NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Thinking of bringing up salary on your first or second interview? It’s not as taboo as it once was, and many hiring managers are now broaching the subject early in the hiring process. According to a survey from professional staffing firm Robert Half, 31% of senior managers say it’s acceptable for applicants to ask about compensation and benefits in the first interview, and 38% say it's fine to ask by the second interview. Here’s a look at how job-seekers should handle the discussion.

Get on the same page as quickly as possible

“Today you can get information and get things done from almost any country in the world,” says Paul McDonald, senior executive director at Robert Half. “Things are happening faster than ever, including the hiring process.”

Rather than being put off when salary comes up early on in the hiring process, be happy, McDonald says. It’s only going to save you time in the long run, whether the job is or isn’t a good fit.

“If the employer is lucky enough to find somebody they really like, then the attitude is, ‘Let’s be efficient with our time, let’s make sure it’s a good fit in all respects and let’s get the ball rolling,’” McDonald says.

Most people — candidates and hiring managers — just don’t have three to five weeks to go back and forth over a position anymore.

“It’s all about being efficient. Why don’t we just get down to it right away?” McDonald says. “The hiring manager wants to know if they can afford the candidate, and the candidate wants to know how much they’ll be paid.”

If asked your salary expectations, you have to answer

Although it would be great if prospective employers came right out and said, “We’d like to offer you $50,000 for this position,” it rarely happens that way. They’re going to want to know the salary range you’re looking for, and yes, you’ve got to speak first.

If you turn it around and say, “Well, what were you thinking of offering?” This can rub a hiring manager the wrong way and come across as unprofessional.

“Honesty is the best policy,” McDonald says. “If they ask you your salary history or compensation history, tell them the truth, and then tell them the range you’re looking for.”

If you were underpaid in your last job or if you’re underpaid in your current position, don’t be afraid to say so — just be ready to back it up with facts. Research the market rate for your position and your experience, and then take it from there.

Be careful that your research is based on facts, McDonald cautions. For example, you can’t just ask for a higher salary because you’ve started working in a more expensive area.

“Don’t base your salary on what you think you need to live. That has nothing to do with it. If you go into an interview saying, ‘This is what I need to come work for you,’ it’s not going to go over very well with hiring managers.”

“In a non-defensive way, substantiate what you were doing in your last job and that you were undervalued for the duties you were performing,” McDonald says. “If market value for the positon was $40,000 but you were being paid $32,000, then tell them why you took the job. Maybe you were looking to learn a new skill set, or maybe you saw the potential for upward mobility at the company.”

Don’t focus on money, but mention it at the end of the interview if you want

If money comes up during the interview, have your discussion and move on. There are other things to discuss to ensure you have a well-rounded experience, McDonald says.

“Don’t concentrate on salary alone. What is this position going to do for your career? Are you learning skills that will be on the cutting edge of your profession? Does the company have a nice track record of promotion and movement from the position that you are interviewing for? There’s so much to discuss.”

A good time to begin the salary conversation is at the end of the interview when the hiring manager or recruiter opens the floor for additional questions, says Mary Massad, recruiting services division president for human resources firm Insperity.

“This way, the candidate has more leverage regarding the topic of conversation instead of looking for an awkward segue during the scheduled interview questions,” she says.

Making your salary inquiry at the end of your interview is a good way to cap off the discussion.

“I recommend saying to the interviewer, ‘I appreciate your time today.  I am excited about what you shared about the team and how I could help you meet your goals.  I look forward to the next steps in the process, and would like to ask what you are considering for the salary range for this role?’” says Scott Ragusa, president of contract staffing at recruitment firm WinterWyman.

By adding the question to a positive response and expressing genuine interest, your query comes across as a natural next question, he says.

“The key is helping the hiring manager understand that you are interested, and that you want to have as much information as you can throughout the process to make the best decision for both parties,” he says.

Lastly, remember that you can’t negotiate your salary until you have an offer, McDonald stresses. Trying to convince the hiring manager to increase their budget for the position before you’ve even been offered the job is a definite no-no.

“Too many times people focus on money and start the negotiation before they have an offer in hand,” he says. “You have a couple more steps and maybe a few more interviews to go before you get to start the negotiation process.”