National Newswatch

TORONTO — It can be a delicate question, but job applicants should absolutely ask about compensation when being interviewed, say career experts alarmed by a story in which a woman's interview was cancelled over money talk.

The case of Winnipeg's Taylor Byrnes has drawn derision and advice from employment experts who insist her experience was extreme, and unusual.

Byrnes made headlines this week when she described how an online restaurant delivery service cancelled a job interview after she asked about compensation and benefits. She says she had emailed the question after her first interview and before a scheduled second interview.

She says SkipTheDishes scrapped the meeting, saying her "priorities weren't in sync" with the startup. Byrnes tweeted a screenshot Sunday of the email exchange and it went viral, with most onlookers appearing to sympathize with her.

The whole flap prompted an apology and retraction from founder Joshua Simair, who offered to reschedule the interview.

Career coach Lee Weisser says the firm was clearly wrong to discount Byrnes based on her question, insisting employers should be ready to address salary issues at any point in the interview process.

"It used to be that you were never supposed to bring it up in the first interview but these days, candidates are sometimes subjected to a whole slew of interviews and that takes a lot of effort," says Weisser, whose Toronto service Careers by Design specializes in helping workers transition to new industries.

"I see a lot of people having to go through a very long interview process — four or five or six interviews — and you don't want to wait until that's all over to bring it up, for sure."

Still, she'd wait for a second interview before raising the topic.  

"It's a delicate dance, it really is."

When raising the topic, she suggests applicants research the typical salary range and use that as a conversation starter. That shows initiative while indicating you are open to negotiation.

"Don't play it cool. They want to know that you're eager and invested," she adds.

Career coach Mark Franklin says there's a lot to be said for an applicant taking control of the situation.

"The interview process is tilted more toward employers," says Franklin, president of the Toronto-based counselling service Career Cycles.

"We encourage people even in their applications to say, 'Look, thanks for reading my letter. If I haven't heard from you by March 31st, I'll call you at 2 p.m. on that day.' What that does is it keeps the ball in the candidate's court."

Candidates should similarly be ready if an employer asks what their salary expectations are, he adds.

In that case, Franklin suggests deferring the matter until an offer comes through, but if pressed, have a well-researched figure in mind.

By and large, such money questions don't appear to be as taboo as they once were.

A 2014 survey from the staffing service Robert Half found the majority of more than 300 senior hiring managers in the United States said they had no problem with an applicant asking about compensation in either the first or second interview.

And nearly all said they had never excluded a top candidate after they asked about compensation and benefits too early in the interview process.

Still, Lynda Zugec, managing director at the human resources firm Workforce Consultants, couldn't help but sympathize with SkipTheDishes, given that a spokeswoman said Wednesday the flap involved a junior employee.

As a whole, companies are offering more transparency than ever before, says Zugec, whose firm provides human resources services including hiring, recruiting and interviews.

"All these shifts take time," she says, adding "organizations are more open to questions than they have been in the past."

Weisser wishes job postings would always provide salary details, but acknowledged that's not always possible.

"It would save a lot of time and a lot of trouble."

Cassandra Szklarski, The Canadian Press

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