure out how to accommodate your needs; instead you’re proactively offering a reasonable fix, making it easier for the interviewer to say “yes.”