In the December 13, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a long-time reader asks whether it’s okay to discuss salary range with a headhunter before taking time out of a busy work schedule to interview:
I’m a long-time reader. This is my second-time question — the last one was in 2004! I’ve just been headhunted for a position that would require an hour commute. We’re past the phone-screen stage, and now at a point of coordinating schedules for in-person meetings. This is the busiest time of year for my current employer, so to leave for a half day would be very difficult. Is it acceptable to discuss salary range before I invest time in interviewing? Or does that automatically mark me as a problem child?
Here’s the short version of my advice: (For the entire column, you need to subscribe to the free newsletter. Don’t miss another edition!)
Nice to hear from you again! “The money question” troubles many people. We all know there’s no hire until money is discussed, so why is it such an awkward topic? Why do employers and applicants alike prefer to “wait until later” to bring it up?
An employer has a budget for a position. It might stretch the compensation to hire a particularly good candidate. But that depends on the quality of the interviews, not on whether the salary range has been discussed in advance.
I think it’s key to get the money question on the table early — especially if you have to invest travel and time to interview.
I like the off-the-cuff approach. Call the headhunter, express your interest in the job, and then say the following.
How to Say It
“By the way, what’s the compensation like for this position?”
That’s not aggressive and it’s not the last word. It leaves room for further discussion. Then stay silent and let the headhunter speak. If she won’t answer you candidly, then don’t feel guilty pressing her.
How to Say It
“We should make sure we’re in the right range…” or “I’d like to make sure I’m on the same page as the employer before we all invest our time…”
If the headhunter deflects by asking what you’re making or what you want, you should turn the tables to test the headhunter. Yes, I said test the headhunter. Make her work to recruit you, or she’s not really worth talking to.
How to Say It
…(This last How to Say It suggestion is only in the newsletter… Don’t miss next week’s edition. Sign up now! It’s free!)
This makes the headhunter work for it. If she’s not able to engage with you now on the subject of money, then negotiations are likely to be difficult later, after you’ve invested a lot of time. (This is why both headhunters and employers often avoid talking money: The more time they get you to invest, the less likely you will be to walk away from a low offer.) For more about negotiating with headhunters, please see How To Work With Headhunters.
Could the headhunter conclude you’re a problem child and drop you? Sure — but you’ve hardly been “dropped.” Rescued is more like it. If you don’t know what the compensation range is, there’s really nothing more to talk about. Exploring new opportunities is a good thing, but not every recruiting call is an opportunity. Test the recruiter quickly. Find out how much she knows about the employer and the position, and make sure there’s a suitable payoff if you invest your time. If the headhunter thinks you’re a problem child because you want to talk about money, then the call itself is a problem.
Do you ask about money before you interview? I’ve heard lots of justifications for putting it off, but I don’t really buy any of them. Am I wrong? How far do you go before talking money?