Ask the Headhunter: Why this hiring manager never asks for salary history
In this special Making Sense edition of Ask The Headhunter, Nick shares insider advice and contrarian methods about winning and keeping the right job, on one condition: that you, dear Making Sense reader, send Nick your questions about your personal challenges with job hunting, interviewing, networking, resumes, job boards, or salary negotiations. No guarantees—just a promise to do his best to offer useful advice.
Question: I have no problem asking what a position’s salary range is (see last week’s column, “The easy question you should ask before agreeing to a job interview“), but I need a better response when a recruiter asks me what I’m currently making. I don’t feel it is appropriate for me to tell a recruiter — that I just met — what my salary is. Also, I don’t believe it to be relevant.
As a hiring manager I don’t ask potential employees their current salary. I will ask them what salary they are looking for, then I review their skills and determine if what they are looking for is appropriate with what I am willing to pay.
I’ve gotten a lot of rude responses from recruiters when I won’t tell them my current salary. Recently I told a recruiter the range I was looking for but not my current salary and he asked me if I was just pulling numbers out of the air. I ended the conversation.
I’m looking to you for the best response or a list of ways to position myself best when asked this question. Thanks.
Nick Corcodilos: I hope other readers will note how you handle salary history as a hiring manager: You don’t ask for it because it’s irrelevant and inappropriate. It’s your job as a manager to assess and put a value on a job candidate. Sadly, few managers are good at that, or willing to invest the time and effort. Instead, they rely on a competitor’s judgment of an applicant’s value — when their job is to have an edge over the competition!
As a job seeker, I think your view on this is 100 percent correct. Never disclose your salary history. And if they still demand it or get snarky, you’re right to hang up or walk away.
I have a standing challenge to HR people: Give me one legit reason why you need someone’s salary history. No one has ever been able to name one. They want your salary history so they can put a cap on your job offer.
Believe it or not, most of my readers who politely but firmly decline tell me most employers back off. Can this cost you a job opportunity? Yes, it might. It might also save you from a low-paying job with an employer who’s never going to respect you.
Recruiters like the one you described will get testy about salary history because they can’t force you to disclose, so they’ll just tell you to take a hike. Think about that as a business practice for a minute. Their job is to find great hires for their clients. They find a really good candidate, and all that stands in the way of a placement is… salary history? They’re going to blow a placement over that? It’s the mark of a naïve recruiter who is going to bungle hiring you anyway, if not over salary history. The risk to you is that they’re going to put you in a lousy job for lousy pay.
“But I can’t afford to risk losing an opportunity!” you might say. The truth is, most job opportunities go south. In any particular case, my prediction is that even if you put yourself at a disadvantage and disclose your salary history, you’re not likely to get hired anyway.
The bottom line is, if they’re that insistent, do you really want to work for them? Sorry if that sounds like sour grapes, but I think it’s an important judgment to make. Judge the recruiter and the employer. Would you tell a car salesman how much you’ve got in your checking account before negotiating the price of a car? Of course not. The same thing goes for your old salary. It’s none of their business.
I think they will give you what you need to handle situations like this. Don’t worry about an “opportunity” that’s a trap. On to the next!
I want to emphasize that this question was submitted by a hiring manager who does not demand salary history from applicants. Please don’t let yourself believe that good managers are not out there, ready to talk shop with you on a level playing field. It should tell you a lot that a hiring manager rejects the salary history question as a job applicant, too.
Dear Readers: If you work in HR, I hope you’ll take my challenge and explain why you need to know a job applicant’s salary history. If you’re a job applicant and HR has held your feet to the fire about salary history, how do you handle it? If you’re a hiring manager, do you require an applicant’s salary history?
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