Monday, November 22, 2010

Disclosing Salary

Do you disclose your salary information? You might need to at some point, but when should you not talk about salary? I have a few thoughts here on the different times when you can disclose it.

Blog (public disclosure)

Should you disclose your salary before you even speak to a company? No. You have nothing to gain here and plenty to lose. Friends might get jealous, or laugh. Potential employers might think they can low-ball you, or not even bother to interview you because you make too much.

This also makes it harder to ask for a substantial raise in switching companies.


Personally I have found most recruiters to be salesman that are filling a position on their way to the next position. Even when I have run into very professional recruiters, they often come from another business, like technology, and they might go back into that business.

When a recruiter asks me, I usually give them a range where I’d like to be, but let them know I’m flexible. For example, I have in the past said that I would like to make about 85k a year, but that I might take a lower paying opportunity.

If pressed, I would politely decline. The next company is going to pay me to do a job, not try to match my previous company’s salary. If they think I can do the job, then they should pay in their range.

If a recruiter wants to know which positions they can submit me for, I’d say for them to let me know the salary range for each position when it comes up and I’ll decide. Stay firm here.

Phone Interview

If you get a phone interview, then you know your resume, or brand, was good enough to pique their interest. If you are asked about your current, or previous salary, I give the same answer I give the recruiter.

This is important for two reasons. One is that you want to match up with what the recruiter says. The other is that you don’t know what the company is looking to pay, and giving away your information first means that you might end up giving the impression that you are cheap (some managers have budgets) or out of their range.

My technique here is usually to counter with a question on their range for the position. At this point, I should then determine if I can work in the range. I had a position in the past where the range was low and I told them so. They manager liked me, and was impressed, so he said that he might be able to get another 5-10k. I agreed to go interview then.

Remember that companies are looking for good people, and if you are talented in your area, you have more power. If you need a job, any job, perhaps you should find something to make ends meet while you look for a career position. Ultimately you won’t be happy working for way below you think you are worth. Even in the short term (< 1 year).

If pressed, I tell the manager that usually I discuss salary if I get to the point that we are both interested in the position. If I have a range, I’ll decide if I want to continue.

If no one asks me, I always ask here for a salary range.

Live Interview

If you get a live interview, you’re on the short list. When I was starting my career, this short list could have easily been 15 people. However in the last decade, typically companies don’t have time to interview 15 people. Most don’t look at 10 if they find 3-4 good candidates. It’s a hassle, and a waste of time.

Again, I try not to discuss salary if we aren’t close to offering me a job. If they press, I might joke about being on the short list. That can help break the ice, and by this time you should have an idea of the salary range.

However at this point I will disclose my range if the company is trying to decide how much they need to offer. I will typically say that I was making in the “low 90s” at xx position and the “mid 80s” at yy position. Your exact salary isn’t critical, but really the company is trying to decide:

  • Can they afford you?
  • How cheaply can they afford you?
  • Will you be happy with their offer?
  • Will you disrupt employee morale if you are too high on their scale?

The Job Offer

If they offer you the job, then they ought to attach a salary to the offer. If they offer you a job and want to discuss salary, again, get their range first. They have no good reason not to provide you a range (it should be public knowledge for employees), and if they refuse, I’d move on. Likely money will be a fight, both with COLA raises and promotions.

They aren’t likely to verify your salary, so if you must start discussing this, I’d use ranges again, as I did in the Live Interview. Give them an idea.

Never Say Never

As the saying goes, never say never because there will be an exception. However in the US, I don’t think you ever need to disclose your exact salary. The HR/Accounting people and the IRS will know, but no one else needs to know.

Discussing money is hard, but you need to learn to discuss it in a roundabout way in order to further your career. Use ranges and generalities and you should be fine.

Two final things: one, be honest. I wouldn’t say I was making in the mid 80s if my salary was $77k. That’s not right, and if someone finds out, this is a lie. Second, taking a job because it has the most money in spite of other issues is a bad idea. I’ve never met anyone that thought this was the best decision for them in hindsight.

Life’s too short to take a crappy job.

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