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Recruiters and The Salary Question

How to respond to recruiters demanding to know your salary history.

· Compensation,Recruiters

Dear People Ops:

Recently I've had recruiters ask what I currently make. I've heard I'm suppose to get a company to say their number first. Is that right? How do you deal with answering this question?

Repeat after me: "I deserve to be paid like the baller I am". Don't stop saying it until you really mean it. Because getting paid what you deserve is sometimes a fight, and you need to be ready to advocate for yourself.

If you work in tech, you probably have at least one story about a recruiter. Some are great, some not so much (I should write a future blog on how to tell if a recruiter is working for you or against your best interest). In a nutshell, you've got to remember that most recruiters only get paid if you take the job. So its their prerogative to make sure there is both a skill and salary fit between you and a potential position they're looking to fill before investing too much time in you as a candidate. Don't take it personally.

But that doesn't mean you should reveal your salary history to them. What you made perviously has no relevance on what you should make in a new job, especially if you're taking on new responsibilities or changing industries. Basing someone's salary off their previous income is what perpetuates wage gaps. In fact, some states have gone as far at to make it illegal to ask for a candidate's salary history for this very reason.

I would expect any recruiter worth their salt to know better than to frame the question this way. If they do, politely correct them. If they insist on you telling them - well then congrats, you've found an a**hole recruiter in the wild. Consider yourself lucky, they are a rare breed and mostly hunt at night. I joke, sort of.

Money can't buy you happiness, but it can buy you a yacht big enough to pull up right alongside it.

- David Lee Roth

So what can you do? Give a range of what you'd like to make in a new job. How do you decide this number? It should include:

  • Research you've done on the industry standard for the role (payscale, glassdoor, angelist and comparably are all great resources). 
  • Your own personal need - you know better than anyone what you need to make to be happy, healthy and satisfied. 
  • The value of your specific experience and skills. Do you have specific skills or experience that make you particularly desirable to this opportunity or make you rare in the job market? 
I also like presenting compensation in a range because it leaves room for further conversation. Especially in startups and tech, every company has a different budget for compensation depending on their specific circumstance. You don't want to lock yourself into a super specific number and then miss out on an opportunity that can give you other intangible benefits like growth, great culture, great benefits etc. A range ensures you're aligned with what the company was expecting to pay but gives room to discuss further to find the perfect fit for you.
Once you have your range, tell the recruiter: "based off my research of what comparable companies are paying for similar roles and my specific skill set Im looking for a range of $x - $x and am excited to discuss further". Always have a "make or break" number in the back of your head, the number that any lower than that and you'd walk away, and hold yourself to that. Remember, its ok to walk away from an opportunity if they are not going to compensate you fairly.
Best of luck. Go get that paper!

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