What Salary Do You Expect is Another Bad Question

Hiring managers, recruiters, anyone on the phone or in the interview with a candidate: Don’t ask the “What Salary Do You Expect?” question. It puts people on the defensive before you’ve had a chance to build rapport.

Instead, as part of the phone screen, say, “This job is in our ‘senior engineer’ level, which has a salary range of $X,000 to $Y,000. We rarely hire above the middle of the range. Are we in the same ballpark for salary?”

If you’re a hiring manager, you don’t know what other people pay their senior engineers (or their junior ones, for that matter). If you want to control salary costs, you take the lead on this question. You already have all the power in this economy. You don’t have to put the candidate in a defensive mode before the candidate even knows what’s going on.

I was on an interview after I’d been in management for a while, and a junior HR person asked me this question. I asked, in reply, “What level is the job and what’s the range for that level? That will tell me if we are in the ballpark. I’m open for negotiation.”

The HR person replied, “No, I need to know your salary now and what you want.”

I asked, “Why?” (see why I’m a consultant now?)

“Because that’s what I need to fill in for my form.”

“Ok, say salary is negotiable.” There was no way I was going to discuss my salary with someone who didn’t know about stock, bonuses, and other potential points of salary negotiation.

“But that’s not a number.”

“Ok, Put down greater than 0 and less than a million, like this.” I wrote 0 < 1,000,000.

“What kind of math is that?” the poor HR rep said. I was unimpressed.

At the beginning of a conversation with a potential candidate, what do you care about: are we in the same ballpark, right? So, ask that question. Don’t ask another question that muddies the conversation.

9 Replies to “What Salary Do You Expect is Another Bad Question”

  1. Why give an upper limit at all? đŸ˜‰ If I was feeling brave, I might respond “more than zero – probably – it depends”.

    On reflection, though, an HR department that has this kind of requirement on this kind of form is probably already an indication of a problem-in-the-making.

  2. Another no-no is a recruiter asking you how much you made at previous engagements. A good recruiter friend of mine told me to answer back “how much do you make?”. That should clearly communicate the tone they are setting by asking such things.

  3. Great post! I totally agree that employers should speak up first about the salary range, and I hate it when they play coy about what they plan to pay. They have an idea of what they’re going to pay; it’s ridiculous that they expect candidates to throw out a number first, and some HR people are totally insistent on it.

    When I’m hiring, I announce my range up front. It saves me a ton of time.

  4. Well, why would I want to give out my salary range to my competitors? Running a consulting company, direct rates are part of my proprietary info. Of course, as you mention, talking about the salary number on its own ignores many features of our compensation package.

  5. Pingback: Answering the Money Question | The Agile Radar

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