In the March 31, 2020 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader says hiring and job offers should not be based on your tax returns.


hiringI was once asked for my tax returns after a job interview, evidently to determine a job offer. I thought you priced a salary to a job — not what you might have to pay a candidate to hire them. I declined the job because the request displayed the kind of people I would be working for. They were forced to sell the company shortly thereafter. What’s your opinion on how to set a salary and job offer?

Nick’s Reply

I don’t believe in setting compensation based strictly on the job. That’s shortsighted because it assumes a job cannot be done in a way that increases its value to the business. I think sound job offers are based on the value of the job at that company, and on the added value the best candidate brings to the job. In other words, if it recruits effectively, a company spends more than it planned because it finds a hire who can do more than it expected. HR managers will want to hang me for that.

Consider the example of a job posted to write computer code using computer language X. Hiring a programmer who knows language X would get the job done just fine and within the budgeted salary. A programmer who is facile in languages X and Y (languages unexpected and not required by the job description) shows it would take less code and time to produce a more powerful program in language Y. (Software developers don’t hang me! This is an over-simplification.) But this programmer expects a salary 25% higher than the budget for the position. Does the employer calculate the benefits of investing more in that programmer?

Hiring: How are job offers determined?

A smart company has to start by (A) pricing a salary to a job. But that means management has a realistic idea of the value of the job. That is, how does it contribute to the bottom line? I don’t know many companies or managers that could explain how any particular job contributes to profits. Of course, it’s a game of estimating, but I think few even try. They focus strictly on the overhead cost of filling the job.

Once that number is set, I think a company needs to (B) look at the market for availability of candidates, and adjust how much to pay accordingly. Of course, that’s an estimate, too. (I do not advocate relying on salary surveys.) We must assume employers are rational and that they calculate expected profits before making hiring decisions, right? Or, how could they defend their business model and be successful? (Yes, those are loaded questions and snipes.)

Job offers test the employer

As an employer, you find out how well you understand your business when you actually make job offers. Your job offers are a test. If you get turned down by your best candidates, then your (B) estimates are probably incorrect. You’ve failed.

But it’s also possible your (A) number is off — and I think that means you have to reassess your business assumptions: Is that job really valid? That is, does it really feed the bottom line, or is it actually busywork? Put another way, can your company afford to hire someone to do the job? The accuracy of your job offers — Do the best candidates accept them? — tests the viability of your business model.

If you can’t afford to hire the best workers, there may be something wrong with your business.

Learning from candidates

I think the fun starts when you talk with candidates who can upend your (A) estimate. That is, they show you they can do the job in a way that increases profitability beyond your expectations. This is where the interview process really pays off if you do it properly. You’re learning about the candidate, but you’re also learning from the very best candidates, who will show you how to tweak the job and the work to cover higher compensation and to produce more profit.

Do your interview protocols identify such candidates? Does your compensation policy enable you to hire them?

Perhaps a candidate has unexpected skills and expertise that would boost creativity and efficiency in that job, thereby increasing the value of the hire. (That means you’re recruiting well!) Isn’t that the “dream candidate” every company would love to find? Isn’t that who HR is really advertising for when the job posting says, “We’re looking for stars who think out of the box!”

Is hiring a cost or an investment?

I find this is where most companies blow it — especially if their HR department is mired in policies that interfere with re-pricing a job to a higher compensation level. They absolutely will not consider paying more to get more.

Rather than change the parameters of the job and the compensation to suit an exceptional candidate, they reject the candidate “because they cost too much.” (Age discrimination, anyone?) But that exceptional candidate is not a cost. They are a potential investment that can pay off handsomely — if the company steps up to pay more to get more. (Of course, management must also know how to properly exploit exceptional skills.) This is an incredibly important part of a company’s learning curve, and I think too many companies don’t recruit to find that kind of value. They’re potentially blowing an opportunity to boost their return on investment.

So much for “We want to hire people who are off the performance curve!” They’re also off the normal compensation curve. They’re pricier!

How companies blow it

It’s one thing when a company prices a job inaccurately. That is, when it gets its estimate (A) wrong. But I think a company really blows it when it inaccurately estimates (B) the value that’s available in the candidate market — and refuses to pay more to get more.

The problem is HR policies that make the very best candidates walk away. For example, “Our salary range is fixed. We cannot consider a higher salary.” Or, “We can’t proceed until you give us your salary history [so we can preemptively destroy your ability to negotiate your new salary].”

Or, as in your case, “We can’t proceed without your tax returns.”

These are all silly practices that drive away the very best candidates. (See Your Approach to Hiring Is All Wrong.) Exceptional hires return the investment required to get them, and then some. But again, I think the key is that management must know how to measure the value of both a job and the candidate who is going to do it.

Perhaps more to the point, management must understand the basic idea that the ROI of a job can be enhanced by investing more in a hire who can do it better.

Regarding the company that was sold shortly after you turned it down: It seems you heard the message loud and clear. “We rely on some other company’s judgment of your value (reflected in your tax returns). We have no competitive edge because we have no idea how to judge your value to our business! Run!”

What are you worth to an employer? How does a smart company figure it out? Here’s my challenge to you, dear readers: If you’re dealing with an employer that can’t figure it out on their own, is it worth making the effort yourself to explain it to them? (That is, to show them why you’re worth more?) How would you do that?

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  1. I’m wondering, is asking for you tax returns to get a job even legal? The only place that I’ve heard of people, and technically it wasn’t really part of the job requirements, asking for tax returns of someone seeking a job was when they asked for the tax returns of politicians like Romney and Trump.

  2. NEVER give your tax returns to a private party. The more information you share the more you have to rely on the security of strangers. This nonsense should be illegal.

    • Any company asking for that throws up a big red flag, IMHO. If that were to happen to me, I’d comply, however……..after blacking out all the numbers, SSNs, names of dependents, etc.. I’d even black out the lines with zeros so they couldn’t tell what income/deductions/credits, I did or did not have. All you would be able to see was my name and address.

      I wonder if they’d get the hint.

      • But would you work for them after all that? A couple of years back I had a potential client that handed me their contract for services. 20 pages long. After I marked up the first 2 pages with about a dozen deletions or ammendments, I realized that the next 18 pages would be just as bad, the client would not want to make these changes, and (most importantly) I would not work for folks with that sort of draconian document as their welcome mat.

        • JJIIM-excellent question “would you work for them after all that”? Flat out “NO” for me! The contract for services example you speak of is definitely how weird and intrusive these companies are becoming. Here’s something I think you can relate to. Case in point, I recently had a perspective customer (an aerospace manufacturer I’d been cold calling on for the last 2 years)finally allow me in, and the opportunity to quote. The kicker was they were using a third party company to manage their facilities services (I’m seeing this trend more and more now, especially with larger manufacturers in my area). This third party company informed me in the meeting that they’d called in several of my competitors weeks earlier, and allowed them time to quote, but I had less than one week to prepare and submit a substantial quote for services (the old jump through hoops/fire drill/negligence “it’s your problem now” scenario). I told them I needed more time to prepare such a substantial quote, as had been granted to my competitors, which didn’t seem to go over all that well (red flag). When I returned to my workplace and went over the 100+ pages of bills of materials, and all their requirements, not only was I shocked at their weird requirements (e.g. submit a one page essay on why I should be allowed to be their vendor, provide both an electronic copy of the quote, and a hard copy of the quote in an actual book bound form, sub-contract for services my employer doesn’t provide, providing specialized and expensive equipment, etc.), and saw where the volume and margins were so skimpy that it was a waste of time, and the “juice wasn’t worth the squeeze”, plus the potential for being a “high maintenance account”, I emailed the third party company and informed them that I was passing on the quote. I never received a response, and frankly, am pleased this one went down the road.

      • Chris, that gave me a chuckle! If I REALLY had to give the company my tax returns in order for it to continue considering me as a candidate, I think I’d go with your idea!

      • @Chris: Always say yes. That’s referred to as complying with the request :-). The rest is up to them! Seriously, if the firm were to come back and ask for an unredacted copy, again you don’t say no. You say yes, but… and you ask them to sign a strict non-disclosure and confidentiality agreement that includes penalties for violations.

        • Actually, they’d also have to negotiate with my wife since we file jointly. That’d be asking for information about her, too. And seeing as there is no direct relationship between them and her, they’d have to offer her something real as consideration, not just a potential job offer for me.

          IANAL (but she is) but I do know that I cannot sign away her rights or privacy.

          Hmmmm…..I wonder if one could make the argument that a business refusing to proceed in such a situation is discrimination based on marital status. After all, single employee candidates would have no such issues. I’m not saying it’d be a successful argument, but one could still make it.

          Companies really don’t understand the minefields they’re dancing through when they do stuff like this.

    • I’d also ask to see the company’s returns and other financial information.

      Sauce for the goose……

      • A great idea…bet their response would be a Ralph Kramden “Hamina-hamina-hamina”

      • @Chris: The company’s returns?? How about those of the manager you’d be reporting to? The CEO? Yah, this starts to seem silly, but what’s not silly about asking for yours?

        Alternate approach: “Why do you want to see my returns?”

  3. Kind of a strange time to be posting this article?

    The country has been taken over by the Center for Disease Control and a bunch of doctors–behavior-wise, this is exactly the USSR playbook, and no I’m not exaggerating.

    The level of conformity, of obedience with the worldwide people, is appalling as they’re going along with the destruction of the economic engines of their societies.

    People are going bankrupt as we speak, losing their jobs. Last night I spoke with a couple of 21-year-old people who are very rare–they actually see the BS piled around them and see this virus story as the takeover by Bill Gates for what it is.

    The young people are questioning IF they want to live in America anymore AND if they continue, what is the point of continuing their college education? (what jobs will be left?–big orgs, big govt, and why would there be any NEW jobs with millions being off work, and those millions being skilled workers).

    The next thing on the agenda of these crooks will be forced vaccinations. INSIDE these vaccinations are aluminum and mercury, plus lord knows what else. This vaccine is touted as being able to influence your RDNA. That is very BAD for you.

    We all have much much bigger problems than getting a job! Your long term health will NOT be long term taking these vaccines. Autism used to be 1/2000 or something. per the CDC Center for Disease Control (these guys are the problem…) now it’s 1/150!!!! The CDC claims it’s due to “better testing”.

    Autism is a “spectrum” of neurological disorders BTW. it comes from damage caused by vaccines (babies get a ton BEFORE their immune system is even built).

    • Extremely off-topic.

    • Please Note

      @Jack: Around here many of us have strong political opinions, but we’ve agreed not to use this forum to air them. While current events affect jobs, employment, careers and earning a living, our focus is those topics. Not political agendas and rants.

      There are plenty of online outlets for political discussion. This isn’t one of them.

      You’re welcome to stay if you kindly respect that. I don’t like to delete posts and rarely do it. But I’ll ask only once. Thanks for your consideration.

      Nick Corcodilos

  4. @ Jack
    You are correct. Fundamentally, at least 100% true. This sucks BUT a better man than I’ll ever be, said
    “we have nothing to fear, but fear itself”. Most of us have never been here before. We’ll get through this, albeit scarred and bruised but better in the end. Don’t buy into the widespread consciousness of despair. The guys that stormed the beach at Normandy or Tarawa or Inchon or walked Hue City didn’t and we won’t either. Stay safe all. Think about how you can help others in any way, no matter how small it may seem.
    Oh, and as for the Russian play book. Don’t worry, we’re Americans. We will close any book or misguided perpetrator of malice as we have done in the past. Give it time. We got this, Jack. Stay safe. God bless.

  5. I’ve seen this pop up on Indeed.Com ads in my area more; sketchy jobs requiring 3 years of previous tax information as a job requirement. I’ve looked into this, and from what I’m discovering, this is evidently legal (an attorney might have more insight into the actual legality of this practice). Another example of how extremely asinine and intrusive employers are becoming. What next, your bank statements? Your grocery receipts? Where does all this foolishness end? You’d have to water board me to get my SSN out of me, let alone my tax information. While I, and others on here, would flat out refuse to divulge this information, there are people out there, whether desperate, or naive, who probably submit such highly confidential information. You want to see my taxes? Okay, show me your hand, and show me your taxes. Let’s be fair here!

    • And any redaction can be seen through. Tax returns? Just say no.

  6. Nick wrote: “Software developers don’t hang me! This is an over-simplification.”

    I might phrase what you wrote differently – many companies have a hard time with new alternatives – but the idea is the same.

    Knowing language X (or X and Y) is a possible indicator of being able to learn. In a year from now, I’m going to need someone with Z, because things change.

    You know Joel Spolsky, Nick. It comes down to “smart and gets things done”.

    • @Timothy: That’s exactly what Joel says, and it’s a great little book (of the same title)!

  7. I’ve been asked for pay stubs a couple of times.

    One time, the job offer almost precisely a 10% increase.

    The other time, it was LESS, though the bonus and RSU stock grants were compensation for that.

    Looking back, I wish I’d just said no both times, considering how the jobs worked out (not well).

    • I believe in California it is illegal to ask prior salary information during a job search. Astute employers should know the market rate. I recommend not taking less than market when you start a new job.

      • Jonathan: It is indeed illegal in CA. But the law includes a gotcha:

        “…nothing in this section shall prohibit that employer from considering or relying on that voluntarily disclosed salary history information…”

        The potential problems are pretty obvious because even savvy job seekers tend to turn meek when asking for a job offer.

  8. Just remember, You Can’t Fix Stupid.

    When I hear stories like this I wonder why people just don’t immediately say, NO, it is irrelevant to the job requirements and how my record of accomplishments would enhance the the growth of the company. I am no longer interested, then leave.

    I have tried to Fix Stupid. Then I realized I WAS THE STUPID ONE.

    Don’t bother, life is too short and no amount of “Money” or “Bonuses”, or “Perks” they wave at you, to entice you, are worth your HEALTH, and HAPPINESS!

    • Joseph Fabian-well said! I too have tried to fix stupid. Just doesn’t work and stresses you out. Urinating on your shoes.

  9. I’ve seen the concept of asking for tax returns in sales recruiting, no where else. In cases where an
    applicant makes superhero claims on sales prowess …But not in other fields.

    I think this particular issue is one example of a company seemingly not having faith/confidence in their own recruiting process & decisiveness. Any process if it exists, typical relies on “best practices” or salary surveys. The software example is a good one to point out that many managers operate cost centers & can’t directly connect their contributions to revenue generation. or better yet profit..leaving that to a candidate to try. Managers who operate P&L centers don’t have that problem.

    It’s a problem, but management is paid the big bucks to solve problems. They can develop their own metrics and hone it up to quantify a cost center member’s value (e.g how much code they crank out how many products they pump out), or can develop & focus on a manager’s ability to develop teams that deliver complete products or services with quality on time and in budget & fairly hold them accountable to do so. in short business minded managers you can trust.

    So if one says he/she believes a particular person is worth what they’re asking & the manager feels it worth the risk & accommodates it in their budget, …trust them. A budget is a tried and true check & balance. Use it. It’s a check on sloppy managers who try to buy candidates and kick the hiring costs up stairs. Management by budget trains & treats managers as business people…and they have to act like it…This makes hiring an investment. This makes training an investment. This makes selection project participation and related experiences an investment.

    What I described is pretty much a fairy tale. Companies I’ve been with managed by headcount, ignoring
    related values..An admin is 1, a senior software architect is 1. If any checks & balances are in place
    it’s HR dictating salary limits and frequency of change or the bean counters following you around.
    There is no space in this mindset for the concept of an investment…and it shows glaringly when lay offs occur. One simply cuts heads. and what “number” is cut is often without consulting the line manager. In this scenario people are costs not investments.

    In about 50 years I only saw once, when a Senior Manager I worked for had the audacity of employing the
    budget. When the budget was cut..the knee jerk approach & requirement by her peers was to cut a requisite # of heads.
    She cut no one. When told that everyone was expected to pony up heads..She said the objective is to
    reduce my budget right? I found other ways to chop out cost. Good for her.

    Nick’s X & Y example also brings up something in that realm. Potential. Too often managers hire as if
    they were the only game in town. In the hiring managers nirvana …a buyers market when there are more applicants then jobs. this develops bad habits…e.g attitudes as if they are doing a person a favor by hiring them, subject matter expert requirements for entry level jobs…low balling salaries to name a few..
    And they keep doing it even when the market flips..not enough people…too many jobs. The worse case for a hiring manager.

    The latter market demands you think of hiring as an investment…because your perfect candidate at bargain rates isn’t out there. Candidates with experience on the newest new thing aren’t out there.
    Savvy managers develop investment mindsets ..learn to spot potential
    To Nick’s example …you find someone who only knows Language X. Your budget won’t allow you to meet
    the market for Language Y…your management and cohorts won’t bend on hiring rates… You learn to find
    people who you believe can quickly learn Y or if necessary even X. And when they do keep growing them, and treat them well. That’s investment. It will pay off when you decided to move to Z. or you dump that proprietary OS and move to UNIX. If I’ve invested well your team will be staffed by people who’ve demonstrated they can quickly and productively adapt.

    • @Don:

      Great explanation of the cost vs. investment problem in hiring and compensation. I especially like these points you made:

      “I think this particular issue is one example of a company seemingly not having faith/confidence in their own recruiting process & decisiveness.”

      “It’s a problem, but management is paid the big bucks to solve problems.”

      “many managers operate cost centers & can’t directly connect their contributions to revenue generation. or better yet profit..leaving that to a candidate to try. Managers who operate P&L centers don’t have that problem.”

      “…it’s HR dictating salary limits and frequency of change or the bean counters following you around. There is no space in this mindset for the concept of an investment…”

      I just don’t know how management in any company tolerates the stupid idea of letting bean counters and HR determine how workers are paid. There is a direct relationship between the skills and abilities of workers, and the quality of the products/services they produce — and the bottom line. The CFO and CHRO have no idea which workers are doing profitable work and which aren’t. Or which jobs can produce profit and which can’t. So why are they empowered in the slightest to determine compensation, or to judge whether a “human resource” is a cost or investment? (Yah, I know how debits and credits and expense lines work. And no, I’m not questioning thousands of years of accounting principles. I’m questioning how these concepts are used in practice.)

      There is certainly a role for the CFO here. It’s to do the hard work of applying P&L concepts down to the individual job and employee. Start at the grossest level if you must, but do it and work from there. Make managers accountable for the P&L in every job and every worker. Don, I love the example of that sole manager who took this kind of responsibility. I know you’ve been around a long time in this sphere, and to hear you say she’s the only one is shocking. Though maybe not surprising.

      Don, your prescription for management is dead on:

      “You learn to find people who you believe can quickly learn Y or if necessary even X. And when they do keep growing them, and treat them well. That’s investment.”

      I’d like to see one HR exec or CFO deny the wisdom of that recipe for success. So, why don’t companies base their business philosophy and practices on the sturdy fact that hiring is an investment when done right? In part, I think it’s because “letting HR do it” is easier because it gives everyone — including HR — plausible deniability when a business goes south. It’s easier to fire a bunch of people to reduce immediate expenses than to figure out where the real hole is in the business plan.

      Worse, it’s because we’ve allowed a massive industry to take over recruiting and hiring — the job boards and ATS/HR technology vendors. They’ve taught companies that workers are indeed fungible and instantly replaceable WHEN THEY ARE NOT. How stupid is HR and the CFO when they really believe it’s better to keep going back to Indeed and LinkedIn to keep rotating one bucket of keywords (that is, workers) after another into a job? Nobody has to keep a tally on worker profitability when it’s faster to just rotate workers in and out of a job. And Indeed and LinkedIn like that just fine — they make money not when a new hire works out great. They make real money only when employers have to keep coming back again and again to buy yet another thousand job candidates.

      Please don’t be confused about “profit.” Simply put it’s REVENUES-COSTS=PROFIT. And if you’re a worker and you can’t show how you’re either helping increase revenues or lower/control costs, start looking for a new job now because your employer is likely to go broke soon. Every job contributes to either revenue or costs.

      Maybe more to the point, if you’re a worker and your boss doesn’t know how to calculate how profitable you and your job are, you should find a better employer that has a competitive edge.

      Thanks for the excellent lesson, Don!

      • @Nick.
        To your point on budgets and profits. I’ve gone through a few companies that got enchanted with a nice idea of trying to find a way to show people how they fit in and contributed to the “big picture” But ..didn’t provide a structure lending itself to do that. As you noted the best metric around is profit…the bottom line.

        When I entered into the computer business it was with an old and stodgy company..we’ll call NCR. I was a newbie to this software development thing…and my 1st management job. I was the SQA Manager, which is another story where it’s challenging to try to show quantifiable value.

        I was too young and inexperienced at the time to appreciate it, but on reflection comparing to later adventures I realize that the Finance guys had put together an excellent budgetary and reasonably accurate accounting tool. The garbage in/garbage out rule still applied but if if managers used it right it was a good tool that supported the concept of people as an investment.
        The gist of it you could slice and dice what your plan & related spending a # of useful ways .. Your department’s cost as a whole, by function, by Project, right down to a person. With that you could actually show anyone how they impacted cost (I was a cost center) per project or in total and with that to project profit.

        On reflection, this was a results oriented financial system…I, nor my boss heard from Finance unless you didn’t hit plan…which by the way was YOUR plan. Much akin to a business plan posed to a VC. You had no bitch if Finance got on your case when your budget derailed…They weren’t telling you how to spend, they were tracking you on how YOU said you’d spend the money, which is fair game.
        But if you hit the marks and/or renegotiated the budget when you felt a change was warranted. You’d not hear from them. They could also help with budgeting as they could provide data e.g. run rates you did not have, that was useful in producing a good budget. Again consulting is advice and assistance, not an intrusion

        I assumed this is the way the game was played until I successively moved to 2 other companies not far removed from their start up days..I never saw a budget or was asked for one. This was shocking to me but seemed to work (until it didn’t) Requesting money was verbal & usually were honored. Any resemblance to a process was the Director’s admin filling out a form.

        These 2 loosey goosey systems were best case management..and could seem like Utopia to a management who sweated out a budget. It was just a pile of money akin to a pile of leaves in the Fall. Connectivity to profit was an abstract idea..which worked fine when you were raking in profits at warp speed. It worked fine until you hit worse case and the money flow choked. And with a crappy system, focused on cost cutting…they definitely moved to a “people are costs” This was especially evident when one went into a downward spiral and survival mode.

        Finance’s job is to manage the money. In so doing they have the right to expect that line managers, being managers have the responsibility to manage their money..their financial plans.
        And as a monetary check and balance for the corporation or unit thereof Finance needs oversight. The nature of Finance is they are subject to are line managers per the same process.
        To assure financial results. They also need to provide a process for money management so managers can do their jobs along those lines. And if creative, they can build a process that
        helps relate costs to profits to line managers. Without a good system a manager can only
        provide spin on how they contribute.

        What is also Finance’s job is to butt out of micromanaging. They do not have the expertise to challenge a manager’s choice of staff, equipment Focus on financial results. If a manager is recruiting the right people to get the job done, the results and their credibility for managing their money will be good. Manage by exception..if a manager is consistently mismanaging their their management on it. (and if their doing a great job..likewise.)

        Long winded, sorry, but the gist of it if you want to treat people as an investment you need the Finance guys to provide a complementary financial system. And there’s plenty of
        creativity in the financial world to do it.

        Per living in a well structured finance system and living without one…the former wins. Manage by results within a results oriented financial system.

        • @Don: I think there’s a bit of a text book here, don’t you? ;-)

          • yeah, sorry I do run on..but it’s an interesting topic & I’ve run across some aspects of viewing (or absence of) people as value.

  10. Inspired by this weeks question, I asked a CFO if hiring was an investment or cost. He replied “a cost”. It didn’t surprise me that someone with an accounting background would see it as a cost because their job is to report revenues and expenses. I see it as an investment because every hire should be a value added proposition. The new employee should bring something to the table that makes working at the firm a little better. If you view employees as plug and play, I think you will be better off in the long run hiring contractors. Contractors are a definite cost item.

    • @Jonathan: My compliments for speaking truth to power. Just because the guy is a CFO doesn’t mean he knows anything about the finances of a company.

      Many years ago a (then) famous business guru, Tom Peters, suggested that the maximum number of people that could possibly work for a successful business is 11. He later raised it to 25. His point was that it all goes to hell in a hand basket when no one knows what everyone in a company is doing.

      • I think right now is the best time to interview prospective employees. They are most likely at home with a lot of time on their hands and would be enthusiastic about starting a new chapter in their lives.

  11. Frankly, it’s questionable whether these individuals know how to read and interpret any given tax return. This is a bogus request by paranoid employers who know less than they think. A dangerous combo yet very common.

    • @Marilyn: It’s a good practice when presented with such demands to politely demand right back: “Why do you need that?”

      The answer will likely be, “It’s the policy.”

      Translation: “We have no idea.”

      As I noted elsewhere, don’t say NO. Say YES, but… “but I would need you to sign a strict non-disclosure agreement that includes penalties before I can give you any confidential personal documents.”

      That may push the problem up the ladder. Meanwhile, HR may go ahead with the process. Of course, if the HR rep says, “Sure! Where do you want me to sign?”, well, that’s a sign that you don’t want to work there. They’re clueless!

      I find that many HR “policies” are negotiable because no one can explain why they’re in place. So ask.

      • Nick Corcodilos- As Paul Forel aptly said in a post on another topic recently, “respect is where you find it”. I see your analogy here, but I emphatically disagree with it. And as Joseph Fabian has articulated on this very topic here “you can’t fix stupid”. Most of these perspective employers are like a server in a restaurant, they come in and out of your life quickly, and forget you that fast too. There’s got to be a level of basic dignity, and when a perspective employer is this undignified, and lacks any semblance of a filter too, then playing along with this, or trying to somehow negotiate with this level of bottom feeder, makes you a simp.

  12. I think hiring is an investment, but I have found that most employers view it as a cost. They fail to factor in the value an employee brings to the company, and this applies to non-profits and the public sector as well as the private sector. The bean-counters only see the “waste” (as one said to me), meaning the salary paid out not how the employee helps the employer meet whatever goals the latter has.

    This, too, is why so many employers see unfilled jobs as a good thing, because they’re not paying salaries or wages for those jobs. They fail to do an audit on the COST of the unfilled jobs to the company or agency. Maybe if they did that, they’d begin to see the value of hiring.

    RE the demand for tax returns, pay stubs, etc., I think it is nuts. I’ve learned from this newsletter that it is okay to walk away, or, as I did the last time I was told I had to submit this in order for me to progress, I asked why, and when the person talking to me began sucking air and hemmed and hawed, saying it was “the law”, I politely countered that there is no law in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and no federal law that “requires” applicants to submit their tax returns or their paystubs. If it is company policy, once again, why? If you wish to confirm that I’ve worked where I said I worked, then I’m happy to provide you with names, addresses, and contact information so you can verify my work history. And what do you do with an applicant who is applying for his first job ever, so he has never filed a tax return, nor does he have any paystubs? Or what about the woman who took years off to raise her children or provide care for aging parents, in-laws?

    I’ve also tried Nick’s advice to say yes, then qualify it to see whether they will respect me and my personal data (they refuse, telling me that once I provide my data, they’re not responsible for what happens to it), which I think is perfectly reasonable, given the ease hackers can steal it. I’ve also tried humor, hoping that it will illustrate how silly/stupid their demands are. “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.” None of them see anything wrong with demanding this of me, but take great offense when I ask to see their tax returns and paystubs. So, I’ve learned to walk away. Then I’ll see the same job posted again and again. Treat applicants like human beings, don’t demand data that YOU wouldn’t want on someone else’s server or to be handled by third parties, pay a wage/salary that allows people to live, stop looking at employees as costs and start seeing them as investments, grow your talent, and voilà, no more talent shortage, no more skills gap.

  13. @Marybeth: And so it goes…!

    “They fail to do an audit on the COST of the unfilled jobs to the company or agency. Maybe if they did that, they’d begin to see the value of hiring.”

    Peter Cappelli, a labor and employment expert at Wharton, makes this exact point. He says that modern accounting systems do not account for the cost of vacant jobs, so these vacancies show up as reduced costs and therefore higher profits! So much for letting the bean counters run the asylum! Of course, HR seems to have no problem with Finance dictating staffing, though HR doesn’t bother to deal with the employee cost/profit issue, either. So — where’s the board of directors?

    “I was told I had to submit [pays tubs] in order for me to progress, I asked why, and when the person talking to me began sucking air and hemmed and hawed, saying it was ‘the law’… there is no law in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and no federal law that ‘requires’ applicants to submit their tax returns or their paystubs.”

    Do you know how many frustrated job seekers parrot that “requirement” and “law” back to me after HR explains it? It’s astonishing how that kind of officious lying actually works!

    “None of them see anything wrong with demanding this of me, but take great offense when I ask to see their tax returns and paystubs. So, I’ve learned to walk away.”

    Isn’t that something?

    • @Nick: I wonder how this works in states and cities that have laws and ordinances that ban employers from asking applicants for their salary history. In my state (Massachusetts), employers can’t ask for salary history. But if they ask for tax returns and paystubs, presumably to prove that applicants have worked where they said they worked, that’s a sneaky way to find out what applicants made at their current and/or previous jobs. If employers say that’s not why they require these forms, then I call b.s., that their stated “reason” is just a pretext to get salary history.

  14. >Perhaps a candidate has unexpected skills and expertise

    Why not just offer x% of profit generated. If programmer A creates $300,000 of revenue a year. While programmer B creates $100,000. Then A gets 3 times as much.

    Of course now you need to do regular formal productivity measuring.Rather than just walk around. Quality checks and the like.

    Of course some companies really do have a very small fixed base. It is better for everyone if the quality candidates walk away. They can hire good enough employees.