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

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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.

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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.

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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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