Discussing money on an interview can be very awkward for both an employer or a  job candidate.  It is frequently said that “the first person who brings up money in an interview, generally loses.”

Who brings it up first?  Why is it so often an anxiety provoking “make or break” discussion?

There are many obvious and not so obvious reasons.

If you are the candidate, you obviously want to get hired at the highest salary possible.

If you are the employer, you obviously want to hire the very best candidate at a salary that best fits your organization and cash flow.

But the money question goes much deeper than the obvious for many of us.  In an article “The Psychology of Money” written by Michael Ventura for the magazine “Psychology Today”, Mr Ventura writes:

“In these United States money is our common denominator. It is the absolute standard of access and status–the “bottom line,” as we say these days. Not only commerce but education, justice, art, the environment, health care, and often liberty itself must meet the standards and bow to the demands of money. There is precious little among us that isn’t rationed, administered, and ultimately valued, in terms of money. The Constitution aside, most Americans consider themselves free insofar as they have access to money. 

Money plays covert, even insidious, roles in our most intimate relationships. Divorcees who vie viciously for each other’s money are only bringing to light what lived in their love from the beginning: the need to be valued–a need that tends to turn ferociously concrete when things go bad. Our secrecy about our salaries is a secrecy about how we are valued. Among men especially, the contest of who will pick up the check is a contest of dominance, and this is only one of the gentler ways men make money felt in their friendships.”

As it relates to an interview: What is it about the money question that is so difficult for most of us?  It’s plane and simple: no one wants to screw it up!

Of course, no one ever accepts a new job unless the salary makes economic sense, but the job has to make sense on so many other levels as well.  Does the new job make career sense?  Do you like the people? Does the job make emotional sense?  Will you be working for an honorable employer or will you be selling your soul to the devil, just for the money?

Is this a job in which you can see yourself working there for 5 years?

When an employer asks a candidate, “How much money will it take for you to accept this job?” or “What kind of money are you looking to earn?” this can be a very loaded question.  Proceed with caution.

If the question gets asked on a first interview rarely should you commit to a specific salary amount. 


Well, what if you “low ball” yourself or price yourself too high before the employer knows your value?  Rarely on a first interview can an appropriate salary amount be determined.

So what is an appropriate response if the money question gets asked early on a first interview?

A proper response to that question may be ………”this is what I am earning right now $______, but for me it’s not about the money, it’s about the opportunity and I’m sure that when the time comes- we’ll be able to work that out.”  

Clearly this is a vague response but if the money question comes up very early in the interview, it can be a slippery tight rope walk at best.

Employers usually have a reasonable idea how much an applicant is currently earning prior to an interview.  The money question should be addressed only after concluding that hiring this applicant is an absolute must and is the very best available applicant.

In addition, the offer amount should be the highest and best that can be offered: up front.  No fooling around.  Some employers will make a purposely lower offer to leave room for negotiation and to save on their bottom line.  Business is business of course.

However, no one wants to feel that they are being manipulated by being offered less at first for negotiating later.  Some people are not comfortable negotiating and turn jobs down as a result.

Can you imagine the time lost and the cost of starting all over again to recruit a new candidate?

In summary, the money question will eventually come up in any successful hire.  Preparing in advance with a well thought out response is key to a successful interview.