When you’re reading tech job descriptions, it’s easy to get distracted by shiny perks, like the option to work remotely or unlimited vacation days. But there’s often a very important detail that you may not see in a listing: the salary range.
“It’s not very common for companies to post compensation at all,” says Danny Roberts, Senior Technical Recruiter at Codecademy. This is changing, as states and cities across the U.S. implement salary transparency laws aimed at closing gender and racial wage gaps.
In New York City, for example, employers are required to give a minimum and maximum wage range in every job listing starting in May. Colorado-based employers are required to include compensation in job postings, and notify employees of promotional opportunities. And employers in other states, like Washington and Connecticut, are mandated to provide salary information if a prospective employee asks.
So, how do you ask about the salary in a job interview? Here’s what you need to know, according to a recruiter, plus lines that you can use to start the conversation.
When and how to ask about salary
The “right time” to ask the big salary question is as soon as you feel comfortable. Asking early in the process is wise, because you don’t want to waste your time if the recruiter’s entertaining a position that pays below your baseline salary requirement.
You can even broach the subject at the end of your first call with a recruiter, Danny says. “A lot of people are afraid to ask because they don't want to come across as being overly focused on compensation at that stage,” he says. “Part of it is framing it in your mind that it's okay to ask.”
Approach the question with curiosity, Danny suggests. For example, you can say: “I don't know if this is the right time to talk about this, but are you able to share compensation bands for this role or what your goals are?” Compensation or salary “bands,” are clearly defined pay ranges that are determined by data, and a good sign that the company has equitable compensation practices.
Or, another way to phrase this is: “What is the salary range budgeted for this position?” Basically, you want to open the door for the recruiter to fill in salary information, Danny says.
Don’t forget this follow-up question
It’s equally important to ask a recruiter or hiring manager how the company determines compensation for roles, Danny says.
“There should be a clear process for coming to compensation, because a lot of companies — especially a lot of startups — just make up or throw out numbers,” Danny says. “Then you suddenly end up with teams across different levels with wildly different compensation that makes no sense and that's not equitable.”
For example, you could ask: “How does your organization determine compensation for roles?” or “Can you tell me more about how this company ensures that it follows equitable hiring practices?” The recruiter might answer by explaining that salaries are based on market data, competency, and the region where you live, for example. But they should definitely say something — if the recruiter dodges the question or can’t speak to it, that could be a red flag that the company doesn’t have consistent, unbiased hiring practices, Danny says.
Another response that a recruiter might give? They may flip the question back to you and ask what your compensation goal is. This is a tricky scenario, because you don’t want the recruiter to lowball you because you provided a lower salary range than they’ve actually budgeted for the role.
If you’re in the early interview phases you could say, “I don’t know enough about the role and responsibilities to be able to provide a salary range at this time. Can you tell me more about total compensation and what that would look like?” That way, recruiters can share more about the entire compensation package, including paid time off and healthcare benefits.
Of course, you shouldn’t be so coy that you never share what you’d like to make. “It’s a delicate dance where both of you are trying to develop trust in each other,” Danny says.
When it’s time to provide your salary requirements, it’s a good idea to give a range that’s higher than your actual baseline. You can phrase it like this: “Everything that I'm interviewing for falls between $X and $X.” Ariel Lopez, a former tech recruiter and career coach in Atlanta, says this specific framing helps because it points to market data to determine your worth and hints that you’re looking at other companies.
Keep in mind that if a recruiter really thinks you’re the right candidate, but you’re outside of the salary band for a role, there’s still room for negotiation. “We have levers that we can pull to help close the gap,” Danny says.
Ultimately, asking about salary is just step one of the negotiation process. Although talking about money might feel awkward or uncomfortable, it’s important to know your worth and be prepared to advocate for yourself. Do a little research on sites like Glassdoor and Levels, to see what people typically make in similar positions. And when the time comes to weigh a job offer, here’s a negotiation script that you can use.
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