Our language is important.  Our words matter.  I remind myself of the truth in those statements several times each day.  As a recruiter I find, qualify, and enthuse talented people on behalf of my client companies.  My tools are my words, both written and spoken.

I find many of my recruiter peers focus less on their words than I do. I am a bit of a pedant, it is true.  But the things I care about so much are the things that help me do my job in a way that leads to more success for all involved.  Better offers more often accepted. Happier companies, happier candidates, and yes, of course, my interests matter too.  When things go smoothly I am thrilled. I like to stack the deck of success in my favor – which also means in the favor of the candidates I represent and the clients I serve.

I think I fight the good fight.

I ask you, my fellow recruiters, to banish a well-worn tool from your arsenal of words and phrases. Please stop talking about salary ranges. That phrase should never cross your lips again. It adds no meaning at all to our conversations, and in fact, can drive exactly the wrong behavior. Companies do not make offers of salary ranges, they offer a salary and a salary is a very specific number.  Dealing in ranges tends to point us toward the composite, and we make a living by staying, quite persuasively, in the particular.

I do a lot of split business.  In the past several weeks I have had to turn back several candidates to my partners in order to get concrete details on compensation. I don’t usually present a candidate who has not shared concrete details regarding their situation. What my partners had shared with me was this:    “Candidate X would consider making a move for a salary within the range of this position.”    Insanity.

I can imagine the conversation, though.  Be honest, so can you:

Recruiter:  I have this really cool job.

Candidate: What is the pay range?

Recruiter: Oh, it could pay up to 95K if you are awesome.

Candidate: Sign me up, but I need to be near the top for it to be worth my while.

Recruiter:  Cool, send me your resume.

In both cases my partners admitted they led with the "salary range" of the position before they got the details of the candidate's situation. This is never a good move.

When I approach a candidate, I talk to them specifically about their current situation before we progress to discussing any of my current opportunities.  I want to know what it is they love, what is missing, what excites them, what drives them.  Part of that conversation is, of course, compensation, but people don’t really fall in love with salaries. Don’t get me wrong, money is important.  Hello, I am a sales girl at heart!  But it is the work, the people, the company itself and the opportunity to make a difference that gets people excited. Money is simply a part (albeit an important part) of that complicated calculation of value.

Our job is to find out all we can about their particular situation - including how important cash money is to them.  No one ever turned down a role because it paid too much, but varying levels of compensation will produce commensurate happiness.  Probing and understanding their perspective is essential to delivering opportunities calibrated to please.   I build rapport (this really is an art, but an art one can and must learn) by helping them understand every question I ask is essential to my goal of representing them in a way that will get them the very best offer possible if we are fortunate enough to get to that point.  I ask a lot of questions.  If I don't get answers we don't get to talk about the positions I have at my fingertips.

I am respectful, firm, not rehearsed, and I am very good at helping them understand why it is in their best interest to fully disclose.  And I believe it myself. This is part of my right livelihood.  I believe that by getting the best offer possible I am truly serving both the candidate and the client because the candidate will stay at my client happier, longer.

This has become second nature to me.  I have a patter.  It doesn’t matter if I am talking to a contractor or an employee in any type of role. All the bases get covered because all of them matter.

  • Talk to me about your compensation package, how is it structured?
  • What is your base/hourly rate?  Is there a flexible component?

  • Talk to me about benefits? Is there a retirement plan contribution? Do you have tuition reimbursement? How much paid time off to you get?

  • Is there anything that you especially like about your benefits? That you dislike? Is there anything that could stand in the way of you making a move now if you found the right position?

Yes, this is my very first conversation and these are all important details to know early on.  Any one of them might be so significant to cause a painful train wreck if not probed and represented carefully. Sometimes other recruiters will call me up all excited about a candidate who is perfect for an opportunity.  When I ask about money they often say, “I have another call scheduled to discuss that.”   Huh?  How did that not come up already? That has to happen before we talk about any positions.  Often it is the way people answer (or do not) that tells us the most about working with them as a candidate.

Our job is to set and guide expectations on both sides of the equation.  The details matter.

After I have gotten the necessary information and have decided they seem interesting to me, the door opens to talk about my available opportunities.  I can now say with confidence, "I think that this opportunity could offer you a step forward in regards to both the work and the people as well as your financial considerations." When asked about the “salary range” I tell them this:   "What the client will pay depends on how well you interview and what you bring to the table. But I think we have room here, if you interview well, to certainly improve your position.

This initial conversation is as important to our screening and qualifying as any skill set check.   In this conversation you will often get what you need to help guide the candidate through the entire process toward acceptance. This conversation provides a tiny road map of their heart - powerful stuff one must be sure to use for good, not evil.  I often use their language from this initial conversation when delivering offers, it helps the odds of acceptance. But that is a post for another time.

Only the candidate will know what it will take to happily make a move to new pastures.  At this early stage they don't have enough information to know what that will be.  So I stick to what we can know – the concrete details of their situation.

When I craft presentations to my clients using this information, they are compelling and tell a story that spurs the interest of the reader. Interest leads, more often than not, to an interview. One more way I serve my candidates.

Avoiding the "salary range" discussion when talking to candidates helps me stay focused on what matters most - their particulars - which helps me do a better job for them and my clients.

I can imagine one reaction to this post.  But Lisa, our clients speak that range language!  Yes they do, but we don't have to, and in fact - in order to maximize success - we can't afford to. When I encounter the dreaded range from a client company I take the same probing, questioning stance and asking questions in the particular – just like I did with my candidate.  Often their range is not a solid indicator of what they'll pay and by probing salary and skill set, goals, and success factors we get a much better picture of the position than we would have.  Sometimes they can and will go higher for the right person - which we need to know. While when recruiting I never shoot for the highest range a company will pay, having a good understanding of their real limits is useful.  Often my competitors don't know because they didn't ask.

In our business, the details matter. Only by asking good questions and listening to the particular answers on both sides of the equation can we find them.

Views: 355

Comment by Tom Bolt on May 21, 2012 at 8:24am

OK, you asked for a comment: I'm not going to totally "banish" discussions about salary ranges, but you are spot on with this logic. You can't negotiate a range...you can negotiate a specific number. Your four bullet points are questions that should be in the dialog of any recruiter who wants to build a level of trust with both clients and candidates. It is important to drill down to specifics as early as possible...even if difficult cases make you fall back on using a range to get there. Using fuzzy numbers with undefined boundaries will always sound a little slippery and encourage everyone to continue the game.

Comment by Jerry Albright on May 21, 2012 at 11:33am

Right on Lisa! I have never asked my client for a range - ever.

"What is your targeted salary here?" You will usually hear a fairly specific number.

I think this happens with newer recruiters - using the upper end of this range they have been given to induce interest.

Newsflash Newbies: If the reason someone is in the loop with you is because you've made it seem that they might get a huge raise - you'll never (ever) make that placement.

Comment by Amber on May 21, 2012 at 12:29pm

Lisa, great points - I do not ask about salary ranges, and also get clear expectations from the client and candidate side.

When I first started recruiting, I really had no idea that clients or candidates had hesitancy to discuss money. So I just assumed it was part of the natural process to ask, and didn't get much resistance from either side. Then I started reading articles, hearing recruiters talking, etc. about how to get to the money issue. Lots of tricks and tips out there! I started being a little unsure about my previous methods, and all of a sudden it got harder to get the information I needed to fill positions...

I quickly went back to my former ways, had lots more success with the compensation discussions on all sides. Sometimes, ignorance is bliss - and sometimes the plus to being a "newbie"!

Comment by Jerry Albright on May 21, 2012 at 12:44pm

Amber - great point!  Talking about salary is one of our "do it every day" type things.  The more we think it's a tough subject the harder it can become.

Can you imagine a doctor having hesitations about asking a patient to disrobe for an exam?

"Wow, uh, this is weird.  I'm going to suggest something here that, well, uh, might just freak you out a bit.....so hopefully you won't mind...........You're going to, uh, well, how do I say this....I need you to, uhm, well.....geez this is awkward.....don't freak out on my but you'll need to, uh.........."

Comment by Noel Cocca on May 21, 2012 at 10:20pm

Great post!  love this....so many times overlooked, not talked about enough, and such a big part of making placements and filling reqs.  Great post!  

Comment by Jackie Burress on May 22, 2012 at 12:41pm

Jerry, I love your example there!

I'll admit that when I was newer in the game I felt awkward about asking compensation, but after a few of those situations it got sticky when it came to negotiations and I learned my lesson! Get the nitty gritty up front.


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