It’s a situation I’ve come across several times in my recruiting practice: A company will ask a promising candidate for his or her current salary, and that professional will decline to provide it, creating an awkward standoff before serious hiring discussions even begin. At first glance, this seems like a sound strategy for employees. After all, you don’t want to “anchor” potential salary negotiations with a figure that is lower than the company might otherwise offer. Nor do you want to scare off a promising opportunity if your paycheck outstrips the current budget for the position. Yet in practice, there are legitimate reasons why being coy about past pay doesn’t always serve job seekers’ best interests.
Good Companies Bargain in Good Faith
The biggest issue is trust. No matter how you chose to approach salary negotiations, they should take place with companies you’ve thoroughly researched and whose reputations you admire. If you don’t believe a company will bargain in good faith, it’s probably not an organization you want to entrust with your livelihood. Good companies realize that they owe their success to talented people. If a business is going to invest in bringing someone onboard, it makes no sense to risk that relationship from the very beginning by being manipulative during the hiring process. Yes, there is a degree of risk in telling a hiring manager exactly what your current boss thinks you’re worth. But in all likelihood, the person conducting the interviews has hired dozens of employees before and has a pretty good idea of what you make anyway. Additionally, he or she will usually be working with a budget influenced more by the demands of the position than by the work history of the current candidate pool.
Pay is One Part of the Package
It’s also important to keep in mind the profound impact a job change can have on your life. A 40-mile commute will steal the same amount of time out of your week whether you make $80,000 or $120,000. A promotion at an organization known for grueling hours or a highly politicized culture can easily make being a manager worse than being managed. It’s critical that candidates approach a job opportunity knowing exactly how the move will advance their specific career goals and put them in a position to thrive. Employers want to invest in people who can not only handle their new jobs, but grow into more advanced roles in the future. To that end, showing interest in a job’s challenges, leadership potential, skills development and other opportunities beyond the paycheck is a great way to distinguish yourself from other candidates. Being forthcoming about your current salary is one way to do that.
You Can Still Negotiate
The primary reason my clients will ask for current salaries is to keep from wasting everyone’s time if a candidate’s pay level and qualifications go significantly beyond those associated with an open position. It’s not an effort to begin salary negotiations, as there’s nothing to negotiate before a job offer is on the table. If you feel the size of your current paycheck could hurt your prospects for a lateral career move, use this initial inquiry as a chance to ask your own questions about the position’s salary range and make clear that you’re entering the process with an open mind. If the new position represents a significant salary increase, emphasize why the responsibilities of the job and your unique qualifications justify the raise. Particularly today, after many real estate careers took unexpected detours during the housing crisis, employers are willing to look at the breadth of your career rather than the details of your last pay stub. Keep in mind, too, that the hiring process is usually focused on finding the best candidate, not necessarily the cheapest. I’ve seen plenty of companies change a job’s title, responsibilities and compensation for the right person. Even after you’ve been forthcoming about your current pay, there is always a chance to negotiate for more once you’ve convinced the company you will excel in the position. When the time comes, both you and the hiring manager should enter those discussions focused on your future, rather than your past.
For more than 20 years, Christopher Frederick has helped match the talents of executives with leading companies in real estate. Visit our website at www.chrisfred.com where you can find exclusive job listings for real estate professionals and read more about our one-of-a-kind approach to executive recruitment.