Never Ever Ever Disclose Your Current Salary, And What To Do Instead

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Can we celebrate my client, who just aced a conversation with a headhunter, who asked her – unfortunately AND unsurprisingly – what her current salary is, in order to put her forward for the role they had been discussing? 

Headhunter: “So, I have not been given a budget by the company for this role yet, but obviously it’s a start-up, so we have to take that into account. Just to make sure it makes sense for both of us to continue talking, can you tell me what your previous salary at Company X was?”

WINner: “Ah, well, given that a lot of factors played into that number that are otherwise irrelevant for the role you and I have just discussed, I don’t think what I made in THAT role matters all that much. What is relevant, is the budget that this new company has for the role, and if there is overlap with my profile. Having said that, may I suggest you get in touch with your client and get a better understanding of what the range is for this role?

HH: “Oh, okay… Erm, what I do know, is that for a previous applicant, they said they would pay between 140-150K. Would that be something that is of interest to you?”

W: “Okay, that gives us more information. To your question: 150K is unfortunately below what I had in mind for this role, considering my profile. Is there any give on that range?”

HH: “I am not sure. Let me get back to the company and discuss with them. Given that it’s a start up, from experience there is quite a bit of flexibility. And like I told them: if they want quality, they will have to pay for it. Let me discuss and get back to you, thanks!”


Now what can we learn from this (as I famously ask All. The. Time.)?

We learn that more often than not, recruiters prefer to not disclose the range set by the company they represent. Please note that first the recruiter said she had no idea about budget, and turning it around to ask my client. Two sentences later, she had a pretty clear idea of the budget… 

Also, did you see how she not-so-subtly tried to manage my client’s expectations regarding salary down? “Obviously it’s a start-up”. (Yes, my dear. And start-ups need to pay for talent just as much as any other company, as you rightly pointed out. Anyhoo, let’s continue.)

We learn that recruiters like to focus on your previous salary, NOT on your salary expectations. As I have shared before, a dirty little HR secret is that they’ll often offer the same (if other factors make it an interesting jump for you) or they add 5% max, as that has been shown to be sufficient to make most people (who are unhappy in their current roles) jump. Which is why they start off asking for that. It is NOT in your interest to answer this question, and they key lies in deflecting / putting back the ball in the correct corner, which is: the company’s.

We learn that you CAN push back and not disclose this key piece of information. 

No phone was slammed down, no yelling took place. Being nice about it, but insistent and clear is key.

We learn that doing your homework is KEY! People, this is the #1 lesson in my coaching program (okay, besides getting your mindset absolutely right). KNOW WHAT YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT. Because my client had done her homework, she could confidently turn down the offer and put the ball back in the company’s court: either up your game, peeps, or there is no point in continuing this conversation. Please note that the recruiter implicitly agreed with the range being too low for the role and profile (“If they want quality, they will have to pay for it”).

I would like to conclude by saying that to some, doing the above might sound like my client has potentially lost a great opportunity. What if the company is really only willing to pay 140-150K and she just talked herself out of this chance by stating she was looking for more?

To those I would say: I respectfully disagree. I don’t believe neither the company nor my client would have won if she had taken the role for anywhere in the 140-150K range, which my client had researched was too low for the type of position and her experience. My client would be demotivated / pissed off / feeling undervalued / upset from the moment she found out she was underpaid. That wouldn’t be good for her general happiness, and seriously impacted on her general levels of kick-assery and thus career prospects. The company, on the other hand, would have had an employee who was (secretly or openly) harbouring those feelings and not gotten their best work. No one would have won.

Do you agree?

And can we please at the very least agree that – whatever your level of general pushing-back abilities – you will never ever ever tell any recruiter in the history of time ever and anywhere, what your previous salary was??

I actually have a rule within my WINners community, that if they are asked three times for their current salary by a headhunter (they are persistent, man!), and refuse to answer using our scripts, they get sent a bottle of champagne by my team. Doing my bit to end this stupid practice by making it attractive to object, ha! 


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