Photograph by Scott Eells — Bloomberg/Getty Images
By Anne Fisher
July 1, 2014

Haven’t looked for a new job in a while? You might be surprised at some of the ways job hunting has changed lately. For one thing, especially in fields like accounting, finance, marketing, and IT where competition for top talent is intense, getting hired is often a lot faster now than it was a few years ago. So more interviewers are talking about compensation sooner.

A record high 70% of hiring managers now say they welcome salary discussions as early as the first or second interview, according to a new survey by global staffing firm Robert Half International—a far cry from the days when talking about money so soon marked a candidate as crass, or desperate.

Moreover, the poll suggests that applicants have little to lose by asking about pay up front: 92% of the hiring managers said they wouldn’t disqualify an applicant for doing so.

The reason is “a very real war for talent,” says Paul McDonald, senior executive director at Robert Half. “To get the right people before their competition does, companies have compressed the time involved in hiring. They’re bringing up salary and benefits right away in order to save time.”

In some respects, that is turning conventional job interview wisdom on its head. Remember, for instance, when canny candidates put off answering the “What are your salary requirements?” question as long as possible? That was partly a negotiating ploy, to avoid naming a figure that might be lower than what the employer planned to offer.

These days, McDonald recommends a different approach—one that helps speed the interview along. “You should answer the salary requirements question right away, and as accurately as possible,” he says. “The trouble is, too many candidates go into interviews not knowing how to answer it.”

That takes, first, understanding the dollar value of the benefits (not just salary) you’re earning now; and, second, doing lots of research on the market value of the job you’re after, in the geographical area and the type of company where you’re applying.

Then, when an interviewer asks, “state the facts as you know them,” McDonald advises, “and say something like, ‘I hope that’s in line with what you have in mind.’You want to appear flexible at this stage, and make it clear that you’re more interested in the job and the career path than the compensation.”

Don’t be put off, he adds, if the hiring manager mentions a salary that you think is too low. “You can usually negotiate for an early performance review, incentive bonus, or extra benefits like more vacation time or a gym membership,” McDonald says. “But those discussions don’t start until after you get the offer.”

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