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Should you ask about salary, benefits, vacation in an interview?

This isn't the first time I've expressed concern about career advice and those who offer it, but this time I need to make it an example. It was posted in LinkedIn by a recruiter who, as a recruiter, should know better.

Toward the end of an interview the interviewer will typically turn to you and ask "Do you have any questions?" It is always good to be prepared for this question and to have good thought out questions to respond with. Things that are always good to ask about are company benefits, pay day schedule, management set-up, what does a typical day in this job look like? - those kinds of questions keep the conversation going and show your interest in the position.

Can you spot the mistake? Yes, it's asking about company benefits and pay schedule. Add vacation and salary to those items.

The money/benefits/vacation part is a game, but not really. Some people do make money the priority in their job search, but that puts the cart before the horse. If you focus on money to the exclusion of factors such as chemistry, company culture, if the job has components that motivate you and make you happy to work there, you might very well find yourself unhappy fairly quickly. .

Sell yourself to the highest bidder without regard for the other factors and if you're unhappy, eventually your salary won't to be enough to compensate you for being unhappy in your job. And if you were desperate to be employed, once the relief of having a job wears off and reality sets in, that's what you might discover.

The point of an interview is to find out if both you and the company are right for each other. Until you each know more about the other party, it's impossible for either of you to assess the value of the other. Companies ask about salary early on, but their purpose is to determine if you're within their range and if you're realistic about your expectations.

Value comes with knowing the benefits of having that item and attaching yourself to it. For instance, perhaps you've decided to buy a car and you've capped the price at $30K. You receive a phone call from someone with a cherry red convertible in perfect condition with a new stereo and white leather seats. But it's $37K.

More than likely you'll say no, because it has no value to you. But what if you decide to go look at it? You drive it. The sun is on your face and the wind is in your hair. You begin to rationalize why $37K is feasible.

It's no different with salary. Making a decision based on an early salary discussion eliminates discovering the value the company may have to both you and your career.

This doesn't mean salary is unimportant. One of my retained clients has an offer for $74K. In her previous job in slightly different capacity she earned $90K more. At the onset of her search, she set her bottom line at $80K But now she's enthusiastic about both the position and the company and behind the scenes I'm helping her negotiate. What if she'd learned the salary first and never given herself the chance to learn more?

Asking the salary at all is not only unimpressive to the company, it's more than likely to get you withdrawn from consideration. A company wants someone who wants them for who they are, not for the pay check. If you'll join their company for money, you can be hired away for money. The only companies who don't follow that are the ones you don't want to work for.

- Judi Perkins

Judi Perkins, the How-To Career Coach and owner of Bethel-based Find the Perfect Job, was a search consultant for 22 years. She now operates the Web site www.FindThePerfectJob.com