Asking for Current Salaries Without Putting Candidates Off

Recruiting is all about talking to people: talking to candidates during the whole process, talking to hiring managers as you move candidates along, talking to your teammates about different strategies for clients, and the list goes on. With all the people recruiters talk to and all the different conversations they engage in each day, perhaps none can get as uncomfortable as the topic led by the question, What‚Äôs your current salary?

Though every recruiter knows what I’m talking about, take this conversation I had with a recruiter from a company I was interviewing with a few years ago as an example of exactly how uncomfortable the conversation can get:

Recruiter: So what is your current salary?

Me, a broke postgrad still living in my college town: I‚Äôm on hourly pay still, I make $9 per hour.

Recruiter: …

Recruiter: So, is your family secretly wealthy?

Me, completely unable to process in the moment what that question even means: *awkward laugh* Um, no, I just happen to live in a very cheap town and am making it work.

Recruiter: Oh, okay. So the next steps…

If you’re cringing, that makes two of us.

Recruiters asking candidates‚Äô current salaries is a step in the recruitment process that I will always stand by. Among other situational things a candidate‚Äôs salary can tell a recruiter, there‚Äôs the bigger picture of saving everyone‚Äôs time. In most cases, candidates are not willing to take a pay cut, and if the recruiter doesn‚Äôt know off the bat that the job they‚Äôre hiring for is in line with a salary a candidate might expect, they could take that candidate all the way through the process before finding out the candidate currently makes a much higher salary than what they‚Äôre going to be offered. Now everyone from the candidate to the hiring manger loses out.

HOWEVER ‚Äì when asking a candidate‚Äôs current salary there are right ways to do so and very wrong ways (see above) to do so. With that in mind, here are some of the top things to consider when asking a candidate‚Äôs current salary:

  • You‚Äôre asking for your information‚Äîit‚Äôs not your place to judge the candidate‚Äôs currently salary. This is the obvious place that the recruiter in my case slipped up. Chances are if a candidate seems to be making a low wage or salary they know it and they don‚Äôt need you as a recruiter to confirm it. Ask the question and move along without commentary.
  • You may want to preface why you‚Äôre asking the question. A lot of candidates clam up when they are asked for current salaries, and may even question your motives behind asking. You can avoid the discomfort of the question by easing into with an explanation such as, ‚ÄúJust to make sure we‚Äôre on the same page with compensation, what is your current salary?‚Äù
  • You‚Äôre bringing up current salaries‚Äîthere‚Äôs a good chance the candidate may come back at you with a salary question. With money talk on the table, many candidates may see this as an open invitation for them to ask what salary they will be looking at if taking the job. If you don‚Äôt know the salary or aren‚Äôt ready to talk about it yet, be ready to have a clear way of steering the conversation away; if you do know the answer and it‚Äôs much lower than their current pay, be honest and upfront‚Äîthey‚Äôll respect you more for it and now you haven‚Äôt wasted any time.

Salary talk is always going to have an uncomfortable edge to it, but that doesn‚Äôt mean you as the recruiter can‚Äôt take charge and come to the table prepared to smooth over the conversation. Whatever you do, don‚Äôt add in extra commentary to make it an even more uncomfortable conversation.

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