Posted: by HRNasty in Job Interview Tips, Strategic HR, What Recruiters Really Think

Desired Salary

“What is your Desired Salary” is the Halle Berry of interview questions.

What is your desired salary?

Most candidates dread the “desired salary” question. I know because I hear the evasive answers on a regular basis when I ask this question. Here is the thing, we all know this question is coming so why is it such a show stopper with candidates “What” you say and “how” you say it will set the tone and my attitude towards you for the rest of the interview. Try to be coy or evasive and the show is over. Be transparent and gracious, and I literally get excited.  How this question is answered is a differentiator.

First, don’t hate. You should be excited you are asked this question. As a recruiter, I don’t ask this question unless I am interested in a candidate. If I am not interested or don’t think there is a fit, there is no reason to ask a question that has even the slightest chance of going “awkwarrrrdd”. As a recruiter, if I see potential, I want to determine from the very first phone call if the candidate and the company are on the same page. For this reason, I come right out and ask, “What would it take for you to leave your current position and join our company”?

If you as a candidate are NOT asked about your desired salary in the first interview, buyer beware. The last thing I want to do as a recruiter is put a candidate through an interview loop of 5 interviewers and not have any insight into the candidates desired salary. If we get to the goal line and find that the candidate wants $10K more than the company is thinking, this is not good. The FIRST question the VP is going to ask me is “Did you find out what they wanted to make before you wasted everyone’s time”? This isn’t just a rookie mistake, it is inconsiderate. Even if the salary is posted in the job ad, I am going to confirm the desired salary so I can look the VP in the eye, look at my notes, and then look the VP in the eye and report that expectations are in line.

Cute answers that aren’t so cute to  the infamous interview question: “What is your desired salary”?

  • “1 million dollars a year.”
  • “As much as you will give me.”
  • “How much does the job pay?”
  • “I would rather not discuss that until I find out more about the job.”
  • “I am negotiable on salary.”
  • “Between $45K and $55K.”

These answers say “I am an insecure candidate and don’t know how to answer this question”.

If you are filling out a job application, especially an online job application through a company website, the worst thing you can do is to leave this box blank. Recruiters do not want to see any blank field in an application. When I have a lot of resumes, everything is about moving as fast as and efficiently as possible and a blank field means I have to chase down information. Putting me in a position where I need to think or guess is all the justification I need to move on to someone who lists a show of confidence in this box.

When I ask the specific question around desired salary, if I get a cagey or smart ass answer, it is an immediate flag that the candidate isn’t comfortable with the interview, isn’t confident in their skills, or thinks they are going to pull a fast on me. Guess what I am thinking? Unfortunately, this isn’t your lucky day.

In my bag of tricks, there is no question MORE serious than the desired salary question. It’s ok to joke around during the rest of the interview, but treat this one with the respect and seriousness that it deserves.

The desired salary question is the Halle Berry of interview questions.  Halle has that gracious smile and elegant manner that fools the greedy side of you into thinking you actually got game.  Don’t play out of your league here boy.  Stick with what you know because this one demands respect.

And you thought HR couldn’t be sexy.

Put another way, if you are not able to talk salary with me, you are not going to be able to negotiate timelines or fees with our customers.

The following is what goes through my mind when I hear the following answers. Yes, this is a grin fucking.

Candidates answer: “1 million dollars a year”:

  • Unless you are a professional athlete, this really isn’t funny and it definitely is not original.

Candidates answer: “As much as you will give me”:

  • It’s your lucky day!  We have an extra million dollars a year in the budget.  Will that do?

Candidates answer: “How much does the job pay”:

  • Dumbass! Don’t answer my question with a question.  Who is conducting this interview?

Candidates answer: “I would rather not discuss this until I find out more about the job”:

  • This is a flag. Actually this is a rescue flare going up and I am the one that wants to be rescued. You know you are worth X, and maybe a few percentage points more, so lets not haggle over perceived value or hype. If you are looking for $30K, and you don’t want to show your cards in the case this job pays $50K, it’s not going to happen. I am a professional. If your experience is worth $30K and the job pays $50K, It is because I need $50K worth of experience. We can work with being $5K apart, but a $20K difference on a $30K salary isn’t going to happen.  There is a big difference between someone that makes $30K and $50K and recruiters saw this within 5 seconds of looking at your resume. Tell us how you really feel about this one HRNasty!

Candidates answer: “I am negotiable”:

  • Everything is negotiable so this doesn’t tell me anything and no one wants to start a long-term relationship with a negotiation. Put another way, if the company said to you “Your salary is negotiable” you would probably feel a little slighted and worry that you are going to leave something on the table. Saying the word “negotiable” gives you an express ticket to the little kiddy’s table at the family holiday dinner.

Candidates answer: “Between $45K to $55K”:

  • Ohhh, I get it. . .you want me to deduce you really mean $50K. You would accept $45K, you are hoping you get lucky and get $55K, but $50K is your number.   

Post Script: The answer where a range is provided is the answer I hear the most. In all honestly, I may write down your range but I only heard the lower number. The candidate probably doesn’t have the guts to say “$50K” so they disguise it in the veil of “$45K to $55K” and is secretly hoping they may get lucky and receive an offer for $53K or even $55K.  We don’t sell Lottery tickets here, so if you are looking to get lucky, the mini-mart is 2 blocks that a-way. 

This is a serious interview question and it deserves a serious interview answer. Don’t let my nonchalance and cool demeanor fool you. You know this question is coming so be prepared. Don’t worry, if you are currently working, I am not going to offer the same or less than what you are currently making, because you are not going to leave one gig for a lesser job.  If you are, we don’t want you.

Stay tuned for future posts where I dig deeper into the question and provide what I DO want to hear. 

See you at the after party,


nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

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  • Hjob

    Or you can just be honest with the candidate and disclose the range the company has budgeted for the position upfront. No req gets posted without an initial budget allocation, even if it changes. You’re a gatekeeper who sounds like you’re on a power trip. You add no real value unless you can shortchange talent and say, “Hey, I saved the company money.” Then you have to turn around and process that same candidate’s resignation because they found another job that actually pays them what they’re worth, ultimately costing the company more than what you initially saved with your shitty hiring practices. I get it, it’s because HR is never going to have a seat at the table so you take what you can get. You must only be interviewing entry-level folks because any skilled candidate worth their salt isn’t going to disclose their desired salary until they know more about the job, which they’re only going to REALLY learn from the hiring manager. Now go process an employee’s FMLA paperwork like a good little monkey while the grown ups talk business.

  • What you should do is research what they are paying typical hirees, and use something similar.

  • dena

    I just had a phone interview that went well enough to be offered a second interview. One of the questions that she asked me was my desired salary. I was so surprised and felt awkward that I stated a rate that is far less than I should have said. She then asked my last pay and it was even lower that what I quoted her for this position. I wish that I hadn’t felt so put on the spot to answer because I know that I was underpaid in my last job. Now I’ve given that pay away to her plus I threw out an hourly that’s too low for this new job. *SIGH* If the second interview goes well and I’m offered this position, would I be able to fix what I did by asking for more or have I completely set myself up for a low pay (again)?

  • Dewbert

    So, how am I supposed to give my salary expectations if you don’t tell me the benefits in great and accurate detail. My expected salary depends on how much my healthcare premiums cost. Are you going to tell me that amount before I answer the desired salary question? Let me guess… no.

    • Dewbert, My attitude is to not worry about the benefits. At the end of the day, most of us have a desired salary number. Unless we are going to Google or a company with an amazing overall comp package, that number isn’t going to change much. We all expect benefits and a 401K. Just take that as a standard and give your number. There will be very few companies out there that will swing a benefits package by 1000’s and 1000’s of dollars. If you have a number just say something like: My desired salary is X. I realize this is a great company and the benefits are probably amazing. I would want to stay in this range but wouldn’t want a few 1000 dollars to keep us from learning more about each other and the opportunity.

      • Dewbert

        In the past, health benefits didn’t matter to me. Now that we are compelled to have insurance and I am much older, it does matter. I base my desired salary range on research I have done in my field. In my field of Graphic Design, the salary range is very wide and benefits aren’t always a given. Insurance premiums vary by company and are not disclosed until you are hired. So, I have to factor in my cost of insurance, through Obamacare, into my desired salary and tell them I am flexible depending on benefits. Obamacare insurance would cost me $1.41 – $3.43 per work hour. That is significant and could put me out of an employer’s salary range, if I have to buy my own insurance.

        I had an interview with an HR Manager the other day, who said she thought my salary expectations are too high (even though this was my third interview with them and I assume the first interview would not have happened if my salary range didn’t work for them). The problem is, this company “views” the position as an entry level position, but it is more of a supervisory/management position that requires a lot of skills. It’s a trick that employers love to use in our field, so they can offer less money… call it a “Production Artist”, but then have them do the work of a Graphic Designer, Graphics Manager, or Creative Director, and then we can pay them less. Anyway, the HR Manager claimed to not know the salary range they are offering (an obvious lie; especially, when she could look it up while I was sitting there in her office). But, they do offer the best benefits I have ever seen. So, now we have a case where I am on the bubble, due to my salary — which is based on my Obamacare costs. If I am asking for $X per hour and they think that is too much, I still may be in their salary range if we subtract my Obamacare costs and add my insurance premium costs through their coverage. The problem is that it isn’t calculated until after I would be hired (I believe) and in this case, it is calculated based on salary, which is odd (plus, all the normal factors you would expect, like age, gender, etc.).

        And, I do tell interviewers that I wouldn’t want my salary range to be the cause of them not hiring me and would like them to call me to discuss further, if they feel I am the best candidate. However, the online job apps usually don’t allow for comments, stating that I am flexible, when they ask for salary requirements. So, those applicants not in the range get filtered out by the Applicant Tracking System from the beginning and there is no chance of an interview at all.

        Other benefits are not very important to me because they don’t cost me money. The last company, that I worked for, gradually did away with our Employee Stock Ownership, then our 401k, etc. In fact, they consistently raised the sales department goals, every time they had to pay them bonuses, to try to keep them from getting bonuses the next time. So, I place no value on those “extra income” types of benefits when determining if I take a job. They are not guaranteed and if I make so little of a wage that I cannot contribute to my 401k, then it doesn’t matter how much the company matches.

  • T Hal

    I wish I could say, honestly, that this article surprised me. That a company expects an applicant to set her own expected salary is preposterous. Share a salary range and you won’t have people applying who expect more. The only reason companies ask how much an applicant is expecting is because companies can. It’s an employer’s market. Simple.

    Imagine the havoc if buying a car or grocery shopping were similar. You get to the check-out aisle with more items than you really need and then have to guess what the price is, only to find that if you haven’t guessed right you cannot buy the items.

    Also, hiring “experts” should consider that different experts offer very different advice on the same job search/interviewing questions. It appears, then, there are very few true answers, and a lot of opinions. In the end, so long as there are far more well qualified candidates than available positions, those holding the keys to the positions will get to make the rules, as absurd and counter-productive as the rules may be.

  • Itsme2033

    You suggest answering the salary question, whereas most job advice sites recommend ducking it until the last stages. Can you suggest any way in which a person might attempt to duck the question such that if they are dealing with a recruiter who won’t object to having the question ducked they can do so, but if they are dealing with someone like you who is more hardline about it that after the deferral the recruiter could come back and clarify that they really want the question answered?

    Also, please tell me how much you would hate this. If after you asked the salary question I replied with something like. “I’m glad you brought the question of salary up. I’m glad to share my salary history with you, but since I’d like to feel like an equal in this discussion, I’d also like to ask you to share the salary range for this job.”

    • Frank,
      Sorry to take a hard line on this one, but I want to help folks get through the interview process. I seriously believe that candidates are decreasing their chances of getting past the interview if they are not willing to answer this question. Remember, recruiters have reputations to uphold and if they are not able to come back to the hiring manager with a range they are going to look incompetent. If the hiring manager wants to present an offer after 5-6 people interviewed the candidate and finds out that the candidates wants MORE than is budgeted then we just wasted not just the companies time but provided a horrible experience for the candidate.

      If you want to play the odds and increase your chances, give your number. Give a high number if you want, but without a number, the chances of going the distance decrease dramatically. Please look at this from the recruiters frame of mind.


    • Itsme2033,
      You bring up a fair point. Absolutely fair. What I am trying to provide through this site is the ability to navigate the interview process with success and that means that we are often dealing with managers and hr folks who may or may not understand all of the dynamics. My point in this blog is to provide ways to get to the finish line. I am not saying we will like those ways, but it is a way. For the most part, it is an employers market. If an employer posts a position, they are receiving a lot more applicants than applicants have opportunities. I don’t say that to be an ass, but as a baseline starting point. With these conditions, we need to realize that as candidates, the system isn’t going to be fair. At the end of the day, a lot of this is human nature and power on the side of the employer. If we want to make it past these road blocks, we want to be one of the easiest candidates to work with, because there are so many other candidates. I like to think we all have a number. Just give your number. If we are out of the range by just a little bit and our skill set is a good match, the recruiter will “hopefully” let us know 1. candidate is a little out of the range but we think it is still worth talking and our benefits plan will make up for salary. With more candidates out there than opportunities, my suggested tactic is to play the opportunity as long as you can vs. leaving it behind because there is always more budget for the right candidate. Hope this helps, HRN

  • fakou gougre

    Thanks for confirming HR workers are snakes.

  • Sophie

    The language of this article is so RUDE! I would never want to be called up by a such a narrow minded recruiter. Thanks but NO thanks!

  • Dewbert

    WTF? So, there is no right answer unless it is one number? And, we’re supposed to know that number without knowing what kind of benefits (if any) are offered? How ’bout this?… Tell us the salary before we apply, so you don’t waste our time writing a cover letter/resume and your time weeding through and reading through resumes. And, I want one number… not a range. Don’t be coy.

    • T Hal

      Thank YOU!

  • Blake

    Candidates answer: “How much does the job pay”:
    Dumbass! Don’t answer my question with a question. Who is conducting this interview?

    It seems to me that you don’t know the meaning of “interview” it’s a meeting of people face to face for consultation. Meaning that the questions are asked BOTH ways.

  • pgtestita

    uhm, basically you gave no answer other than “don’t ay anything silly”
    Not a very useful article…

  • Meredith

    So, did you ever post a follow-up stating what a recruiter would want to hear?

    “Stay tuned for future posts where I dig deeper into the question and provide what I DO want to hear.”

    I haven’t found that post yet.

    • Dewbert

      He realized that he thinks the only correct thing for a prospect to do is name one salary, not a range. That’s what I got from his dumb article. So, no need to expound on that.

  • MyrtleJune

    Why not just call it what it is: “I’m thinking of a number between 0 and 1 million”. What is THAT number, candidate?

    Really? HR has gone round the effing bend with this inefficient and utterly childish game.

  • kirwi

    Why don’t companies just fucking pay the employee what the JOB pays. All of a sudden, now that I have a degree, I get to make more money than the guy/girl next to me doing the EXACT SAME THING!? It’s company mind-fuckery 101; they want you to be some rags to (pseudo) riches chump who will jump at some offer below market value. It’s deceptive and fucking cowardly.

  • John Taylor

    This post was entertaining but failed to fulfil expectations. Thanks for nothing, as per usual from HR people – nasty people :p

  • JuniorJobSeeker

    Hi there,

    I’m a big fan of your blog and I appreciate the comic relief on a subject that can easily bum job seekers out. I’m a young job seeker working part-time looking for a full-time job and after getting some legitimate interview practice, I feel comfortable giving interviewers my number. However, once in a while I will encounter an HR person who insists on the salary I make at my current job. I work part-time in the entertainment industry, an industry notoriously low-paying and under-employing for fledglings trying to break in, but I have earned enough experience so that I’m interviewing for steady entry-level jobs and I fully expect to make more money taking a job with more responsibilities. I know I’m asking for a completely reasonable salary but it’s about 15% higher than the hourly wage I’m currently making. Should I keep my current number confidential from the interviewers who press?

    • Adrienne,
      Thanks for the support on the blog and you ask a great question.

      So I am going to just throw out some numbers and just let me know if the examples I am using do not make sense or need some adjustments.

      Lets say, you are working part time and making 15.00 an hour (approx $30K a year if employed full time). A 15% percent raise would be the equivalent of $17.25 or a $2.25 an hour raise. When you are asked “what is your current salary?”, there are three options:

      1. I am currently working part time and making 15.00 an hour
      2. I am currently working part time and making 15.00 an hour, but I am looking to be paid the market rate. I feel that I am little under paid for what I do, but the company is small and not doing so well. It is a great place to work and I like the people, but I want to work in a company that is growing and has a lot of opportunity.

      I would not go with number 1. Number 3 says the same thing but gets your point across.

      Hopefully the above provides some ideas and perspective.

      Good luck,


    • Dewbert

      You could tell them that you have an agreement with your current employer not to divulge salary. Or, you could say that is just a temporary job to keep the money flowing, while you look for a company where you want to have a career.

  • Thatdamnguy

    Let’s be blunt.It’s a a**hole of a question.You know what you’re going to pay your employee,you’re no dummy.I agree with (comment poster) Ao.This shouldn’t be on the application or even be asked.It’s just a question to be a d**k.And speaking being one of those,hrnasty,if you’re going to write a article on this subject,how about some answers instead of chastising the responses you hear? Useless.

  • Chris13

    I’m not having any luck finding the follow-up article on how to answer this question, can I get a hint where it is?

  • Alan

    What happens when the previous company was underpaying the employee by an access of 20k or more?

    Are you seriously going to create a website like this and pretend that HR/Corporations try to keep up with an individuals market value? Or adjust based on supply & demand? Do you understand that SOME people who find this article have actually been working in corporate America for over 3 years?

    Consider the following example. Company A is paying Joe 75k a year. Joe’s skillset based on his education/certifications & experience is is worth 130k according to market data. Joe applies to work for Company B. Company B asks for his current salary (why? Oh HRnasty, you silly little man, you know why – but I’ll continue this example for everyone else). Company B learns that Joe is making 75k a year; therefore, Joe will receive exactly 80k a year as an offer. Company A was paying Joe 75k, so that MUST be what he is worth!!! Obviously Company A has more insight to market data of supply & demand! As we all know, a company would NEVER want to underpay someone. In fact, as soon as a company learns that one of it’s employees is earning under market value for their role, THEY STOP EVERYTHING THEY ARE DOING AND GIVE THAT PERSON A RAISE.

    I’ll keep my fingers crossed that you come back and try to argue that what Company A was paying Joe is an accurate indicator of how much Joe is worth. Just so everyone can see you do it.

    • Joe,

      Thanks for checking out the site and you bring up a point that should be addressed. My goal of this site is to try and provide the company perspective so that candidates have a chance when it comes to these negotiations and understand where the company is coming from. FWIW, I and this blog are on the candidates side.

      There will be times where employees are with a company and under paid. It may be the employees fault, it may the the employers, or it may be a bit of both. In my experience it is usually a little bit of both. We can but should NOT expect a company or a manager to watch out and be pro active for our individual comp. I have said it many times on this site, the employees career is the employees responsibility.

      I will provide two examples and hopefully this starts to get to the meat of the issue.

      I think it is perfectly reasonable for an employee that is working in a company for 3 years and finding themselves under paid to start looking for a new job. In Seattle, where we have a huge tech bubble and tech talent is very tough to come by, I can see candidates starting 3 years ago at 85K and asking for 120K to 130K in some positions. If I were counseling that candidate, I would suggest they go to their current employer FIRST and ask for an adjustment before I go outside. Starting a new gig means any number of things including re establishing cred all over with manager and team. I would also suggest that the candidate may not necessarily need 130K but ask for something close so the decision to switch companies is a lot harder to give up 3 years of effort with that employer. If we were to get 120K, that may be enough. But this process starts with a conversation and if the employee doesn’t bring up their comp, more than likely no one will.

      I am 3 year employe at company A. This is what I would say to my manager:

      Manager, I came on 3 years ago and the market has changed very seriously here in Seattle for my position. I started at 75K. I love the team, I love what we are doing, but the market is paying 130K for my skill set. I would like to discuss my compensation. I know that getting me to 130K right now is probably tough, but can we come up with a plan to get me close over the next 3 months. I know that once I start looking, I will lose faith in the system here at Company A and psychologically, it will be very hard to fall back in like with Company A. I don’t need to get to 130K now, but can we at least make it a very tough decision and put me on a plan so over the next 6 months I see some movement? This won’t be a matter of me getting the money and moving on. I can do that now. I am happy to commit to 12 months, but I want to do it here and be compensated fairly.

      If you get no love, then you look outside the company:

      If I am at 75K and the going rate is 130K I would do the following as a candidate that is interviewing:

      I would ask for the market rate. If that is 130K, that is what I would ask for. If they only want to give 80K, then there are probably a couple things going on:

      1. I didn’t interview like a 130K candidate. The companies know what 70K candidates look and sound like and they know what 130K candidates sound like iIN THEIR COMPANY. We need to look and smell like a duck. Again, there isn’t any use in underpaying someone by close to 40%. I have never seen any bragging in the HR room going on saying what we got away under paying someone by 50K.
      2. If they want to offer me 80K, then it probably isn’t the right company for me. I wouldn’t take that job if I really am worth 130K. I am not gaining enough in the 5K raise to risk giving up what comes with the 3 years of tenure with my current employer.
      3. If the going rate is 130K, then there is competition amongst the hiring companies to fill that role. 130K is a lot of money in any town for any position. Here in Seattle, if the going rate is 130K, I am not going to get away with even 115K unless I am at a start up with equity and we are not profitable. Even in these instances, we need to pay the going rate. I might be able to get away with 125K, but I won’t pay 75K. I can’t afford to waste my time with interviews, schedules, paperwork to under pay by 50K and have the candidate unhappy and leave. Just not in my best interest and I am talking me personally as a internal recruiter. I am not talking about the company.

      If I were applying for 130K, I need to have a dang good story about why I am at 70K if I want 130K. One that comes to mind “I am a early employee in a technology start up and have a good chunk of equity. Company B’s company doesn’t offer equity so I would like to be paid market value.” We need to give something to the recruiter or the hiring manager so they can justify this to their higher ups.

      I know I am fortunate in that I work with executives that under stand compensation and what it can do and what it can not do and their values align with my own. It is why the companies I have worked with in the past 12 years have made the Best Place to Work lists in 9 of those years including 2 number 1 finishes including 2014. I found a place that shares my same values, and yes, I took a bit less than market rate for this because it is worth it to me.

      Not all companies operate this way, I know, I worked in corporate America, but I have found that with 90% of managers and companies, having a civil discussion without attitude, giving the manager a reason they can provide to their VP will get employees a lot of points. It is these points that I try to provide in this blog.

      Hope this helps,


      • Alan

        Thank you for the reply. My thoughts:

        On asking for raises:

        If someone was being drastically underpaid, it is extremely unlikely that they will have their salary adjusted to align with the market. Only in rare cases where the employee actually threatens to leave and the company panics now that it realizes that it has wronged the employee – even then, it is known that only a very small percentage of employees stay with a company longer than a year after accepting a counter-offer. Bottom line – why would top talent want to stay with a company that had such unprofessional policies?

        It’s no secret that the only way to correct your salary by increments of 10% or more is to switch jobs.

        On switching jobs:

        When switching jobs a prospective employee “seemingly” has an advantage; the employer will need to evaluate the employee based on their education level, experience, certifications, etc. and align them with market data.

        The reason I say “seemingly” is that if the new company is shady and unprofessional (or have hired a recruiting agency to be shady and unprofessional on their behalf), they will attempt to bully the prospective candidate into divulging what their salary was at their previous company.

        Why are they doing this?

        The reason: Unprofessional and shady companies and recruiters believe that your salary history is an indicator of your current market value. And no, I’m not even kidding – they REALLY believe this.

        Stupid right? Well, obviously, but being shady and unprofessional has it’s advantages – they will then take that information and base any potential offers on what another company was paying the employee, meaning that it now no longer “needs” to align the pay with it’s own market research. It doesn’t matter the years experience, education/certifications, proven ability of the candidate – all that matters is that the previous company was only willing to pay them X amount.

        Career advisers warn never to divulge confidential information like this to recruiters/prospective employers. This is obvious advice; however, I would take it a step further and turn your back on employers who play silly games – it’s a red flag indication of how they operate and feel about their employees. You are a professional and take your work seriously, you don’t have time for silly games.

        A legitimate company needs to know a lot of information before making a hiring decision. The most critical things it needs to know are the following:

        1. What skills/experience/attitude do we need to fill a specific role?
        2. What do these skills/experience/attitude pay according to our market research and do we have the budget to pay for it?
        3. Based on our evaluation of this candidate, do they have the combination of skills/experience/attitude that we have identified that we need?
        4. Finally, if the answer to #3 is yes, can we afford this candidate at their asking price?

        If the company can’t afford it, maybe it needs to re-evaluate it’s budget/criteria to look for B players. Or re-adjust the criteria for the role to be something else, so it can look for A players for the NEW role they re-design.

        No where in the process does the candidate need to explain to the company why their asking price is X. That is simply their asking price – whether their asking price is unrealistic or that’s what the market dictates, it doesn’t matter. You want them as an employee and you can either afford them or not afford them. Reasons why the candidate was or was not being paid that amount at a previous company has ZERO relevance on the task at hand.

        I’ll conclude with a reality that I’m very much aware of. Life happens. Sometimes A players need another job for an unlimited number or reasons. It has nothing to do with the A players skills/ability/work ethic/value – it has everything to do with their priorities in life. Maybe a family member is sick or has passed. Maybe a better work-life balance is needed immediately. These are often the cases where unprofessional and shady companies are most successful, they are able to capitalize on acquiring an A player at much lower than what they are worth due to life circumstances. I’m not going to try to tell people there is a way to outsmart “life happens” because I don’t believe there is.

        • jaybe


          A recent current event has made me think back to my posting here on your forum. The state of Massachusetts just passed a bill forbidding companies from taking part in the practices I describe in this thread on your forum – trying to use “salary history” as some sort of reason to pay someone that same amount at a completely NEW job, instead of actually valuating their skills/abilities to actual market data and what they’d bring to the table at this COMPLETELY DIFFERENT job. It becomes effective in 2018. It turns out, this business of trying to keep someone’s salary comparable to what they made at “previous jobs” perpetuates minority pay discrimination. Trying to make the magical/fantasy argument that you’re only worth slightly above whatever “you’re currently making now” makes it impossible for minorities/women who have been discriminated against ever correct the blight they’ve been subjected to. I was just curious your thoughts on how HR in general is responding to the government catching onto these shady corporate strategies.

          • Jaybe,
            Thanks for visiting the site. You bring up a great question, and let me be the first to say that I personally am a minority so “I hear you”. A couple of random points.

            Let’s say I was making 50K year, but the market is paying 70K a year for my skill set. This happens in technology on a regular basis. A graduate comes out of school and with no experience is making 50K. 18 months later, they are literally worth 70K. The company gave them their 5% raise and they are only making 55K.

            I would be asking the current employer for 70K because that is what the market is bearing. I would give my current employer a chance first. If they say no, or give me another 4-5K, I would start applying. Most companies are going to see me and offer 70K. If they offer me 58K and I accept the job, then that is on me. I would decline the job politely.

            As a minority, I started this blog to help my minority friends who DID NOT speak up for themselves in interviews and once they had the job. We get what we ask for. If the company offers 58K, I get it, but it doesn’t mean we have to accept. We can say “I believe I am worth 70K, and the market is pointing to 70K. Is there any reason you think I am not worth 70K? (this last question is to figure out if I really am worth 70K or not. If they say, “well, you were only making 55K at the last place”, then this is not a place I want to work. Just like buying a car, if I can get the car for cheaper, I am going to try. Some people negotiate the price of their cars and some people do not. Some people negotiate their salaries and some do not. Most of my minority friends did not negotiate or ask for projects and I wanted to change that.

            As much as this law perpetuates minorities and women getting lower salaries, as a minority, it is me who keeps my salary where it is.

            With the folks I work with, i would say that 95% of them are making significantly more than they were before. They are doing the same work they were prior, but what is different is that they are telling their managers about what they are doing and asking for more money. Two things that most of my friends were NOT doing prior.

            I am VERY passionate about this topic so if any of this doesn’t make sense or you do not agree or have questions, PLEASE reach out.

            Hope this makes sense, HRN

          • jaybe105


            The new law in Massachusetts is specifically meant to prevent the employer from trying to make the argument, “well, you were only making 55K at the last place”.

            With the new law:

            1.) It’s illegal to ask what they were making at their past job.
            2.) It’s illegal to threaten to demand their W2

            With this law, the employee doesn’t have to defend why they should be making 70k now instead of 55k. The law puts the onus on the EMPLOYER to understand their needs, and what they are willing to pay for their needs.

            To be frank, I’m not sure anyone in HR actually believes that “what you were making previously is a variable to consider in what you should be making in a new job”. Why? It’s simply a stupid and illogical argument. Business decisions should not be made on emotional, stupid, illogical arguments. That’s why this law is going to be beneficial.

            With this new law, the only argument the prospective candidate will need to make is why they want 70k period. The fact that they were making 55k prior is not visible at all to the employer, so it doesn’t enter the conversation.

            My question to you was, how do you think the HR industry and the recruiting industry is going to react to this new law in Massachusetts and if it takes hold in other states as well? Are they worried? Are they making plans to figure how they are going to go about doing their own research and their needs rather than relying on other companies valuations of skillsets? In my working experience, the reliance on trying figure out what the candidate was making at a prior job was the core goal of HR – some sort of fantasy, magical world they were living in that made them REALLY believe the info had ANYTHING TO DO WITH what they should be paid at a brand new job. So, seeing the government stand up for not just minorities and women, but for job seekers everywhere, I’m just curious how the heck is the HR industry going to deal with this?

  • Dvyn

    This still didn’t answer the question. Thanks..

    • Ao

      I totally agree- what the H are we supposed to do when put in such an awkward situation?? This only tells us we are idiots if we give these answers – oh and here’s why. No help.

  • Scooter

    “If you are filling out a job application, especially an online job application through a company website, the worst thing you can do is to leave this box blank” – while I agree with the principle you’re applying here, I don’t think this box should exist in the first place.
    Asking the candidate to show his hand first gives the employer an advantage. If I said i want $125k and you were thinking $150k, I’d being doing myself a disservice. Just like if the employer said he was thinking $150k when I’m thinking $125k, the employer, then, has done himself a disservice.
    In my industry salaries can vary wildly. The same job in 2 different companies can have a salary that’s different by $75k. So it’s not just about knowing your value, it’s also about knowing what value an employer puts on the role.
    Plus, there might be things in the interview that influence my decision about a fair salary. If I only found out in the interview that there was an on-call element to the job, or lots of travel, I might realise I’d lowballed myself in the application. It’s hard to take back what you’ve written it down.
    It’s a negotiation, and it’s not all in the employers favour. Both parties have a lot to lose if the negotiation doesn’t work out. I think salary should only be raised during a first interview, and not earlier.

    • Dewbert

      I think the salary (or salary range) should be in the job post, so my time and the employer’s time isn’t wasted. Why are they making me tailor my resume and create a cover letter for their position and then going through the interview process (multiple candidate interviews for them), only to not be a match?

      It’s like if you signed up for a dating site, but the person you’re interested in wouldn’t tell you their gender until the date. The most important thing should be explained up front.

      I’ve actually called the day before I was supposed to go to an interview and asked how much it paid. Found out it was less than I was currently making and canceled the interview. Saved myself and them a lot of wasted time.

      • Dewbert, you bring up a good point. My attitude when I learn that a job pays less than what I am currently making is to still explore the opportunity. Just because the job says it pays less doesn’t mean it has to in the end. I know of plenty of situations when salaries have been adjusted up for the right candidate. The right candidate though will go in with a positive attitude and an open mind. The right candidate will give off all the right signals. If we are interviewing with doubt about the opportunity, then our answers and body language will reflect this and we won’t end up being considered. Hiring managers will often change their minds about the budget for a position after they have seeing what the additional budget will get them. Until they see that candidate, they may not know any different.

        • Dewbert

          I just assumed of the job ad stated a salary or a range, then that is what they would pay. But, that’s a good point about attitude. When I interview for a job an hour away, or a job that pays less than I would like, or in some way is not ideal, I know I tend to not try hard enough in the interview. That’s something, that I was thinking about the other day, that I need to watch out for.

  • “Don’t worry, if you are currently working, I am not going to offer the same or less than what you are currently making, because you are not going to leave one gig for a lesser job.”

    This is not always true.

    I recently applied for a job and put my current and desired salary down in the application (same number). The HR rep came back and said that I was a little outside of the range, and asked what the minimum I would be willing to accept. I ended up coming off of my original number by $5k.

    Process continued to move forward after that, which I assumed meant the lower number was in range. Took some online assessments, did a phone interview, and then an in person with five different people, all of which went very well.

    Shortly thereafter, I received an offer that was another $12,500 BELOW my lower number (and thus $17,500 off of my original). I assumed that had to be a typo, and gave HR an opportunity to correct by reminding them what my original lower number was.

    In response, HR told me that the number they offered was correct, and was at the high end for the job. HR then tried to sell me on the position based on the benefits, which – while great – were not any better than what I already have.

    Overall, I am fairly disappointed. The company has a great reputation and very low turnover, so I was surprised that HR would string me along like they did. I am assuming they were assuming their reputation and extras would be enough, which strikes of arrogance, to be honest.

    Now, of course, I am wondering if I am priced out of the market, or if they just pay below market value for the area. Or maybe by coming off that $5k, they thought I was bluffing on my actual minimum? Either way, the whole experience made me appreciate where I am all that much more.

    • Sean, thanks for stopping by and sharing your story. I am really sorry you had to go through this and frankly, this is one of the things I don’t appreciate about my profession. The BS. I don’t know if you took the position or not but my guess is that you didn’t. If you did not I couldn’t blame you one bit.

      Maybe the HR person’s hands were tied, I really don’t know, but my argument back to the hiring manager would have been, “Why would I offer a guy 17K below what he is making? Let’s not waste anyone’s time here. Lets not give the company a bad reputation because interviews are like buying a car or a house. Everyone shares the story with their friends.

      If I were to bring someone on for this much less, I can only imagine that I am going to have a bitter and resentful employee on my hands after the shininess of the opportunity wears off. 17K in this economy is a TON Of money. I don’t care how much you are making, this is a lot! And to say that this is the top of the range means that there is no where for the newly hired employee to go. What motivation is there. Again, I don’t know the situation, but I think the process should have been cut early on so that when there was a viable opportunity for you, you would be excited and and not deterred.

      Sorry you had to go through that experience,


  • Joe Mama

    Also, I must have won the lottery, because after switching jobs I am earning 30% higher base salary plus expecting a 15% bonus at eoy vs no bonus. All told nearly a 50% increase.

  • Joe Mama

    I have to disagree to some extent. Many salaries are dependent on experience, and many times there are multiple positions that need to be filled from the same pool of money. Because of this there can be a very wide range even at the same title. Also a person’s “value” is highly subject to the particular company or industry. Inquiring about the range for a position is perfectly reasonable. When I am asked this question, I say I am looking for X, but might be negotiable depending on overall package (retirement, medical, training, other benefits.)

  • gander2112

    Another great post. Having been on the receiving end of the question (never been asked “What would it take for you to leave your current co. and join us” though) I always have an answer ready.  I am in a field where I know my value, and the value I bring to an organization, so I don’t feel at all bad asking for it.

    One thing I will say, in this economy, companies are looking to lop 20% off what is a fair wage. I have had recruiter after recruiter call and tell me that the company was looking for a senior level person with 8-10 years experience, proven track record, for about 30-40K less than the going rate. 

    I have seen some of those jobs sit vacant for more than a year.

    • Larry McKeogh

      If you’re hungry enough you’ll have to take that job. (blush) I’m in such a position right now. The company at least has the option of bringing someone in at the lower rate and training them up.

      New reality. 

      • gander2112

        I think the difference is in the “what would it take for you to leave your current company and join us” versus “I am hungry and want to work again.

        The former and you have some leverage, and the Pragmatic survey to get a feel for what is “market rate” in your area, couple that with Glassdoor, and you get an idea what the job is worth. They are pursuing you.

        In the latter, you take what you can get, and either try to get real adjustments internally, or you take an active role in finding another place to go to get back to normal.

        I do feel that companies who have used the downturn to ratchet down pay will have that come back to haunt them.

  • DT!  Really appreciate you stopping by and commenting.  Seriously, thank you!

  • We don’t sell Lottery tickets here, so if you are looking to get lucky, the mini-mart is 2 blocks that a-way. 
    I love it!  

    • DT!  Really appreciate you stopping by and commenting.  Seriously, thank you!

  • Gary_Seattle

    Another good


    It’s interesting,
    there’s something about your perspective and/or style just makes me want to
    throw out a counterpoint. And, it’s not because I think you’re wrong, but
    because though I get that you’re serious and incredibly transparent with
    respect to what you want, say and think when wearing your HR kimono. And I like
    a good challenge. Or is it that I like being challenging…….?


    Of course
    candidates are uncomfortable with the question “what is your desired salary?” (known
    hereafter as “the question”). As someone on the candidate side of the exchange,
    I’m not seeing any particularly strong signs of altruism happening in the HR
    world. It’s a sellers’ market (for the moment). I know it. The companies hiring
    people know it. And as is the American way, which Congress and all others know
    equally well, “it’s good to be the king” when you have a captive constituency
    and are in control.


    Of course
    you answer to the VP and don’t want to present someone who doesn’t fit all of
    the hiring criteria, salary/compensation included. That’s an absolutely reasonable
    and sensible position.  We as candidates
    absolutely support you in that.


    There is no
    question that “the question” is always an uncomfortable moment. Though we’re
    trying hard not to express or show it, you can bet that most of us are probably
    also feeling a little pissy that it even has to be asked. This is in opposition
    to even though the relationship is still young, having a two-way discussion
    where you confirm with the candidate that they really are aware and agreeable
    to the “rate” and the candidate if in doubt, can explore the overall compensation
    package to ascertain if the “all in” offering balances things out.


    Finding a
    job shouldn’t resemble buying a car or worse yet dating. It’s the period of
    time where both parties are looking to find out as much as possible while not showing
    their hand too soon. No one wants to scare off the other party before they’re
    in love with you and willing to take a more practical view of the overall


    that from the candidate’s side of the equation he/she has already dedicated a
    not insignificant portion of time to producing yet another creatively crafted
    rendition of their resume and included a cover letter that was delicately crafted
    to replicates every key word from the position description that could
    reasonably be crammed into it without (hopefully) this, being too blatantly obvious.


    remembered to always answer the phone by identifying ourselves via our given
    names (in a cheery tone of voice) and at least twice emphasized how excited we
    are to be speaking with you. Alright I’ll admit it, personally for me that last
    part really is true. I’m thrilled when the gravity of the black hole of the job
    submission universe allows a response to break free (all ahead Warp 8!) be it via
    an email, A phone call or a rock through my window (note attached) telling me
    that I’m fantastic but there are other, much more fantastic candidates
    available who you’ll be moving forward with.


    We’ve covered
    our tattoos, removed ancillary hardware and worn a turtle neck so our horribly (disk)
    distended ear lobes are not in evidence. We’ve scrubbed our social media
    imagine until it’s squeaky clean and we’ve practiced in front of an mirror ad
    infinitum, maintaining eye contact while practicing  our answer to the “please tell me what one of
    your weaknesses is and how you’re working to improve on it?” question.


    And you of
    course have sifted through another several hundred responses to a single
    posting. Read between the lines, looked for all the “telltale” signs that this
    person is hiding something, is a job hopper, is inflating their qualifications,
    is old and will either retire or die sooner rather than later (and you’ll be doing
    this all over again), has no sense for propriety in sharing their life
    electronically with others, etc., etc., etc…….


    It doesn’t
    take much to make the leap into believing that in the fragrant world of chic
    micro distilleries, that the conversations taking place between recruiters over
    a round of nice smoky single malt shots, revolve around trying to top each
    other with respect to the most qualified, perfect candidate they you have
    recently signed to a position at a wage that is farthest away from what they
    were really worth.


    Is it really
    too much to ask you to say what your budget is? We still both know that you’re
    going to hedge and throw out the minimum that you think you can respectably
    offer and still get adequately qualified people to respond. I’ve hired enough
    people to know that no new hire position ever has a single acceptable wage.
    It’s going to have a range that I will flex on if I think that the upside of a
    particular candidate is worth the added expense and perhaps risk.


    Sure if
    candidate doesn’t know, or can’t reasonably deduce the rate, we’re going to go
    ahead and choose to respond with the hope that the rate will be a reasonable
    match for what they can contribute in fulfilling the duties of the position. Nothing
    ventured, nothing gained, right?


    The result,
    lots of wasted candidate time preparing responses. Lots of wasted recruiter time
    sorting through submissions.  And as sure
    as the fact that reportedly “the postman always rings twice,” the “awkwarrrrdd”
    moment when “the question” must come forth.


    Just for the
    record, as a candidate it’s easy to know based on what we’re earned in the past,
    what’s commensurate with our background and experience and what’s not. Unfortunately
    along with the lack of wage information in postings, the postings themselves
    often leave a LOT to interpretation. The most popular obfuscation these days
    seems to be the “title compression” strategy. Post everything with a title that
    is one level (at a minimum) below what it would have been listed as 10+ years
    ago. Kudos to the company for attempting to support the pretense of the
    business operating as “flat” organization.

    The trouble
    from the candidate side of the looking glass is that:

    Some organizations compress titles but pay at
    rates much higher than would traditionally be associated with the job position moniker.

    Other organizations pay at the rate (or less)
    than one would normally associate with the title in the belief that the “perks”
    (misspelling intended) make it a “must be” organization to belong to.

    There are yet others where it seems as if every
    employee in the place is a manager. Talk about a circular reference error!

    And for good measure, there are the companies
    (generally smaller) who inflate titles because they can’t afford to pay the
    competitive going rate for a position but want to lure more highly skill candidates
    in, with the hope that a title for their resume and the promise of “big things
    to come” will get them to sign on anyway.


    There’s a
    high expectation that candidates are scrupulously accurate with their
    background, education and qualifications. Why shouldn’t the job poster be held to
    the same standard? While not all candidates are able (or willing) to
    self-police themselves in terms of not responding to positions for which they’re
    not qualified and/or are not within their salary expectation, I believe that
    many, many would gladly do so.  And the
    ones that didn’t exert reasonable self-discipline, then there’s always “the
    question” or the round file if what they submit makes it obvious that the rate
    offered isn’t appropriate. Think about how many fewer submissions that you’d
    have to peruse if you primarily only received responses from people that were
    prepared to work within the limitations offered?


    transparent, and much less work and angst for everyone involved. And, more time
    for to enjoy another single malt………

    • Gary,
      Wow, thank you for the post.  It is obvious you put a lot of thought into the above and I  really appreciate the dialogue   You bring up a number of good points.  I would like to try and explain a couple of things immediately, or at least provide my opinion.  
      1. Explain why I ask for a salary requirement vs tell the candidate what we are willing to pay.  (If a candidate asks what we pay, I won’t be evasive about it)  I do not really worry about paying too much for a candidate.  The company has a salary range they will pay and most of the time, we will have enough candidates to chose from that competition keeps everyone honest.  If we interview a number of candidates and aren’t getting what we are not getting the skills, we increase the requirements and know we need to pay more.  We have been doing this long enough and with so many HR peers to check in with, the numbers are pretty consistent.  Yes, we do purchase salary surveys, but in the end the market is the deciding factor.  

      What I want to avoid is a situation where a candidate is desperate enough for a job / opportunity that they are willing to take a cut in pay.  This is quite common, especially in this economy.  The last thing I want to do is underpay an employee.  Some companies do it, especially in this market, but it isn’t my style.  If the job pays $40K, and a candidate is used to making $50K, there are a number of reasons they would accept $40K, but for the most part, there are only a few that would be acceptable to the company.  I don’t want the candidate to settle.  The candidate may accept a lower paying position and be happy and excited to be working the first few months, but a few months after that, the company’s fear is that the employe may get frustrated.  I am being stereotypical here, but here are some common fears of what might  happen.  The employee may think “I am making 20% less than what I was making, I will put 20% less effort into the job”.  In some cases, it is an easy justification for employee theft.  “I am not stealing, they owe me”.  I know these are horrible things to assume, but I wanted to shed some light on where this very common company mentality comes from.  A workforce made up of underpaid employees is not a formula for success.   

      The other thing I wanted to point out is that yes, you are absolutely correct.  Employees jump through their assholes to prepare for an interview.  Yes, the company could be more professional.  But at the end of the day, there are a lot of candidates vying for a single position, and my goal here is to help candidates land the job.  Most of the advice I provide is so that the candidate doesn’t blow their own interview.  I have focused this blog on helping candidates land jobs and employees further their careers.  If I were smart, I would be writing this for my personal career.  I should be blogging about how to build a great company culture, how to provide a great candidate experience, how to retain employees, etc.  so I can make myself attractive to other employers.  But remember, I work in HR, so yeah, not that smart.   In a 1400 word limit a week, I am only focusing on one side of the interview table.  

      I will post more on taking a cut in pay and the factors that come into play for both sides very soon.  Seriously, thank you for the comments,

  • Hoista

    The issue is that it is a negotiation, what if the candidate is flexible and looking at what other options are available, it’s not necessarily a zero-sum game on the salary? Maybe it’s the housing allowance, the insurance, share options, vesting periods, tuition fees (for kids), health care, bonus system … these all come into it too.

    • Hoista,
      Thanks for bringing this up.  You are absolutely correct, the entire package is a consideration.  The view I wanted to get across is that at a high level, as a candidate, you do want to provide a number.  Everyone has something that is important to them.  If insurance is really important, or is options are important, just explain that you would consider these as part of the package.  You can say, ‘I am currently making $50K and in addition to this, I also receive benefits, options and X,Y, Z.  I would like to stay in this ballpark.”  Avoiding this question and not giving a number makes it tough on the hiring company to continue to talk, especially when there are probably other candidates that will provide an answer.  

      Great point, thanks for bringing it up!      

  • Mark Law

    I began to read this article with some interest. I was put off by the use of the term “grin fucking” because it was unnecessarily gratuitous and I did not know what it meant. I then came to the term “rescue flair” and began to question whether I was wasting my time. I think I was. I sent up a rescue flare and stopped reading. The author may be buried in a recruitment factory, busily sifting paper (is this “HR”?), but if they haven’t bothered with decency or grammar, I want to respectfully bail out. Someone who cannot proof-read an article or hasn’t heard of ‘spell-check’ hasn’t got anything of great importance or insight worth reading. And this person appears to be a gate-keeper on an organisation’s workforce. ( they probably call it ‘human resources’). Shame.

    • Mark, thanks for the heads up on the typo.  It is now fixed.  

      • Mark Law

        I lied. I looked at one or two other articles on this website and must recommend them.

        They are very open, honest and interesting articles, and would judge them well worth reading for both members of the ‘profession’ – we MUST try and do better for both our organisations and colleagues – and the wider workforce (employed or not), who may find them helpful and encouraging.

        I would like to congratulate the author – well done!

        • Mark, thank you very much.  Seriously, I really do appreciate the revisit.  FWIW, I have thought a lot about the “gratuitous” these last 24 hours and will take that into consideration moving forward.  I write this in a fashion that I hope will do a couple of things.  1.  be remembered  2.  show that not all HR practitioners are polly anna, head in the clouds, and out of touch and that HR can have something to offer employees and an organization.  I don’t believe I fall into that category but I am sure that those that I view this way don’t view themselves in this manner either. 🙂 That being said, your comment was a good reminder that my personal friends that read this blog have sons and daughters that will occasionally stop as well. As much as I want to show a different style of HR, as much as I do want to keep to my true self, I do need to be sensitive to different age demographics.  Thank you for the reminder.

          • Gudrun IdaDel

            The grin comment should be deleted. Children do use the internet. Besides I expected a professional discussing his expereince to be professional. Stick with the lottery ticket type of humor as it was a tinge bit more on the witty side. Profanity is the lowest form of humor, sarcasm being second to the lowest form of humor. Why? Because anyone can have a fowl mouth or mock anyone in an ironic way. Children can mock adults and use bad words. Wit is much more admirable as in order to be witty one has to think at a moments notice.
            Anyway, I have heard people brag about using three of these answers at interviews. That was back in the days of paper applications. These answers didn’t work then.
            Anyone who would give these answers might be a little immature or unbalanced.

          • Dewbert

            I agree about the shock humor of swearing. It means the joke teller really can’t craft a good joke. However, I must disagree on sarcasm being the 2nd lowest form of humor. If done right (intelligently and with wit), it can be a wonderful way to get a point across.

          • Dewbert

            Most people would be fired for that language.