3 Reasons Why Recruiters Want to Know Your Salary

Using Recruiters Can Help Your Chances of Finding Work But Be Careful


Salary History


This is a follow on to the post I wrote about my wife’s experience when a recruiter pressured her for her salary history can be read here.


Both as a candidate and as a recruiter, I’ve seen and experienced how challenging the search process can be.


In the time I was recruiting candidates would tell me stories of unprofessional and amateurish recruiters who dealt with them. Most common complaints involved discussions around salary history. In another post I give some tips as to how to deal with the recruiters salary history question.


I’ve experienced it myself as a job seeker so I write this with first hand experience. Too often our salary history becomes the starting point for negotiations later on. Right from the gun, we’re on the back foot. They say we need to be open with the recruiter to be able to progress forward in the process.


So then, if we’ve managed to get through the interviewer successfully, our past salary becomes the point from which the recruiter starts negotiation. Some recruiters, even without arranging the first interview, will start negotiating us down. If we don’t speak to the recruiter about our salary, the conversation ends.


By this point we’ve provided our resume and shown our salary history to someone we’ve never met in person and spent less than 5 minutes talking to on the phone. No wonder we might feel manipulated.


Trust and Rapport are Essential to the Recruiter


Recruiters reading this, this isn’t a zero sum type of business. Every unit of rapport and goodwill given to the candidate is a unit away from the client. That’s not the way it works or at least it shouldn’t be.


No, not all recruiters are bad, far from it. When I was Headhunting I partnered on some hires with someone who was well established in our field and known for professionalism and integrityFor many others though, at the core is a lack of trust. Recruiting is a “people business” and when you’re dealing with salary, it’s essential that we can trust the recruiter.


When I was working on a hire for a client and approached candidates one of the first questions I would be asked was what was the budget for the position. I would tell them and this happened before any meetings between the client and candidate and before there was any mention of the candidate’s salary history.


Why was this? The most effective way a candidate can establish a client’s commitment is to ask what budget they’ve got set aside for the role.


Perhaps they will use the knowledge of the recruiter to know what the market is paying for attracting the right caliber staff. Either way companies will know these direct costs and the indirect costs of hiring.


The Bureau of Labor Statistics has published interesting statistics on the costs involved in hiring. According to them, if the employer outsourcing the hiring itself then including such things as advertising and the recruiter’s commission the costs can be an additional 10% to 25% of the first year salary.


In my humble opinion recruiters do play a very important role but like in all industries you get some really good people and some really bad people. They’re unprofessional and sometimes unethical and unfortunately they create the poor image that all suffer from.


Below are 3 reasons why recruiters want to know your salary history. If you just need help with knowing what to say when recruiters asks you the salary history question, download the 3 Ways to Win.


1) They Want to Low-ball You


Plain and simple, some recruiters will be underhand with you. There’s avoiding it, there are a few who will push to find out your current or historical salary to then later drive you down to accept a poor offer.


Here is a huge issue for us job seekers. Our salary today should not influence the salary we would like. It is absolutely irrelevant.


Why? One reason is that just say that we’ve been in the company for a long time it’s very unlikely that our pay rises (if we’ve had them) have kept pace with the market.


The best way to get our worth is to leave and get paid what the market is paying. Why logically, would we accept an offer barely better than what we’re on? The answer is that we wouldn’t.


2) Employers Suffer Optimism Bias


Employers will overestimate the availability of great talent and underestimate what it’ll take to get them on board.


Of course, all employers want well educated, dynamic, skilled employees and they also want to pay the minimum wage. Well good luck with that approach. I would like to buy a Aston Martin and all it’s performance and prestige for the price of a Toyota but that’s not going to happen.


That’s not how markets work. There’s a supply demand to everything and talent is little different to how say a commodity market work. A shortage of wheat results in the price shooting up. If you own wheat why would you sell at a price below the market price? If you have a skill or just labor that someone else wants you offer it to the market at the going rate.


3) They Think Salary = Level of Responsibility


Recruiters who ask questions about salary often do so under the pretext of establishing what level of responsibility you have. This is thinly veiled attempt to indirectly ask the same question about salary history.


Even it this is true, there are numerous reasons why people with a lot of responsibility might be underpaid compared to the market.


For personal reasons moving to a new company may not have fitted in. We may have had things going on in their lives outside of work. Alternatively, they may expected bonuses or pay rises that have never materialized but stuck with the company anyway.


Perhaps they’ve moved around within the company. In doing this they’ve sacrificed a rise in one department for a better role in another.


In my experience, there is little or no direct connection between the two. Salary should not be a metric for responsibility.


Take Away


The goal of this post isn’t to point the finger at recruiters. There are some very good ones but unfortunately, the unprofessional actions of a few damages the image for the rest.  


Many recruiters will never meet job seekers in person so the conversation will either be on an email or phone. It’s difficult but not impossible to build trust when you’ve never met someone. In my experience recruiting it took time and more than a few phone calls to allow it to happen.


Why then within 5 minutes of the first call are we expected to hand over everything including our salary? This is sensitive and personal information. 


Yes it’s true that the higher the salary the more money the recruiter makes. Therefore, they have a vested interest to keep us happy. However, a line has to be drawn. A threat to drop a candidate from the process if they don’t give their salary history is both unprofessional and unethical. 


If you’re going through a job change get my free 5 part email course. Delivered over 5 days and designed to give you actionable tips and strategies for your job search. Click here to sign up.

+ posts