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: “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”:

  • Give me a break.  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 kiddys 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,

HRNasty

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 that is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

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  • 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.

  • http://www.designingsean.com Sean Ryan

    “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.

    • http://hrnasty.com/ HRNasty

      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,

      HRN

  • 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.)

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  • 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.

  • http://hrnasty.com/ HRNasty

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

  • http://www.facebook.com/danielrtodd Daniel Todd

    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!  

    • http://hrnasty.com/ HRNasty

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

  • Gary_Seattle

    Another good
    post.

     

    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
    package.

     

    Consider
    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.

     

    We’ve
    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?

     

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

    • http://hrnasty.com/ HRNasty

      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.

    • http://hrnasty.com/ HRNasty

      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.

    • http://hrnasty.com/ HRNasty

      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!

        • http://hrnasty.com/ HRNasty

          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.