Salary: Help Me Help You!

Many states are making it illegal to ask candidates for current salary info and salary history. 

I agree with this law.

But, ironically, I still need to know your salary.

I get the hesitation to share this information. It’s discussed in one of the first few conversations I have with someone. There isn’t even a guaranteed interview yet.

We talk about salary “just in case” we get to the offer stage. Why?

At a minimum we need to determine if we’re playing in the same salary ballpark so we don’t waste everyone’s time. More importantly, I might actually be able to help you make more money if we get to the offer stage.

In an ideal world I wouldn’t need to know. Here’s how that would look:

Zero companies would ask for current salary

Thus all companies would make offers based on what they think someone is worth (instead of partially basing offers on current salary)

Everyone would know their market value.

Maybe in 5 years I’ll think it’s crazy that I used to ask for salary. Until then, here are 5 reasons I want to know!

  1. Help me help you! I usually play a role in offer negotiations. Sometimes a big role. When negotiating on someone’s behalf, the more I know the better. Salary is just part of the equation. I need to know about bonus potential, cost of insurance, how much PTO and so on. The higher level someone is, the more variables: Stock options, RSUs, Car allowance. Why is all this important? Offers have many variables and moving parts. If both sides are genuinely interested in working together, there is often more ways than one to make it work. But, if we get to the offer stage and I don’t know your situation, I can’t leverage my experience to make sure a deal is crafted that works for everyone. For example, if base pay can’t change, how about a review after 3 or 6 months with the potential to get to that desired base pay? Extra vacation? What about taking the “pro-rated” tag off the first year annual bonus? Sign-on bonus? Negotiations aren’t cut and dry. If I’m involved in negotiations on the back-end, it’s best to start the process in a transparent manner. Speaking of which…
  2. Two Way Street: I am transparent. I always share job descriptions and let prospects know the company name (unless it’s a confidential replacement). It’s helpful to know about the company when evaluating an opportunity, not just the job description. When you get into recruiting you’re told not to share this information. Keep it confidential. I think that’s old school. I trust people unless they burn me. Information flow doesn’t stop with description and company name.  I discuss hiring managers, environment, what type of person has thrived with this company, how to prepare for the interviews. As long as I’m sharing this much information, I think it’s fair to ask for the same in return.
  3. Companies are still asking current salary: The new law in Massachusetts is a good thing. (See last week’s blog: Illegal to Ask Current Salary!) But it’s not illegal anywhere else yet. A lot of companies still ask. If a client asks me what a candidate is making I need to be able to discuss. Do I always need to share someone’s exact salary from the beginning? No. Sometimes letting a client know that a candidate will be within budget is enough information. But I still need to be able to have a conversation if it gets to that point. Some pundits suggest people shouldn’t want to work for a company that asks for salary information. I don’t think it’s reasonable to scratch every company off your list that does this. Not yet. There are still too many. Just learn to handle the question: What is your current salary?
  4. I trust my judgement & experience. I’ve been part of hundreds of offer negotiations. Most people I work with have changed jobs (to new companies) less than 5 times. Many just once or twice. I’m confident my experience can only aid negotiations. To be helpful in the negotiation process I need to understand salary information/history. Here’s one example of how it could work in your favor:
    • Working for a company that’s losing money and hasn’t offered raises the last few years? That information can help us negotiate a better offer. If a company is partially basing their offer on your current salary (right, wrong or indifferent) it can be extremely helpful to show a lack of raises, helping to justify a bigger increase than they were prepared to offer.
  5. It isn’t easy to know your value: It sounds great not to share current salary. It’s empowering! Careful what you wish for. It actually places more importance on candidates knowing their value and that’s not easy. Here’s a real life example:
    • Most people who don’t want to share salary information feel like they are underpaid. Understandable. Within that group, most don’t really know their market value. I recently spoke with someone who didn’t want to disclose current salary. Their ‘target salary’ was exactly in the middle of the salary range I provided. Coincidence that their target salary was right in the middle?  Of course not. Our client wasn’t interested at that price point. That particular person was then willing to consider an interview with a target salary $20k lower. I don’t share this to disparage that individual. We all want to make more money! Just pointing out that not sharing puts more responsibility on candidates to know their value, especially if talking directly with a company and not through a 3rd party recruiter.

There you have it! Did I convince you? Surely someone will try to change my mind?!

Skeptics will say we have the company’s best interest in mind since they pay our fees. Of course we want deals to close. But not at the risk of damaging our reputation. No single deal is worth jeopardizing a relationship, especially when you’ve been recruiting for a long time.

I leverage my experience to provide honest insight, perspective and feedback to candidates. I also share insight and feedback to clients regarding salary ranges: is it enough? What will they get for a particular pay range?  A bipartisan approach if you will!

I actually struggled with this column. If I agree that companies shouldn’t ask for current salary, why do I want to know? Is that fair?

I considered writing about something else but decided to move forward with this. I started blogging to help others. To reach an audience bigger than my day-to-day interactions.

Turns out, I’ve actually learned a lot as well. Writing has forced me to think about how I go about my business. I want to be open to feedback, even criticism. Especially if it makes me better at what I do. For these reasons, this is exactly the type of stuff I should be writing about.

Until next time…


Leave a Reply