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I'm interviewing at a certain programming job. I've passed everything, the people doing the interview say they really like my skills and want me to join the team, everything's looking great, the manager even said directly that he was going to have HR make me an offer, which I've never had anyone actually come out and say as part of the interview process before.

Then I got the call from the in-house recruiter, and everything was completely different. The guy was extremely aggressive and pushy, condescending, and came across more like a used car salesman than a professional recruiter at a software company.

  • He repeatedly asked about my current salary, even after I told him flat-out that that has no relevance whatsoever to the current discussion. At one point he started asking several questions about "is it more than X? Is it more than Y?" Because apparently to him "I don't want to answer that" means "please play 20 Questions and try to trick me into answering it"!
  • When he asked about salary requirements, I told him I never really know what to say to that question, so I'd go to StackOverflow's salary calculator and look up the fair market value for someone with my qualifications. He immediately dismissed the number I gave him as "too high, probably deal-breaker high", and said he really hopes I'm not too "married to" some figure I pulled off of "some random website." (Pointing out that it's actually the biggest, most trusted programming community in the world just got a dismissive remark.)
  • He kept saying things that felt calculated to keep me off balance, like asking what my current job title is after saying that job titles are meaningless, and then telling me about several job titles at the workplace that don't match any of the titles I saw on people's name placards while interviewing there.
  • He said straight-up that he's "not trying to lowball you" while giving every appearance of doing exactly that, even to the point of remarking how there are plenty of other developers who would work for a lot less. (As if we were a fungible commodity!)

If I were dating someone who treated me this way, constantly demeaning me and playing mind games, I'd call it an abusive relationship and kick them to the curb. But this is a job, and it's a job I really do want to get. I really like the people I'd actually be working with, and the work they'd have me doing seems interesting and challenging. I just don't want to have to deal with this jerk as a part of it.

Any suggestions on how to handle a situation like this?

  • 116
    You have given away far too much information to this recruiter during your discussions. He does not need to know how you arrived at the number you present. That being said, you also don't seem to have been prepared to answer the relevant questions. Don't say any more than you have to, but always be prepared to answer any question the recruiter might present. If a question comes up for which you haven't prepared, indicate you're not sure at the moment and you'll have to get back to him. Never give a reason, never hint that you don't have a plan. – Joel Etherton Feb 7 '17 at 17:06
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    @Kaz If the OP's description is reasonably accurate, I don't see the recruiter doing any negotiation here. He has only been pestering the OP to find out his current salary, and has not even made an offer. A negotiation is a two-way process, not "you tell me a number, I will tell you why it is too high, but I won't tell you any number". Not only is the recruiter unprofessional, but also incompetent. He risks losing a good candidate here through his silly tactics. I really hope OP heeds my advice, finds a better job, and dumps this recruiter. – Masked Man Feb 7 '17 at 17:43
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    As an aside, FWIW the SO salary calculator is pretty unrepresentative in almost all cases. – Lightness Races with Monica Feb 9 '17 at 11:35
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    @LightnessRacesinOrbit is correct. The StackOverflow salary calculator only tells you what StackOverflow might be willing to pay you, not market rate. I've been interviewing developers for years, and I've never had a developer ask for or expect anything like StackOverflow's salaries. – Ian Newson Feb 9 '17 at 14:17
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    Many companies consider salary to be confidential information. I have gotten out of the salary question by saying that "I'm sure New Employer has much information they consider confidential, my current employer has considered salary information to be confidential under my employment agreement. I am not able to disclose a number." So far this is both true, and has been respected. – Phil Feb 9 '17 at 19:11

12 Answers 12

240

Most likely the hiring manager told HR to bring you on board and considered the matter closed. The HR rep then got your information and approached the situation using his standard approach, which is to try and get you on board for as little money as possible.

What I would do is get in touch with the hiring manager and explain the situation. Say that you are very enthusiastic about the job, and would love to come work for him, but that the way in which HR approached you is giving you second thoughts.

Say that you feel like "HR guy" is trying to nickle and dime you, and that you were hoping for a more professional conversation.

If the manager truly wants you on board, he will probably step in and put a stop to the BS.

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    I wouldn't even go into that level of detail. The manager said HR would call and make an offer. HR has not done that. I would simply say, "HR called me but still has not made me an offer. Do you know why they are delaying?" If asked, OP can go into further detail, e.g. "HR keeps asking me questions like what my title is at my current job, but hasn't told me anything about any potential offer." – Chan-Ho Suh Feb 7 '17 at 18:05
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    I don't see how any good could come from bad mouthing HR in any way. – paparazzo Feb 7 '17 at 18:52
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    If managers keep losing potential hires and they figure out that it's partially due to an HR rep, they'll complain to the HR manager and perhaps something will change. – mkennedy Feb 7 '17 at 20:39
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    @Paparazzi I see a difference between badmouthing HR and having a specific complaint about a single, egregiously poor phone call, and I personally think a good manager would see that difference too. – Kevin - Reinstate Monica Feb 7 '17 at 23:51
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    @Paparazzi If the manager is reasonable and really wants to hire the OP, then upon hearing the OP's complaint about the recruiter, the manager will do what they can to make the OP's experience with HR better instead of taking away the OP's chance to get an offer. – Kevin - Reinstate Monica Feb 8 '17 at 0:14
100

You have three choices:

  1. You stiff-arm him (American football euphemism). You keep refusing to play his game, and simply say these are your salary requirements. You must be prepared to walk away from the job if you take this approach.
  2. You cave. You give him the information he asks for. Make no mistake, he IS trying to lowball you, and you will get a lowball offer.
  3. You walk away. You send an email to the manager you interviewed with explaining that this recruiter has acted extremely unprofessionally (@njuffa suggests softening this term. Your call.), and while you were (and still are?) very optimistic and excited about working with his team, that this recruiter's behavior has given you doubts about the organization's integrity.

Possible fallout:

  1. (Stiff-arm) - The recruiter will not make you an offer. He will probably tell the manager you are being "uncooperative." Best defense: Keep in contact with the manager, and explain that you are still waiting for the offer.
  2. (Cave) - You will get an offer, but it will be a low one. If you take it, you will be at a low rate your entire time with the company. If you think you will resent it, later, you should not accept it.
  3. (Walk away) - The manager may go over the recruiter's head to get things done properly. Make no mistake, though: That recruiter will be your enemy for the rest of your time at the organization. Not a great way to start off.

My personal choice would be #3, but this is your decision, not the forum's.

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    There are other choices, such as doing nothing unless and until the OP gets an offer or a call asking what is going on. – Patricia Shanahan Feb 7 '17 at 18:02
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    For #3, I would avoid using a loaded term like "extremely unprofessional". I think it suffices to point out that dealing with HR has been very unpleasant citing facts why that is so. I did walk away in an instance where I liked the team/work, but the HR department seemed to have complete lack of respect (causing me to suspect that the company as a whole treats engineers as a commodity, and HR is just "filling seats"), so asker should give #3 serious consideration. – njuffa Feb 7 '17 at 18:08
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    It sounds unlikely that the recruiter would be relevant to op after op is hired. Unless the company is very small. And when it is so small, they usually don't have dedicated recruiters. Often people like this are not emotionally attached to what they are doing so much to hate you IMO. Probably he just likes to play such games. If you are not too aggressive towards him, probably things will be ok. – akostadinov Feb 9 '17 at 8:39
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    I would be tempted with #3, but with a careful choice of wording to avoid burning bridges (you may land up dealing with the people involved at different companies in your future career). But that is mainly down to the process leaving a bad taste in my mouth, and the feeling that I would resent the salary / package / etc for the time I worked for that company; such a feeling is pretty poisonous. – Kickstart Feb 9 '17 at 9:39
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    Option 3, plus an official complaint as soon as you start, so they get fired asap - If they are an enemy, put them on the back foot. Personal annecdote: I interviewed (well) for a tech job and went back for the final "HR interview". It was more like an interrogation. My reference also got "grilled". On reflection, I should have just walked out of the interview. Soon after, I contacted the company to withdraw my application. saying I didn't want to work for a company that thought it was OK for an HR person to treat me or my reference like that. I still believe that was the correct decision. – Bohemian Feb 9 '17 at 14:02
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Don't do anything. Play the waiting game. The problem will sort itself out.

You have not received the offer yet, so there is nothing for you to do, other than keep looking for other jobs. There is no reason why you should not get more exciting offers, without the meddling recruiters.

You are excited about the job, but is the team equally excited to have you?

If yes, then the manager will pull the necessary strings to get you the offer. He may contact you to find out what is going on, and then you can explain to him that the negotiation process left you "less enthusiastic" about the job (or some such euphemism), followed by an explanation of what you did not appreciate.

If no, then, well, it is obvious. They won't push your case further.

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    I'm not sure if this is generally good advice. Maybe OP and other programmers can afford to pass up work long enough to negotiate, but in general a prospective employee is not going to have any leverage to pull this off. – user30031 Feb 7 '17 at 21:21
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    If OP needs money then they can't afford to play the waiting game rather than accept a less desirable salary. – user30031 Feb 8 '17 at 1:12
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    @DoritoStyle If OP desperately needs the money, then he would do well to give the recruiter what he is asking for, to get the less than desirable offer at the earliest. Since OP clearly doesn't want to do that, it is clear the money is not the OP's highest priority in this case. "it's a job I really do want to get. I really like the people I'd actually be working with, and the work they'd have me doing seems interesting and challenging." makes it quite clear why the OP wants this job. His overall post clearly shows that he is not okay with a less than desirable salary. – Masked Man Feb 8 '17 at 3:56
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    Sure that makes sense in OP's case, which is why I mention that I don't think it's as good general advice. That's all. – user30031 Feb 8 '17 at 17:00
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    I think we too often forget that not acting is a valid response; as is acting quietly and subtly. The moment you are forced to make a big decision, anyone who can control your options can dominate you. The trick is finding a way to get the recruiter into a position where they are forced to make a decision, and then control them. Fortunately, it sounds like this particular recruiter is not very good at patience. – Cort Ammon - Reinstate Monica Feb 9 '17 at 22:43
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He repeatedly asked about my current salary, even after I told him flat-out that that has no relevance whatsoever to the current discussion.

That was the correct response. An even better response would have been "I look forward to receiving your offer letter; please email it to blah@blah.com and I'll give it my prompt attention. Have a nice day, goodbye."

When he asked about salary requirements, I told him I never really know what to say to that question, so I'd go to StackOverflow's salary calculator

That was the wrong response. Whoever says a number first is at a disadvantage. Make them say the number first if they want you. The correct response is "I'm sure your offer will be both fair and competitive, and I look forward to reading your offer letter."

I just don't want to have to deal with this jerk as a part of it.

After you get hired, you won't have to. Until then, carry on your negotiations over email, not over the phone. Consider cc'ing the hiring manager, as that is the person who is actually motivated to get you hired and working.

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    Precisely. Hold the manager to his word -- you were told you were going to get an offer and you would like to see it and then decide what to do. If this person is not on the same page as the manager, point that out to him and have him let you know when he's synced up. – David Schwartz Feb 8 '17 at 23:52
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    "Whoever says a number first is at a disadvantage." - Not entirely. The anchoring effect is crazy strong. If you throw out an unreasonably large number, statistically you'll end up with a better offer (theoretically, based on research on the effect). – industry7 Feb 9 '17 at 19:40
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    @industry7: Good point, but the anchor has to be, as you note, crazy high. The reason that naming a number first is a bad idea is because if you name something reasonable, you might name a number lower than their first number, and its now very difficult to argue back up. Going crazy high out of the gate seems like a move that creates as much potential for ill will as being lowballed. – Eric Lippert Feb 9 '17 at 19:58
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    Negotiations can not start until THEY give you a number. Before that you are not negotiating. I would be clear, as this poster has been. Please send me an offer letter for my review. Know what you want and what you are willing to take as well as how much risk you are willing to take for the difference. $1K might not seem a lot to you but it may be the difference between a YES and a NO – Nick Young Feb 11 '17 at 18:26
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    @DavidSchwartz Good strategy! That can even be said in a professional, CYA way, ("I think there might be some confusion here...", with the hiring manager in CC), while giving the bad recruiter the chance to CYA, also. Reporting the HR guy after a hire then becomes an well-planned, unforced maneuver. – employee-X Feb 13 '17 at 13:21
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He wants a number. Well give him a number YOU like, regardless of what you make. Then add some 10-15% to have some room for him to negotiate down and think highly of himself. If he had a way of checking your current salary he would've done that already.

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    @JoeStrazzere You could mitigate the damage from that by, instead of saying "this is my salary", saying, "what you would say if I said my salary was {10% higher than what it really is}?" It's not foolproof, but at the very least you're not directly lying. – Fund Monica's Lawsuit Feb 8 '17 at 4:44
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    @JoeStrazzere: that depends on jurisdiction. In places it is illegal to disclose the salaries of (ex-)employees without their explicit consent. – fgysin reinstate Monica Feb 8 '17 at 13:27
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    @PierreArlaud: I'd be curious what kind of strings someone would have to pull to get this info. At least in Switzerland salaries are rather closely guarded secrets, normally known to the employee their boss/HR and maybe a spouse or close friend... – fgysin reinstate Monica Feb 8 '17 at 13:33
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    +1 for giving him a number. Stack Overflow salaries are pretty high compared to the places I live (which are in the lower end of the cost of living). There are other websites that would give you a better range. Give him a number about at 75% for your area of country and negotiate. – Guy Schalnat Feb 8 '17 at 15:24
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    @user1220: If you do want to give a number, one way to discourage it being negotiated down is "Today I make more than x dollars, and we're having this conversation because apparently that's not enough to keep me at my present employer; I look forward to your offer". It's hard to negotiate down from x if they know that x is already too little to keep you loyal to an employer. Rather, it encourages them to give you a signing bonus of some sort that encourages you to leave. Make them reward disloyalty. – Eric Lippert Feb 9 '17 at 20:03
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It looks for me as it is the tiered hiring process in your potential company.

You've made a technical interview with your potential boss, and you've passed it. But it doesn't mean you're hired. They probably have no authority to give the green light to the hiring process. They probably can only give a red light, it means, they filter out the people who don't match. Now the HR examine the candidates and they decide, if they are willing to fulfill your financial requirements, and, obviously, try to get you for as cheap as possible.

However, what is the most bothering, is that the recruiter is asking about your job title... after the technical interview, you should already get classified, and the whole question should be meaningless.

What should you do? Contact your interviewing manager and ask the questions:

  1. What position you've qualified for? Say that the HR guy asking about your job title has made you confused.
  2. Ask about the role of the technical interview in the recruitment process. Does being accepted mean you're in, and only financial questions are open? Or it is only a first part of the process.
  3. Ask about financial policy. How are salaries calculated? Is there a net wage, and therefore the recruiter must classify you in order to give you an offer, which is probably only 10-20% +/- negotiable, or there are no strict rules and everything is up to negotiations?

If you've never discussed financial issues with that company, it can be so, they are technically good, they are challenging, but they simply pay (too) little for your expectations.

  • I would say he asked for the job title to help him figure out what the OP is currently earning. (e.g. he could then find out a Front End developer with X years experience on average makes €Y... he might be able to get even more accuracy if he knows the company the OP worked for which he must.) – colmde Feb 9 '17 at 14:25
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What you made previously has no relationship to what you should make, it's just a way to not pay you what you're worth. In my experience, Stack Exchange salaries are far higher then the average around where I live. Various websites give you average salaries in your country / area of the country. Look a few of them up and come up with what you should make, and give him that number (and justify it). If you feel you should be at 50%, start higher and negotiate down. If you needed special skills, you should be higher than 50%.

He's playing a game to get you in at a smaller salary. That's out of the manager's hands. No need to talk to the manager.

All that said, I hate all this. Just give me a reasonable salary and let me do my work. You may feel the same way. But don't quit a good job because someone in Human Resources is trying to save money.

  • Conversely, don't take and keep a bad job simply because "the only problem is the pay." In my experience, it's hard to walk away from that, once you've invested in quality relationships with your co-workers, & boss. – employee-X Feb 13 '17 at 13:28
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First, you have to understand what the situation is. Does the recruiter have negotiating authority? That is, if you agree on a number, is the negotiation over, and he'll give you an offer letter on the spot, or is he just seeking a number to pass on to the real decision maker? If it's the latter, give him your initial (high) negotiating position and tell him that's what it is. If he says he can settle, define what number he's asking for: wild dream, minimum you'd ever consider, etc. Try to get a best and final offer, which you'll "consider and discuss with your spouse." Hint that it might be his last chance. (If you're not married, say fiancé.) If you can involve the hiring manager, do so, as the other answers have said. Tell him the salary issue is becoming a stumbling block and might take some time, but you understand that salary is an important issue to them, as well as you (as if you cared about their problems). Try to broadly hint that the recruiter is a jerk (he is) without saying it in so many words. Stay polite but firm with the recruiter.

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    This answer really needs some paragraph breaks. – Wildcard Feb 9 '17 at 7:57
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Honestly, you might want to reconsider whether you want to work for a company that puts someone like this on the front line of hiring. That doesn't speak well for the company as a whole.

That said, as others have noted the only response you should give should be along the lines of, "This is the amount I'm willing to accept, but if you would like to make a counteroffer I'll be willing to consider it."

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Send an e-mail to the manager who interviewed you. Tell him that the HR guys has talked to you but you have not yet received the offer that he (the manager) mentioned to you.

If the manager wants you, and out-ranks the HR guy, you'll get an offer.

If an HR guy has more clout than a development manager, then this is probably not a company that you want to work for.

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Do you have an agent or recruitment company you work through? If not, get a good agent (Probably too late for this one for this particular job, but going further if you find yourself unable too). I've always used an agent, because I know there are parts of the negotiation I'm pretty bad at, but I'm always able to say "Thankyou for the offer, my agent will be getting in contact to negotiate the contract", and thats an entirely reasonable and professional act. The agent then can draw on their years of experience negotiating salaries, particularly if the fee is tied to that salary.

Plus a good agent will have a network of companies they work with that can be invaluable when hunting leads for new work

0

He is not actually being unprofessional. Recruiters are just specialized salesmen. My preferred tactic is to take the attitude back to them:

He repeatedly asked about my current salary

Im not positive but I think its somewhere between 100 and 500 an hour. I just spend the money I dont really count it. Give him a number that is highly unreasonable. He knows its not true and will get the point and move on. If he doesnt just increase the number every time he asks... and eventually he will

When he asked about salary requirements

Well what can you offer me? This is one of those times where if he will not give you a number just walk away. If there is no number to give there is no job in the offering anyway. If he has a number then the job is real and you can decide based on that number. Do not be afraid to say that number is too low if it is, and do not drop your number just because the initial offer came in lowball.

He kept saying things that felt calculated to keep me off balance

Never forget that you are the product he is trying to sell. Do not let a fear of loss tactic rattle you. Do not be afraid to walk away from the recruiter. If the recruiter is spending time with you they are interested in you. Walking away or just the threat of it can be enough to tone it down or get a more soft sell recruiter to deal with.

  • 1
    I don't want to negotiate with any of the salesmen you speak of! (Walking away is generally my first and final strategy to deal with that!) Especially, asking about marital status, before an offer has been accepted and signed, strikes me as particularly unprofessional, even discriminatory. – employee-X Feb 13 '17 at 13:35
  • @jpaugh - Well thats what recruiters are, some are less usedcar varieties than others but sadly dealt with far too many used car guys – IDrinkandIKnowThings Feb 13 '17 at 13:50

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