Taking the Stress Out of the Salary Discussion

It is interesting how much stress there can be over the salary discussion in the interview process.  If you ask me, it is the one question that should be easy to answer because it is factual.  The recruiter should ask, “How much do you make?”  And the candidate can answer with a number.  Easy, right?

When we are socializing or networking we don’t talk about money.  We are very comfortable asking someone what they do for a living, but we would never say, “Wow, that sounds interesting.  What do you get paid for that?”.

But an interview is not a social situation.  It is perfectly acceptable to talk about salary history and expectations.

The recruiter should ask, in the first interview, for the candidate’s current compensation and the candidate should give a direct answer.   This first interview is typically a qualifying interview and the goal is to see if the candidate meets the baseline requirements.  Gathering salary information is just one of the data points.

It is perfectly acceptable for the candidate to qualify their response by saying that they are flexible or that they feel they are paid below market, but they do have to respond with a number.  Otherwise, the simple question becomes a prolonged conversation.   The recruiter may feel like the candidate is hiding something, which leads to more questions, which may result in the candidate feeling like they are being interrogated.

It is the recruiter’s responsibility to make the candidate comfortable and explain that the salary information is needed to be sure that both parties are in the same range.   If the candidate is hesitant, the recruiter can ask, “What would you like to make?”  Once that question is answered the recruiter should follow up with, “Is that how much you are making now?”

The recruiter should let the candidate know if he/she is within the compensation range.  If the candidate is making more than the desired range, the recruiter should ask how flexible the candidate can be and the reason for that flexibility.  Many candidates are willing to take a pay cut for a shorter commute or less travel.

The interview process can be very stressful for candidates.  Recruiters can and should help alleviate that stress.   Both parties should ask and answer questions directly and provide explanations where necessary.  Easy, right?

Views: 346

Comment by Valentino Martinez on June 24, 2011 at 3:18am



Your insights in the matter of reducing stress in the salary discussions that can go on with a candidate in the employment selection process are realistic and your conclusion is also correct--if it was easy it wouldn't be so stressful.


I always cut to the chase on the matter of base salary and compensation expectation with a job candidate fairly early into my pre-screening interview.  By the way, I also flush out the job base salary range and comp package with the hiring manager as well--so that I know which candidates to go forward with, or not.


It tends to save a lot of time and does nip any future confusion in the bud.  So, to your point, it does minimize the stress when the issue(s) is flushed out into the open.


Comment by Rich Krakora on June 24, 2011 at 12:16pm
It also helps to explain to the applicant that you are acting as their advocate in the process.  Having an open and frank conversation about compensation with their Recruiter on the front end puts them in the best position to get the most fair and equitable salary on the offer.
Comment by Mat von Kroeker on June 24, 2011 at 12:18pm
1. Location  2. Compensation  3. Position (good fit, duties and responsibilities, career growth etc.)

-- these three being the top concerns for active and passive candidates, I would have hoped I'd gotten these data points resolved in the first five minute phone screening.  Too many issues down the line if you don't.

Through trial & error, practice, and just plain "listening" to the interviewer--  this line resonates very well:   "I know you've set aside a budget for this position--- and I was hoping to be able to fit within those budget guidelines.  And what exactly would that be, by the way?"
Comment by Tony Palm on June 24, 2011 at 1:20pm

Here's the best line I ever heard when asking about compensation expectations: "Well, currently I am making $_K per year, and while everyone would like to earn more, I am willing to entertain any reasonable offer.”


I thought it was clear, direct, and laid the foundation for any future negotiations. Any time I help a friend with their salary discussions, I always repeat this line. And BTW, I’ve used it myself with excellent results.


Make it a great day!

Comment by Tom Dimmick on June 24, 2011 at 1:39pm

Salary discussions are always a bit stressful.  Many candidates have been counseled by well-meaning outplacement firms to avoid a direct answer to the question.  I do not agree with this.  As Cathy said, it is a data point that must be checked.


I have had clients require the submission of a candidate's most recent W-2 if the candidate was to be considered.  I have had candidates refuse to tell me their previous salary.  I think these are both extremes and that can and should be avoided.

I have found that if I can get agreement from the client, in advance, of a "targeted" salary that is somewhere in the middle of a range for the job, I can present that target to a candidate and have them freely provide me with an up or down number against that target.  It may not solve every situation but it has been a useful tool for me and my clients.

Comment by John Comyn on June 27, 2011 at 7:19am
I've always been taught to close the candidate low and the client high. This reduces the risk of expectations being unrealistic. I'm not sure I agree with this. Where we are (South Africa) there is a very high unemployment rate which tends to lead to companies exploiting candidates.
Comment by Cathy McCullough on June 27, 2011 at 9:21am
Thanks to everyone for your comments and for sharing your strategies regarding the salary discussion.


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