The salary question sucks

How much do you need to make?

Um, how much does the position pay?

Both employers and employees often handle the salary question miserably. It’s like when you were a kid playing doctor. I’ll show you mine if you show me yours. No, that never happened with me.

Employers want to know if they can afford the candidate, or worse, if they are used to making little money, maybe we can lower our costs by paying less. Candidates want to make as much as they can, and don’t want to undersell themselves. They may have been woefully underpaid at their last job and don’t want to continue to pay for it. I get it.

Recruiters/Headhunters help navigate this because we know the facts from both sides and can align accordingly with no surprises.

But, without this help, employers and candidates are on their own. And they usually make the salary question uncomfortable, and ultimately a larger part of the hiring equation than it should be or needs to be.

Here is the solution. Operate in facts only. And operate in the range of reality.

For employers, this means asking for a salary history. If the history is scattered, you can inquire further but use the information to make sure you keep your organizational salary ranges intact, but also to make competitive offers.

For the candidate, just tell them the history and don’t dance around the question. If you get an offer you don’t like, negotiate, or turn it down. If you tell a prospective employer your salary history, and they offer you a salary lower than what you typically make without a proper reason, why would you want to work for them anyway? They don’t respect your experience.

Be realistic. Meaning, if you have made 10-15% increases through your career as your responsibilities have progressed, don’t expect a 30% jump unless the role and responsibility truly warrants it. You may be expecting too much money.

As an employer, I always want to know what candidates I am interviewing have earned historically. Why? One, I can find out from your past employers so you might as well just tell me. But, more importantly, it paints a picture of the person’s career. It lends insight into what motivates them. If they are only motivated by money, and that is the main reason they moved from one job to the next, I may not want to hire them. They may just leave when a higher offer comes. I want the salary to be a part of the bigger picture.

I use that historical information to make a competitive offer, and pay them in the salary range of the position, regardless of whether they are outside of the range. I may go higher, but I won’t go lower. It would not be fair, and I would be screwing up my organizational compensation structure.

Plus, if my organization has done its job building culture, the salary conversation is pretty easy.

Take the awkwardness out of the interview. Deal with facts. Play fair. Negotiate in a way that makes both sides happy.

3 responses to “The salary question sucks”

  1. Gary R Smith says:

    All of which is fine except there has been a major reset in the economy. Having been searching for a new opportunity for the past twenty-some months, I’m willing to accept the fact that the economy has reset. I’ve generally replied with something like: “I know you’ll be competitive…” my hope is to have the discussion based on the quality of my fit and not be discarded right off the bat due to a salary history question.

  2. I always include the question: “What is your salary goal?” in my interview. I find phrasing it that way allows people to phrase either what they are looking for to start – or where they eventually want to be. As an employer both are important to me. I want someone with the ambition to move into a role with more responsibility, which corresponds to making more money.

  3. Kate (aka: gunrack) says:

    I think it is fair to request a salary history. That said, I’d like to know how far back you think it is appropriate. In my opinion, I’d say a salary history is appropriate only for as far back as the candidate has been in that given role. Anything prior seems irrelevant. Do you agree? If not, why?

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