Timing is everything: Discussing salary and benefits

Whether you’re a hiring manager or a candidate out on the job hunt, it can be difficult to know at what stage certain questions are appropriate. One of the most interesting (and foggy) areas is salary and benefits.

We have seen several clients hiring new staff who are taken aback by salary demands being issued by candidates during the first round of interviews. In the same vein, we’ve also seen the question at the conclusion of a first-round interview from a fresh out of college applicant be, “what type of retirement plan do you have.” DSA staff had an in-depth conversation about hiring from a well regarded HR Professional who is a friend of DSA (FoDSA). She provides insight into the employer perspective on the appropriate time to ask about salary in the interview process.

DSA: At what point in the interview process should you expect a candidate to ask about Salary and Benefits?

FoDSA:  I’ve found that the highest quality of candidates who are the most professional tend to ask in later stages of the process.  However, I’ve seen quality candidates ask about the general salary range in the first conversation (and frame it as an effort to respect time on both ends).  If the role is more of a lateral move or if the candidate has been with an organization for a longer period of time, they may only be interested in starting at a new organization if there is a noticeable financial incentive to do so (and that can include benefits when considering the total compensation package).

DSA: Are there special circumstances when you would let it slide if a candidate asked at earlier in the process?

FoDSA: At times, although this should never be discussed or considered as part of an interview process, a candidate may have a family member with a medical condition that requires a deeper understanding of the benefit plans (for example, someone may have a chronic medical condition such a diabetes and they want to understand if they will have similar coverage for on-going medical expenses).

DSA: How does the timing of a candidate asking about salary and benefits play into your hiring decision?

FoDSA: If you feel the candidate’s background is strong and they are worth moving forward, I wouldn’t rule them out if they asked early but I would keep it noted should the organization end up with two equally qualified candidates. Some truly ask early out of respect for time on both ends.

DSA: What is your preferred time frame to discuss salary and benefits?

FoDSA: I think it is appropriate to ask when the candidate has moved to in-person, late stage interviews as this would be the time period that they are determining if the role would be a mutual fit.  This would be most relevant as well if the general salary range was noted as part of the job description.

There you have it- the appropriateness of asking about salary in the first round of interviews is usually (like most salaries) commensurate with experience. If you are just breaking into the field, it may be better to bide your time and wait until later rounds to ask salary questions. More tips from our HR expert in upcoming weeks!

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