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During recruitment, I thought the best thing to do about salary is to leave discussing it at the very end, when you have "sold" yourself to the hiring manager and there might be more propensity to give you a better salary or bigger role.

When I am approached by recruiters/HR, sometimes they insist to discuss salary immediately, and this puts a label on my head in all following conversations. Moreover, I might even get screened out because it's not clear why I deserve that much money, but it would become clear to the hiring manager after the interview.

Question: is it actually possible to dodge the "salary" question by recruiters in the early stages of the hiring process, and how?

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Neo Jul 21 at 18:16

10 Answers 10

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Speaking specifically for tech industry, based on experience, I disagree with most of the other answers so far.

Yes, you can and should dodge the question. No, you should not give them a range.

I was previously involved with an organization that helped prep people for negotiations. Every graduate was required to attend a training session during which they rehearsed having this kind of conversation:

Recruiter: "Can you tell me what your salary expectations are?"

You: "Not yet. I'd be more than happy to discuss that down the line, but at the moment I'm not prepared to answer that."

Recruiter: "That's understandable. Maybe you can just give us a ballpark range?"

You: "Sorry not at this time, but will definitely be open to that conversation after I learn more about the role and meet more team members in the interview process."

Recruiter: "Well I have to put something down on my form. Maybe you can just tell me your current salary?"
(This is where the recruiter might act like there's an all-powerful form that dictates how this conversation is going to go. Neither of you answers to a form, especially internal recruiters. Don't fall for it. They can write "zero" if necessary.)

You: "Since this would be a different role at a different company, I'm afraid my current salary may be more distracting than informative. But I'm really excited to learn more about the role and meet the team. After that I think we'll be able to have a more informed conversation. Anything else I can answer for you at this time?" (Change the subject.)

Recruiter: "I'm afraid I do need some kind of salary from you." (This sounds scary. Again, don't fall for it.)

You: "Yes totally understandable, and I'll be happy to share that with you after meeting the team and learning more. I will have to be going soon, though. Anything else I can answer before I go?" [Politely end the conversation if you have to.]

Not a single graduate reported any adverse consequences from dodging the question like this.

It might feel risky to do this, but it's much less risky than it seems. Think about the incentives: recruiters are paid to get people hired, not to reject them. So denying your application over something irrelevant to your hirability would only make their job harder. Remember that the recruiter already demonstrated that they think you're qualified enough to interview. Deflecting the salary question doesn't change that.

You should practice this conversation with a friend repeatedly until these kinds of responses are reflexive. Rehearse versions of this conversation that are so long as to be uncomfortable or comical. Practice smiling while you talk so you sound friendly when saying "No."

Giving them a range is the same as giving them just the bottom number of that range, so providing a range doesn't help you at all.

My experience is only in tech with internal recruiters, but I suspect the basic incentives are similar elsewhere. I followed this strategy recently. The recruiter didn't care that I deflected, and the company later gave me an offer that was almost 2x what I would have asked for. Let them show their cards before you show yours.

This is one of the few areas of power that you have in the process. Don't give it away.

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    To be fair, it would be nice if companies didn't always try to lowball candidates. It's like unions are a way to keep companies from being terrible employers, but if they weren't terrible employers to begin with, we wouldn't need unions. – coblr Jul 20 at 20:29
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    @coblr Or perhaps your budget was shockingly low for the quality of candidate you were interviewing? – shoover Jul 20 at 20:36
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    @coblr Does your company now share its own salary expectations upfront with candidates? If not, why not? If the company is very concerned about wasting time from mismatched expectations, then it can share its own expectations upfront. My first employer did this when I applied there, and it worked fine. No time was wasted. If the candidate, as opposed to the employer, is concerned about wasting time, they could choose to share expectations, not to appease the recruiter, but should only do so with the awareness of how it affects their negotiating position. The OP clearly doesn't want to share. – ASDFQWERTY Jul 20 at 21:53
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    "recruiters are paid to get people hired, not to reject them." Where do you live? Down here in Australia, it's my understanding that the primary purpose companies hire recruiters is specifically to throw as many resumes into the rubbish bin as cheaply as possible. – nick012000 Jul 21 at 4:43
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    @nick012000 if that's the case, please contact me, I think I can automate your system for a very reasonable fee... – Tiercelet Jul 21 at 13:51
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I feel that you're missing the point of the initial salary discussion during the screening. It's not the final negotiation, it's about getting a general ballpark. If your salary expectations are 10k more than they are able to pay for the role then it's in everyone's interest to get that out of the way before everyone's time gets wasted with potentially multiple rounds of interviews.

I might even get screened out because it's not clear why I deserve that much money, but it would become clear to the hiring manager after the interview.

I can't speak for every hiring manager but the only reason I'm ever screening someone out for asking for too high a figure initially is because the budget simply isn't there to pay what they expect. At that point no amount of interview awesomeness is going to change the economics of the situation, so why bother? And would you really want to go forward and invest all that time and effort in "convincing" them that you deserved the money if it weren't there?

So give them an approximate figure. Feel free to qualify that it is an approximate figure and mention that it will depend on the specifics. But dodging or just plain refusing to answer is going to run a hefty risk of putting a label on your head, and not a flattering one: how does "game player" or "difficult" sound?

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    I would probably just say "the minium I am looking at" instead of approximate. Qualifies whether you are in the price bracked without putting a ceiling on it. – Tymoteusz Paul Jul 20 at 12:49
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    This seems biased in the direction of employer. @pashadia's response of "How about you tell me your budget" seems (a) more equitable, and (b) more in line with negotiation advice I've heard in the past. – Daniel R. Collins Jul 20 at 19:32
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    @TymoteuszPaul if you give a minimum, thats the maximum you will invariably get in an offer. You've just told them what you would settle for, why would they cost themselves more than they need to? I've always given a ballpark which exceeds my minimum sufficiently but isnt ridiculous for the market - so if they try and lowball me, its still decently above what I would actually accept as a last resort. – Moo Jul 21 at 0:51
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    @TymoteuszPaul except that in contract negotiations, its common knowledge that the first side to state a number generally loses, because they set the boundaries. Why should the other side settle for higher when you have already said you would settle for less? This is why the common approach these days is to, as Daniel says above, ask for their budget - if they aren't willing to give up those figures, neither should you. – Moo Jul 21 at 6:57
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    @Moo that's less of a fact and more of meme that people pass around about the "first one to speak" nonsense as poor mans excuse for negotiating. Unless you have a source to back it up. – Tymoteusz Paul Jul 21 at 7:00
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I believe that you are right in not wanting to disclose financial details right away. The author Jack Chapman mentions three distinct negotiation phases, he calls them "Budget, Fudge it, and Judge it". The question is almost always asked in the initial "budget" phase, and it's usually a filter for subsequent interview phases.

However, if you answer it right now, you've already put yourself in a box out of which you won't have any chance of getting out during this interview process.

The way I usually deal with it is to reply with

"Well, there are still a lot of things to talk about before we talk about money. I'd rather discuss the value that we can create here, and how we can move the project forward".

If they insist, perhaps mentioning that they need to match me with their budget, I usually smile and say

"Well, I can clear that up right away. What IS your budget?"

, and if it's anywhere close to what you would have asked for (say within 30%), try to move the discussions forward. Again, you are still in the "budget" phase, and you want to get to the "judge it" phase, where they want to hire you so much that they will "judge" to hire you almost regardless of what you ask for, because the perceived value will still be higher. You need them to want YOU, not just a "insert position here".

And if they still don't budge and keep asking for the salary, you probably don't want to work there anyway.

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    This is the one. If a potential employer wants to save time by not interviewing people out of their price range, they need to share their ballpark. They will ask you to because it puts them at an advantage when it comes to salary negotiation. Any recruiter who isn't willing to share that range implicitly understands why you don't want to share theirs, so don't worry too much about it. Just ask for their range and make your own call. If you like what you hear, a simple: "We can work with that" will suffice. – Dancrumb Jul 20 at 22:23
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    This is a great filtering question as well. If they're not willing to give you a range, then they are probably hoping you'll lowball yourself, and you've also learned something useful about how much more or less you'll have to watch out for yourself. – Joe McMahon Jul 20 at 23:38
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    I like this answer, but 30% seems like a large window. – buckminst Jul 21 at 15:46
  • @buckminst, yeah, 30% is a huge number. EG: asking for $80k, they could offer $56k and that would be a 30% difference. Who would be expected to take that? Even 10% is a pretty big difference, especially when some places only give 3% or less raises. If you were expecting to get paid $56k and asked for $80, you'd probably be asking too much, too. – computercarguy Jul 22 at 17:26
  • Agree except for the last sentence. The recruiter could be a jerk and your eventual position a dream. Some advice I was given early in my career: "In negotiation, the first one to speak a number is the loser." Good advice. – wberry Jul 23 at 13:50
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If you were buying a car you wouldn't reveal the maximum amount you would be prepared to pay. Equally the seller is unlikely to tell you (truthfully) the minimum offer he/she is willing to accept. That's Negotiating 101.

The same should hold true for salary discussions - a job offer is essentially a negotiation right? They want you to do the job for the least possible and you want to get the most possible out of them - ideally you meet in the middle. In order to get a better deal its helpful if they don't know how much you currently earn and how much you want to earn - which is why it makes sense to try to resist giving a direct answer. Doing so, strengthens the company's negotiating position.

However, given most candidates will answer the salary question with a number, you risk ruling yourself out by refusing to answer the question or by giving the impression your will be a troublesome employee. You need to find a way to answer that, on the surface, appears compliant yet remains suitably vague. There are a number of ways you could do this...

  1. Provide a range: "I'm looking for something in the X to Y range". You can do this even if they ask your current package.
  2. Base Salary: "I'm looking for a base salary of around X but, of course, that would depend on other components of the package - for example pension contributions, paid time off, professional subscriptions, stock options, flexible working, company cars etc." The trick here is to exaggerate the salary and benefits. If you provide an exhaustive list of add-on benefits and even include an obvious extreme ones (regular corporate massage, use of the company lear jet) you keep them on their toes. They'll know you're likely not getting all of those extras - but they don't know which ones. Maybe you're getting none of them. The point is you are providing the answer they requested - but they know there is flexiblity and, if the add-ons aren't great - they need to improve on the base. (You could also provide a range for the base)
  3. Enquire about their budget: Typically the salary question is asked to ensure they aren't wasting your time or their time going through an interview process when you are too far apart to meet in the middle. Ask their salary range and confirm if it roughly aligns with your expectations.
  4. It's not all about $$$: "Well to be honest, salary isn't my first concern here. I'm looking for my "perfect" role - the right company, in the right location, with the right career opportunities. I want a job where I enjoy the challenge and can constantly learn. I want to find that before I think salary". Alternatively, along the same lines you could say how much you want to work with the company, how you admire what they do and would love to join them on their "journey". Then say that's more important than salary and you'd rather hear more about the role first. This might seem like you are selling yourself short here and revealing your hand - but really all you want to do is proceed in the process. If they low ball you with an offer you can always refuse and explain your current salary and that while salary isn't everything you do still need to live, pay a mortgage, feed your kids etc.

Or any combination of the above.

There are actually a lot of articles about why you shouldn't reveal your current salary (would the interviewer tell you their salary?) or even your desired salary range. They make a lot of sense - but while a large majority of people answer without thinking, you need to be a bit clever.

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  • Good tips. Note, if you are providing a range, do NOT make the smallest number in the range equal the minimum you would accept. – Stobor Jul 21 at 4:03
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If they explicitly ask for your salary, then there's no graceful way to dodge the question.

Your choices are to either tell them your current salary, or to directly and assertively refuse to do so.

If you plan to refuse, this is the general script I use:

I don't give out that information. I appreciate that you need to determine if the compensation on offer is a deal-breaker before we move forwards in the process. So please let me know what range the company is offering and I'll let you know if it's a range I can potentially work with.

If they push back, or ask you why, politely reiterate "I don't give out that information". Don't justify it, don't give them a reason they can argue with, just a blanket "I don't do that".

If you plan to go this route, you need to be prepared to be assertive, to hold your ground, and to walk away if they refuse to play ball.

If you're not prepared to walk away then don't refuse, because initially refusing to give out your salary and then caving when they push back looks far worse than just giving it out in the first place.

If you want some further reading, this is a great in-depth post on the subject: https://www.kalzumeus.com/2012/01/23/salary-negotiation/

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    The salary I accepted as an amount given to me was the lowest of my career, and I couldn't really decline based on my financial situation.The whole deal of saying the number second isn't really useful in a domain or market where everybody knows perfectly well how much a position is paid. Adamantly refusing to give expectations can be detrimental to an opportunity IMHO and being pricey upfront isn't nearly as bad as refusing to give price, to finally accept something average. – Arthur Hv Jul 20 at 10:13
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    @ArthurHavlicek I didn't say refuse to give an expectation. I said ask them what the job is offering so you can tell them if it's a number you can work with. And as I said, only go this route if you're prepared to walk away. If you really need the job, then just give them the number. – Kaz Jul 20 at 11:20
  • Kaz, you did actually write "directly and assertively refuse". I like the ask what they're offering first part. Perhaps if you rephrased the "refuse" verbiage more people might upvote this answer. – Daniel R. Collins Jul 20 at 19:43
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As having done recruitment I would say it's difficult and probably not advised. If someone asks you a clear and necessary question they will probably find it somewhat manipulative you don't answer up front, because this is a base question necessary to reach agreement.

I would imagine it's ok to dodge details, but not something like this. It sets up the expectation of the whole process. If you ask for money the company doesn't have for the position, it can also make the whole discussion unnecessary.

Finally it may give the feeling you are pricier than you actually are. Usually, when a shop doesn't show the prices up front that usually mean it's reserved to people that have bottomless pockets. I don't think that's a selling point for you.

So, I would advise to comply and give negotiable expectations of your salary when asked for, if you have the necessary information like working hours and responsibilities, would that be early early in the process. Whatever salary you say to expect, there is usually a margin for negotiation, that usually happens at the end of the recruitment process when the details are known.

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    Be aware that these days it is a crime for the recruiter to ask a candidate for their current salary, or salary history, in at least 13 states, as well as a number of cities. – Glenn Willen Jul 20 at 22:10
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    Interesting observation. If this is a base question necessary to reach agreement, why would you not expect a recruiter to ask the question like this: "This position is expected to be offered between $X and $Y depending on how well the applicant matches our needs. Are your salary expectations in line with this?" – Stobor Jul 21 at 4:09
  • @GlennWillen I've never done that, even though it could be legal here. I consider that irrelevant. – Arthur Hv Jul 21 at 6:28
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    @Stobor Whenever my opinion is heard I ask my employer to advertise salary ranges in the job offer. I consider that politeness. However as I mentioned in a comment I really don't think disclosing first a number is so much key in negotiation, unlike having a firm idea of what you're worth on the job market. – Arthur Hv Jul 21 at 6:30
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    @ArthurHavlicek - good to hear. – Stobor Jul 21 at 7:19
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As a team lead in a large IT company, I regularly do "first contact" calls with applicants. I always, of course, ask about what kind of money they intend to make. I cannot remember anyone ever denying that information to me. Nor did I ever receive a number which made me rub my hands in glee because I'd be getting an ultra cheap awesome employee.

I do not ask that to fix the high limit of your eventual salary, or to swindle them out of a good salary, but because it is an important information. At the end of the day, both the applicant and me want to arrive at a proper salary. Getting good people is very expensive; I simply cannot afford to lose someone over a too-low salary. These days, everybody has the same information, and everybody roughly knows what's a proper range.

Also, if you come with a number which is incredibly high, we can quickly end the process - there is no use talking for hours if it is clear that your conception of your salary is wildly different from what I'm willing or able to pay.

Finally, if in my mind they are worth 50.000,-, but they say 100.000,-, this is an indication that there might well be a severe misunderstanding either about their skill or experience, or about what the position entails. In such a case, I won't argue about the price, but will try to find out what's going on.

So my advice would be to absolutely give a number. Figure out the proper range for a salary, taking into consideration your graduation, skills, experience and so on. Go with the upper limit of the range, and if you wish, add a percentage as a buffer.

Feel free to say something like "I did some market research, and I believe up to XXX would be a proper salary." Or, if you don't worry about giving out that info, "I am getting roughly XXX now and would expect more than that." Or simply "I'd expect not much less than XXX." All are quite un-attackable statements. I couldn't care less whether they are true or false. It's simply a piece of information. Yes, except in very rare circumstances your chances of getting more than what you said are very low, but I trust most people are able to figure out a relatively realistic high limit.

If, during further talks, it turns out that the position you are applying for is different from what you envisioned, you can also of course adjust your statement about the salary; there is nothing legally binding about your first number. You should be pretty sure not to do that out of a whim, or you could come over as fickle. Reserve that option for when it really counts.

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    So do you tell the appliciant the salary you can afford immediately? (My interviewers never did) – guest Jul 21 at 15:10
  • @guest, depends. Sometimes I will (not as a blanket statement, more like "to be totally honest, that salary is probably too high for us"). Sometimes I will try to dig ("that salary seems to be a bit high for a junior programmer position; maybe either of us has a misunderstanding; let's figure that out..."). And occasionally, of course, I'll say nothing, wish them a nice day, and send them a standard rejection. ;) But it happens really rarely that someone is way off. – AnoE Jul 21 at 15:27
  • But, I mean, you state advice like "I simply cannot afford to lose someone over a too-low salary", "if they are worth 50.000 but say 100.000 there might be a mismatch" etc. Wouldn't those things imply that you do not only ask, but also say right away (maybe before you ask the candidate) how much you could pay? – guest Jul 21 at 15:30
  • @guest, when I ask them, I tell them that it is just an indication, at this point of time. If they ask me right back, I will give them a rough indication as well. The salary is finalized at the end of the process, before we all get out our pens to sign the contract. Also, of course, the question and my answer is about the initial screening. At that point in time I am happy to truthfully tell them that at the end of the day there will be plenty of other people (HR, my boss etc.) having a say in the salary. Everybody seems to understand that perfectly well, it's really a non-issue mostly. – AnoE Jul 21 at 15:39
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is it actually possible to dodge the "salary" question by recruiters in the early stages of the hiring process, and how?

I would suggest that you give a salary range rather than a specific salary. So if they are asking for you current salary ignore that question and say:

"The salary I'm looking for is in the range X to Y"

If they insist on getting your current salary and you don't want to give it then say:

"I'm not allowed to discuss my salary but the range I'm looking for is X to Y"

or

"I've given my word not to discuss the exact amount with anyone and I don't want to break my word but the range I'm looking for is X to Y"

If, after this, they still insist then you'll have to give the salary or give up going through that recruiter.

I know that in some countries almost all recruitment will insist on your previous salary during the process. I see nothing you can do if that's the case.

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    In my country, it would be illegal to prohibit someone to share their salary amount. So they would know this is a lie. – guest Jul 21 at 12:03
  • @guest Updated the answer with an alternative. FYI it's illegal in most countries to ban people talking about salaries that doesn't mean companies don't put it in handbooks and policies. – Dave3of5 Jul 21 at 12:19
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    Yes, well, it would be weird to.say "I am not allowed to discuss it" when the other person would answer "You are, by law this cannot be forbidden." – guest Jul 21 at 13:01
  • That would be weird, if a recruiter was to talk to me like this I'd drop all connections with them. I've been in this situation in the UK where it's the law like you say and I've given my salary range and the recruiters have accepted that. They are only asking your salary to try and place you at the correct company not to discuss the law with you. – Dave3of5 Jul 22 at 7:59
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ASDFQWERTY's answer covers the meat of it, but here are a few additional tips based on my past experiences.

When asked for a target salary, I usually start by responding "that's negotiable". It lets the company know that I don't have any strict requirements and am willing to work with them to find a solution we can agree on. That tends to be enough for those people who are just trying to fill in a field on a form.

If pressed further, I typically reply that I can't give them a target salary at this stage because I don't know enough about the requirements of the position yet. Be clear that you mean "can't" as in "I don't have the ability to do that", not "I don't want to do that". Until you know exactly what the job will entail, you don't have enough information to provide an intelligent answer to that question. The only information you have at this point is the job posting, which rarely include specifics. On several occasions when I've explained it like that to the HR rep on the phone, they've actually commented that they've never thought about it like that before.

I've also explained to HR/interviewers that I can't give them a salary range without knowing the details of their complete compensation package. A job that comes with stock options, profit sharing plans, bonuses, etc would require a lower base salary than one that's salary-only. Until I have all the details (which I likely won't until I get an official job offer), I can't compute an appropriate salary number.

Beware of questions about your current/past salary, as they're typically the same question in disguise. People will incorrectly assume that you're looking for a salary similar to or slightly higher than your current salary. They ignore extremely significant factors like non-salary compensation, differences in responsibilities/workload, pay rate differences between cites or between industries, contract work vs. regular employment, etc. Answer questions about past salaries the same way you would about expected salaries.

Once you've made it through the interview and they're making you an offer, all this goes out the window. This is the appropriate time in the process to talk about salary. Being the first one to give a number still puts you at a disadvantage, but that's somewhat counterbalanced by the fact that the company has already decided that they want to hire you. It's cheaper and less risky at this stage in the game for the company to be a little bit flexible on compensation than it is to lose you and risk not finding another comparable candidate for a long time.

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(United States ...) Personally, I have replied to this sort of question as: *"Typically, I would expect compensation around $X, but of course this is negotiable. Do you think that this is in line with the approved salary-range for this position?"

(Full disclosure: At this point in my career, I filter-out things with: "not less than $Y.")

Every position has an HR-approved salary range within which the hiring manager is generally entitled to negotiate, although there is often an HR-approved "suggested (sic ...) starting salary" and some managers really don't feel like sticking their necks out. (You should also know that this salary-range applies to raises and so-forth ...) Generally speaking, this is HR-confidential information.

(In the United States, there's a blistering confusion of "equal opportunity" laws, and "being in HR" is a full-time occupation ... one that, I quite assure you, I never aspired to.)

You don't want to waste your time and neither does the recruiter or the hiring manager. They probably can't tell you what their numbers are – for a variety of possible reasons – so you need to be the first one to "toss a number out." (However, if they come-in with an offer that's in line with that, "don't play games." Both parties must negotiate "in good faith.")

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