Asking the salary range before an interview is tricky but it can be done!

And if you follow the steps that I’m going to share, you won’t risk losing out on the job opportunity when you ask companies about salary. The info I’m going to share with you is based on years of working as a recruiter.

Let’s get started…

Is It Okay to Ask the Salary Range Before an Interview?

It’s okay to ask about salary range before an interview if you ask tactfully and make it clear that you’re simply looking to confirm in broad terms whether it makes sense to discuss the position further. You should save the heavy salary negotiations for after the interview, though.

Before the interview, you simply want to ask the hiring manager about the general range they’ve set for the position to determine whether that fits your needs. If the organization can’t pay what you’re expecting, or can’t match other job offers that you’re expecting, then it makes no sense to have a job interview, and you’re saving yourself and the company time. So don’t be afraid to discuss salary before an interview, but be tactful about how you ask.

I’ll show you exactly how to ask about salary before an interview next…

How to Ask for the Salary Range Before an Interview

The best way to ask about the salary range before your interview is to be direct and upfront. Express that you want to avoid wasting anyone’s time, and therefore are hoping to understand the company’s salary package before interviewing.

Advantages to this method:

  • No research required
  • Simple and to-the-point

Drawbacks to this method:

  • Slight risk of being seen as too upfront/direct by some employers

To avoid the drawback above, there’s another approach that I recommend as well:

You also have the option to state the general pay range you’re expecting or seeing from other companies in the job market, and then ask if this position fits those expectations. I’ll share multiple word-for-word examples coming up, so don’t worry if this career advice is new to you. The basic idea of this strategy is: When you talk money so early in the hiring process, the recruiter or hiring manager will appreciate that you’re volunteering some info while asking your question. This makes the question a bit less “sharp” and more acceptable to the employer. Whereas, if you simply say, “Can you tell me this job’s salary range?” it can be seen as too aggressive, especially if you ask before an interview has happened.

Advantages to this method:

  • More subtle and less likely to be seen as aggressive by an employer

Drawbacks to this method:

  • Requires some market research
  • Requires you to reveal a little bit of information about your salary expectations, when it’s ideal to save most of this discussion for later negotiations

Watch: How to Ask for the Salary Range Before an Interview

Examples of Asking for the Salary Range Before an Interview

Example 1:

Can you give me a sense of the salary range for this position, so that I can confirm that it fits the level of roles that I’m currently looking at?

If you want to ask directly about salary before the interview, without providing any info or research of your own, this is the way to do it. Straight and to-the-point.

However, employers are never going to tell you the exact range they’ve budgeted. If they tell you that the role pays between $55,000 and $59,000, and they offer you $55,000, how is it going to make you feel? And how much will it complicate the job offer and negotiation process for them? Quite a bit. This is why you’ll never get the real salary range from a company, and they truly don’t know exactly what they would offer you before an interview happens, either.

Example 2:

I want to be respectful of everyone’s time here. Can you share the anticipated salary package for this role?

This is another example of how to be clear and direct, but also polite, when asking about the salary before having an interview. This approach is to-the-point and also requires no research on your part, in terms of digging into market averages, etc. Whereas, as we go further into the examples below, you’ll want to perform some research into salary ranges before talking compensation figures with an employer.

We’re now going to begin looking at examples of the second of the two strategies I mentioned earlier.

Example 3:

From what I’m seeing in the market, similar roles with this job title here in Orlando pay a salary of $50,000 and $80,000. Does the salary for this position fit within that range? I’m mainly focused on finding a new job that fits my career goals and skills, but I also want to make sure we’re on the same page in terms of compensation.

Being prepared with research and data is a good way of asking about salary before an interview. Employers are more likely to respond with their own information if you provide some yourself. While you may not get a specific number that they’ll pay you (in fact, they often don’t know this exact figure until individual employees are hired), you’ll still gain valuable insights and fully understand whether it makes sense to interview or not.

Example 4:

Regarding compensation, most positions that I’m targeting right now in my job hunt seem to pay between $60,000 and $80,000 and that’s the type of general range that I’m targeting. Does the salary for this role fit somewhere in that range?

Note that you should NEVER share an exact salary you’re targeting before (or during) the first interview. If you tell a prospective employer a number that’s lower than they would have offered you, it could prevent you from getting more money in your offer. If you share a number that’s too high for their budgeted range, you could scare them off, when they may have been able to stretch their budget after getting to know you via a few interviews. This is why the salary ranges in the samples above are broad. Aim for a range of tens thousands of dollars so you don’t box yourself into a corner.

Example 5:

My current position pays a base salary of $50,000 and a bonus of 10%. I’m hoping for some type of increase in order to make a move right now. Do you think it makes sense to keep discussing this role?

This script is a great option for salary negotiation with HR and recruiters if you’re well-paid and currently employed. If you’re not trying to hide your current salary from an employer, and you’re highly paid, then stating what you earn now is one of the best ways to command a higher salary. However, if you’re not currently employed, and/or if you don’t feel you’re fairly paid right now, then this isn’t the script to use.

Research Your State’s Laws Regarding Salary in Job Postings

If you’re in the US, make sure you research your specific state’s laws regarding what employers must disclose about salary in their job descriptions. You may be in a state that requires employers to share info about the compensation package in all online job postings.

Asking the Salary Range Before the Interview: Email vs. Phone

In terms of whether to ask about salary over the phone or via email, you can choose the platform that you’re most comfortable with. Email gives you the advantage of being able to take your time and craft each sentence carefully, so I recommend this for most people. A phone call gives you a chance to hear the employer’s live reaction to your salary questions and your salary expectations. I think the benefits of email are more impactful for most job seekers so I typically recommend that. Most communication before an interview (like scheduling) happens via email anyway, so it makes sense to continue that way.

Note that you should not be asking about a position’s salary in your cover letter. That’s not the right time. At the very least, wait until you have an interviewer’s interest and know the company wants to speak with you.

Then, reply to the interview invitation with availability, get a day/time confirmed, and ask your salary questions after.

Consider the Company’s Benefits in Addition to Base Salary

If you find that an organization can’t quite pay the base salary you want, but you’re highly interested in the role, it may be worth going for an interview. Some employers offer other benefits like cash bonuses, great health insurance, retirement plans, opportunities for promotions, etc. So think about total compensation and not just base salary before an interview. And if you’re in the first 10-15 years of your career, think about the skills and experience you’ll be gaining, too. You’ll get much higher-paid job offers in the future if you have strong prior successes. You should be aiming to build skills and accomplishments in the first ten years of your career, even more so than a high salary.

This approach will give you the most leverage to command high compensation later in your career.

Related: Is it better to get a bonus or a salary increase?

If You’re On the Fence About Compensation, Take the Interview

It costs you nothing but time to go on an interview to learn more about the opportunity. So if you feel a job is a good fit and you can add a lot of value, wait until you’ve had an interview to rule it out based on salary. A potential employer might even interview you and then decide you’re a better fit for a higher-level job that they’re opening up. Even if that role isn’t open now, the company may call you back a month later. Or they may really like you and put together a higher-than-normal job offer for the role you were discussing originally.

So there are a lot of benefits to you attending at least one interview with a company, even if their response to your salary question isn’t exactly what you wanted to hear. As a former recruiter, I used to encourage job seekers to always go to a first interview unless they were sure the job offer wasn’t one they’d accept. Then, be more selective after that. For example, carefully weigh whether you want to attend a second interview with the company. That’s the best job search/interview strategy to follow overall. It makes even more sense when you consider that most first interviews are done via phone or Zoom, so you don’t have to travel to attend.

Warning: You Shouldn’t Negotiate Salary Heavily Before the Interview

Asking the salary range before your interviews and negotiating are two different things. You should not try to influence a company’s salary range or ask for them to increase their budget before you take part in the interview. That’s salary negotiation, which should happen later in your job search. You have no leverage to negotiate with if you haven’t even talked to the hiring manager and are just beginning the interview process. They aren’t even sure they want to hire you yet, so you have no basis to make demands. When you ask about salary before an interview, you should just be confirming that the position pays the general range you’re expecting/thinking. And if it doesn’t, you’re looking to find out why and gather any additional info.

For example, maybe this company’s job titles are different than the industry standard, and this role pays far too little for you. But they might have another role with a different job description that they can discuss with you. This happened to me once in a phone interview after I used the script in Example #3 that we looked at above. But the key is that I wasn’t trying to negotiate. I was providing info (my current pay and general expectations) and then asking for a bit of info in return (their thoughts on whether the company could offer the type of salary figure I had in mind).

Conclusion: Asking the Salary Range Before an Interview

In summary, it’s important to make sure a role can pay your target salary, but job seekers can cost themselves the position if they ask incorrectly or prematurely. By hinting at your salary expectations first and coming prepared with research into general market ranges, and then asking the employer’s thoughts based on the info you provide, you can ensure that you’re not coming across as too money-focused.

Don’t negotiate. Simply ask their thoughts on whether it makes sense to continue discussing the role and have an interview. This approach will ensure that you don’t lose out on your dream job at the start of the hiring process, and that you make a positive impression on the employer while getting the info you need. Companies want to hire employees who are focused on stepping into their roles and making an impact. They want a person who is excited for the work and what they’ll learn on the job. But you also need to protect your time and not go to interviews that have no chance of paying what you require. So the key is to find a balance, and the steps above will allow you to achieve this.

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Biron Clark

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