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3 Smart Questions About Pay To Ask A Potential Employer Before Taking The Job

As we focus on getting equal pay, here's how you can advocate for yourself.

Workin' Girl

It’s always a good look when you’re able to get to the final step of a job interview. You’ve made it past the first round of interrogation, the second round of meeting with your prospective manager, and now you’re at the last stop, where you pretty much have the job but still have the opportunity to either accept or decline the offer. Before you say yes, though, think about the environment women work in today and consider your options in terms of pay.

Last week, Equal Pay Day was commemorated on March 15 in order to mark how far into the year women must work to earn what men earned during the same time last year. While some companies’ leaders are doing the best they can to not only raise the bar on equal pay for all employees but actually set better standards for pay altogether, many companies still struggle to get with the equal-pay program.

So, when you’re having that virtual meeting where the hiring manager asks, “So, any more questions on the position that will seal the deal for you?” here are three you shouldn’t leave the conversation without asking:


1. "How are professionals at your company rewarded for good work or tenure?"

This is the time when you’d be able to get insights about the process of pay raises or rewards for good performance or find out whether they might be having you work for eight years, doing well before a pay raise is even considered. (This happened to me, and I literally struggled while making a yesteryear’s salary with modern-day bills.) Ask them follow-up questions like, “When would I have the opportunity for a raise upon performing well?” or “Is there a policy in place that rewards those who have been at the company for a while or for tenure perks?”

When you do well, you should be compensated. And remember, inflation and bill collectors don’t pause, so you must advocate for yourself by finding out how your salary might increase (or not) over time.

If they can give detailed responses on this, you might have found a good fit here in terms of getting what your skills and talents are worth. If they have to “get back to you” upon your acceptance of the offer, they don’t have any specifics on these things, or they simply say, “No, there are none in place at this time,” you might want to reconsider saying yes to the job. It’s a good idea to get ahead of the possible future of burnout and frustration.

And depending on your industry, some perks based on how much time you’ve been at a company are industry-standard or even legally backed.


2. "What retirement, other investment options, or perks are available, and does the company offer a match to my fund contributions?"

While the realities of COVID have impacted many businesses, it’s still a good idea to at least ask this question. (And if you don’t know anything about a 401K, you should still be asking about this. You could be leaving thousands of dollars on the table by avoiding this conversation.) Find out all the options for perks and funds, and ask your prospective employer about the investment firms or financial institutions they work with so you can do your own investigating as to what might be best for you. When I got my first job, I knew nothing about a 401K and didn’t really understand what I was contributing to every paycheck. Fast-forward years later, when I hit a stint of unemployment.

My mom asked, “Hey what happened to your 401K funds? You need to check.” Sure enough, there were thousands of dollars in an account at my disposal due to that company matching my contributions. The money had just been sitting there for years. Luckily, by the time I’d inquired about the funds, I was just in time before missing the cutoff date for dormant accounts.

While you might think you’re too young (or too far from living that life), it’s always good to plan ahead to save for retirement even if it might not come for another couple of decades. Also, retirement or investment funds can come in handy way before it’s time for you to clock in for the last time. Some people have been able to use investment funds to start their first business, travel, or take a break from working for months or years at a time.

And if you’re up for a job that requires a lot of travel, physical exertion, time away from your family, or use of technology, ask whether there are stipends, discounts, business credit card accounts, or funding options to cover expenses related to those things. Again, making sure you’re financially, mentally, and physically able to not only support yourself but the duties you need to succeed in the role is key.


3. "How is my salary broken down: hourly or annual?" 

This is key because, though some companies offer a “salary,” they’re really paying you for a certain number of hours, and those that do this also typically offer overtime pay. Again, you want to be clear on this because if you find yourself working 10-12 hours but only getting paid for 8, you’ll need to really either reevaluate your time management or face the tough reality that your managers might be requiring effort from you for work that you aren’t being compensated for. Hey, sometimes a certain project or task takes more time than your work shift–no matter how great you are at time and project management, and depending on the company culture, you might be expected to just suck it up and get the job done.

If you’re paid the same amount, regardless of the hours it takes to complete a task or job, and there’s no overtime pay, consider whether the way the company might pay you will impact your quality of life or happiness in that role.

I once had a salaried job, for example, that paid a flat rate (not by the hour at all) but the workload required me to complete tasks throughout the night, well after my office hours, with no overtime pay. (The job also had a sales component, and while I was selling thousands of dollars in said product a month, I received nothing for my prowess in doing so.) Once I calculated how much I was working versus what I was being paid, the numbers just didn’t add up, and while I loved the job, I couldn’t justify the return on my time and energy investment. I was making the company thousands of dollars a month, on top of doing my other duties, yet I was being paid peanuts.

True, you could wait and discuss this with your manager once you’re at the job, but why not get ahead of things by asking, during the interview, about the salary breakdown, and then, make a decision, based on the type of job you’re applying for, on whether it’s a good idea to take the offer.

While there are still prevalent issues related to systemic sexism and racism that pose challenges for Black women in getting our fair pay, at the end of the day, you can take charge of getting the salary you deserve (if not more) and you can plan ahead to earn the money that will help you reach your financial and lifestyle goals.

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Featured image by Ariel Skelley/Getty

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When I was ten, my Sunday school teacher put on a brief performance in class that included some of the boys standing in front of the classroom while she stood in front of them holding a heart shaped box of chocolate. One by one, she tells each boy to come and bite a piece of candy and then place the remainder back into the box. After the last boy, she gave the box of now mangled chocolate over to the other Sunday school teacher — who happened to be her real husband — who made a comically puzzled face. She told us that the lesson to be gleaned from this was that if you give your heart away to too many people, once you find “the one,” that your heart would be too damaged. The lesson wasn’t explicitly about sex but the implication was clearly present.

That memory came back to me after a flier went viral last week, advertising an abstinence event titled The Close Your Legs Tour with the specific target demo of teen girls came across my Twitter timeline. The event was met with derision online. Writer, artist, and professor Ashon Crawley said: “We have to refuse shame. it is not yours to hold. legs open or not.” Writer and theologian Candice Marie Benbow said on her Twitter: “Any event where 12-17-year-old girls are being told to ‘keep their legs closed’ is a space where purity culture is being reinforced.”

“Purity culture,” as Benbow referenced, is a culture that teaches primarily girls and women that their value is to be found in their ability to stay chaste and “pure”–as in, non-sexual–for both God and their future husbands.

I grew up in an explicitly evangelical house and church, where I was taught virginity was the best gift a girl can hold on to until she got married. I fortunately never wore a purity ring or had a ceremony where I promised my father I wouldn’t have pre-marital sex. I certainly never even thought of having my hymen examined and the certificate handed over to my father on my wedding day as “proof” that I kept my promise. But the culture was always present. A few years after that chocolate-flavored indoctrination, I was introduced to the fabled car anecdote. “Boys don’t like girls who have been test-driven,” as it goes.

And I believed it for a long time. That to be loved and to be desired by men, it was only right for me to deny myself my own basic human desires, in the hopes of one day meeting a man that would fill all of my fantasies — romantically and sexually. Even if it meant denying my queerness, or even if it meant ignoring how being the only Black and fat girl in a predominantly white Christian space often had me watch all the white girls have their first boyfriends while I didn’t. Something they don’t tell you about purity culture – and that it took me years to learn and unlearn myself – is that there are bodies that are deemed inherently sinful and vulgar. That purity is about the desire to see girls and women shrink themselves, make themselves meek for men.

Purity culture isn’t unlike rape culture which tells young girls in so many ways that their worth can only be found through their bodies. Whether it be through promiscuity or chastity, young girls are instructed on what to do with their bodies before they’ve had time to figure themselves out, separate from a patriarchal lens. That their needs are secondary to that of the men and boys in their lives.

It took me a while —after leaving the church and unlearning the toxic ideals around purity culture rooted in anti-Blackness, fatphobia, heteropatriarchy, and queerphobia — to embrace my body, my sexuality, and my queerness as something that was not only not sinful or dirty, but actually in line with the vision God has over my life. Our bodies don't stop being our temples depending on who we do or who we don’t let in, and our worth isn’t dependent on the width of our legs at any given point.

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