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3 Candidates Walk Into a Bar and a Recruiter Asks Each One Of Them What They Make...

I love all of you who read this blog - Thank you!

But you've lost your minds if you think the reason we want to ask for salary is so we can lowball someone and perpetuate discrimination. Greatvalue1

I'm posting about this based on the reaction to my post on the Massachusetts law that outlaws asking a candidate what they currently make. See the post and some comments (received many more via email) here.

Some of this comes down to whether you view the world as an HR person or a recruiter.  I've always had to be both. 

If you're a recruiter serving a client, you get paid for a higher level of service. The expectations aren't the same as your internal recruiting group, who are more conservative and risk adverse as a rule.

Say you have 3 candidates with different sets of experience and different abilities to impact the business. Assume for now - and I know it's hard for a lot of you - that protected class has nothing to do with it.

Knowing the salary that it's going to take to land each of those candidates means opportunity for a candidate. Let's say you're an  up-and-comer and there are some things we like, but you don't have all the things we need. You needing 70K in salary instead of 95K can make a difference in you getting the job. And no, you won't add the same value that the more experienced candidate will provide in most circumstances.  You're not as deep.

But if my client likes the potential and can save money to deploy elsewhere on their staff, that's a viable option.

For a recruiter worth their salt who has to plow through the market, having salary info specific to the candidate isn't about screwing someone. It's about making the best match possible.

The workaround is obvious.  I'm going to tell them what my client can pay for their experience.  Then I'm going to ask them if they'll accept the offer at that level if we get to the end of the process and they're my candidate.

And yes, males get the same treatment.  Every time.

Great recruiters are like stock traders - we help clients understand whether someone's a buy or a sell based on their price.  



I agree with you 110%. When I am recruiting candidates, I am looking for best individual for the best (and fair) price. I think people's perceptions are clouded by that minority of managers who are only interested in the lowball. In my experience, most managers are realistic and not of this mindset.

Unfortunately, we have some folks selling candidates methods/ideas on obtaining a level of salary that is not realistic and the belief that these techniques work is becoming more wide spread.

Rory Trotter

Just wanted to say that I am supportive of the below approach outlined in your post:

"The workaround is obvious. I'm going to tell them what my client can pay for their experience. Then I'm going to ask them if they'll accept the offer at that level if we get to the end of the process and they're my candidate."

^This is perfect because someone that now makes $60k in a role where the market is $75k at median (and the high an employer is willing to pay is $90k for the perfect candidate) gets the $15k bump they deserve if they are underpaid.

e.g. The employer tells the candidate $70-$75k is the range for the role, and the ecstatic candidate currently getting being underpaid at $60k tells them 'yes, that range works for me!' and all is well. In this way the new law serves its purposes. Because under the old system it would go something like this:

The recruiter asks a candidate what they make, they tell the recruiter $60k and that they are willing to move for $65k, and the candidate gets a $5k raise as opposed to the $10-$15k they should be getting at market because they have disclosed their reserve price. Companies that care about internal equity don't do this, but in cases where employers don't care all too often this sort of thing happens.




I think they have the motive thing completely off base. I've never asked for salary info because I was trying to lowball someone. Ever. If my target salary is $100k and you earn $140, we're not likely to have a middle ground number that's going to make sense for both of us. You make $80k and I want to pay $85? I'm probably going to pay you $85 because I want you to be happy, the market told me $85 was fair, and I don't like turnover or bitter employees because I did something stupid over a piddling $5k.

I like to hear salary data. I'm not sorry about it. If you KNOW you're underpaid, that tells me you did your research and you're expecting to be treated like a player. There IS usually a correlation between pay and performance. And people who lie about their pay or get cagey with me when we start talking numbers are usually employees who lie about other things and get cagey as employees. There are exceptions to all of the above. But I'd rather work to the rule and manage to the exceptions instead of flipping that model.

Selfishly. candidate data gives me real-time comp analysis too. In a tight market, I don't think most salary surveys are all that useful. I can easily argue that we need to pay more for a critical job if we have three rejections based on pay or I lose targets during the "fishing" stage because they're making more than I've been given to work with.

Kinda venting here, but unnecessary legislation boils my blood.


Fantastic Article Kris! Loved the lines "Great recruiters are like stock traders - we help clients understand whether someone's a buy or a sell based on their price."

Joe Rice

First you qualify your statement with "for any recruiter worth their salt." Not all are worth their salt. You know that.

Second, measuring experience is subjective.
Prior salary does get used as a proxy for experience and value. Knowing that a candidate makes 95k makes you view their experience better than the candidate at 70k. Maybe you, your readers, and me are not guilty of this, but I've seen it as a compensation professional. I suspect you've come across it too.

Thanks for the post and the opportunity for discussion.


As an HR pro and as a candidate, I'm all about sharing salary on both sides. When I'm a candidate, I want to be very open on what I'm making and what it will take for me to make the leap. I don't want to waste my time or the recruiters. As an HR pro, I'm happy to share a range. Same reason. Time is money people. Sure for the perfect purple squirrel we might break open the bank. But we aren't in the business of low-balling salaries to new hires and then have them feel disgruntled when they get on board. Again, a waste of time and money...

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