When is it ok to talk about salary and benefits?

I was talking with the team today and we recently had several candidates stumble over the salary/benefit/flex time questions so we thought this might be a good subject for this month’s article.  Here’s the deal – unless you are independently wealthy and a workaholic, you can expect a reasonable salary for the work you do – and a reasonable work schedule.   However, we’ve all been coached that the interview is NOT about you – it’s about making sure your future employer believes you are the answer to all of problems – right?  Well, yes…..but.

There are ways to inquire about salary, benefit, work schedule and other details during the interview process without sounding completely self-serving – let’s take a look:

1.    If you are working with an internal or external recruiter… Use that individual as a broker to help you gain insight into the salary, benefits and other intimate details of the position.  The recruiter can also help you with information about the leadership style of your future manager and will be able to give you an insider’s view of the culture.  If you have the luxury of working thru a recruiter then leverage them well!

2.    Talking about healthcare benefits. This is a wild card for job seekers today. Healthcare reform has brought about a TON of changes to group health plans.  We used to be able to count on some level of consistency with out of pocket costs, but the recent changes have changed all the rules.  I believe it is ok after your initial meeting with your future manager to ask for a benefit overview.  You need this information in order to estimate your salary requirements.  For instance, if your current monthly cost for health insurance is $950/month and the company you are considering offers a comparable plan for $650/month, then you can easily take a lateral move and effectively receive an increase of $3600/year.

3.    Savings plans – Simple IRA and 401k.    The cost of a 401k plan for a small company is pretty steep.  Additionally, the fees for administration of these plans can be cost prohibitive.  Some companies opt for a Simple IRA instead – much less expensive.  Asking about this is easy but should be preserved for the final stages of the interview process.  “Can you tell me about the company’s savings and investment plan?”

4.    Flexible working schedule and work at home options:
This is a hard subject to talk about during the interview without sounding self-serving.  In my opinion you should plan on a normal work day (8 – 5) and going to the office every day.  Companies with creative work options will be vocal about these perks, so you probably won’t need to ask.  If there is a specific reason that you need an adjusted work schedule then you will want to address it with the hiring manager honestly.  A specific reason might be that you are a student with a 4 PM class 2 days a week – or that you need to pick up kids form daycare by 5 PM 3 days a week. 

5.    Planned vacation.  We’re heading into the time of the year when people have paid and planned vacations.  Generally speaking, your future employer will do everything they can to accommodate you.  It’s a good idea to talk about any travel plans you have at the time of an offer.  Always offer to take the time off without pay – you probably won’t have to – but offer anyway.

6.    Talking about culture.  Personally, I think that culture is a pretty ambiguous term – if you ask 10 people to define it you will get 10 definitions.  I would prefer to ask the question this way:  “I’ve found that every team has its own unique personality, how would you describe your team’s personality?  How is it like the company’s personality?”  You’ll get a raw, unrehearsed answer – which is what you want.

Those sticky questions are tough to navigate, but necessary in order for you to evaluate a new position.  By carefully positioning your questions, you’ll get the information you need, while maintaining your stardom-ness in the eyes of your next manager.  To Your Success!

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About the Author:

Kimberly Lucas is the Founder and Chief People Connector at Goldstone Partners, Inc., a Colorado-based search and talent advisory firm specializing in recruitment strategy and engaged search for privately-held companies. As a seasoned entrepreneur and career coach, Kimberly is committed to helping founders build strong, profitable companies that stand the test of time. As a Certified StrengthsFinder coach she works with individuals and teams to help them achieve their stated objectives. Kimberly is an active mentor for MBA students at the University of Colorado’s Leeds School of Business, serves on the board of the Rockies Venture Club, is a founding member of RVC Women and facilitates a Thinking Partner Mastermind group.