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What is your salary?

A 'simple' question - but one that evokes terror and concern whenever it is heard.   Only four words - yet they have incredible power.
  • Terror - why do they need to know?  How do I approach it?
  • Concern - what if I make too much?  What if I make too little?

Why do we need to know?

To the simple question (what is your salary?) comes a simple answer.  When we are conducting a search, we are given a salary range with an upper limit.  Our goal - find the best candidates (best has multiple definitions - to be covered at another time) that fit the parameters of the job - INCLUDING the salary range.  While we sometimes have flexibility, it is limited. As of this writing, we are about to take on a search that is, in part, the result of not having this discussion early in the process.  Our prospective client made an offer to a great candidate they had sourced only to find out they were $100,000 apart.  They had just gone through a long process that did not end well.  Those four words could have been very helpful.

It's not polite to discuss salary.  (AND I was given advice not to answer the question!)

At least in Minnesota (where 'Minnesota-nice' is commonly referenced), I was once told (during my Pillsbury employment days) that salary is not discussed until late in the hiring process because both parties are trying to be polite.
  • The candidate does not want to be the first person to bring it up.
  • The employer wants to keep the conversation positive; talking about salary can cause tension.
Is is more polite to be $100,000 off (an extreme, but actual/recent example) and have expectations raised/time spent - yet ending with no result?

What do we do with the answer?

The answer - it depends. The question is not designed to be a trap.  If our target salary is $150,000 and you make $250,000, we will switch to a networking conversation.  You may want to start negotiating, but taking a $100,000 decrease is not typically a goal with our candidates.  Let's be honest and move the conversation to a different area.  If you make around our target number/range (plus or minus), we have room for discussion.  If we find that all the candidates that are qualified are over our target range, that information is important to our clients.  They have in the past raised the range.  (The converse is true as well - if all qualified candidates are below the range, our clients have adjusted the range as well.)

One final thought - we can't move forward without the information.

While popular literature as well as career counselor advice relating to this question tells you to do your best to NOT answer directly, we can't present a candidate to a client without this simple information.  Our clients expect it; we risk having a process end in disaster.  Candidates aren't likely to be happy either. Our best advice - answer the question and work to create a dialogue.  Tell us about what you seek, the range you are finding in the marketplace (and where you are getting your information), and what excites you about the conversation we are having.  No easy answer, but one that you will want to think about BEFORE we get on the phone.