Now really could be the best time to look for a job. Rumor has it, it’s a candidates’ market. And, bonus, you could recognize a nice uptick in pay, particularly if you have not changed jobs in years. And these days, more and more recruiters are not asking your salary history, but focusing on your experience and your salary expectations. Because, well, you know, it’s the law in several states.
This is a big change in the conversation for the recruiter and candidate, and I think for the better. I’m not sure the candidates have necessarily caught up with the conversation, at least not yet. I like asking people what their salary expectation is, what they prefer to be making. Quite often asking their salary expectation versus what they are making is disconcerting. The answer usually ends up falling along the following lines:
- “A million dollars.” (There’s always one person, and yes, we’d all like to be making that.) To which I ask, is that your real number? Let’s not waste anyone’s time if it is.
- “I haven’t thought about it.” Haven’t you? Why not? Before I came to my current employer, I thought long and hard about it. I had a great job, worked from home, flexible hours, unlimited leave time but no additional benefits. The job I was considering had a big commute but offered a lot of opportunity and potential to work from home as needed, and the benefits, they’re pretty amazing. But what did I need to make? What did I want to make? You need to know that. You should know that we all have bills to pay. I looked at what I was making and what I would want to make to do that commute every darn day. That was my number. I really want you to think about your number and figure it out. If you settle, you’ll be unhappy and jump ship. I really want someone who is happy and feels like they got the number they wanted.
- “I’m open.” No one is open. If you were truly open you’d take whatever I offer and the one thing I know for sure when someone says they are open is that they do have a number that they don’t care to share.
- “10k, 20k or more higher than what my role pays.” That is, you’re highly compensated for the role you’re applying for. And that’s okay. I’m going to tell you I can’t afford you. No harm, no foul, it happens. And it’s not a negotiating tactic, it’s reality. I’ll tell you what roles you should be looking for, or I’ll let you know you’ve got a sweet gig and that you’re well compensated.
- A thoughtful answer. I like the thoughtful answer, it shows you know what you want. You’ve set your number. If you go with the thoughtful answer you can get crazy like me and tell your recruiter your exact number. Or you can say a range—I know people like to be broad in order to achieve the best deal possible.
If you make the big reveal and share your number, what should you expect from the recruiter? To reveal their number or at the very least their range and how they think you’d fall into it. That’s a pretty reasonable ask, no one wants to trip down the path investing time in multiple interviews to not have the salary align in the end. No one works for free and no one likes to be boondoggled.
Kelly is the Recruitment Manager for Westat, a leading social science research organization headquartered in Rockville, Maryland.