In the May 27, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a manager explains how she hires by respecting job applicants:

I’m a longtime reader. Your advice has helped me in my job searches and salary negotiations. I recently landed a great job with a great salary, where I have done very well. Well enough, in fact, that I’m now the one in charge of my team, and we are hiring! So now I’m on the other side of the job-search equation.

Since I take your advice to heart, as I conduct my candidate search I am:

  • respectNot relying on job boards. I am pursuing local networking opportunities.
  • Treating my applicants with courtesy by replying promptly and keeping them updated.
  • Communicating clearly about our interviewing procedures.
  • Trying to be respectful of my applicants’ time, and not requiring multi-day interview processes.

The one place where I’m a little stuck is about salary history. As an applicant, I would never give away my current or past salary. When pressed about my expectations, I hedge with statements like, “I hope to be paid a market salary commensurate with my skills.”

But as a hiring manager working with a limited budget, it seems it’s my responsibility to play hardball and try to get the best candidate within our price range.

Do you consider it unethical to press for salary history? Is there any happy medium? Is there any way I can determine quickly if someone is out of my range, without asking them to compromise themselves? Do you have any advice for a well-intentioned member of “the other side?”

Best regards,

Nick’s Reply

Your four bulleted hiring techniques speak for themselves. Unfortunately, too many managers and companies fail to follow your simple rules. That means you have less competition — good applicants will recognize a good manager.

I’m glad to hear my salary strategy (Keep Your Salary Under Wraps) has been helpful to you as a job hunter. I think it can be just as helpful now that you’re hiring. Please consider approaching this the same way.

If you have a budget for a job, what’s wrong with stating a compensation range to your serious candidates? (That is, the ones you’re going to interview.) It’s easy enough to say, “Just to be clear, our comp range is $X to $Y, and if we’re going to go to $Y, you’d have to demonstrate how you’re going to contribute to our profitability to justify it.”

You don’t need to announce this in advance, but I’d make a phone call to each of your best candidates when you have identified them. I think they will appreciate it. “I’m disclosing this to you because I don’t want you to interview unless you’d be happy with an offer in that range. I like to be above board.”

As long as you stay within your budget, I don’t think you’ll have a problem. You have a clear obligation to your company to stay within budget – and I think this accomplishes that.

“Hardball” is actually just honest ball. I don’t think you’re going to lose a great candidate by being honest. Anyone outside your range is, well, outside your range. And if someone outside your range is honestly willing to interview for less than they’re making or have been making, that’s up to them.

Make sense? Of course, knowing someone’s salary history doesn’t help you decide what to offer them. What other employers paid is their judgment, within their business. Value is relative, and you must make your own judgment for your own business. It seems to me you’re already okay with this, and that gives you an edge over your competitors.

I think it’s always best for employer and applicant to agree on the general salary range they’re both comfortable with before they start talking seriously. The best way to ensure this is for the employer to state the range of salary for the job. This does not mean you must let yourself be swayed to the high end if you don’t think the candidate is worth that much — which is why I suggest making that clear from the outset. (Job applicants can make their case by following the methods in Fearless Job Hunting, Book 9: Be The Master of Job Offers.) Of course, you should phrase this in a way that’s right for you — my words are mine, not yours!

My highest compliments for demonstrating such high standards in your hiring practices. You’re a manager who respects job applicants. I wish more managers would follow your simple rules.

The manager follows up

Hi, Nick,

Thank you so much for taking the time to respond. I think your suggested script is a good one. As with all aspects of salary negotiations, I’ll just have to practice saying it out loud about a hundred times, until I don’t cringe anymore when it comes out of my mouth. Never was there a thing more uncomfortable than talking salaries!

It’s nice to hear that you think I’m on a good track. I’m absolutely convinced that this approach is getting me better candidates than LinkedIn and Craigslist have gotten us. But it has also given me a new respect for HR departments and recruiters! This process takes an incredible amount of work! I’m so focused on “people” stuff right now that I couldn’t write a decent line of code if I tried.

Thank you again, I was very touched to hear back from you.


Nick’s Reply

It makes my day when I hear from a manager as thoughtful as you. I’m happy to help if I can.

I know recruiting and hiring are incredibly time consuming. It’s why I tell managers, expect to invest at least 30% of your time doing it — or you’re not being a good manager. Done right, this investment pays off handsomely. You’ll never be as productive as you can be if you don’t have great employees doing the work. A manager’s #1 task is hiring great people to get the job done. If more managers approached it this way, I think turnover would be much lower, productivity higher, attendance higher, and promotion from within a better bet. (To further enhance your success rate, hand-walk the offer once you’ve made it.) Good hiring makes strong companies.

Please let me know how this works out for you..

Coming next week…

Manager Annie tells us how this all turned out!

What can managers do to show respect to job applicants? If you’re on the hiring side, what do you do? What does it mean to hire smart today?

: :

  1. Bravo! The game-playing over salary is ridiculous. What beautiful logic to say, This is what we pay and if you want the max, show us how you’re worth it. So straightforward, I hope this idea spreads like wildfire (it won’t be, I can dream). Now you decide if you want to interview.

  2. I have always felt that the salary history question is very invasive and should be illegal. It spreads information that is of no real use to the employer since ill or generous treatment by a former employer is between that contract pair. As I have run businesses myself, I make a point to have salary information covered by an NDA such that neither I nor the other party can divulge information regarding the compensation package. For the most part, this would not be in conflict with other reporting requirements since most employees do not appear on 10k statements or other public documents.

  3. Nick is spot on.

    You don’t need to advertise the budget up front, but you can tell people that you identified as strong candidates what your budget is.

    Also, you avoid any uncomforatble assumptions as to why someone might take a lesser paying job.

    I know people who agree to talk to employers who will pay less for one reason or another. Maybe it’s because they are in a high stress job now, and want a better work/life balance. Maybe they are looking to switch up careers – and understand that they might have to bite the bullet in the short term in order to make money and have greater oppurtunity over the long term.

    I would also point out that resume’s can’t really defend themselves. Sometimes, you have to actually talk to people to determine whether they are truly qualified or not. I wouldn’t say that everyone you get off the job boards couldn’t do the job – you just don’t have all the data points to make an informed decision.

  4. I completely agree with the 3 who commented so far. There isn’t much that can be added!

  5. Fantastic q & a this week, with Nick’s advice being spot-on (as usual).

    This is such common sense–why wouldn’t you disclose the salary range? It saves you (the hiring manager) much grief and even more time because if the candidates know the salary range (and that you absolutely cannot go above x amount, no matter how much they try to negotiate), then you won’t waste your time interviewing people who can’t afford to work for the salary offered. And you won’t be wasting THEIR time either. That shows that you understand and respect (I’m singing along with Aretha Franklin R-E-S-P-E-C-T) them and their time. If candidates are willing to work for less, fine, that’s on them, and there many be any number of reasons. Dave mentioned some of them; others may be that they’ve been unemployed or underemployed, or recently got the degree required (but don’t have the work experience), or perhaps they are the trailing wives, moving for their husbands’ jobs/careers, so they can’t be as choosy as they would like.

    Nick et al. are right–don’t even get into the habit of asking for previous salary information. The candidates might have worked in different parts of the country where you find salary differences due to the cost of living (e.g., salaries in the Boston area tend to be higher because the cost of living is higher, not because the job is necessarily more demanding or challenging, than a similar job is in Iowa or Nebraska or Mississippi), or they might have worked at a lower level and are now trying to move up (but that would explain the lower salary), or it might be because she had to cut back her hours while her children were small…and none of these have anything to do with the current job at this particular employer. So why would you base what you pay someone on what someone else in a different part of the country, in a different industry, at a different level, with different hours (e.g., part-time vs full time), or even for jobs that were years ago (when either salaries were lower or higher or there haven’t been raises in many years)? I’ve been on hiring committees, and the first thing (after deciding that someone needs to be hired for the job and writing or revising the description) decided is the budget/salary for the job. Nothing proceeds without this information; for some jobs with some employers, there is a salary range, for others, it is set at a certain amount. What I don’t like is “commensurate with experience”. But what does that mean? I might have 10 years experience, but if I’m moving from Boston to Dubuque, can I really expect to get a Boston salary in Dubuque? And how do I know what you the hiring manager have in mind unless you tell me? I can research cost of living and salaries online, but that still doesn’t tell me what you the hiring manager can pay me.

    Manager, I’d kiss you if I could :), but I’ll settle for thanking you for your honesty and for your maturity (no game-playing). I wish there were more like you.

    @Dave: I agree that résumés are incomplete at best. Different employers even within the same industry might use different terms and phrases for the same job and skills; if you rely on ATS and on résumés, hiring managers will be missing out on candidates who could do the job and might be better fits than those whose key words happen to match up.

    Some employers (not many) are okay with CVs, and CVs will give you a much better idea of the skills the candidates have or don’t have.

  6. To further add to the immense importance of the discussion here (I hope), imagine being hired into a position at a salary that is scraping the lower-end of the salary range for your position, even though you bring to the position years of experience and are a high-level contributor in the role. Then imagine a few years later getting a promotion into a management role in the same firm, where HR now shares salary information with you! Now imagine looking at salary ranges and realizing for all of the wonderful work you’ve been doing, for all the achievements, and for all of the years of experience, you now find out that you had been paid at the bottom of the salary range in your previous role, and you’re also now getting the bottom of the salary range in your new, higher responsibility manager role. What do you do? I think I’ve read Nick’s comments in previous blog posts that it’s more valuable to start looking for opportunities outside of the organization than trying to get a salary increase at the current place of employment. Correct me if I’m wrong, but that’s what I would do. But situations such as the one I’ve described above really should never arise, and with the correct salary negotiation skills as a job seeker, combined with sensible hiring managers, we can help change this ridiculous culture. There are companies out there whose policy it is to keep secret salary ranges. To those poor souls in the HR departments of such companies and organizations I say, “Once more Jesus put His hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly…except his salary range!” We will all be judged one day…

  7. Back when I was actually allowed to interview candidates (now all questions are supposed to be approved by HR to make sure they are fair), I found ways to have extensive in person interviews with the top candidates. From that, I generally had enough information about the person and the position to project scores in our 16 factor contribution – pay matrix. (It sounds more complicated then it is.). So, I was able to provide a good, supportable, and honest description of why the offer is what it is and the prospects for growth.

    Now, I am frustrated as a hiring manager because I am forced to use pay comparison web sites and make hiring decisions based on minimal information. Hiring is the most important job of a manager! If you hire the wrong people, you will spend 70% of your time trying to “fix” the person or develop the documentation required to fire the person. I would rather spend the 30% up-front.

  8. @marybeth

    This is why I like Nick’s approach of actually talking to people.

    A few weeks ago, some jobs related story popped up on Slashdot (if you haven’t heard of them -think about the name for a second and their tag line is “news for nerds” ). Someone suggested for people in software engineering to get a portfolio and use github post their code.

    Someone pointed out that this is exactly what he did – he developed some sort of embedded device, posted the source code, schematics, etc. to github and used it for the original purpose (git is used as a revision system so you can easily track changes, roll things back, manage conflicts). In other words, a potential employer could see ALL of his work, his changes, how it was developed over the years.

    You would think employers would be all over this, right? Nope!

    No one seemed to care. All he wanted was someone to take 15 minutes, review the repository and ask him some thoughtful questions (again, he’s interviewing them as well – this comes across as they can’t be bothered). He was more than willing to do a demo, talk for hours, show them what he was proud of, where the weaknesses are, etc.

    What this person said was happening was he was getting all the standard questions of “so, tell us about yourself.” He was also getting the “write some random code on the white board for us.” This makes a lot of people uncomfortable, including this gentleman. I know in my experience, that I talk with a little bit of a studder/speech impediment that tends to get worse when I am a bit nervous. An interview that doesn’t seem as “confrontational” would be a bit better for me at least.

  9. The fashion company, Zappos, must be reading your blog, Nick.

    See this comment on LinkedIn:

    See Zappos’s job site here:

  10. @dave

    That “write some code for us now” thing is obviously ridiculous, when (I am guessing, as a non coder) writing software code is an iterative, deliberate process based on applied knowledge of the language and the task.

    I wonder if writers will soon be expected to stand at the same white board and write (on command, in real time) a 300-500 word essay in a fixed time in front of an interview panel?

    I love to talk shop in interviews and I have no problem with sharing work samples. Have them a look at an existing article or writing sample or give me a topic and I’ll write it over a couple days.

    Regarding the overall topic of respect and fairness: I haven’t seen much of it.

    I’ve been nickeled and dimed and lied to about compensation. I’ve also had job promotions (that were verbally offered and accepted) reneged upon. I’ve also worked in places as a second class employee /consultant staff. Heck, recently, I was passed over for a job because I am a white male (and excoriated by the hiring manager for it).

  11. Where do I find ” I am pursuing local networking opportunities.” It is good to hear that hiring managers are attending networking events. But how do I find these? So far, the events seem to be unemployed networking with unemployed, when I attended them as all I got was weblinks to job boards and “career events.
    a total waste of time.

  12. @Eddie

    What field would you like to find work in? Try going to groups that meet and discuss things specific to that industry. A good place to start is

    I have found that some of the groups/outplacement services to be so generic (they don’t know much about specific industries or jobs) and the same with employment networking groups.

    @Some guy

    It’s usually silly stuf like “for each number from 1 to 100, if the number is divisible by 3 print fizz and divisibile by 5 print buzz.” Or you get some print out of code and are asked to point out what is wrong (nevermind the fact that if you wrote code like that on the job you would deserve to be shot).

    I can see some value in this, but the issue I think most peope have is that the can ask any number of problems like this, and you may not have the benefit of a compiler/debugger to write it and poke around.

    In the example I gave, you actually had something that was useful and open that anyone could poke around and ask questions. It’s not like the project was covered under some type of NDA or anything.

  13. “Networking events” are meant to be useful in finding candidates/employment opportunities? OK, I guess I can see how you might come across something/someone of value at on if these. However, focusing only on such events seems synonymous to applying for opportunities found online…maybe even less efficient/productive. “Networking” is probably a bad term for such gatherings. “Chat & Mingle” might be a better term. I view networking as a life-long process of making connections and building meaningful relationships of mutual benefit to you and the other person. That’s what can really get you your future job.

  14. Great questions about the networking events Annie uses to recruit. I’m hoping to get more information from her to post in next week’s follow-up.

    It just astonishes me that something so obvious as sharing a salary range seems so impossible to employers – when they have no problem at all asking for your complete salary history!

  15. Read Nick’s ‘A Great Network Is a Circle of Friends’ on his web site.

  16. I really enjoyed how this Hiring Manager says in her own words “I’ve looked at life from both sides now.”

    When I moved into management, I had a similar revelation. Getting promoted (and downsized!) reminded me of one geometry teacher. She frequently stated, “Not all Rectangles are Squares. But all Squares are Rectangles.”

    Not all Candidates become Hiring Managers. Yet all Hiring Managers can once again become Candidates.

    And that line of thinking forms the basis of many of my replies when looking for or extending work. Being in management means I no longer get mesmerized by the “Wizard of Ah’s.” Other managers can’t pull the same tricks — I’ve been exposed to them! (And I don’t inflict them on others.)

    This blog post spoke of the Budget — that’s one of the primary things a manager must manage. That’s where salaries reside!

    Of the dreaded Salary History? When asked what I make, I simply reply, “I’m making the amount my supervisor and I agreed to.”

    When pressed with threats of non-compliance, words implying that if I don’t cooperate I can’t land the assignment or get the position I tell them comically, “Look, I’ve served in management. So I know how things work. You have your Budget. And you’ve allocated costs like labor into your Budget — I hope! What have you allocated?”

    I do this using humor to diffuse the situation while appearing obedient. And I’m not a little kid any more. (And Budget sheets have Rectangles.)

    I also do this to show that as much as I want to make the sale, I’m not so desperate I’ll give the store away and blurt everything. If they put me on a sales call, I’ll use similar strategies. (Moreover, some of my recent work involves establishing attractive yet profitable price ranges, e.g., the wine industry.)

    Since hiring is an activity many loathe, from Hiring Managers to Candidates, I always encourage those not in position of authority to volunteer for the hiring committee. You’ll score points as a team player as you gain insight into the hiring process and remove its mystery and magic. And you’ll be better armed whatever side you occupy — and reoccupy!

  17. @Chris Walker: Thanks for referring to “A Good Network Is a Circle of Friends.” But that article is now truncated because an expanded version is included in the PDF book, “How Can I Change Careers?”

    Also by way of disclosure, the book is not just for career changers, but for anyone who wants to stand out as the profitable hire.

    [End of commercial! :-) ]

  18. @Glenn: I’m still laffing at the nuggets of practical wisdom and the insights in your comment!

    “When asked what I make, I simply reply, ‘I’m making the amount my supervisor and I agreed to.'”

    Sheesh. On a certain level, negotiating a job is like buying a car. You’d never show the salesperson the balance in your checkbook register – so why would an employer expect you to disclose your old salary? It’s the oldest sales game in the book. I’m glad you spin it for the employer with a measure of humor!

    We can come up with a lot of good analogies. You’re negotiating a fee to do a consulting job for a new client. Do you disclose how much you charged your last client? Of course not. It would affect what the new client is willing to pay. So, why disclose your old salary? All that matters in all cases is what the “buyer” is willing to spend, and how much value is perceived in your deliverable.

    Big boys and girls play by honest rules.

  19. Some Guy brought up the problem as I see it. I’ve been lied to also, and I wonder if the history of employers lying about their budgets to candidates won’t work against this honest manager. I probably wouldn’t believe the manager because so many are trying to get as much as they can for as little.

  20. And when I asked what I make, I say “How much do you have budgeted for this position?” It’s a classic sales tactic that works most of the time.

    If pressed on providing salary history, I laugh and say “Are you really going to decide my value to you and your company based on a competitor’s valuation of my service–in a different job and industry?” The response to that is usually stuttering or complete silence. Most of them give up at that point on the salary question. Or I give up on the employer.

    I’ve been on both sides: hiring manager and candidate. And I can tell you, if an employer is trying to place your value on your salary history, that attitude shows you the company is trying to low-ball all of their candidates, and that they are manipulative.

    Who needs that?

    I mean, I understand if you are desperate for a job. I’ve been there, believe me. But taking a job like that is a short-term solution. It’s viable to pay the rent, yeah, but keep on networking for the “good” job.

    There are still many companies who have salary ranges that are available for employees and for candidates. One Big 5 accounting firm I worked for does. They will give you a range when you are a candidate. And they will tell you what the range is for the next level up–because they want to help you get there. And, your salary is covered under their non-disclosure so you don’t have to tell other employers what you made.

    Public service jobs (government, utilities, schools) also provide job descriptions with salary ranges based on experience level. What would happen to “regular business” (as we used to call it when I worked for the Fed) if we all took jobs like that, and avoided all being on the side of doing all the exposing while the employer held all the cards?

    Oh wait, it’s probably already happened based on the wails from business about there being “no good candidates.”

  21. There seems to be a debate here as to WHEN to disclose the salary and who should do it.

    I think the salary range for the job should be put into the job listing. That way the hiring manager doesn’t have to deal with this at all. People will self-select when they apply for the job.

    I don’t agree that salaries are covered by non-disclosures. If the ranges are all made public, there would be no need.

  22. @Chris Hogg: Thanks for the Zappos article link. It’s really interesting that Stacy Zapar has this article on LinkedIn, and provides all her social handles, but does not provide an e-mail address or phone number. What does that tell you? Tells me she wants promotion but doesn’t want to be bothered.

  23. Nick —

    Come to think of it, when an interviewer asks for one’s current salary, what would be wrong with asking right back, “What’s the salary range on this position I’m applying for?”

  24. right on. State a range, treat people like adults and let them decide if it can work for them. In our case we state up front in our job description the STARTING range of jobs. My wife says “grown men don’t scroll” so almost everyone doesn’t pick up on the key word…Starting. Having provided the info we expect people on their end to take it seriously and not try to game it. Come in waste time see if we fall in love with you, than negotiate. It’s not negotiable. I think it’s fair to assume that if a range is given there’s a reason (budgetary) for it and the manager doesn’t have any wiggle room either.
    But the upside of our approach is the Starting range is not the range of the job..someone who does well can blow past the high end and/or effect a promo.

  25. Oh, just experienced something related to this. Someone contacted about a job opening and directed me to their website. He said to let him know when I completed the application.

    I had some back and forth with him about the job. So, I finally had a chance to sit down, and actually apply.

    The online application is so onerous, I think I never have seen one this bad. They want, up front:

    1. SS # (yeah, but you’re only getting that when I am either hired and you want to pay me or if there is a conditional offer on the table based on a background check. And I think background checks are overused.)

    2. FULL salary history for the last 15 years (yes, 15 years). They also want manager names, addresses, phone numbers, etc. of all those employers. Again, none of their business especially when they do not post a range.

    3. 3 references up front. Again, references are a valuable resource. I need some assurances that I have a good shot at the job in order for you to bother them.

    I could see scam written all over this ;-)

    Even if the job exists, some of this is inappropriate to ask for one reason or another.

  26. Lucille stated, “I don’t agree that salaries are covered by non-disclosures. If the ranges are all made public, there would be no need.”

    Well, I have heard some employers say that they want to keep their compensation numbers and packages private as a competitive advantage. They’ll only disclose certain perks once they’re really interested in somebody. They don’t want to broadcast to other companies what makes them attractive.

    Meanwhile . . .

    One thing that is extremely taboo in the workplace is discussing salary compensation with others. I’ve seen people get into a lot of hot water over this.

    Typically, they find out that Coworker A makes more than they do. It’s especially maddening if Coworker A has been there less time. So they approach their boss with a belligerent, “Hey, I’ve been here 10 years making $50K and Jack who just started last year is making $60K. Why’s that?”

    To which the boss replies, “How did you find out Jack makes $60K?”

    Discussing salary compensation in the same office breeds jealousy and resentment. Maybe Jack knows something about the business that’s worth a premium. Or maybe Jack is simply a better negotiator.

    In any event, salary is one of those topics that adults have apparently forgotten how to discuss maturely. As is sex.

  27. @Chris Hogg

    RE: Zappos approach

    I’m of very mixed feelings, this idea of having job seekers join an online community to express interest.

    Positively speaking, it could encourage communication between employer and candidate which is sorely missing today.

    Yet part of me wonders how will interacting there be a good use of my time? Moreover, how and when will I be able to show Zappos that I’ve got what it takes to make a difference to their bottom line?

    I worry about it getting cutesy and not enough talk about business.

    Speaking of which . . .

    In terms of this thread’s subject of salary compensation, I’m tempted to go there and violate one of Job Seeking’s Cardinal Rules. We are frequently advised to not talk money until the later stages.

    In this case, I’m concerned there’ll be too much joking around. Moreover, I’ve seen some places use aspects like fun, togetherness, coolness to mask the fact that they don’t pay that well. (That’s okay, sometimes we take a lesser paying job because of other pluses like a shorter commute.)

    Since that setting appears so casual, I would just have to ask, “So, hey, how much do you people pay?” (I’m debating whether to add “Dude!”)

  28. @Dave: I’ve seen applications like that in both the public and private sector. I had to apply online for a federal job, and they wanted my entire job history going back to my first job, plus the names, addresses, and phone numbers of my managers. They also wanted my references upfront. I can’t remember if they required me to put in my SS#. For a private sector job, they wanted the same things (including my SS#), and unlike the federal government, there was no line or space for me to indicate that my former boss was dead (true for one job), that several had retired and I didn’t have addresses and phone numbers for them, and that several of my past employers had long ago gone out of business, and I no longer had the old phone numbers and their physical spaces were now occupied by someone else. All of these were “required”, and when I tried to enter my phone number (just to be able to move forward), the system wouldn’t let me. I tried entering all zeroes or all ones, and the result was the same. I called the hiring manager, who fobbed me off to HR, and the HR person couldn’t understand that I didn’t have this information. He sounded very young, and probably had never worked for a company that went out of business, or for a government agency/dept. that got combined with another one. I didn’t apply because I didn’t like their requiring me to provide my SS#, asking for my references up front (I explained that my references were busy, professional people and that I would provide them only if there was a job offer on the table; this, too, was met with bewilderment by HR), and the fact that their ATS didn’t provide even a single line for me to explain that my supervisor at one job was dead, that three employers were no longer in business. And yes, they wanted my salary history for each and every job as well. Some of my jobs date back a long time, so why ask for salary? I figured that the computer wasn’t programmed to take salary in a different era, much less for a different industry and different employers into account any more than the humans programming the computer thought about it. And when I asked them for the salary range for the job, they balked and refused to answer. At that point, I thanked them for their time and told them I had decided not apply. And maybe that is the whole point–not to get the best people, but weed out as many as possible (hence all of the hoops they required applicants to jump through). And yes, about three months later, I saw the same job posted again. So how’s that working?

  29. @marybeth

    Exactly, I think government is a different beast, but why does private sector need all this info?

    I think I am going to decline to apply via the system, and tell them I do not feel comfortable with telling them that level of detail. I would gladly provide the information when an offer is being discussed. ;-)

  30. @Dave:

    Yes, the government is a different beast (at least with gov’t, a salary range is usually published upfront, then I figure it is up to me to convince them that I deserve a higher starting salary based on what I am bringing to them in terms of experience and how my skills will benefit them), but even with the government, I don’t see the reason for that level of detail at the start of the application process. Why do they want 40 references? Why do they want the information on every job I’ve ever had, including addresses, phone numbers, names and contact info for supervisors, etc.? Not every single job I’ve had is relevant to the job I’m applying for NOW (same goes for salary histories and references). The only time I can see it as necessary for the government is if the job I’m applying for requires a secret or top secret security clearance, but then that isn’t so much part of the application process but the background check once they’ve decided to hire you.

    I think that employers require it because it is easy to do (simply check the box on the computer system!) and there’s no extra cost to it. Or they think that the more information they get, the better it is for them, but they don’t think that some or even much of the information (such as the measly salary I earned while working part time in retail while I was in college) will be relevant. What is worse is that for many of the private sector jobs I’ve looked at, they require me to provide salary history, but they absolutely refuse to return the favor when I ask for the salary range for the job. Why is that a state secret? Surely salary is important–I need to know because I need to know if I can afford to take the job–does it pay so little that I won’t be able to pay my rent, eat, and my other bills? Will I have to get a second full time job, thus taking away my energy and focus from this job, just to be able to live? What businesses don’t realize is that by disclosing the salary range up front is that a lot of people would self-select out of applying for it if the salary is too low (assuming that the company makes it clear that there is no negotiation for a higher salary up front). I know that when I see a job with a salary posted, I can decide then and there whether I apply for it or not. Otherwise, why waste everyone’s time–the hiring manager’s, the candidates’, HR’s, etc. if you interview people, make an offer, only to have your top candidates decline the offers because they’ve learned after three rounds of interviews that the salary is too low? Then you start the whole process again…..

  31. @Dave & @marybeth,

    I too believe in not going through the system and instead talking shop. It is, after all, the fundamental ATH way.

    Part of being both an efficient and effective worker is this: knowing what NOT to do. When I’ve taken on consulting roles, it is far easier to do because they and I know I’m there to solve a specific problem. That’s all we focus on. Anything else is a waste of time — and another hour I can bill!

    Why the difference between then a consulting role and a Full-Time position? There really isn’t any.

    Having this conversation, however, of wanting to keep everything on present-oriented tasks is very delicate.

    Want to know who’s making this more perilous? Our fellow jobseekers!

    When I’ve tried to keep everything in terms of the job and only the job, I haven’t always been met with open arms. I firmly believe that my W-2’s, 1099’s and the like are nobody’s business. Just because I bought a $45 Pinot Noir bottle “drink” yesterday doesn’t mean I can never buy a quenching McDonald’s any-size soda for $1.

    The problem I hear many times is that no other applicant has denied to provide all this. They pressure you and me to think that we are troublemakers. Or the worst possible curse, “You’re not a team player.”

    Like many things worth doing, you have to persist. I have had some hiring authorities tell me, “You know, you’re right. What you made with someone else doesn’t matter.”

    I typically find those who run smaller businesses are more understanding, esp. because they’ve been there themselves.

    Managers in larger organizations are driven by fear just like some jobseekers. They’re compliant “sheeple” even though the corporate Web site says they’re independent thinkers. If they have an HR department, the fear goes up exponentially.

    They’d like to do something different and even reason that what I’m saying makes a lot of sense. Yet for them to go against the Establishment means that they too get branded as uncooperative mavericks. Many things are insisted upon because of bureaucracy or CYA litigation. (Or the fallback “we’ve always done it this way, it’s standard procedure.”)

    Hopefully as more jobseekers get burned, they’ll see what power they have in denying these documents. Moreover, there are other ways to make income like securities and real estate investments. (Why do radio ads state, “Quit your job and make money flipping houses”??)

  32. @maybeth and Glen:

    All good points.

    Also, much like a resume, an automated application system doesn’t defend itself.

    For example:

    1. The aforementioned job is in a smaller town with a lower cost of living then where I currently am. I would hazard a guess that the automated system was not programmed to take this into account, nor is the HR drone taking this into account at the other end.

    2. I have only had 1 minimal raise in the last 5 years. Yet, in the first five years of being with my employer, I increased my salary by 60%. My employer was on shaky ground before the recession, and laid a bunch of people off since then. My own department is a shell of it’s former self. In other words, I am blessed with a decent enough job and must be providing some value to my employer (given that I was never laid off/still have a job!)

    Again, how does an automated system/HR drone know this? I think many people over the last 5 years would have loved to be in my position and probably would have given up raises to have somewhat decent pay (not trying to rub it in).

    3. I would consider a pay cut in the right circumstances.

    As you can see, not knowing any context is harmful.

    What is the irony is I just received an email back saying that it is “industry practice” to do this. The funny part is that over the last year, I have talked with/interviewed with about 10 different companies. Not one has asked me to provide a detailed history like this, it has always been how much do you want/this is our range. Never stopped me from moving forward in many cases.

  33. @Glenn:

    You asked “Why the difference between a consulting role and a full time position? There really isn’t any.”

    I agree with you, but only to a point. Whether a company or a government agency hires a permanent, full time person to do the job or a “consultant” (e.g., full or part time but usually temporary person) usually doesn’t matter in that whoever gets hired will be doing the job. The difference usually lies in the benefits (paid sick time, paid vacation time, paid holidays, health insurance for you and your spouse/dependents, etc.) and often some measure of job security (you’re not let go when the job/project is done). As for how the job gets done, then you’re right–it usually doesn’t matter whether a temp/consultant does it or a full time employee does it; the job gets done. Temps and sometimes consultants are cheaper for the employer because the employer doesn’t pay them benefits and doesn’t pay for days or time out (such as for sick time, holidays, etc.). The drawback is if your agency or business will only give permanent employers access to certain information–then temps and consultants can’t do the job as well as a full time permanent employee because they can’t get access to records or data.

  34. @Glenn:

    Liked your analogy of $45.00 bottle of Pinot Noir vs. the all-you-can-drink for a dollar soda. Yum to the Pinot Noir, though when I’m done looking at jobs and trying to get around the “system”, I’m more likely to hit the $50.00 plus bottle of single malt Scotch! :)

    That is my point and my beef with employers who require my salary history, and especially with, as Dave noted above, an ATS that doesn’t take into account a job located in an area with a lower cost of living. I guarantee you that it hasn’t occurred to the HR jockey if you get through the ATS (assuming it doesn’t weed you out because your salary is too high) and that if you bring it up to him (I’m getting x amount because I work in the Boston area where the cost of living is very high) he won’t know what to do with the information and may simply move on to the “easier” candidate (someone whose salary history does match up with the salary allocated for the job) so he won’t have to think about it. What a dumb way to hire.

    If employers stop requiring this information, then candidates will stop providing it. Sure, when other applicants are willing to blab everything to an employer, it makes it harder for those of us who don’t disclose salaries, etc. Candidates have some ownership in it this, but employers do too. If an agency or a company doesn’t have the budget for a job, then they don’t hire for it–they split the duties among the remaining employees, or they decide that a particular job simply won’t be done any longer. Every employer, public or private sector, has a salary range or even a set salary in mind once they’ve decided to hire someone. It makes no sense to ask for current and previous salary for all of the reasons given, and Nick’s analogy to buying a car (and I’ll add buying a house for good measure) is apt. If I bought a house 30 years ago, and am now looking to downsize, why would the price I paid for a house 30 years ago be relevant to what I would pay for a (smaller) house or condo today? No home seller would agree to a price based on housing costs from 30 years ago, so why should an employer base his value of me on what some other employer paid me for a different job, at a different level in a a different industry 15 years ago? And doesn’t the experience I’ve gained (added value for you, employer) mean something? (If I can demonstrate it, that I should be paid more, because of the skills and experience I bring to you?)

    @Dave and Glenn: I think there’s a lot of groupthink (or group unthinking) going on. Employers do things without thinking about it–they’re doing it because HR told them to. Many times HR will cite “legal” reasons, but what a hiring manager should do is have a honest chat with an employment lawyer and ask about some of these “requirements”. I think many would be suprised just how much control over hiring employers have. They can’t be openly discriminatory except in certain instances (for example, if I were auditioning for the role of Othello, a theatre company would be justified in not hiring me for the role–I’m the wrong sex and the wrong color), and most can get away with discrimination (cite “good fit” or “not a good fit”)–most courts don’t want to get involved in telling employers how to run their business and especially not who to hire. The protections that are there for protected classes can easily be gotten around, and employers do this all the time. What I’ve found is that a lot of the “rules” are HR imposed, and I suspect, insure HR staff members’ job security (gives them something to do, which justifies their jobs and their time). And in the meantime, because fewer managers are talking to people, they’re relying on HR and on ATSes, which can’t hire but can only eliminate applicants. The current system isn’t working for anyone. Employers are howling about a “talent shortage”; candidates like Dave and me can’t get through the online application systems. Some employers are okay with me going around HR, while others have ceded all authority to HR. It is very discouraging. I’m glad to see that Zappos is starting to return to old-school recruiting; hopefully others will follow suit.

  35. @marybeth

    I would argue that if a company has an air tight/fair hiring process, that they don’t need salary and that they can give specific feedback without worry of being sued.

    (I think that not giving feedback after interviews also contributes to the so called “talent shortage”)

  36. @Dave:

    Very true. Focus on who can best do the job (regardless of race, sex, religion, ethnicity, etc.) and then you don’t have to worry about lawsuits because you’re already in compliance. And who doesn’t want the best person for job? (Sometimes I wonder….)

    I agree; feedback after interviews would be very helpful. This way, if there is some critical skill I’m lacking, the onus is on me to remedy the deficiency.

    I also think that many employers being unwilling to train new hires also contributes to the “talent shortage”. No one knows a job perfectly before they begin it, and even for new hires with experience, practices at the new employer may vary or even be very different from them at the old employer. If the promising candidate is lacking a couple of skills, why not hire the 80% candidate and, shocking thought, train him in the other 20%?

  37. @marybeth

    If you want feedback, the time to ask for it is in the interview during the part where the candidate can ask questions. If you wait until you get the ‘We picked someone else’ message, it’s too late. I once had 3 interviews with a large Fortune 500 company: HR rep, department manager and a meeting with the other 7 in the department. After getting the rejection e-mail, I e-mailed all 9 thanking them for interviewing me and asking for some feedback as that would help me in my future search. Of course, I got 0 responses. I should have asked in my interview with the manager something like ‘Do you have any concerns I need to address in order to be a top candidate?’ or ‘Is there anything else you need from to have a complete picture of my qualifications?’

    re lack of training: I have always wanted to ask a manager who is unwilling to train anybody what they did before they became a manager.

  38. @Chris Walker

    That is a very interesting idea… I’ll have to try it sometime ;-)

  39. @Chris W: What happens after rejection is indeed influenced by what you say in the interview. Employers don’t like to give feedback unless you “wire” them for it in advance.

    But you also say something that I’ve encountered again and again:

    “‘Do you have any concerns I need to address in order to be a top candidate?’ or ‘Is there anything else you need from to have a complete picture of my qualifications?'”

    The idea is certainly right, but virtually every career expert suggests this specific approach. I’m guessing interviewers see this as a throwaway now… They’re just such loaded statements, as if to suggest “You’d better tell me now how to win this job.” Again, I think the idea is right, but I think the expression is totally wrong. Get what I mean, or am I off base?

    I’ve got no suggestions right now for an alternative! Anybody…??

  40. Another take on the “tell me your salary” issue from an Austin recruiter. What do you all think about this?

    Is the new employer is going to determine your worth based on your past salary history?

  41. @chris:

    In my experience, even when I’ve asked for feedback DURING the interview (not afterwards) I can only count one employer who gave me feedback. And I’ve couched the question exactly as you did “do you have any concerns I need to address in order to be a top candidate” and/or “is there anything else you need from me to have a complete picture of my qualifications”? The responses I’ve gotten have been “no, thank you, we have everything we need” or “if we think of anything, we’ll contact you”.

    Perhaps Nick is right–these questions have become euphemisms for “tell me what I need to do/say to get this job”. I don’t see it that way–when I ask for feedback, it is because I am genuinely interested in improving myself. If there is some skill that I’m missing, it would be nice to know if that was the deciding the factor (then I can fix it).

    Maybe the interviewers figure once they’ve made up their minds, they’re already “over” the candidates they’ve decided not hire, so there’s no point engaging with them any more. Maybe there’s really no quantifiable reason (e.g., lack of a particular skill, less experience, etc.) and they just found another candidate more “likeable” or a “better fit”. And that’s fine too. I’m an adult. If an interviewer told me that they liked someone else better, that’s fine. I’m not going to throw a tantrum or threaten to sue them. Fit is important too, but it is often harder, sometimes impossible, to quantify. Nick has written that job hunting is like dating, and this issue (feedback) is no different. Sometimes the couple just don’t click, despite everything looking like a good match at first or on the outside. And this goes back to Nick’s other point–you have to talk to people, get to know them. You will likely spend more time at work than at home, so you’d better like not only the job but your boss and your colleagues.

    @Diana O:

    Just read the article. Sheesh. Talk about circular logic. I wasn’t persuaded by writer’s reasons for requiring salary history. They require it because they require it because they require it. We’re here because we’re here because here because here. Any business can just as easily decide NOT to ask about salary history; Annie has decided to do just that, and not having previous salary history has not been an impediment to hiring good staff.

  42. @Diana O: Thanks for sharing that column from LinkedIn. I posted my comment. One word: Bunk.

    This is a headhunter playing a silly sales game. “It’s not me, it’s my client, and let me tell you, I’ll defend your right to get screwed right up til the end.”


  43. @marybeth: I think the reason behind employers not providing feedback is pretty simple (though there may be more reasons than this). It’s like ending a relationship. Most people just dump one another. No explanation. Who wants to explain that they don’t like you any more? Or that they found someone they like more? Explain? That’s awkward and painful.

    Of course, some people will end a relationship honestly and with some discussion. Hopefully they won’t create bigger problems by explaining. But they do their best. Some employers do this, too. But girlfriends, employers, and boyfriends usually would just rather move on without any explanations. “It’s just awkward.”

    The problem with employers is, this isn’t a personal relationship. It’s business. And they are judged for their behavior. Well, I guess boyfriends and girlfriends are, too, eh? :-)

  44. I was thinking about sales in another context recently, and now I see applications of it here regarding asking “where do I stand? What objections do you have?”

    I’ve heard 2 competing schools of thought regarding what defines “Sales Success”:
    1. A successful salesperson turns around MOST, and possibly ALL objections.
    2. A successful salesperson doesn’t waste his time trying to convert everybody so he can focus on truly interested buyers.

    I used to be a big believer in School #1. I thought to not turn around objections was to give up too easily.

    Yet nowadays School #2 seems more practical and realistic. There is something telling about who is really interested from the start. It’s almost intuitive.

    I used to always ask for feedback. Yet it got me nowhere. Some people believe they have to invent a fault, like the person who told me, “Not even God could score 5 out of 5 here.” Others don’t want to be impolite. Others fear litigation.

    And then what I’ve observed most is this — so few people get trained in hiring! The best salesperson became Sales Manager, and never takes a course on interviewing. They treat hiring like any casual conversation, especially today where there’s all this focus on fit.

    I’ve decided to take this approach. I don’t want them to think anything negative about me. We are all imperfect, yet I don’t want to raise even the slightest inkling of doubts, just like they don’t want me to think anything bad about their company.

    If they really want you, they’ll forgive anything. If they don’t, they may magnify the most minute thing (in private!) to justify themselves and supply a standard rejection.

    Using that School #2, if they didn’t want me for whatever reason, it liberates me to quickly find the ones who do. (And that applies to dating too!)

  45. Interesting points, Glenn.

    I was thinking the other day, I think the PC pendulum has swung the other way, companies are so scared of giving feedback (or feedback that is so general it is worthless) that you might still get some trouble makers threatening to sue because of it.

    Long story short – I had an interview and it seemed like most of the people working in the division are Indian. Did not get the job nor did I hear any feedback.

    I’m guessing I could probably get a lawyer to write a strongly worded letter saying that I didn’t get the job and was “racism” part of the decision. If it wasn’t, why didn’t I get the job specifically?

    I could see why I didn’t get it, but to some people, I could see them making an assumption that the company is racist even though they kept their mouths shut.