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I've gone through the interview process of a company which was largely positive. I got an email from HR asking for some documents, so I offered to speak on the phone. I asked if they were considering making an offer, to which she said she cannot answer at the moment because she has to follow a process.

I said fair enough, so I asked her what would be an appropriate time to provide my salary expectation. At this point I seemed to have offended(?) her, she told me I'm a working professional and not a fresh graduate, I should know about this process (I don't, it's my first time looking for another job). She then proceeded to say "I am not going to give you a number", which isn't even what I asked her for. I was then explained step by step what the process would be in a somewhat undignified tone.

Did I screw up something? Or should I be concerned about the company's culture, or are all HR's like this?

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    No, you just ran into an HR individual with professionalism issues. This one interaction isn't necessarily indicative of a company's culture. It might just be someone on an off day. Oct 14 at 16:41
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    @musefan if you abandon a (potential) job every time you encounter a single jerk at that business, I'm not sure where it's possible to work. Even great places to work have their share of jerks. This is just a single negative interaction with a single employee that you probably won't interact with much after getting hired. It's a data point, not a pattern Oct 14 at 20:25
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    "You should know the process" Considering each company has a different process, how can you know "The" process when there is no "the" process?
    – WernerCD
    Oct 15 at 0:19
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    Well, that HR department sounds like a delight to work with. Are you looking forward to the time you actually need their help with something?
    – Caius Jard
    Oct 15 at 8:49
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    May I suggest that she probably misunderstood and thought you were asking her for a salary expectation? Oct 15 at 12:40
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Did I screw up something? Or should I be concerned about the company's culture, or are all HR's like this?

No, probably not, and no

Sounds like she's just a HR bod who was tasked with getting your documents - and as such she wasn't prepared for a conversation about your recruitment/hiring process outside of that narrow task, your questions (while not unreasonable) caught her on the hop and she got a bit flustered.

Maybe she's not the most competent HR person, or maybe she was just having a bad day. Either way it doesn't necessarily speak of anything beyond her and that one interaction, so rushing to judgement about the company's culture or even "all HRs" feels unnecessary and counterproductive.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Kilisi
    Oct 16 at 11:55
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I'm quite surprised that salary expectations were not discussed during the interview. The HR Department sets a salary-range for every position that the hiring manager must abide by. (Lots of "equal opportunity" legal hurdles to clear here ...) It's entirely appropriate for you to have asked at that time. And, I can see no good reason why the HR person did not simply answer your question when you did ask.

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    This is exactly why my gut instinct is to be cautious. Absolutely nothing wrong with the OP asking this question, and the response should have been much more professional than it was.
    – musefan
    Oct 14 at 16:35
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    "The HR Department sets a salary-range for every position that the hiring manager must abide by" Really? Maybe for big, hidebound companies, but I doubt that's always true - it seems like the tail wagging the dog.
    – nick012000
    Oct 15 at 5:47
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Salary is nowadays the first thing I discuss.

No point in even doing a first interview if we don't agree on terms. I have wasted 10, 20 maybe even 30 interview processes over the years which took weeks/months, just to bail out in the end because we couldn't agree on salary and benefits.

So no, in my opinion don't feel bad. You work for a reason: money.

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    With that approach you probably miss out on a bunch of offers that would have been nice. If you first talk them through just how awesome you are to hook them up, they will be begging you to join no matter what number you say. If instead you blurt out the same number just as you take your seat, you might easily get "What? No way! The door's over there." as the response.
    – TooTea
    Oct 15 at 9:05
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    @TooTea Sure, but the question is, is missing out on those offers a problem? If you're easily getting job offers left and right, you're probably fine dropping companies that may or may not be able to raise their offer to something within a range you'd expect. And often the salary a company is thinking of is merely an expression of the level of employee they're looking for: they'll perfectly happily take someone less competent because they don't actually need a higher-level person in that job (or so they think, anyway).
    – cjs
    Oct 15 at 15:21
  • If they have more than like 10 employees, you could also just do a quick bit of research to get a basic idea of their salary ranges.
    – NotThatGuy
    Oct 15 at 15:41
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    @TooTea "... they will be begging you to join no matter what number you say. If instead you blurt out the same number just as you take your seat ..." - this seems to be 2 equally absurd or rare extremes. Bringing up salary in the first or second interview to make sure you're roughly on the same page is reasonable, but you don't just "blurt out some number". And many companies are going to have salary brackets and that sort of thing, and situations where companies would reject a candidate who gives some idea about target salary, but could be convinced to offer that later, are extremely rare.
    – NotThatGuy
    Oct 15 at 15:48
  • @NotThatGuy Of course those are exaggerated extremes just to illustrate my point, which is that there's a risk/reward tradeoff depending on how much time you are willing to waste on interviews. However, the answer itself takes a fairly extreme position with salary "first thing to discuss" and "no point in even doing a first interview if we don't agree". To me, that sounds like discussing salary even before or at the very start of that interview, but perhaps I misunderstood.
    – TooTea
    Oct 15 at 18:36
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I got an email from HR asking for some documents, so I offered to speak on the phone.

So, this might have been the problem: You turned an email into a phone call, during which you started asking questions unrelated to the requested documents. The HR representative might have been irritated that this was taking more time than she expected and may have felt a bit ambushed (for lack of a better term). Like someone saying they need to ask you a quick question but then they give you 30 minutes of backstory and then try to sell you a boat.

I also agree with csstudent1418 that she just misunderstood the salary question.

Obviously none of that excuses her response to you. It was both rude and unfair for her to lambast you for not knowing this specific organization's hiring process.

Did I screw up something?

If you're asking if you did something bad enough to justify not getting a job offer, then no.

If you're asking if you could have done something differently: It wouldn't hurt to ask, "Can I ask you a few questions about [x] while I have you on the phone?", if the phone call is originally about something else.

Or should I be concerned about the company's culture...

No, unless:

  • This is a small organization and she's the only HR person.
  • You applied for a job in HR and she might be your co-worker.

In those cases you have to consider that she might always be like this and not just having a bad day.

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You should definitely be concerned about the company's culture if the HR lady said in so many words that they would not give you a number, and that "as a working professional and not a fresh graduate, you should know about this process."

As a working professional, you should know about this process, and you should know enough to know you always always always make them give you a number! She is attempting to screw you over and make you think it's the standard.

The principle involved here has been referred to as "whoever names a number first loses." I find the choice of words unnecessarily cynical, but here's the simple truth: a business does not go looking to fill a position without having a good idea what that position is worth to them. They already have a number in mind. If they aren't willing to tell you what that number is, they're trying to get you to lowball yourself, to open with a number lower than they're thinking of so they can simply say yes and pocket the difference. And if they're willing to try and screw you over like that before you even begin your employment with them, what would they be willing to do to you once you're actually working there?

Your best bet would be to simply walk away and find a better prospect that won't play sleazy games like this with you.

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  • I'd like to ask a follow up question. If I have a number which would make me accept on the spot, and a number that would make me walk away, then what is the problem in quoting the former?
    – user121416
    Oct 16 at 0:18
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    @user121416 The problem is that their number could easily be higher. I've been in situations where I had a number in mind, and then the number they quoted was $10,000 higher. If I had named my number I'd have left a lot of money on the table. Oct 16 at 0:49
  • While I might agree that what HR said is bad and I could maybe sort of agree here, the argument seems to be missing a few things (or it's a special pleading fallacy). To reverse your argument: "a candidate does not go looking for a job without having a good idea what they'd want that job to pay. They already have a number in mind. If they aren't willing to tell you what that number is, they're trying to get you to lowball yourself, to open with a number higher than they're thinking of so they can simply say yes and pocket the difference." Why does this apply to them but not you?
    – NotThatGuy
    Oct 16 at 19:01

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