career, job search, learning

“Why does the recruiter want to know my salary?”

I just had this question posed to me by a blog reader. It’s one I hear often. In an initial phone screen, the recruiter asks about your current salary. We are taught to never discuss that with anyone–and what are they asking for? Is it just to knock you out of consideration immediately?

In the corporate recruiting space, each job we open has:

  • A specific job title
  • A job level that corresponds to that job title (there will be many job titles within the company that correspond with that job level)
  • An internal pay range for that job title (the average low and high rate of pay for employees in that job title)
  • An external pay range (what market survey data states this job title is paying in our region).

From this the position is assigned a low–>high range in which the recruiter is approved to make an offer.

This is a nightmare scenario for a recruiter:  You source a great candidate, present them to the hiring team, have the candidate go through multiple interview rounds and be pronounced a ‘hire’–then learn that their compensation expectations are hovering in the stratosphere well above the high end of approved pay range. How does the recruiter go back to the hiring manager at that point and say, “Whoops–looks like this candidate, who you are now fully invested in hiring, won’t work because I didn’t do my job”?

Hence any good recruiter is going to ask this question up front so they know the candidate’s expectations, how that compares to the approved offerable range, and whether they might need to make a case for an exception. It does not necessarily mean you will automatically be eliminated from consideration. If we think you are an exceptional candidate and not too far outside the approved offerable range? We’ll move you forward but advise the hiring manager of your comp expectations. It’s their budget; they get to make the call.

Are there times we won’t? Yes. If there is a vast delta between the approved compensation range and what we know is budgeted for the position, it means a few things. One, you are likely very overqualified for the role. We often advise against overhiring. A new hire that is vastly overqualified for a position won’t have much (if anything) significant to learn, will grow bored with the position quickly, and if there isn’t another, larger role available they become a significant flight risk. Two, in almost all cases we aren’t going to be able to put together an offer within striking distance of the candidate’s desired comp; a lot of investment with no outcome. This role is likely not the right fit–but the recruiter might know of another, more senior role that is in the pipeline (but not yet posted) that could be.

In closing: Be transparent with the recruiter on the topic of compensation. It’s an important dialogue to have, and isn’t used only to eliminate you from consideration.



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