So a job looks great and you’re sure you’re qualified! But… how much does it pay? Conversations on compensation can be intimidating and mad awkward. Here’s our quick guide on how to ask about salary.

By: Ashley Dolar | Blogger for Let’s Eat, Grandma


On today’s episode of Awkward Job Search Moments…

Potential Employer: We’ve reviewed your application and think you might be a good fit for the position. When can you interview with us?

Job Candidate: Tomorrow afternoon would be great, but before we get in too deep… can you give me an idea of the pay range?

Clammy hands, anyone?

Talking about money with a potential employer can be uncomfortable, stressful, and downright anxiety-inducing. But finding out how much a position pays is a crucial part of the job search process.

If you’re lucky, a pay range is posted in the job listing, but most likely, it’s going to be up to you to ask your potential employer about pay before signing on the dotted line. And that can feel awkward.

So, I’ve compiled a list of four fast tips to help you feel confident and score the salary that you deserve:

#1: Ask About Salary ASAP.

I’m giving this tip top-billing for a reason. It’s important to find out what they are willing to pay before getting too deep into the interview process. If the gap between salary expectation and reality is too large, you’ll want to start looking elsewhere. If that’s the case, the interview will be a waste of time – and time is money for everyone involved.

A photo of a businessman on a phone call, clutching his tie and making a nervous face - representative of the anxiety involving in wondering how to ask about salary.
Asking about salary can be anxiety-inducing!

Do some research on salary even before applying for the job. Use a salary comparison site like Indeed or Glassdoor to get an idea of the going rate for that job title in your area of the country. Then you can be prepared to ask about pay during your first point of contact — whether that’s a phone call or the actual interview.

If the employer dodges the question, be persistent. It’s perfectly reasonable to be curious about the compensation associated with the job. To be frank, it’s also necessary — your basic needs depend on it! Any reasonable employer will understand this fact of life.

#2: Know Your Value.

When you do your research, be realistic about salary based on your experience level. Are you 10 years into your career or just starting out? Do you have coursework to back up your skills? Remember that volunteering and internships might help get your foot in the door, but degrees, certificates, and experience usually determine the pay scale.

I recommend talking with trusted colleagues or calling your college career advisors, even if you are a few years out of school. They frequently check the pulse of the market, so they can help you estimate your value within the current talent pool.

As a side note, research says that women are much more likely to undervalue and undersell themselves. So, be mindful of your own biases, and seek the guidance of people in-the-know.

#3: Focus On The Future.

When you frame the pay question, avoid bringing up the past. Your potential employer does not need to know that you make $30K at your current job–in fact, some states have made it illegal for an employer to ask about salary history during an interview.

A photo of two businesspeople in a meeting. One is making a firm point while the other listens and considers attentively.
Be up front when asking about salary – you have a right to know!

It’s better to say, “My job search has focused on positions in the $40K-50K range. Is that in line with your goals?” If you want to be even more specific, you can say, “I’m looking for roles near the $50K mark. Is this job budgeted for that range?”

Those are both fair questions, and employers should know the answer. If they don’t have one for you, that’s a red flag. It either means they cannot match your pay requirements, or they are accustomed to being less- than- truthful with applicants for any number of shady reasons. At that point, it’s probably best to invest your time and energy elsewhere.

#4: Practice.

Your tone matters. How can you be tactful yet firm? Polite yet confident? It’s a balancing act for sure–one that can take time to master.

It may sound ridiculous, but try saying your “ask” a few different ways in front of a mirror. If you’re a straight-forward person, you might be able to straight-up ask, “What’s the pay range for this position?” If you prefer to tip-toe, you can say, “I’d like to know more about the compensation for this position.”

Whichever way you lean, it’s always best to know and be comfortable with your approach before you confront the elephant in the room.

How to Ask About Salary: Be Bold

This part of the job search can be particularly overwhelming. Even though it makes sense for employers to keep pay scales private, you shouldn’t be kept in the dark until the very end. So, I say just be bold and ask the pay question. Negotiations can always be handled later.

Want to make sure you’re ready to ask about pay? Need help with your job search documents? Let’s Eat, Grandma is here to help. Visit our homepage to sign up for a FREE phone consultation with one of our business writing experts.


If you enjoyed learning about this topic, check out Episodes #6 & 7 of our Career Warrior Podcast…