Why Does a Recruiter Need to Know my Salary!?

‘Why does a recruiter need to know my salary!?’

This is the voice inside the head of an ongoing legion of job-seekers, particularly those engaging with a recruitment consultancy for the first time.  Is it a rational question?  Yes it is.  And are candidates justified in their concerns over disclosing otherwise confidential and sensitive personal information? Of course!  So if recruiters expect applicants to just roll over and tell all without question or hesitation then they really need to first become crystal-clear on communicating exactly why they need this information and, more importantly, how this information will actually help them benefit the candidate.

The purpose of this blog is therefore twofold:  To give job seekers an understanding of why remuneration disclosure will help recruiters provide them the best possible service and to hopefully also help my recruitment colleagues get a bit better at clearly conveying this rationale to guarded job-seekers.

A common objection candidates have to being asked their salary by a recruiter is that it’s ‘none of their business.’  This seems to mean different things to different people.   Generation X, for example, have grown up in a society where you simply don’t discuss what you earn with anyone, even friends or relatives.  Generation Y, on the other hand, while maybe culturally less guarded, might be more attuned to the potential cyber-consequences of over disclosure of their ‘identity data.’ Either way, it’s ‘none of their business’ because ultimately the candidate simply DOESN’T KNOW the recruiter.  The recruitment industry is incredibly competitive and time is money, so the vast majority of all initial consultant/candidate conversations take place via ‘out of the blue’ TELEPHONE calls.  And therein lies the problem.

So how can recruiters de-frost this situation?  They could stay on the phone a little longer for a start.  They should be open and clear about their processes and objectives to build trust and foster engagement.  They could meet more candidates face to face where possible, or make the experience more inclusive through use of Skype or FaceTime.  Maybe they should simply approach the salary question later in the discussion, once rapport has been established.

Beyond the outright ‘none of your business’ objection is a more considered candidate stance that’s more advanced in its logic:  WHY do you need to know my salary? ie What are you going to DO with this information?   A common misconception is that recruiters will try to establish a candidate’s salary in order to ‘tailor’ the salary offered by their client, or focus more on current than desired salary to present the applicant as a potentially cheaper option.

It’s certainly true that clients will rarely specify one set-in-stone salary figure for a vacancy, and a good recruiter will indeed push for as wide a range as possible in order to be able to present a truly comprehensive cross section of talent and experience, thereby maximising their chances of a successful placement.  But it’s the range that’s the problem.  A recruiter telling a candidate that their client is “offering £40K to £50K depending on experience” is about as likely to backfire as just telling them “they’re offering £50K.”  Why?  Because they might not!  Client offers and candidate expectations rarely intersect perfectly in the first instance, and a good recruiter is a vital third party influencer in subsequent negotiations.

A more responsible recruiter would establish the candidate’s current and desired salary and then ONLY proceed to introduce the opportunity if this falls within their client’s stated range.  In other words, any recruiter second-guessing what exact salary their client would actually offer a candidate is operating way above their remit!

Many job-seekers will also rebuff the salary question along the logic of ‘I want a salary based on merit rather than a reflection of what I’m currently earning,’ particularly candidates for whom salary is the key driver in the decision to change employer.   In fairness, there is some merit in this logic:  The business world is, after all, built on the foundations of ‘what is this person worth to me?’ Yet while everybody naturally wants to earn as much money as possible, the employment market does self-regulate to an extent and most people are paid roughly commensurately with their responsibilities and contribution to an organization, as evidenced by the proliferation of salary bench-marking websites.

The distinction between current and expected salary is also notable. Most diligent recruiters will ideally want to get an idea of both in order to identify whether there is a significant gulf between the two, and what this might represent.  A candidate currently earning £35K who is unprepared to consider any opportunity under £45K, for example, would understandably raise eyebrows.  If the recruiter deems the candidate’s expectations unrealistic then he or she surely has the right to advise accordingly and/or take it no further.  Any candidate under the impression that this bench-marking process is designed to ‘low-ball’ them in some way might be reminded that recruiters’ fees are normally calculated as a percentage of the candidate’s annual commencing salary, so it’s clearly in a recruiter’s best interests to place a candidate on a higher salary than not!

Significant variances between current and desired salary will be met with caution for other reasons as well, the potential for a counter offer from the candidate’s current employer not being the least.  A recruiter may also just come to the conclusion that the candidate’s lofty expectations are indicative of their not being 100% committed to making a move in the first place.

At the end of the day, recruiters could ignore all the above advice and simply explain unequivocally to candidates that the reason they need to know their salary is simple:  ‘Because my client will ask!’  Most recruiters are all too aware that the industry’s less-than-perfect reputation means that gaining the trust and confidence of a client is no easy task.  ‘What’s his salary?’ is indeed one of most clients’ first questions, so not having the answer will immediately make the recruiter look incompetent for not knowing and/or the candidate seem suspicious and guarded – a ‘trouble maker’ even – for not being prepared to divulge.

I’ll conclude with an observation from my five years’ experience in the recruitment industry:  It’s a very tough job!  Recruiters work long hours under exacting commercial pressures and financial targets with zero guarantee of successful outcomes.   Job-seekers can, and will continue to, find jobs themselves, so recruiters need to go above and beyond in terms of tenacity and reach if they are to truly add value and justify their existence.  Most of the recruiters I have worked with do just that, so they surely deserve to know exactly what they’re working with prior to undertaking a great deal of hard work to come up with suitable career opportunities that won’t turn to dust because salary negotiations have broken down at the eleventh hour.


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