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Talking About Salary: A Recruiter's Perspective


I wrote an article last year on being asked about current salary during a job search and got a lot of reaction on both sides of the argument. It’s such a hot topic right now, so I want to share some additional insight. With all the legislation, enacted and pending, around the subject of salary discussion, I see a trend with candidates not wanting to discuss salary at all and hoping the approach will result in the best offer. Here’s the scenario:

Recruiter: What’s your current salary or what kind of a salary range are you considering?

Candidate: I don’t want to disclose my salary.

Recruiter: That’s fine, what kind of a range are you looking in?

Candidate: I want to work for the market rate.

Recruiter: What’s the market rate?

Candidate: I don’t know. I’m open. What are you guys paying?

An alarming number of candidates are unwilling or unable to give me any idea of what they are looking for and I find that when I “dig”, people do have a number in mind, they just feel like it’s a better negotiation tactic not to share it. I read a recent article in Money Magazine that said that women who gave no salary expectations during an interview got offers lower than women who provided a number. It’s a bad idea to go into a negotiation without knowing what you are worth and asking for it.

Plus, do you really want to take time off work and go to an interview when you don’t know whether an offer would be $40,000 or $70,000? You won’t be getting your foot in the door, you’ll just be wasting your time and you’ll come across as desperate. That’s a bad place to start a negotiation. If you are overqualified or make too much money for the job at hand, you can network or leave the door open in case they increase their salary target, but you don’t need a full interview to get that done.

Sometimes candidates will ask me the salary range for a job, but that is a lazy way to negotiate. When a company has a salary range, it expects most candidates to be in the middle and will share a range from the low end to middle. Your silence, when the recruiter gives you that range, implies agreement and it’s very hard to renegotiate at the end of the process. If you don’t own your own negotiations, that’s where your offer will be…at the midpoint. Understand what you are worth, not what the range is.

So how do you find out what you are worth (if you don’t know already)? I recommend a few sources, but use as many as you can find.

First, consider your current salary. Most employees are paid somewhat equitably for the job they are doing, but some industries underpay. You have some people who are not great at negotiating and some companies will take advantage of people if they can. If you think you are underpaid, why? Have you taken on additional duties, negotiated a big deal or made a significant impact that hasn’t been recognized financially? Are you in a company or industry that pays poorly? You’ll want to factor that in.

Second, check the internet. There are websites that can give you salary information for your field, sometimes even for a specific job in a specific company ( and Glassdoor). Google your job title and salary info to find additional information. Use this as one data point, not your only data point, because some of it is inflated through “self-reporting”.

Third, ask friends and family, ask a recruiter, ask your peers at other companies what the job pays in their firms. Career centers at your university often have some info too.

I do want to offer one piece of advice here. Asking for far more than you are worth will backfire. The company won’t take you seriously, sees you as unrealistic, and will move on. You won’t even get to the negotiating table.

Once you’ve landed on a number that you think is fair, you need to know how to word your negotiation to your advantage. Let’s say you currently make $55,000 and you think $60,000 would be a fair offer for your next move. This is the language I recommend using, when asked about compensation:

“I am talking to other companies in the range of $60,000 - $65,000, but I would consider any fair and reasonable offer.”

First, the beauty of this language is that you aren’t giving a hard and fast, take it or leave it number. You are just offering up the fact that you are in demand at other companies and providing a range. It says, “if you want me, you better make a strong offer.” But it also says, “money is not my sole criteria and I’ll consider a fair and reasonable offer.” It’s a soft pitch to the company that starts a dialogue and that’s all you need. It also tells them you won’t work for $40,000 and if that’s their budget, this isn’t the job for you.

Talking about salary with a company shouldn’t be taboo or uncomfortable and you can control your own destiny. Take charge of your career and your worth. Know your value in the market and be comfortable negotiating. I promise you will get more in the long run if you take the wheel rather than just let the company drive.

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