When a Recruiter Asks, Reveal Your Salary . . . For Your Own Good

Gina B.

When talking to a candidate, I know who I’m dealing with after I ask the dreaded question:  “What is your current compensation?”
My favorite candidates answer the question without hesitation.  Those are generally the most sophisticated candidates who are used to dealing with recruiters, and make my life easy.  In fact, a truly savvy candidate will volunteer his/her compensation before I ask.
On the other hand, I fantasize about throttling the candidates who behave as though recruiters should have top secret military clearance to learn their annual compensation. They hem, they haw, they give excuses.  They counter-ask questions like “well, what is the range for the role?” as though I’m actually going to fall for that.
They’re effectively shooting themselves in the foot by being close-mouthed about their salary information.
I understand the candidate perspective.  Everyone is sensitive about salary.  They’re afraid that they’re either going to price themselves out of a role, or that they will volunteer a number lower than the range of the position and lose negotiation power and ultimately money.  Both are valid fears. However, as recruiters, we are extremely desensitized to compensation, and it’s an important data point to us.
Smart recruiters ask for compensation details early in conversation, for a few key reasons.
We don’t care to waste your time, or ours.  When engaging a new candidate, I like to get the compensation conversation out of the way in the first 10 minutes. I learned this early in my career after spending close to an hour engaging a candidate only to find that his current compensation was twice what my role paid.  If he had refused to share at all, we might have gotten all the way to in-person interviews or even negotiation before realizing that we could never make the numbers work.  He was a nice guy and ultimately a good contact, but both of us could have better spent that time.
Market data helps us help you. Recruiters are relied upon as trusted advisors to clients, and often readjust a client’s expectation about salary ranges.  For example, if a client believes that $75K is the right compensation for a position, but in our market outreach we find that an excellent candidate will not be attracted by anything less than $90K, we might be persuasive in getting our client to increase the range as necessary.  However, we need facts on which to base our recommendations, and we gather those data points from candidates.
Our clients need a point of comparison.  Recruiters tend to present a slate of candidates to our clients after having gathered all of the basic information.  The candidate with incomplete data is typically taken less seriously than others.
Your secrecy gives us pause. The assumption is that your refusal to provide your compensation is either because you’re significantly under the range, or because you’re afraid that your salary is above range, however you would like to remain in consideration.  To provide another school of thought, if you’re well below range, it could be because you’re underqualified for the position that we’re recruiting.  You will not be able to hide this from us by avoiding the comp conversation.  We will figure it out.  And if we don’t figure it out, our client will.
If you’re well above range, I’m equally hesitant to engage you as a candidate, largely because recruiters have no interest in placing a candidate who will be immediately disgruntled even before the start date.
We also know when you’re lying.  As we study employment by occupation, recruiters have a general idea of what you’re supposed to be making based on level and years of experience.  If we sense that you’re egregiously inflating your compensation, we might back off of our pursuit due to suspicion.  On occasion, some clients have been known to request candidate W-2 statements for confirmation prior to presenting an offer.
We are your allies.  Recruiters get paid by our clients, and our fees are directly determined by the total annual compensation of the candidates that we recruit.  I promise you that we have equal interest in getting you the highest possible compensation.  But we need to know what we’re working with on the front end.
Please know that, in the final analysis, our goal is to provide a win-win-win, which means that compensation has to be something that elates – rather than deflates – our candidates.
Gina B. is an executive search consultant and President/Chief Alchemist of Naturals by Gina B. She can be reached at columnist@ymail.com.


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