can I ask about salary before flying out of state for a job interview?

by Ask a Manager on January 16, 2014

A reader writes:

I have a friend who is going to be traveling out of state for a job interview, over 1,000 miles away. We were discussing whether or not it was appropriate for him to inquire about the salary range before he makes the trip. He thinks it would be inappropriate, but I believe that if he’s going to undertake this very long trip, any rational employer would find it reasonable for him to want to know some more particulars of the job before going down there. Mind you, the company is paying for all of his travel arrangements and accommodations.

Do you think it’s reasonable that he inquire about the salary before traveling?

Sure, that’s reasonable. I’d say something like: “Before I let you pay for my travel, can we touch base on the salary range for this position so we can make sure we’re in the same ballpark?”

Of course, if he does that, he needs to be prepared for them to respond by asking what he’s looking for — and since he asked first, he’d need to answer.

I’d also argue that it’s okay to say something like in certain other situations as well. For instance, if you’re going to need to take time off work to interview, it’s hard for you to do that, and you have reason to worry that you might be in two different ballparks on salary, you could say: “I hope you don’t mind me asking at this stage, but because it’s difficult for me to take time off work to interview, is it possible to give me a sense of the salary range so that we can make sure we’re in the same ballpark before we move forward?”

Obviously, it would be ideal if you could say this before agreeing to any interview, but the annoying reality is that too many employers think it’s a mortal sin for a candidate to raise the salary topic in the early stages of a hiring process (even though employers have no problem asking about it themselves). So I’d typically stick to asking about it only if you can provide some additional context for your request, like “before you fly me out there” or “because it’s tough for me to take time off work.”

Because god forbid that you ask about it simply because you work for money, you filthy, vulgar mercenary.

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{ 79 comments… read them below or add one }

louise January 16, 2014 at 2:37 pm

I’ve been feeling like “louise” was just too boring a screen name. Maybe I’ll become Filthy, Vulgar Mercenary.

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AnonHR January 16, 2014 at 2:42 pm

I was kind of thinking about Works For Money myself :).

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ExceptionToTheRule January 16, 2014 at 2:48 pm

I’m thinking FilthyLucre, myself…

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Felicia January 16, 2014 at 3:03 pm

I think Filthy Vulgar Mercenary would make a good band name.

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thenoiseinspace January 16, 2014 at 3:14 pm

First single “Is That Legal?” drops next week.

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It Is January 16, 2014 at 3:19 pm

+1

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Camellia January 16, 2014 at 3:45 pm

It’s not nice to make me burst into laughter at work when I’m sneaking a peek at AAM while I wait for a job to run!

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thenoiseinspace January 16, 2014 at 4:53 pm

I regret nothing.

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ThursdaysGeek January 16, 2014 at 4:24 pm

Followed soon after by the lively tunes “Maybe My Social Life Will Pick Up Before Then” and “Too Late Louise”.

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thenoiseinspace January 16, 2014 at 4:44 pm

Album includes bonus tracks “Coworkers Are For Hexing” and “Sure, I’ll Tango With Your Husband (…Wait, Wrong Tango.)”

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Felicia January 16, 2014 at 5:06 pm

Their next single will be “Chocolate Teapot Maker” and they’re already working on the eagerly anticipated follow-up to “Is That Legal” which is tentatively titled “Yes, That’s Legal (But Not in California)”

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Ask a Manager January 16, 2014 at 7:17 pm

I hear “Maybe My Social Life Will Pick Up Before Then” as a heartfelt ballad and I hear “Too Late Louise” to the tune of “Come On Irene.”

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Jean January 16, 2014 at 10:31 pm

It’s still worth a chuckle at 10:28 pm ET!

Suggestions for future releases:
“Please Don’t Eat Your Tuna in the Break Room” (with apologies to Cleo Laine’s version of “Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone”)
and
“Don’t Poop in the Potted Plant On Your Way Out”

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Jean January 16, 2014 at 10:32 pm

Oops. Meant to post this _below_ WFBP and Elizabeth West. Not trying to maneuver my comments into the range of preexisting compliments. (Hmm…that last sentence might make a good song title if I could make it more concise. How about “You Always Expect Me to Like What You Do”?)

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WFBP January 16, 2014 at 4:32 pm

This is hysterical.

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Elizabeth West January 16, 2014 at 5:53 pm

Ha ha ha ha!

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John B Public January 17, 2014 at 2:23 am

There’s a tribute band for them called “Dream Job”, they play at weddings where your new boss expects to be invited and their encore is always “What Does it Mean When My Interviewer Says…”

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RockOn January 17, 2014 at 5:17 pm

You forgot the runaway smash hit – Ask a Manager! :D

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Hollster January 17, 2014 at 1:38 pm

+1

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Chocolate Teapot January 16, 2014 at 2:49 pm

The other issue which springs to mind is if the new job is in a location with a high cost of living or more expensive rent. From my own experience, it helps to at least have some idea of how much of your salary is left over each month after paying the bills!

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Citizen of Metropolis January 16, 2014 at 2:56 pm

+100. Practicalities matter.

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DeMinimis January 16, 2014 at 3:40 pm

I agree, I made a mistake once in thinking a higher starting salary would make up for living in a high cost of living area….wrong!

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Citizen of Metropolis January 16, 2014 at 2:54 pm

Totally agree with AAM., though I strongly feel that your friend shouldn’t have to ask. The company should have volunteered the information much before the travel 1,000 miles point. Being coy about their pay structure would raise a red flag for me, because I work for money, too.

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MR January 16, 2014 at 3:23 pm

You would be amazed at the number of companies that don’t cough up this information on their own, especially at this stage. I’d say it’s well over 90 percent of companies.

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Felicia January 16, 2014 at 4:05 pm

I had a company that wouldn’t cough up this information even after they offered me a job…They sent me a job offer via email outlining all the details EXCEPT what they intended to pay me. It was my first job post university and I didn’t know any better but that was the first of many red flags.

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Colette January 16, 2014 at 4:08 pm

I had that happen, too!

Well, actually, the owner of the company said “Well, we’ve checked your references and we’d like to offer you a job” … and that was it. Via e-mail. No salary, no vacation, no information about what exactly they were offering.

I did not accept.

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Joey January 16, 2014 at 3:59 pm

That’s really a sign of a poor/inexperienced recruiter/hiring manager- spending the money without addressing this basic issue before hand. It’s really awkward addressing it for the first time in a face to face and finding out you’re not on the same page.

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KC January 16, 2014 at 2:54 pm

Because god forbid that you ask about it simply because you work for money, you filthy, vulgar mercenary.

This is my new favorite quote.

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Jamie January 17, 2014 at 10:41 am

ITA – and I know we aren’t supposed to change our titles on our resumes, but I really think I want to replace mine with Filthy Vulgar Mercenary.

I mean, if they checked with HR I’m sure they’d agree it fit. :)

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Filthy, vulgar mercenary January 16, 2014 at 2:58 pm

Too late Louise!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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just laura January 16, 2014 at 3:04 pm

+1

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louise January 16, 2014 at 3:04 pm

hrmph.

I can’t even insult you because the only insult on the top of my mind is now your name…

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Name Stealing, Filthy, vulgar mercenary January 16, 2014 at 4:22 pm

lol! :) :)

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Dan January 16, 2014 at 3:14 pm

I actually flew out on a job interview, did the dance, and flew home, all without knowing anything about what the company was willing to pay. And, I was actually employed at the time.

For me, it was a company that I *really* wanted to see what they were all about, and willing to just wait and see.

They called to reject me, and said I was really competitive. I tried to tease out of them what the pay scale was, and they still wouldn’t tell me.

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class factotum January 16, 2014 at 3:39 pm

I might do this if they are paying for the travel, but not if I had to pay for the trip.

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Audiophile January 16, 2014 at 3:40 pm

I really dislike this scenario, where the applicant can’t ask the salary. I had a phone interview not too long ago, was asked my range, I stated my range and interviewer paused and said let me check to see if we’re in the same range. I could hear typing on the keyboard and yet the interviewer still didn’t volunteer the range. I was so flustered by that, that I didn’t ask what it was.

I may start using the line Alison has in there, because I almost always take a day off work any time I interview.

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KJR January 16, 2014 at 3:48 pm

As the one who does the hiring for my company, I would much prefer we get salary discussed fairly early the process. I don’t want to waste your time or mine.

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KJR January 16, 2014 at 3:48 pm

…and I wouldn’t dream of flying someone in until that bridge had been crossed!

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Joey January 16, 2014 at 4:05 pm

Yeah I don’t get it. The only reason I can think of is when the salary is so crappy they try to avoid discussing it in the hopes that you’ll be interested in working there for other reasons and the salary is purposefully presented as an afterthought.

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KJR January 16, 2014 at 4:46 pm

I agree that’s not the smartest approach. I would be more inclined to be up front about it, then focus on the other reasons. I’m a fan of full disclosure where hiring is concerned.

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Elizabeth West January 16, 2014 at 5:55 pm

Me too. I wouldn’t even bother if they didn’t tell me what the job paid. I don’t have a secret trust fund, after all.

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Jean January 16, 2014 at 10:34 pm

No offense intended, but your sentence is a marvel of mixed metaphors. Thanks for making me smile during my late-in-the-day catchup session on AAM.

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BethRA January 16, 2014 at 4:08 pm

We WANT them to know the range – why would I want to take my time, and my staff’s time, to interview and vet someone who will wind up saying “no” because we can’t pay them what they want?

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anon-2 January 16, 2014 at 4:12 pm

The other thing – what if you’re in a current situation – and the new company is trying to lure you out of it?

It’s fair to know if they’re going to provide you with an incentive to jump off your current “ship” before putting you through a series of interviews, getting you to like you (and you liking them) only to learn they want to accept a substantial pay cut to come aboard!

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Joey January 16, 2014 at 4:29 pm

If they’re trying to lure you out of it you have an advantage- you’re happy where you’re at and they want you more than you want them at the beginning. If they’re smart they’ll have a pretty good idea of your current comp and will be prepared to show you how they are better. If not, they’re dumb and don’t know what the hell they’re doing.

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Wilton Businessman January 16, 2014 at 4:24 pm

I wouldn’t ask.

They’re already investing a decent amount in you by putting you on a plane and paying your hotel bill so you can come out and see them. They’ve shown they are committed to you to a certain point, you have to trust that they are going to give you a competitive offer. Then again, you have to know your worth and what that means to your new locale, but you’ve done that research already, right?

In other words, I think it’s highly unlikely that they’re going to drop a grand on plane flight and accommodations if they’re planning on low-balling you.

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Joey January 16, 2014 at 4:32 pm

Eh- guilt. Low ballers like to make you feel guilty for not accepting after all they’ve done and for passing up the carrot they might dangle in front of you forever.

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Wilton Businessman January 16, 2014 at 4:37 pm

Really, what’s the advantage to them of low-balling you? They just threw away a grand if you say “No thanks”. How many times are they going to do that? Not many.

I think if they fly you 1000 miles and you accept (the trip), both parties have to be pretty serious about this working out.

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MissDisplaced January 16, 2014 at 4:34 pm

Well it needs to get asked soon, if not before. This is part of the applicant’s research process, especially if taking the job would require a move or relocation. If he doesn’t want to call and ask before, fine. But he should definitely ask as part of the the interview process when he gets there.

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Wilton Businessman January 16, 2014 at 4:38 pm

I don’t agree.

They will pay the most when they have made up their mind that they want you.

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CT January 16, 2014 at 4:42 pm

But many companies (not all) still have a hard salary limit that they absolutely can’t cross when making the offer. Is that wise? Maybe, maybe not. I’m not saying that they have to come to an agreement on exact salary terms before the interview, but they should make sure they’re close enough for it to make sense to keep talking. If they were planning to offer $50,000 and a candidate were looking for $70,000 it would be wasting everyone’s time.

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Wilton Businessman January 16, 2014 at 4:50 pm

Guess what? You’re going to waste a lot of time interviewing.

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Joey January 16, 2014 at 4:55 pm

That makes no sense. So you should go on cross country trips, waste the com

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Joey January 16, 2014 at 4:53 pm

But if most isn’t in your ballpark its pointless and a waste.

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AB Normal January 16, 2014 at 7:42 pm

Wilton,

I have had many experiences in which the hiring company said “we want you”, and then the salary they could offer is 25K under my current compensation. I’ve realized that there is a huge gap between the smallest and highest salary in my field and location; I’m close to the top of the range, which makes it better for everybody to discuss salary upfront.

Typically in my first call with a recruiter or hiring manager, I’ll explain my range, and one of two things will happen: either the person will say, “that’s fine, we can work with that”, or “unfortunately it’s above the current budget; can I call you again if something else comes up?”.

Which means, my salary is not unrealistic, it’s just that there is a huge discrepancy in what people in my role get paid in different companies, and at least in cases like mine it’s just better for everybody involved to get compensation discussed upfront.

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CT January 16, 2014 at 4:39 pm

But who’s to say what’s “competitive” in the candidate’s eyes? Maybe she’s making on the high end of the industry standard and the company is planning to offer mid-range. If she’s not willing to take a pay cut, she might still turn down an offer the company considers “competitive.” That’s kind of a subjective term.

I think a company could easily spend a grand on interview travel and still make an offer $10,000 below the standard range. Even if they flew out five candidates, if they found one willing to take the lower salary they’ve still saved $5,000 in the first year by not offering standard salary.

No good employer should be offended by a candidate asking about salary before traveling so far to an interview. I just really don’t get why you’d advise not asking.

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Jessa January 16, 2014 at 4:46 pm

Except getting on that plane is a long waste of time for a person if they want 10k more than the company will ever pay them. Some people don’t like travel, have other responsibilities. Picking up one’s life for a few days can’t always be done easily and could cost the person PTO or other things they don’t have enough of to waste if the salary is nowhere near their requirements.

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Wilton Businessman January 16, 2014 at 4:52 pm

OK, lets say the range is $10K more than you think you want. They fly you down, you spend two days interviewing, and you come back high as a kite. They offer the job to somebody else. Is that any better?

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Joey January 16, 2014 at 4:58 pm

The result obviously isn’t better, but at least it made sense to consider it.

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Jamie January 17, 2014 at 10:46 am

Yes. It’s the difference between subjecting yourself to the inconvenience for a potential payoff and doing the same for something you don’t want anyway.

I wouldn’t interview without a salary discussion, but I’m not in the market to go so the only thing that would motivate me to interview is the chance of an offer I might not be able to refuse.

If I were unhappy and looking? I still wouldn’t take a day off without knowing salary ballpark – I’m not jumping through hoops unless I know how much the prize money is.

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CorpRecruiter January 16, 2014 at 5:03 pm

I disagree – you should talk about salary before flying out.

Even if you’ve done your research and know the market rate for the role, you still know NOTHING about the company’s salary range. Some companies pay lower than market (small companies, non-profits, etc). Others pay higher.

For instance, my company’s salary range is in line with the market rate for other small companies in our industry. At a big company in our industry, you’ll easily get paid 40k more at the same level.

Point is, what the candidate thinks is “low-balling” might be the company’s market rate.

The more senior your role, the more important it is to have this discussion upfront. If you’re right out of college and don’t have expectations, it’s less important. But if you’re mid-senior level, it’s foolish not to have a discussion about comp upfront.

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Anna January 16, 2014 at 7:11 pm

I don’t think logic holds up at all. It assumes that all hiring companies make logical choices on where to spend the time and effort on recruiting and if we’ve learned nothing else from this blog, we have learned that’s not the case.

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JenTheNiceHRGirl January 16, 2014 at 4:34 pm

I don’t think that most employers find it unreasonable to discuss salary in the beginning stages of the interviewing process. If I were a potential candidate for a position and the individual I was speaking with at the company didn’t want to talk about salary, I would find that really strange. I always discuss a salary range when I am on the initial phone call with a candidate. I don’t want to waste their time, my time, or the hiring manager’s time if we are too far apart on salary expectations. However, I do think that it is important to discuss what the actual position entails over the phone before we discuss salary because how can the candidate determine what a reasonable salary range would be if they don’t know the specifics? After I go over the position with the candidate, I run the salary range past them to see if they find it acceptable.

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Wilton Businessman January 16, 2014 at 4:47 pm

what’s the vaca?
what’s the 401(k) match?
what’s the health insurance?
what’s the dental?
how much does the employee pay for health?
how much does the employee pay for family health?
what’s the profit sharing?
what’s the equity?
do you have commuting accounts?
do I pay for my own parking?

See, I need all this information before I can even start to talk about salary. And by asking this information up front, I look like all I am interested in is the $$$ and what you can do for me.

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Joey January 16, 2014 at 5:01 pm

But doesn’t it make sense to start at the biggest part of your annual comp which is salary?

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Gjest January 16, 2014 at 5:13 pm

“And by asking this information up front, I look like all I am interested in is the $$$ and what you can do for me.”

Yes, but this is a huge reason why I work. Sure, I like my job, I take pride in doing it well, but if they didn’t pay me money, no way in hell I’d be there every day…so yeah, it may not be “all” I’m interested in, but it is a huge, huge part. And any employer who doesn’t get that is crazy.

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Elizabeth West January 16, 2014 at 5:58 pm

+1. I don’t work because I love to work, although I do enjoy my job (for maybe the first time ever). I do it because I have bills to pay and I like to eat regularly and not out of a garbage can.

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JenTheNiceHRGirl January 16, 2014 at 5:31 pm

If you truly are interested in the position and are able to convey that to the person you are speaking with, I don’t see why asking any of those questions would be a big deal. I would just suggest asking if they can tell you about the compensation package which generally means salary, benefits, PTO etc… Yeah none of us want to work for free and perks and benefits are important too, but if you come across like that’s the only thing that matters (and that you don’t care about the work you would be performing at all) then sure, I can see how that would be a turn off to a potential employer, but just simply asking questions about comp shouldn’t hurt. Most employers get that these things are important attracting candidates.

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Books January 16, 2014 at 4:44 pm

You sort of hope, if they’re flying you in they can also afford a competitive salary.

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Anna January 16, 2014 at 7:13 pm

Yes, you do kind of hope that. But there’s only one way to be sure and that’s to ask what the salary is.

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MJ of the West January 16, 2014 at 9:13 pm

As a hiring manager with a VERY wide salary range for the same job (the lowest tier can make less than half what the highest tier can make) it can be very difficult to name a salary up front for a candidate. I know this is something that Alison has talked about on her blog many times before, and I get the impression she might disagree with my sentiment on this topic, but this is the situation in which we find ourselves. If we did disclose our general ranges, candidates will undoubtedly be upset if they are offered a job but not at the top of the range (because of our assessment of their skill level).

We do ask candidates for prior salary to use as a starting point to ensure we can make a competitive offer. I don’t like that part, I’d rather just ask a candidate what they are looking for if there’s a question on comp, but at least we can rule out impossible situations. Based on comp requirements and their prior experience, we will generally target a particular skill level and will structure interviews for that level (+/- one job grade).

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Anony January 17, 2014 at 2:05 am

Your right- that’s a crappy policy and one all job seekers hate.

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Us, too January 17, 2014 at 9:15 am

I work in a field with an incredibly broad salary range and this doesn’t phase me at all. In the up front salary conversation I explain to a candidate that we pay based on experience and fit, but that a candidate with 2 years of experience (as her resume seems to imply) is typically between $x and $y. It’s pretty unusual that someone with 2 years of experience has the skillset of someone with 10 years of experience. And if someone with 10 years of experience has the skillset of someone with 2 years… we won’t be making him an offer for other reasons so the fact that his offer may be “too low” is moot.

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Gjest January 17, 2014 at 9:36 am

This seems like a reasonable way to handle wide salary ranges, without putting the first step in the candidate’s court (as in MJ of the West’s post). The employer should do some work to figure out what salary range each of their top candidates would likely be in.

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MJ of the West January 17, 2014 at 9:49 pm

I still wonder about the range issue though. Even if you suggest a smaller range, won’t people be frustrated if they are offered on the low end of it?

And your comment about 10 years experience with the skillset of 2 years is spot-on! We actually have candidates we cannot hire because they have too much experience but not enough skills to match it. Our company policies prevent us from slotting them a very low level even if they were willing to take it (and the corresponding comp). Personally, I think that’s also sub-optimal, but I do understand why it’s done.

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Ask a Manager January 17, 2014 at 11:08 am

Instead of asking for past salary, could you ask about what salary they’re looking for now instead?

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MJ of the West January 17, 2014 at 9:45 pm

Sometimes we do, informally (often the candidate even asks) at the start of the process. And that does help gauge comp fit as well as guide our minimum level for targeting interviews.

Sadly, though, our compensation committee still requires prior salary history for determining exact final compensation. I dislike it but it’s a company-wide policy.

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Z January 17, 2014 at 9:54 am

In my past two jobs (I work in communications for major universities), I was flown out on the university’s dime. In my initial conversations, I was asked what my salary expectations were –– and was told if my expectations matched what was available. It was fine.

If you were flying out on your own dime (it happened to me when I interviewed for a job at a prestigious San Diego university with tons of money — WTF), then knowing the salary window is even *more* important.

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Johnny LaRue January 17, 2014 at 11:31 am

You should absolutely ask.
Years ago I flew to Santa Barbara, California (from NJ) for an internal position interview after I had asked my Regional Manager what the salary range would be. He wouldn’t tell me (why not?), but he did recommend me for the position.
Of course SB has beautiful scenery but the rent and cost of living was higher than NYC. And the position paid only $5K more than what I was making at the time. So I declined the promotion.
The RM was VERY uptight about that, but I’m sorry, the move didn’t make sense, and I wouldn’t have flown out there if I knew the salary ahead of time. (The RM was let go a few months later – I hope it wasn’t my fault!)
At least the company paid for my trip and didn’t use my vacation time.

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