We spend way too much time at work not to love what we do. And while I sincerely love my work, the day my lottery investment plan comes off, there will be a thunderclap as the displaced air rushes in to fill the space I just vacated.

No matter how much passion we have for our job, we turn up for the money.

So it’s natural and necessary that when we look for a job, the salary is one important factor in the assessment. The salary on offer and the salary expectation have to be a good match, or the resulting situation is going to be unstable.

From the Candidate’s Perspective:

Recent news reported an extraordinary situation where a candidate had an interview lined up, but the interview was cancelled when she made a polite text enquiry about the remuneration. According to the report, the HR representative for the company responded: “As a start-up company, we seek out those who go out of their way to seek out challenges and new opportunities. We believe in hard work and perseverance in pursuit of company goals as opposed to focusing on compensation.” Needless to say, the universal response was that this response was ridiculous, and the company very quickly backed down.

Now, that’s an extreme case, but most people would agree that the remuneration question is fraught with peril. It’s an important issue, which needs to be handled delicately and with discretion.

In an ideal scenario, the company would provide guidance on the salary range as part of the job offering. When they elect not to do so, the candidate certainly has the ability to ask, but I wouldn’t do it by email or text. I would ask during a conversation with the relevant person. And I would make a judgement about the right time to ask – it certainly wouldn’t be my first question.

Asking about salary should be a ‘natural’ part of the conversation: What is the job about? Why would I be a good fit for the role? Why would it be a good fit for me (including salary)? That’s a condensed summary, but it’s also more or less the right order of priorities.

From the Employer’s Perspective:

It’s common enough for an employer to ask about your current salary. That’s reasonable: the employer needs to know that if they employ you, you are going to stay and make their investment in you worthwhile. There is no point in employing someone who was earning significantly more in their last job, knowing that they probably still want that kind of money.

But it has to be acknowledged that the recruitment process inherently involves a power imbalance. And when an employer asks you your current salary, they might legitimately need to know that your salary expectations meet the money on offer… but somewhere in the back of their head they’re also aware that if your figure is lower that what they had in mind, they can probably save some cash.

As an employer, I am less interested in a candidate’s current salary than I am in their salary expectation. And that probably dovetails pretty well with the advice offered by Wahib Saad of Evolve Scientific Recruitment, who said “…use you current salary (plus a few thousand if the role is a step up) as your absolute minimum and make them aware that this is the salary you are currently on. Most employers would then understand that you would not accept a new role for the same amount or less.”

The situation is a little different when the role is you first job. You’re much more vulnerable – much more beholden to more or less take the money on offer. But it doesn’t have to be all the employer’s way. Both Wahib and I would offer the same advice: do your research. Go online. Talk to your university, your alumni association, your professional association. Develop an understanding of the market, and this can help inform whether the remuneration on offer is fair.

Having said that, at the graduate level your priority should be on the role itself. What opportunity will you have to learn and grow.
Over the course of this year, I will be publishing a regular column on the DCS Technical website and facebook page, the RACI NSW newsletter and various social media. Supporting this, the RACI Young Chemists group has recently created a YouTube channel for career advice videos.
(Image courtesy of and image creator “patpitchaya”)