When Is It Acceptable in the Interview Process to Inquire About Benefits?

Kristen is on her first interview and has just spent about 40 minutes with the interviewer.  The interviewer asks Kristen if she has any questions about the opportunity.  Kristen opens with a question to clarify what a typical day would look like in terms of the time breakout for each of the key duties & responsibilities. Way to go Kristin that is a good question to ask to show her skill of gaining clarification as well as determining if she would enjoy a typical work day in that position at XYZ Company. After getting an answer to her opening question, Kristen then asks the interviewer if the company has any benefits and how much would be her cost for the benefits.  What do you think? Is this a good question to ask?

Most experts in the field of human resources, search and recruitment would disagree with you if you said “yes”.  I know the temptation is great to get right to the money questions particularly if you are at the point in your career that you have limited income earning potential and need a job that makes significantly more.   I also know that most candidates have a spouse, significant other or family member that they will be reporting into once they get back home.  The significant other will be more interested in asking about the salary, benefits and the attractive perks for working at the prospective new employer rather than the job’s challenges.  So we know that the candidate is motivated to bring home some really good news about what the perks may be.  However, experts agree that the main motivation for a career change should not be money and benefits but should be more in the order of A) the supervisor relationship and management style, B) that the job challenges appropriately for your skill level, C) opportunity for advancement, D) how this position meets your career goals, E) culture, ethics and business philosophy of the company.  Money and financially related motivations are usually in the 5th or 6th tier ranking for career-focused individuals. If the motivations are aligned in getting a position with a company that meets the needs A – E previously discussed, the money, benefits and perks will generally fall in line commensurate with the level of experience and expertise presented by the candidate.

So what happens if the interviewer asks Kristen first about her expectations for salary & benefits? Is it acceptable for Kristen to offer that information and further clarify about the scope of the benefits?

I think the answer to this question can depend upon the career level of the candidate. Non-managerial candidates can answer this question directly since the interviewer asked the question. Non-managerial positions sometimes have narrow salary guidelines anyway that are rigid for the position no matter how much experience that you may have.  My answer for executives however is slightly different. The executive that answers directly may have base salary needs that are so high that it scares the interviewer from advancing to the next interview or not to probe into the candidate’s flexibility with money.  The executive may be better served with an answer that goes something like this, “You should know that I am accustomed to making around $250,000 per year. I am open as to how we get there in terms of the total package. I am sure that we can work out a mutually beneficial package based upon my credentials and past track record.”  This kind of response tells the interviewer that perhaps you are affordable because there are more ways of getting to the desired result other than just base salary.  Another suitable answer may sound more like this, “I have been used to making a good living and accustomed to earning my bonus programs in the past. I am more interested today in finding an organization where my skills and talents will be fully utilized yet offering me adequate career challenge and stretch. The base salary is less important and I would rather we discuss this later after you have had a chance to see what I can offer your organization. I am confident that once you have found out that I am the best choice for your company, we will be able to work out an acceptable salary and package.”

So getting back to Kristen, how could Kristen possibly get the benefits information that she is asking for without asking the direct question? Consider some of these possible open-ended questions:

  1. “Mr. Interviewer, what brought you to the XYZ company?  What keeps you at XYZ?”
  2. “Ms. Interviewer, can you tell me what are some of the reasons that your company has low employee turnover? What do you think are the reasons that they stay with XYZ Company?”
  3. “Can you tell me what are the 3 most important things that my performance will be evaluated upon and how does that occur?”
  4. “Can you tell me more about your performance review process?”
  5. (reference their competitor) “I interviewed recently with ABC and they have a very strong story for attracting new employees. Ms. Interviewer how would you compare XYZ to ABC in terms of attracting new employees?”

Since all of these questions are open-ended, the interviewer could offer up information on anything ranging from compensation, benefits, tuition reimbursement, stock options or he/she could go in other directions like market position & dominance, company culture, management style, product / service superiority, research & development pipeline, etc.

With today’s technological resources and social media readily available to almost anyone who is in a job search, there are ways to do your research prior to going on the interview.  Visiting www.glassdoor.com  may tell you what others who worked at XYZ had to say about XYZ Company. Try reaching out and connecting to others on LinkedIN who work at XYZ Company to see if you could learn more about why they like working at the company. Ask for their phone number and gain permission to have a phone conversation prior to your interview. See if they know the respective manager that you would work for and if they can give any insight as to the managerial style of that person. Ask them what they know about salary guidelines and benefits and other issues that might be too sensitive to ask of an interviewer on the first interview.

In closing, it is always best to let the interview process play out whether it is 2, 3 or 4 interviews before you get real focused on the money and the benefits. Once a job is obtained, most people forget all about the money because it is all about job satisfaction, challenge, career growth and strong professional relationships with the boss, superiors and co-workers.  If any of these are not satisfactory, you will be apt to look for another opportunity that meets those needs in the near future.  Changing jobs for money is usually not a good idea and generally leads to short term stays and job-hopping which ultimately become very detrimental to you down the road.  Take the time to get your next position with an employer who is a good fit for your career and watch how the appropriate salary and benefits will follow.

Roger Manning is the Founder/President of the Manning Search Group.  Roger Manning can be reached at 636-875-5080 ext. 112 or roger@manningsearchgroup.com

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