This scenario has played out many times over the decades and more so recently. You email a candidate or call an applicant and one of the first questions the person asks is, “how much does this role pay?” Recruiters and hiring managers for decades have considered this question a faux pas on the candidate’s part. It is not a question someone interested in the role and company should ask. Even in job search and interviewing training for job seekers, it is often said don’t ask about salary upfront…instead talk about the company, your value, etc. This is just a given…isn’t it?
I have seen job seekers lament online that after asking about the salary they are rejected from consideration. They receive an email or text message like “thanks for your message. Unfortunately, you are not the kind of employee we want to work with us. Yes, salary is an important element of the job, but first and foremost we are looking for people who are passionate about our ideas and projects and have a focus on us as people.”
Recruiters and hiring managers assume that asking about salary upfront means the candidate is more interested in pay than interested in the company or role. But is this really the case?
I am currently between positions and actively job-seeking and so my resume is publically posted. I can tell you from experience that often I get phone calls about contract and perm roles and that I ask about the salary upfront. Not because of any lack of interest in the company, projects, or people, but instead because I respect their time and mine. I have lost count of how many times I have been called about roles over the years, asked about the salary upfront, and found out that their budgeted salary was 25% to 50% lower than my current pay. There was no way this was going to work out…no matter how awesome the company and role were. I have bills to pay and I can not take a 50% or even a 25% pay cut. This happens regularly. And it is not because I am paid far above market rates. I have recently been told by a couple of peers that I am underpricing myself at below market for my experience.
Now imagine what it is like for a highly in-demand role like Java developer or such. These candidates often don’t post their resumes publically because as soon as they do they get over a hundred emails and dozens of phone calls about potential roles. However, even when not posting a resume, they are contacted regularly (perhaps by LinkedIn Inmail). Many of these roles may not even pay close to what the person is currently making. As such, doesn’t it make sense that they would want to get the salary hurdle out of the way as soon as possible?
Salary is one of the “hurdle” questions that I ask candidates upfront when screening them for roles. I ask about expectations regarding salary, percentage time in the office, commute distance, and whether sponsorship is needed in some way. These are make-or-break questions. It doesn’t matter how interested the candidate is in a company or the role…if one or more of the make-or-break questions are not a fit. Take sponsorship for example. If the company doesn’t offer sponsorship, and a candidate asks upfront, “is this role open to H1Bs?” – a recruiter or hiring manager would probably not look unfavorably upon this question and think that the person is only interested in sponsorship and has no interest in the company or role. Instead, it is respect for time and knowing that this is a make-or-break question. What is our problem with candidates having the same respect for time and getting make-or-break questions out of the way like “what is the salary range for this role?”
What if the assumptions were reversed? What if when salary expectations are asked in the prescreening questions of a job application or by the employer when screening a candidate…what if the highly in-demand job seeker thought that this employer doesn’t really care about my skills, experience, and value…or me as a person…they are just looking for the cheapest person to do the job. What if job seekers decide that they should stop applying or reject further interviews with any company that asks about their salary expectations upfront? Don’t you think this seems ridiculous? If so, why is it ridiculous? Is it because as recruiters we know we don’t hire based on the cheapest but that salary is a make-or-break question that we need to get out of the way to see if we are in the same ballpark?
I’ve been taking a lot of LinkedIn Learning courses in my free time while looking for work. I took several courses about multi-generational hiring and employees. I remember one saying that studies show Generation Z’s top thing that they are interested in regarding potential roles is salary. So don’t be surprised if you are recruiting someone from Generation Z and they ask about salary upfront. Again, this is not to say they are not interested in the company and role and that they are not passionate about the company’s ideas and projects.
In fact, if you are not providing salary transparency by posting your salaries in your job posts…you are probably falling behind already. While applying for recruiting roles, I have actually been somewhat surprised by how regularly I see salary ranges listed. Now some of these are not even posted by the employer, but by the job board. Some job boards will list what they estimate your salary range to be if you don’t post one yourself. If you post your salary range, then the first hurdle (i.e. make-or-break question) has been answered and the focus can be on your company, your role, their value, etc. Let me tell you, seeing the salary range listed with the job post has helped me many times self-select out (by not applying) when the listed salary was too far below my expectations.
If you don’t say what the salary is in the job post or mention the salary towards the beginning of the conversation with job seekers, don’t be surprised if the job seeker doesn’t just come right out and ask. They probably asked not because the company, projects, ideas, etc were seen as not very important…but because it is a critical make-or-break question and why waste a ½ hour to an hour of each other’s time for a role that would never be accepted as it pays half their current salary (just like some calls are for me).
Rejecting such candidates for being respectful of time and efficient is rather short-sighted. Job seekers get dozens or more calls and perhaps over a hundred emails about roles. They need to know that the salary is at least in the ballpark to make it worth investing time in long conversations and interviewing. Job seekers have make-or-break questions too. Like sponsorship, commute, hybrid or remote-only work, etc…these things will increasingly be asked upfront because otherwise it is all a waste of time and there are just too many potential employers reaching out to job seekers.
I finish with this piece of data I got from Careerbuilder analytics. I was looking for a Java developer in New Jersey late last year and the analytics said for the last 6 months there have been over 50 Java jobs posted in New Jersey for each resume for Java posted in New Jersey. Depending on the skillset you need and the location, there are far more employers demanding the talent than there is a supply of said talent. Every candidate who meets the minimum requirements is precious for these hard-to-fill roles.
Perhaps it would be best to assume positive intent when a job seeker asks upfront about salary. Otherwise, you may be missing out on passionate people who are interested in your company, ideas, and role…who are also efficient and like saving time.