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I had a talk with a recruitment agent on the phone yesterday afternoon who called me about a position she wished to discuss with me. The call was going very well until the recruitment agent asked what my expected salary was. I responded with something along the lines of:

I am less interested in a high salary, and more interested in tackling interesting problems, having a role of responsibility and finding a position that has room for me to grow

She then became very disgruntled and asked me my current salary, to which I replied:

It's a little above average for a mid-level C# developer.

I did not want to use quantitative figures as I didn't want these to be used negotiating tactics against me later.

I was then accused of being very difficult and given a short lecture about why I need to disclose my salary to the recruiter so that they can find me a suitable position. Finally I reiterated that I am less interested in salary figures and more interested in finding a fulfilling role.

The recruiter ended the call by telling me the remuneration amount for the position she was advertising, and explaining that she would email me all of the details after the call, which she didn't do.

Was I in the wrong for not disclosing my salary and how much I was looking to receive at my next job?

UPDATE: They called back offering me an interview.

We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.

  • 42
    Quick "comment answer" - you can deny telling them how much you earn. That said, not disclosing at least your salary expectations does make it harder for the recruiter to do his job (as this is usually an important initial filtering factor). – Shaamaan Sep 19 '17 at 10:55
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    Is the 'recruitment agent' an employee of the company where you'll be interviewing? Or is this person a headhunter? – Tony Ennis Sep 19 '17 at 11:53
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    If a recruiter feels like lecturing you, find one that does it's job instead of trying to teach. – Mast Sep 19 '17 at 14:40
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    @Juggerbot I would imagine that, after not getting a definitive answer on the "expected salary" question, the recruiter assumed that OP didn't have a clear expectation, and so they decided to ask about the current salary as a starting point for helping OP to figure out a good target. – Dan Henderson Sep 19 '17 at 16:10
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    "I'm less interested in searching for a job by concrete profile parameters which make your job easy, and more interested in a job marked by ephemeral subjective quantities that only make sense to me and can't be evaluated without working there for a few months first and being either me or a reasonable clone thereof." Gee, why is the headhunter frustrated? – Kaz Sep 19 '17 at 18:32

10 Answers 10

79

You are not in the wrong, you just found a recruiter who operates on positions and salary ranges. This was not what you are looking for.

I am less interested in a high salary, and more interested in tackling interesting problems, having a role of responsibility and finding a position that has room for me to grow

Find a recruiter who operates on the same wavelength as you. Chances are you already know these recruiters, former coworkers at other companies who can vouch for your skill and interests. Mobilize your professional network rather than a quota-filling recruiter.

Maybe your former colleagues can introduce you to companies and projects that pique your interest.

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    I disagree with the tone here a little. Quota-filling recruiters can be very useful in finding new roles, the key to working with them is to ensure you're happy with the relationship. If you're happy with your current position the balance of power is more in your favour, and you can dictate the terms of the relationship by refusing to give up your salary information. If you're not, you might have to do business more on their terms. The OP just needs to figure out to what extent he wants to dictate the relationship - instead of putting off a potential avenue for a new job. – ChrisFletcher Sep 19 '17 at 10:19
  • How would you suggest I reword my advice then? – Frank FYC Sep 21 '17 at 4:17
  • Instead of saying 'rather than a quota-filling recruiter' it might be better to say "Mobilizing your professional network is more likely to find the role you want if you're not focused on salary. But recruiters that work this way may have positions that others aren't aware of, they'll be more difficult to deal with but it may be worthwhile". But you have the accepted answer so. – ChrisFletcher Sep 21 '17 at 10:54
57

IMHO, this is not the most efficient way to deal with a recruiter. Recruiters are only interested in filling positions and getting paid in the process, that's it. To do that, they want to make sure when they send you to an interview that you will accept the job if offered, and that you are a good candidate for the position. So they don't want to send you to a job offering 50k when you will only accept offers above 70k.

I strongly suggest you don't say things like:

I am less interested in a high salary, and more interested in tackling interesting problems

"Interesting" is a subjective term and is not specific enough, and jobs with high technical requirements typically pay more money than low ones in the same category. Better to say something like: "I want a tech-lead role in the following technologies, in problem areas like big data/optimization," etc. If you're not able to define it, a recruiter is not going to be able to find it.

You really need to be very careful what information you tell a recruiter. If you show a recruiter all your cards, they will use that against you. So if you say "I am interested just in really tricky problems," they may sell you a crappy job as a technically challenging one. If you tell them the minimum amount of money you will accept they may push this boundary.

TLDR; Most important point. I really don't recommend offering to do a job for lower money. It gives off the wrong impression. A highly skilled technologist earns a lot of money. If a job requires a candidate such as that then the employer will assume someone who is willing to work for 50k less than the industry standard is probably not that good. Look at it this way: would you be happy to get brain surgery done by a guy making 5 bucks an hour?

18

It started as:

agent asked what my expected salary was.

But eventually led into:

why I need to disclose my salary

The first question was very rational and you should have answered it. There certainly is a range of salary you're expecting. You most likely won't work for 10% of your budget, no matter how interesting problems you get to tackle. Conversely, you'll also reject a job worth 10 times your current one, as you'll likely find it above your head.

I believe that what happened was your reluctance to answer surprised and threw the person off her tracks. Instead of explaining how this information will help to triage the offers and save everybody's time, she fixated on "I need to know your salary", which only strengthened your resistance.

You both turned out as difficult to work with, one for not doing something and the other for not explaining sufficiently why it's important. But accusing someone of that is plain rude. Such personal attacks are highly unprofessional and should not happen.

That's OFC assuming that this whole jobhunt is not an elaborate ploy to learn salaries at your current workplace.

It's also possible that you've encountered a poor recruiter, that is she doesn't know anything about candidates and positions other than salaries expected and offered.

To answer the question in the title: It is acceptable to deny every information (it's a must, after all NDAs happen). But you have to live with the consequences: the more you deny the harder you make the recruiter's job. Eventually, it'll become impossible.

  • why should you answer it its a negotiation your giving away information that can only help the other side – Neuromancer Sep 19 '17 at 15:52
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    @neuromancer third-party recruiters are often paid based on a fraction of the salary of the successful candidate, they want you to have a higher salary, not lower (often time, at least). You're not disclosing it to the company doing the hiring, which is different. – mbrig Sep 19 '17 at 16:19
  • @mbrig they are employed by the employer not you they are also competing against other recruiters in a lot of cases – Neuromancer Sep 19 '17 at 16:44
  • They aren't trying to fill positions with crap people. That will get them fewer listing in the future. They are trying to find the most qualified people they can... and those people are often expensive.) – Matthew Whited Sep 19 '17 at 22:01
  • @Neuromancer Please clarify how your comment can be used to improve my answer, otherwise I'm flagging it as offtopic. Comments are not a discussion - if you can explain why hiding key requirement is advantageous in negotiations, then write your own answer about this aspect. My opinion is to verify the points easiest to verify at earliest to save my own time and my answer reflects that. If someone tries to conceal the numbers, I'm breaking it off, life is too short to be wasted dealing with people who refuse to deal. – Agent_L Sep 20 '17 at 8:48
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IMHO, at least when switching jobs, the best thing to do is to never ever state to the recruiter your current salary and say that you will evaluate proposal coherent with the task required. How much a company is willing to pay says a lot about the company itself.

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    I never share this information. In the end they really do not need it. – Mister Positive Sep 19 '17 at 13:40
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    As I understand, the recruiter originally asked for the expected salary, not the current one. – Dmitry Grigoryev Sep 19 '17 at 16:12
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    I have always been completely transparent with recruiters. Initially this was due to naivety. A recruiter once told me my openess was refreshing. I have only ever seen recruiters as friends, and treated them as such. I have always had great success. – ESR Sep 20 '17 at 4:50
  • @EdmundReed: thankyou for your contribution, out of curiosity: have you ever been asked to provide a proof of the salary you said you were getting? This is a question that pops up pretty ofter here. Or you mean open about the expected salary? – Caterpillaraoz Sep 20 '17 at 6:42
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    @Caterpillaraoz I have never been asked to provide proof of my salary, but I have always told them what I earn when asked – ESR Sep 20 '17 at 12:22
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My answer to the Expected Salary question is usually:

It depends on the full package. What are they offering?

This tells them that I'm not looking at just one number - and you shouldn't be either. It puts them on the hook to give a complete rundown of what to expect for salary + benefits.

About half of the recruiters I've spoken with will immediately spill the beans. The others try to counter by saying it's at a "competitive market rate" - which is meaningless BS.

If they go the Market Rate route I'll press them with:

Well, every company is different with regards to benefit packages. Some will do an annual 20% bonus, others make up for it in health insurance and vacation packages. The location is also important. To be honest, before I even consider interviewing with anyone I'll need those details.

Anyone worth speaking to will open up at this point. End the call if they continue to play games.

3

You should avoid sharing your current salary details. It can only ever work against you. All that information will be used for is to calibrate the offer they make you to be as low as possible while still tempting you away from your current job. This punishes people who are loyal (switching jobs often usually increases salary faster than yearly raises) and who are underpaid.

Remember that stating your current salary is the start of your salary negotiation. They will likely offer you around 10% more as a starting point. Its in your best interest not to start with a low number like that and try to work up, justifying a larger increase.

You should give them your desired salary for the company in question, which will depend on location (cost of living/rent), type of work and what non-monetary benefits they offer.

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    So, tell that your minimum expected salary is 10% (20%, etc) more than it really is. – Dmitry Grigoryev Sep 19 '17 at 16:09
  • I avoid setting a minimum. I will say something like "I'm looking for around €100,000, depending on other benefits and conditions." That way you can negotiate for more or accept less, and give reasons like "because you include a company car in the offer" or "since you only offer 28 days annual leave." – user Sep 20 '17 at 10:23
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When answering the question for both recruiters and hiring managers, I've taken to simply saying that I expect a salary appropriate for a senior software developer with 35 years of experience. Both sides know what that range is for the local area and I likely don't, so guessing at a number to give them puts me at a disadvantage. Too high and they reject me, too low and I'm potentially leaving money on the table.

On the other hand, I was offered a chance to interview at a company but would be required to bring a copy of a recent pay stub with me to prove my current salary. When I refused, they un-invited me.

1

I agree with not disclosing current salary, and your reasons for doing so are exactly correct.

I also agree with answers that say your response was not the best way to go about it.

Here is the perspective that I would operate from -

First of all, your contention that your salary would be used for the company to figure the absolute least they can offer you to get you on board, and to use it as leverage is correct.

More importantly, what you make now, and what you used to make is completely irrelevant. You are discussing their position, with responsibilities, requirements, and market forces that are specific to that position, not your current one.

If I'm making $3/hour, or if I'm making $30000/hour, neither has any bearing on the fact that the market range for a Senior Widget Designer with 10 years of experience in the greater tri-state area is $70K - $80K with a full benefits package.

You need to assess your skills and qualifications, and determine the kind of positions you want to pursue with that. Then you have to figure where you fall within the expected compensation range for that kind of position.

The correct response would have been "For my skillset, experience and the market for those qualifications, my target compensation range is {X to Y, or ballpark X}, depending on the entire package, the company and the opportunity, of course."

At least, this way, the recruiter and the company know, generally, if their position with targeted compensation and you are a match or not.

Having that information, if the recruiter insists that they need to know, you can then say "that's not relevant to this discussion. If I am qualified for this position, then the expected compensation should reflect what is appropriate for that position, not anything else."

Of course, my answer is from a US and western European perspective. It seems like that is not the norm for some other areas, even if, philosophically, I think it still applies.

PBS Newshour:Ask the Headhunter: Should you tell a recruiter your salary?

Forbes: How To Answer The Question 'What's Your Current Salary?'

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Of course you have right to deny any information to the recruiter, including even the profession you want to apply for, but you must be aware of the consequences.

Your financial expectations are one of the most important factors, because they usually represent the position you can fit in. If you don't know how much you want to earn, how should recruiter know? How should she know if she should apply you for junior, middle or senior position, in first line? Most companies expect from recruiting companies candidate profiles that match their expected profile, and not someone who 'would like to be senior, but a junior would match as well'.

Saying

I am less interested in a high salary, and more interested in tackling interesting problems, having a role of responsibility and finding a position that has room for me to grow

is a bit of red light. It's basically saying you are more oriented in having fun than doing serious job and earning money. Some recruiters are able to deal with it, some are not, and are not willing to, and consider it childish. Your recruiter was obviously of the 2nd type.

Of course if the money is not important to you, and you don't need a job quickly, and fun is very high on your priority list, you can just look further for another recruiter. There are some who are specialized with dealing with such 'hard cases'. However, must are not, so you should get used to such reactions.

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    Following your line of reasoning we could say that one who looks for an higher salary is more oriented in earning money that doing serious job... – gbr Sep 20 '17 at 17:47
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    So wanting to tackle interesting problems, have a role of responsibility and grow professionally and being willing to put that over the salary == wanting to have fun and being childish? MG I hope you're not an employer... – gbr Sep 20 '17 at 17:56
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The recruiter is then being a nuisance to the investors of the company as that behaviour surely puts off candidates. If they don't have any investors, then who would want to work there anyway.

So there is a fair chance there isn't even a company and she just works with information gathering.

  • I'm not sure why someone wouldn't work in a company without investors. Might be culture related, but at least in Germany we have a lot of family run companies without investors. And those companies have good numbers. My employer as an example (600 employees) was still founder owned without external investors until last year. – dunni Sep 19 '17 at 15:46

protected by Lilienthal Sep 20 '17 at 18:42

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