Ask the Headhunter: The sales trick that helps employers keep job offers low

The next time an employer hides the salary, decline to interview until the salary range is disclosed. Save yourself some grief. Photo by Image Source/Getty Images.

Nick Corcodilos started headhunting in Silicon Valley in 1979 and has answered over 30,000 questions from the Ask The Headhunter community.

In this special Making Sen$e 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: After several interviews that went very well, when it came down to talking salary, everyone involved was very disappointed.

My low end of expected salary was much higher than the high end of what they could offer. The hiring manager emailed me a couple of weeks later wondering if I could come down in my salary expectations. After I turned him down again, he emailed me a few days later telling me how much he was disappointed that we couldn't work things out. I asked him to keep me in mind for other opportunities.

It would save job applicants countless hours of wasted time if employers were not so secretive about their salary ranges. If I had known the salary range ahead of time, or at least at the end of the first interview, we could have saved each other so much time and disappointment. How do you suggest handling this?

Nick Corcodilos: Does it seem to you that, as the economy improves, employers are taking advantage of job seekers by hiding the money?

The other explanation is that it's a cultural problem. "Oh, we never talk about money… it's so declassee…" Yeah, and it's also ridiculous.

Would you visit an Aston Martin salesroom to buy a $200,000 car if all you can afford is $25,000? Of course not, unless you're just out for entertainment. Imagine if there were no way to find out the ballpark price of cars in advance. Would you visit a dealership twice, hoping the price might turn out to be right on the third visit? Of course not.

It's all about a double standard. Employers want you to disclose your salary while they hide the salary for a job. They want you to negotiate downwards, but they won't negotiate up. That manager was trying to get you to keep coming back even though the money was all wrong.

Ask about money up front

In one of my books I discuss how to respond to your boss when he offers you a promotion but fails to mention a raise in salary. Will there be a raise? How much? The same method works before you agree to interview for a new job. Ask about money early in the process.

This excerpt is from "The Pool-Man Strategy: How to ask for more money," pp. 13-15, in Fearless Job Hunting, Book 7, Win The Salary Games:

You should have asked about money first. Some might consider that presumptuous, but I don't. It's business. Setting expectations early is usually the best way to accomplish your goals. The psychology of this situation can be more complex than you might realize. If you embark on this meeting… without setting an expectation about money up front, you will wind up like a puppy waiting for a treat after you've jumped the stick 20 times.

How to say it: Keep it short and sweet. "What's the pay like?"

Those are the only words I'd respond with. It's not a demand, or even an expectation. It's a top-of-the-head, disarmingly honest, enthusiastic question that must be answered before any further discussion. Note that you're not even asking for a specific number… I think the best way to ensure that compensation will be a part of negotiations is to put it on the table from the start.

It's an old sales trick. Employers don't like to disclose a salary range — like the manager who kept challenging you to lower your salary expectation — because they want to hook you early, expecting you'll compromise. Once you've gone to multiple interviews, you'll be more likely to compromise your negotiating position to justify all the time you've already invested. Don't fall for it.

Or ask about money any time

The manager you interviewed with is just astonishing. He asked you to lower your salary requirement — twice! Why don't you send him an email now, and explain that you've thought about it and you'd love to work on his team. Is there any way he could come up to your required salary?

It sounds kind of awkward and presumptuous for you to do that — right? Yet he did it with no problem. I think it's worth trying. Maybe he'll realize he can't find who he needs for the money he wants to spend.

This is the salary double standard. The manager wasted your time twice and keeps asking you to give up even more, but he won't budge.

Employers like this one need to do a reality check, because they're a more than a bit unreasonable. The next time an employer hides the salary, decline to interview until the salary range is disclosed. Save yourself some grief.

For more about how to handle the tough salary questions employers ask, see "The Salary Questions." This article includes "How to say it" and "How to do it" tips to help you break the double standard.

This is 2016's last column, so I'll wish you all the best for the holiday season and a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year! Thanks for reading!

Dear Readers: Have you interviewed for jobs where you didn't know the salary? Were you surprised later? What do you think would happen if you insisted on knowing the salary range in advance?


Nick Corcodilos invites Making Sense readers to subscribe to his free weekly Ask The Headhunter© Newsletter. His in-depth "how to" PDF books are available on his website: "How to Work With Headhunters…and how to make headhunters work for you," "Keep Your Salary Under Wraps," "How Can I Change Careers?" and "Fearless Job Hunting."

Send your questions to Nick, and join him for discussion every week here on Making Sense. Thanks for participating!

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