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Be Careful When Asking About Salary and Benefits

You’re interviewing for a job. You answer each question carefully and thoughtfully. You feel confident in your performance. In fact, you think you nailed it. 

Then, the interviewer says, “That’s all the questions I have. What questions might you have for us?” 

You already know a lot about the role and the organization, but the salary and benefits haven’t been disclosed yet. So, you ask to learn more. Seems like a reasonable thing to do. Unfortunately, research suggests this might cost you the job.

The Problem With Asking 

A 2020 study published in the Academy of Management Journal found that candidates who ask about pay and benefits during the interview are generally seen as less intrinsically motivated — which, in turn, leads to them being more readily dismissed. The researchers call this the “motivation purity bias.” It negatively affects the hiring manager by discounting qualified candidates they consider are more interested in money than passion. Consequently, interviewers need to be aware of this bias and seek to guard against it.

Save the Question for Later 

Although salary and benefits are critical to know, don’t ask about them during the interview process. (Wait until you have an offer in hand.)  Instead, ask questions that create a positive impression about your motivation. Here are some examples:

  • “What does success in this role look like to you in the short and long term?”
  • “Can you share more about the culture in the department and the organization?”
  • “Do you have any concerns about my qualifications that I might be able to address?”
  • “What do you see as the keys to succeeding in the role and the challenges associated with it?”
  • “What is your timeline and next steps?”

The motivation purity bias isn’t fair, but nevertheless (to paraphrase JFK), ask what you can do for your prospective employer, not what they can do for you. 


Antonio Ferme 

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