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I'm a recent graduate in CS living in Germany. I posted my CV on Monster in PDF format. Now I'm getting a lot of calls from recruiters, most of them in the UK. They tend to ask a lot of questions about me, some of them I find really personal like how much salary I currently make. I have a small job at the moment. I was wondering if it's really necessary to answer those questions.

My questions to you:

  1. Should I answer the current salary question? I was afraid that by telling them then that could affect the offers from the companies.

  2. Should I tell them if I interviewed with other companies and how it went? Or if I have offers or will be offered offers from the companies I interview with?

  3. Sometimes I feel the recruiter is trying to underestimate my skills, should I sell myself, or just be very honest with what I know and what I don't?

Edit: the recruiters are calling from the UK to hire for positions in Germany. So it's the German market not the UK market.

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They want to know your current salary, because they generally know very little about what work actually involves, and so matching your salary gives them an easy way to estimate your skill. E.g. a "tech guy" earning 80k is probably twice as good as another "tech guy" earning 40k.

They want to know about other companies, because they want to avoid sending your CV to a company that has already seen it.

They want to know if you have offers/interviews, to know if they are likely to be wasting their time, i.e. if you will have taken a job before they can find you one.

Remember, the goal of the recruiter is to place as many people into jobs as they can, as fast as they can. If they think it will be hard to place you, they will not bother trying, and concentrate on the people they can easily get jobs for.

  • Not much I can add, except to add a UK perspective (as the recruiters are primarily UK). UK Recruiters will always ask what you are on, and the UK market is a lot more open (i.e. jobs will usually be advertised as salary x-y), and they'll want to know upfront if you are looking in a suitable area (there is a bit of wiggle room, but usually the employer wants to stay within the quoted range). – The Wandering Dev Manager Apr 29 '15 at 7:55
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    A bit of correction: A tech guy earning 80k is twise as good in salary negotiations as the other guy earning 40k. – Pavel Apr 29 '15 at 11:48
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    @PavelPetrman As I read it, Benubird didn’t claim that 80k vs. 40k meant anything in reality; only that this is the (often inaccurate) rubric that recruiters use. – KRyan Apr 29 '15 at 14:49
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    It is also a good yardstick for the kind of offer you'd likely accept. Most people won't trade down. (not unless the job is amazing). But most will look to 'move up' about 5K. (And many won't even think about relocation overhead/cost of living). – Sobrique Apr 29 '15 at 14:56
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    In my experience, "good recruiters" are few and far between. Most are more like pimps. – Sobrique Apr 30 '15 at 8:24
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Nothing is necessary. You only answer the questions (and in a way) that are/is in your interest.

About the examples you give:

  • "how much salary I currently have" is a question you do not answer directly, because you give away negotation space. Read Salary negotiation - technique and other questions on this site about salary that will give you an idea how to answer. You may want to give a ballpark figure in a later stage when you are negotiating for a specific vacancy, but not to a recruiter who is blindly calling you.

  • "I interviewed with other companies" you don't answer about the contents. Keep it vague and general. It's the past, it is not interesting. (Unless e.g. you were a real candidate and at the last moment they chose someone else because of factors outside of your influence).

  • "if I have offers or will be offered offers" you do tell, because it shows you have value (although you do not have an offer until you actually have one, so 'will be offered' is bragging a bit).

  • "should I sell myself". Of course, just don't overdo it (don't lie). You know your strong points, you know the areas where you do not have experience yet. You can always say that it's an interesting area you would like to learn more in (if true).

It is not clear from your question why the recruiters are calling you. Note that you can ask them why they are calling. If you have the impression they are just filling their portfolio with another candidate you answer in more generic terms. If they call you for a specific vacancy - then it is time to become sharp.

  • I believe they are calling because they have many positions to fill (it's the German market). Most of them they tell me we will get back to you after couple days after we check with our clients if they can fulfill your requirements. – Jack Twain Apr 29 '15 at 9:45
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    Unless these are recruiters from a specific company, I find being open about salary isn't actually a bad thing. Most of these people work on a commission basis, the more you get paid, the more they get paid. – Joe Apr 29 '15 at 10:48
  • It also may help to rule out things you just wouldn't touch. It'd have to be a pretty special sort of a job for me to take a pay cut to move there. (If I've no job or am being made redundant, that's a different matter). – Sobrique Apr 29 '15 at 15:04
  • I would agree with all of these about talking to the hiring company, but why would you want to withhold the information from an outside recruiter. As @Joe mentions, they get paid based on what you get paid, they are on your side, not the hiring company's. If you feel you can't trust the recruiter with this information, why are you working with them. – cdkMoose Apr 29 '15 at 15:27
  • @cdkMoose In the UK recruiters are most emphatically not on the side of the candidate, they are agents working on behalf of the hiring company and as such have a legal duty of care to advise only on the best interests of the hiring company. However, having said that, they get paid on a %age of the eventually salary (and sometimes benefits) and within their duty of care seek to maximise their employer's profit, which means getting the highest possible salary for the candidate. – Marv Mills Apr 30 '15 at 12:25
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I'd post this as a comment but it ended up being too long for that. I specifically want to address the salary part of your question because no one has yet explained it thoroughly. (I'll answer the other parts just to make this complete.)

Edit: Sources include my friend who was a recruiter, plus years of experience in IT contracting and dealing with dozens of recruiting companies.

How Recruiters Make Money

Recruiters typically get paid based on two different models (I'm sure I don't have the names right but you'll get the idea):

  1. Staff Augmentation
  2. Finder's Fee

For staff aug, what happens is they pay you for the duration of the contract but the client has no intention, at least initially, of hiring you permanently (they can opt to do that later, for a fee). In this case the recruiter will get a continuing commission of the difference between what the recruiter's company pays you and what they bill the client for your work. This is usually a standard rate, like they bill the client 30% more than they pay you, and the recruiter gets 30% of that difference. In this case the more they sell you for, the more they and you make, so you don't need to worry about them giving you a bad deal. All you need to worry about is whether or not the salary they offer is high enough in your eyes. If it's not, no problem, they'll just look for other opportunities to sell you for more (unless you're just asking way too much). Depending on their sales tactics they may try to convince you to bring your price down, but I usually walk away at that point because it's obvious they're in it for quick money.

The finder's fee model is for when a company is looking for a permanent employee. The recruiter's job is to match your skills and requested salary to the company's opening, and if they do and you are hired, they get a one-time cut that is usually based off your salary, so they are definitely keen on making that salary as high as possible while still being within the company's acceptable range. Once again a sleazy recruiter may try to get your price lower to get within the company's range (or to "do them a favor" which is even worse) but at that point I just advise walking away because they're not trustworthy.

Basically the moral of the story is that good recruiters will try to get you the highest salary possible for your skill set and experience because it makes them more money. Don't be afraid to talk to them about your current salary but definitely make sure to bring up how much you want to make as well so they know what clients to look at.

Regarding other applications/offers: This is primarily so they don't double-submit you to someone who may already have your resume. This makes them look bad, makes you look bad, and often will have you automatically added to a "black list" at the company so they'll never consider you for employment again, because it looks like you're trying to go behind someone's back to get a better deal and it wastes everyone's time. Always be honest about this and about what offers you're expecting/already have, especially because those offers can help you when negotiating salaries.

Regarding selling yourself: You want to be as straight-forward as possible with these people. Don't let them underestimate you, but don't embellish either, because you'll either look foolish if they call you out, or you'll end up in a job that's way over your head. They aren't necessarily technical people, but they know the industry lingo so what they want to hear are what technologies/languages you know and how proficient you are with them (examples are great).

Best of luck to you!

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    I joined the site specifically to upvote this answer which is exactly what I was considering posting myself. Remember, you are not negotiating your salary, you are negotiating with a third party agency to determine if it will be mutually beneficial for them to submit you to the employer for consideration. Recruiters are, for the most part, an annoyance- Vital, yes, but definitely annoying. You have to deal with them, they are your prospective employers' agents. Developing your radar for the terrible ones takes time, though sadly there are many out there. – Marv Mills Apr 29 '15 at 12:47
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    Amen, though you can definitely run across good ones occasionally that will actually have your best interest in mind and will be straight with you about the process and what they think. I was fortunate enough to meet one of them early on so I got an education in how the business works. Also, welcome to the site :) – thanby Apr 29 '15 at 12:58
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    Although they have an incentive to sell you for higher, it's not in their interest to spend more time negociating for you to get 5-10% more. Because at the end, they will get only maybe 10 % of your 5% increase, which is almost nothing. What matters for them is to place you. Full stop. An analogy with real estate agents from freakonomics comes to my mind (can't find a link, but it was in the book). So basically, if it doesn't cost them much, they will try to get you a higher salary, but honestly it's not worth the effort. – dyesdyes Apr 29 '15 at 14:56
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    I think the term you're looking for is "contingency recruiter" for your second business model. – Eric Lippert Apr 29 '15 at 16:27
  • @dyesdyes True, but that doesn't mean they won't try. If a ten minute phonecall will net them an extra hundred dollars/pounds/euros they will always try it. If it's harder than that, the company probably just won't pay it anyways. – thanby Apr 30 '15 at 11:55
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In regards to the question of how much salary you are currently making. What I do is research what salary range I should be making based upon my years of related work experience beforehand. Then you can respond to question "How much salary are you currently making?" by saying "You are looking to make a salary in the range of $X to $X-5000" where X is salary that you should be making based upon your related work experience.

Recruiters I've said that too have never had a problem with that. But if they do press you more about what your current salary is then just say you can't disclose that due to a confidentiality agreement with your current employer.

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