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Sunday 20th October 2019

So you’ve got a job interview! When is the polite time to discuss salary?

Interview
She does look awfully worried. Perhaps she's thinking about her salary??

Okay, so this blog contains a genuine question that I’m looking for an answer to. I’ll of course talk around it and try to think of one myself, but if anyone has any advice I’d love to hear it in the comments section (this is literally the ONLY time I will look forward to reading the comments section ANYWHERE on the internet!). Here goes: when you’re applying for a job, when is the polite time to discuss salary?

I’ve been writing some courses recently about CVs and cover letters, and this has led me in turn to look at job postings. As I am a greedy and materialistic individual, my eyes went straight for the salary portion of the adverts. I realised very quickly that some of the salaries were a bit of a minefield, and, as a candidate, I would be worried about seeming rude or pushy by asking up front.

I saw a training role advertised as £18,000-£24,000. I did the interview, and I asked the recruitment agency about the pay. They said ‘They’ll pay you £18,000’. Now, I thought this was a bit unfair.

Some of the adverts are quite straightforward – job title and a salary (e.g. Customer Service Agent – £15,000 per year). You know what the job is and how much you will be paid. No need to ask any questions.

Some of them, however, are less clear. I saw one that had a salary bracket of £18,000-£30,000 per year. That’s a huge jump! If I was applying for that job, it could either be a big pay cut or a decent pay rise. I certainly wouldn’t consider applying for the job if they were going to offer it to me at the lower end of the pay bracket. This is where I would be concerned about appearing crass if I asked how much the annual salary would actually be for this job – when would the appropriate time be to do this? Would it be at the interview? Would it be worth contacting the recruitment agency/the company’s HR department to ask? What is the protocol? Does this mean that you start at a level dictated by your experience and have the potential to work up?

What if I go in too high and they laugh me out of the interview room. What if I’m not worth as much money as I think I am.

I actually had a bad experience with this in a previous job. I was about to lose a secondment I was on, so I was looking for a new job to carry on with my career path. I saw a training role advertised as £18,000-£24,000 (my secondment pay was about £22,000). I did the interview, and I asked the recruitment agency about the pay. They said ‘They’ll pay you £18,000’. Now, I thought this was a bit unfair as I had a fair bit of experience. I thought I should at least get the £22,000, matching what I was currently on. The agent went back to them, then came back to me and said ‘They don’t have the budget to go any higher than £19,000’. I was a bit miffed as it turned out that even though the advert looked like I could be earning up to £24,000, there was no chance of that happening. Very disappointing – so I got a better job elsewhere.

More confusing still is the job postings with no salary at all. This could be a blank space, or daunting phrases such as ‘competitive salary’ or ‘salary negotiable’. I asked a friend about this, and she said that the job titles should suggest whether it’s well paid or not – but there’s a number of pitfalls here. I’m a trainer, for example, and I’ve seen trainers paid as low as £15,000 and as high as £50,000, so there’s no clue there. Also, some places call roles by different names to make them sound fancier; you say personal account business partner, I say call centre agent. How can you possibly know what you are expected to be paid? Websites like glassdoor.co.uk can offer a useful guide to help you out, but in the end, if you’re going for the job I suppose you need to bite the bullet and just ask.

Some places call roles by different names to make them sound fancier; you say personal account business partner, I say call centre agent.

Negotiable salaries, too! What a nightmare?! I’ve already talked at length about impostor syndrome; what if I accidentally undervalue myself?! ‘Haha!’ they will laugh behind my back, ‘She only asked for £22,000 – we’d have paid £30,000!!! SUCKER!!’ Or what if I go in too high and they laugh me out of the interview room. What if I’m not worth as much money as I think I am. I’d be like Doctor Evil in Austin Powers asking for ‘One BILLION dollars’ in the 1960s!  That’s an unnecessary worry to have when applying for a new job!!

So, back to the question at hand: when is the right time or opportunity to ask what the salary will be for your new career? Is it rude to ask, or totally acceptable? Answers on a postcard, please!

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Rosie Earl

Rosie Earl

Uber-geek and tv addict. Keen writer and professional trainer in the financial sector. Rubbish at maths

2 Comments
  1. Thank you for asking this, Rosie! It is a mine field. Recently I waited until I was offered a job, then negotiated up to make the move worthwhile, I don’t know if that’s how to do it or not. I felt awful when asking. But I do think we undervalue ourselves terribly!
    Elizabeth

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