Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Why Recruiters Need Salary Information

Salary information and history is necessary for a recruiter to know.  While there are many cases where people are overpaid and even more people are underpaid, this information helps put a career in perspective.

Last week I received an anonymous comment that lying was permissible and that salary information was misused by recruiters in order to keep salaries within limits. Several weeks ago I read an article saying that recruiters should not be asking for this information.  Two things I would like to say off the bat, first lying is never permissible. Period.  And, second, recruiters are paid by clients to find people who are within their salary budget.

 I thought I would write both why it doesn’t pay to lie and how this information should be used.
There are plenty of employees, especially those who have been at a company too long, who are underpaid.  Strong candidates acknowledge that fact and make it clear that they will not accept a low salary which is not commensurate with their experience. 

A good recruiter, especially one who specializes in an industry, can put your salary in perspective.  I have never had a candidate rejected for making too little; if a recruiter has a good relationship with his or her client they should be able to get you an interview.

I have had many candidates rejected for making too much.  I have posted many times about not taking a lower salary; it rarely works.  The exception is among juniors who move for an opportunity.  I had a candidate who was an account executive on an airline account who took both a cut in pay and title to work on a major package goods brand.  It made sense for her to do so given her career objectives.  That move paid off quite handsomely. 

An experienced interviewer can generally get a very good sense of where an interviewee is salary-wise after just a few minutes of them talking about themselves.  I rarely ask the salary question at the beginning of an interview; giving the interview time to develop helps to assess where the candidate is or should be.  I can then figure out what the candidate is or should be making before I am told.  Of course, there is a range and nothing is absolute.

There are circumstances where jobs call for higher salaries.  Sometimes, when companies are about to lose business, they give raises in an effort to keep employees.  Sometimes, circumstances on a piece of business are such that they pay above the going rate – a good example was when Messner, Vetere, Berger, McNamee and Schmetterer (MVBMS) had to over-pay to keep people on the MCI account, which required people working 18 hour days, often seven days a week.  Those inflated salaries do not necessarily mean that a candidate will or should get a significant raise in their next job. Be careful of jobs that pay too much; there is always a reason and it is very easy to become accustomed to a higher life-style.

A good recruiter will know how to assess and process salary information.  The anonymous commenter was obviously angry about his or her own salary history.  But generally, they have to look at themselves, not others, in order to assess why they are underpaid.  There are, in fact companies which are known to underpay.  I know of one ad agency which likes to hire very senior people who are long out of work and pay them only a small percentage of what they were previously making.  The low pay comes with a promise of a big bonus, but that bonus rarely comes or when it comes it is a small amount of what was promised, always with an excuse.  But again, a good recruiter knows which agencies and companies do this to employees.  No need to lie to them. And they shouldn’t lie to you. 

I have heard it said that recruiters only use salary information to insure that a candidate fits within the specified salary range. Clients demand that recruiters do this. But, frankly, I have rarely had a qualified candidate turned down for being a few thousand dollars high or low.  In most cases these candidates receive a fair offer, sometimes somewhat above the original specs.  I tell candidates that if they are low-balled by the client company, they should just turn the job down.

Maybe the best reason to tell the truth about salary is that if you see a recruiter about a specific job and do not get it or are not qualified for any number of reasons, the recruiter needs to know your salary so that they can call you when an appropriate job comes in within an appropriate salary range.  These days where every recruiter has a recruiting software program, they must put in a salary or your name will not come up on a search, because all computer searches are constrained by likely salary.

Saying that salary information is unnecessary is naïve and short-sighted.


  1. My second job in NYC I was interviewing with Ed McCabe. At the time, I was earning (seems ridiculous these days) $17k and was hoping for a $25k job. He liked my portfolio but said he thought I was too light for the job. "I'm looking for a writer around $40k," he said to me. "Okay. I only wanted $25, but I'll take $40," I replied. He laughed (thank goodness) then said, "Get the fuck out of here."

  2. Thanks for this. All good stuff Paul. But you of all people know the fact you actually have an ethical standard is relatively rare amongst your peers in the industry. You use the term "good recruiter" like the bad ones are a small minority but alas we know that's not the case, although to be fair it's also contributed to your success. Like plumbers and mechanics, when you find a good and honest one you stick with them.

    The overall lack of transparency in the industry salary salaries is not good. But that lack of transparency often isn't from the recruit it's from the employer or "bad recruiter". Very rarely are they forthcoming about the real salary range and at the same time even after taking the job there is very little transparency about what people earn. They will use the excuse that this is to ensure harmony but the reality is it's there to hide the very drastic and in many cases unjustified salary inequality that exists.

  3. and there it is...


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