The problem:

there are significant problems with my current employment: the project and myself have been moved to a new organization, there is no clear project ownership, governance and funding are also under a "question mark". To address these problems is way above my paygrade. Now, the obvious solution would be to start applying for other jobs. However, in my case this means relocation to a metro area like Vancouver, Toronto or Montreal (this is where all R&D jobs are). The biggest question for me is the cost of living (crisis): my only income is my salary, I have neither relatives, nor friends here in Canada. To have a comparable standard of living, I would need to make low 6-figures, based on rent, transportation etc. I am not greedy, but I don't want to live in a basement anymore!!!

My current pay is not great (in 5 fig), but it is a small Canadian city, so I have managed to stay above water (at least, so far). I know people here, I like environment, I can get around the place etc. Last but not least, I do have a sense of loyalty to the PI and the project! Because of this, I am very reluctant to look for a new job and I absolutely do not want to disclose that I might be looking for jobs.

Please note, that I am not in "tech" and I am not even sure whether my skills can command 6-fig salary! I try to be very realistic about myself.

The question:

Some job openings clearly state the salary range, so I immediately know they are below my target. Other jobs do not have the range. Suppose, I applied for a job, was called to the first round interview, then the company asked for my references and, after checking with references, they issued an offer with a salary, which I cannot accept.

Obviously, during the first interview there is a very limited time for questions and asking about compensation/benefits doesn't give the right impression either. Is it appropriate to ask about compensation when a potential employer asks you for references? How to word it correctly / explain that I am looking at certain numbers because of cost of living crisis?

  • I don't know who else needs to hear this, but don't ever feel greedy for wanting to maintain or improve your standard of living. I've turned down offers in HCoL areas specifically because they wouldn't pay me the appropriate "surcharge" to live there. Try looking at Glassdoor or similar to get an idea of pay for positions. Maybe you are "almost there" in one area and you could get that 6 figure offer by focusing on bringing up a couple skills.
    – user83977
    Commented Feb 23, 2023 at 15:53

4 Answers 4


Interviewers expect the salary question anytime and have an answer ready. But the way to ask and the moment are also important.

The more you show interest and the more they're interested, the best offer you can get. My tactic was first talk about the job, expectations on both sides, and to ask for the numbers near the end of the meeting.

Having worked abroad, I had also checked beforehand if the company had a salary grid according to the city/country. So, it's a possible opening. You want to tell them: I currently live in [city] and it seems like living costs are around $xxx in [new city], will salary match these? without really asking. In my case, I was bringing up the topic of money by asking about some expanses and possible help from the company. For instance, some had deals with other companies for houses/appartments, and could even back you up and guarantee.

As soon as you start talking about accommodation, about transportation, about school (if kids) and so on, they know you're talking about money. Their money. And if you do so, that you might also be interested in their offer. So this could help reach another level of discussion. And if their numbers don't match your expectations, you have your answer.

Find the topics that are important to you and raise your concerns when it's time to talk about money.

  • 1
    Thank you for this reassuring answer! Much appreciated!
    – user136555
    Commented Feb 22, 2023 at 7:01

compensation/benefits doesn't give the right impression either

This is a fallacy. Experienced interviewers are both expecting the question and ready for it. There is no issue with asking early.

I find out the parameters of the job so I know roughly what I'd be doing, and if I'm still interested, ask what the remuneration range is. No point waiting, those are the two major things that we're all interested in.


So this does depend on Culture - but for me - When I talk with the recruiter, I would give my Salary expectations up-front (What I'm currently earning +20%) if they were not listed on the Job listing.

Apart from that, in the first interview is absolutely the right time to ask, it's not Greedy, you aren't a charity.

Ways you can ask:

"I have a few questions of my own, firstly - what is the salary band for this position?"

Or you can simply tell them:

"My Salary expectations are in the region of X"

The best thing you can do is to stack the deck in your favour - look at what the average salary for your position in that region is, look at what skills/experience you have that you can justify demanding a higher rate (industry qualifications, prestigious projects, secondary skills etc.)

I had an interview once (that was admittedly going badly - I didn't like the management style they were articulating) and I asked about Salary - their top offer was $10-20K less than other offers I had on the table at that time. So I straight up told them this and that I didn't want to waste their time and left.


Others have already addressed your main questions, but I would like to touch on this:

looking at certain numbers because of cost of living crisis

Do not try to justify your salary expectations by the "cost of living crisis". Your employer is not paying you to help you survive; they pay you because you provide something of value to them, so your goal is to demonstrate that your value (to them) corresponds to your salary expectations.

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