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How to Bring Up Questions About Salary and Benefits

By Kat Boogaard

They say that money talks. But, talking about money? Well, that can be awkward at best.

Yes, many of us get sweaty-palmed and cotton-mouthed at the thought of having to bring up a conversation about our salary and benefits. However, we all know that it’s an important discussion to have—whether you’re in the process of accepting a new job, or even have a few questions about a position you’ve been in for a while already.

So, what do you need to know to get information about these important things in a way that’s polished and professional (and doesn’t have you breathing into a paper bag)? Here are a few steps you should be sure to remember.

Consider Where You Are in the Process

As with anything, timing is everything. So, whether you’re in the middle of the hiring process or have been employed somewhere for a while, appropriate timing is something you’ll want to give some serious consideration to before jumping right in with your questions.

If you’re currently interviewing, you already know that it’s not recommended for you to kick off your first phone screening with, “So, what’s the pay and how many vacation days do I get?” Remember, earlier interviews and conversations are for you to find out more about the company and the position itself. Conversations about pay and other benefits should be reserved for much later—typically after you’ve received a formal offer.

Timing won’t be as big of factor if you have a few questions about your salary at your existing place of employment, as you already have the job. However, keep in mind that discussions about your pay and benefits are serious, and deserve full attention from you and whoever you’re talking with. So, make sure that you schedule a meeting with your boss or your human resources representative, rather than attacking him or her with a nonchalant, “Hey, I think I should be making more!” statement around the coffee pot.

Determine Who to Talk to

Regardless of if you’re in the middle of the interview process or are already employed, you need to remember to think about not only about how you’re asking these questions, but who you’re asking.

When you’re job searching, any questions related to your pay and benefits should be directed first to whoever your main point of contact has been throughout the entire process—likely a human resources representative. He or she should be able to give you the information you need (it’s quite literally his or her job!).

What if you have a few questions about how something related to pay and benefits works at your current company? Well, you have a couple of different options for people you can ask. Of course, human resources is always a safe bet—and, when in doubt, make HR your default. But, if you just need a quick rundown of how something like asking for time off works in your office or something equally simple and straightforward, you can also typically approach your supervisor or even a co-worker to get a concise and helpful answer to your question.

Do Your Research

Many times, people have the same questions about things related to pay structures and benefits. And, rather than having to answer the same things over and over again, many companies create some sort of document or resource for prospective and current employees to reference.

Before charging ahead with your full list of questions, roll up your sleeves and do a little research to see if you can find the information you need yourself.

Yes, it might mean having to do some digging on the website or—gasp!—actually reading that giant packet the human resources department handed you. But, if you can save yourself the trouble of having to approach someone with questions that have already been answered elsewhere? Well, that’s more than worth it!

Remember Questions Over Accusations

In order to ensure these conversations go over as smoothly as possible, you’ll also want to keep a close eye on how you’re asking your questions. Remember that the operative word there is questions—not accusations.

It’s important that you phrase things accordingly, in order to make it clear that you’re simply trying to gather more information, rather than point fingers or complain about something.

For example, saying something like, “Can you explain how the number of PTO days is determined for each employee?” sounds a lot better than, “It’s not fair that I only have two weeks of paid vacation when I know for a fact that everybody else in the accounting department gets three weeks!”. So, pay close attention to your tone and delivery—those can make all the difference.

Stay Calm

Talking about money can be awkward—which is why so many of us have stomachs that start doing backward handsprings at the thought of discussing things like salaries, health plans, and paid vacation days.

But, in those moments when you feel yourself beginning to panic at the thought of asking even one question, remember this: It’s totally alright for you to have some questions and require some clarification. Moreover, you’re entitled to answers that help you make informed decisions.

Resist the urge to send yourself spiraling into a frenzy, take a deep breath, and then organize your thoughts. Regardless of your situation, that approach will help you to get the information you need in a way that presents you as calm, cool, and collected.

Kat Boogaard

Kat is a Wisconsin-based freelance writer covering topics related to careers, self-development, and entrepreneurship. Her byline has appeared in numerous outlets and publications, including Forbes, Fast Company, The Muse, QuickBooks, Business Insider, and more. Find out more about her on her website, or connect with her on Twitter.

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