Lately, I’ve noticed a trend in the answers I receive when asking prospects about their salary history and expected compensation for their next opportunity—a disturbing trend. While I realize that states around the country are starting to make such sections of employment applications illegal and eventually obsolete, I’m here to assure you as a candidate: you should provide such information. Here are a few myths about recruiters and the negotiation process I would like to discuss.
Myth 1: Your salary history is irrelevant to your application.
This information is critical to your application for many reasons. The first is why and how you’ve been rewarded for your performance in the past. Good recruiters will match your salary history to your job history and related tasks, plus your accomplishments. Do they all jive? Have you received increases in pay commensurate with promotional titles for your industry? How were the accomplishments listed on your resume rewarded? Is your compensation history a motivational factor for your job search or interest in a passive recruitment inquiry? This is the analytical aspect of the recruiter’s function—we’re trusted resources to our employers; charged with identifying the best fit for the vacancies we intend to fill. Such compensation, job function, and title history answers help us determine fit.
Equally important is “how” you have been compensated in the past compared to how you will be compensated in the new position. Money is not the only form of compensation offered these days. In fact, one might argue cash may not be the most important consideration for the newer generation(s). A recruiter must understand the elements of a current compensation package to best explain and emphasize the elements of the new package when a one-to-one relationship doesn’t exist.
For instance, is your compensation salary or hourly-based? Are you an exempt or non-exempt level employee eligible for overtime pay? Do you work for a private or publicly traded company? Can you participate in equity programs? How much paid time off do you receive? Do you have a company-sponsored (e.g. matched) 401k program? In my experience, the failure to explore the full depth of a candidate’s current compensation at the outset of the recruiting cycle often leads to a failed placement or hire.
Myth 2: Recruiters work for the company and the company would like to pay you as little as possible.
Remember, recruiters are entrusted by companies to identify the best fit. Fit means the best possible match for both the candidate AND the company within a range of variables. However, we do not make the ultimate hiring decision or selection—we are simply a source. We do not have ulterior motives or hidden goals to bring someone into an organization for less than what the company (e.g. the hiring manager) has budgeted for a position. It’s in our best interest to best represent both sides of the deal, regardless of who signs our paycheck.
Myth 3: Recruiters begin the phone conversation by asking, “Let’s start with how much you earn in your current (or most recent) position?”
I don’t even want to address this one. But, I have read of other recruiting professionals citing this as “script”. So, now I must. If this happens to you, just hang up or end the conversation. Don’t bother with some silly script on how to divert the question. Sure, the question is asked, but highly unlikely the first question.
Myth 4: Salary surveys are an accurate source of compensation information.
While wildly accepted by job sites and periodicals, there is one fundamental flaw most job seekers fail to realize when using published salary surveys to benchmark their compensation: job title. The next time you review a salary survey I challenge you to dig a little bit deeper to review the job functions and requirements associated with your results.
Yes, market data, company size, and industry are excellent variables. However, the results are typically derived from a pool of job titles that generally match the title in question. It’s almost certain those very job titles will differ from one another (and your current position) regarding responsibilities, accountabilities, and requirements. This is the reason for a wide range and often a different average than what you may be currently earning. Then, get real with yourself—do you feel you are fairly compensated (or the offer is fair) based on your qualifications compared to the requirements?
At the end of the day, it’s up to you to decide what information you would like to share. My belief is that answers such as, “I would like to be paid the market value for a high performer in a similar position” or refusing to provide salary history are empty and can be counterproductive to the conversation. If you need affirmation as to the questioning, ask the recruiter to clarify why they need such information. If they’re good enough to represent you, you’ll know by the answer.