www.asktheheadhunter.com | March 17, 2009
Go to Ask The Headhunter web site

the insider's edge on job search & hiring™

HR's salary moxie


If I worked in Human Resources, I'd be ashamed of some of my peers and I'd be looking to bury them before they destroyed my profession. There are lots of smart, solid HR folks who work hard to maintain high standards in recruiting and hiring. They are progressive and focused on making their companies successful. But the bureaucrats in HR are killing HR's credibility -- and that of the companies they work for. The submission below from an HR worker certainly does not indict all HR workers. Nonetheless it reveals a serious problem in the field.

An HR worker complains
Dear Nick,

I have read your column frequently and am so dismayed that someone pays you to hand out this kind of information -- in this instance with potential harm to a lesser-skilled candidate in need of a job. [See Keep Your Salary Under Wraps.]

It's safe for you as a critic to have an opinion about why an employer may or may not have justification for requiring salary history -- but if you're giving out advice, tell the candidate how to handle the tricky situation -- not how wrong the recruiter is -- because he/she really isn't.

Get your own
Ask The Headhunter Newsletter

It's weekly, it's free & it's
only available via e-mail.

This newsletter is normally available only via e-mail. Editions are not archived (except rarely, like this one)!

Want a dose of The Headhunter's edgy advice every week?

Sign up for the free Ask The Headhunter Newsletter!

-- Nick

 This week
in The Blog

Can HR explain why we should divulge our salary history?

Many readers emphatically refuse tell their salary to a prospective employer. HR argues that it's necessary information. Okay, HR, tell us why?

Why you should tell me your salary.

-- Nick    

Also, legal, illegal, schmillegal, what happens behind the closed doors of the recruiter's office stays there and if a requirement on the application is salary history and you leave it off -- there will be no interview for you.

I've been a VP of HR, a recruiter, a labor negotiator and a candidate, so I know from which I speak.

A good and thorough recruiter knows very well that if you employ a candidate at a substantially lesser salary than they earned, especially in a similar position, you are very likely wasting the company's money and your time because the candidate is looking for a quick fix to unemployment while applying for higher paying jobs while they work for you. That is, of course, unless you've mapped out a rapid route for them to increase responsibilities and pay to a level they were at in the past. Someone else has already set the money standard that tells the candidate what they are worth -- you're merely a stop-gap and you have every right to know that before you hire them. Nice-looking people have been known to lie through their teeth to maintain their standard of living -- like being able to afford food.

Some employers want the information because they believe that if you made $30,000 in your last job for a like position which for them starts at $50,000, they'd be overpaying and want the opportunity to buy you for $35,000 to start. The HR person who does that gets many kudos for their shopping moxie from their boss and gets to keep their job and go on many more shopping trips.

Your best advice to a candidate caught in the no-win situation of having the hiring manager ask bluntly, "What is your present salary?" or the all-too-intimidating, "What will it take to get you to come to work for us?" -- you could suggest a response like this one that also opens the door for a very tricky question you were afraid to ask. The candidate should say to the employer:

"What's more important is the value of the position to you. This is a great company so I'm sure you have a fair salary range already established for the job and as long as I fit into that range accounting for my experience, I will be happy. By the way, what is the range you've assigned to it?"

The employer probably won't tell you the range, but will see you as confident, diplomatic, smart and perhaps his future right-hand.

I wish you well, Nick. 

Nick's Reply
Thanks for all the evidence anyone needs to justify withholding their salary information. I have no response to you. But I'd like to offer some comments to job hunters.

1. This is a clear example of a personnel jockey who would tell you there's no interview if you withhold your salary. This saves you the agony of working for a company that wants to take advantage of you.

2. "...legal, illegal, schmillegal, what happens behind the closed doors of the recruiter's office stays there..." This is the heart of the matter. It's a tacit admission that in some companies the law is locked out of the hiring process. "...if a requirement on the application is salary history and you leave it off -- there will be no interview for you." Show me the law that says a job applicant is required to divulge their private salary history. By implying that behind those doors HR is the law, this personnel jockey reveals no qualms about threatening job candidates.

3. Not all HR folks depend on your salary history to judge you. But some do. "Someone else has already set the money standard that tells the candidate what they are worth..." Consider the abject failure of the HR person who trusts some other company's judgment of you as it's reflected in the salary you were paid. If I were the chairman of the board employing that personnel representative, she'd be fired. Consider what she's doing. If our company is recruiting someone from a competitor, she's judging that candidate based on our competitor's assessment. If we can't judge for ourselves, where is our competitive edge? (And what if our competitor made a mistake?)

4. The real corruption of HR practices is revealed here: "...and you [HR] have every right to know [the applicant's previous salary] before you hire them." No, HR does not have that right. HR may have the right to show you the door if you don't comply, but HR does not have the right to your private information. When candidates realize they can walk away from an unreasonable interviewer, they often do. Not all candidates are so bold or fearless, but the choice is theirs to make.

5. The arrogance of some in HR becomes clear, too. "Nice looking people... lie through their teeth... to afford food..." That's a great way to characterize the next candidate who walks in. It's emblematic of the dismissive attitude that candidates face when they apply for a job and when they negotiate a job offer. But judging from comments on the Ask The Headhunter Blog, many job hunters are walking away from such nonsense.

6. So is this merely an HR problem? I think not. It's a problem in the board room. "The HR person who does that gets many kudos for their shopping moxie from their boss..." for paying a sucker less than the job is worth just because the last employer did the same. I know that many HR professionals will be appalled by the statements this particular HR person makes. But I believe this practice is prevalent enough that it's a problem.

But the capper is right here:

7. The job candidate is supposed to say, "This is a great company so I'm sure you have a fair salary range already established for the job..." Based on everything this crank has already told us, we know that the "fair salary range" is irrelevant. What matters is the applicant's previous salary. Even if the salary for the job is $50K, our HR friend is going to score points with her boss by suckering the candidate. The offer will be for $35K because the candidate was making only $30K. Welcome to the workhouse.

Does anyone wonder why my readers don't trust employers with their salary history? "The hiring manager probably won't tell you the range, but will see you as..." a sucker he can underpay. All I see in this HR person's statements is danger for the job hunter.

This kind of HR policy is why I publish Ask The Headhunter. While salary history can be discussed when and if an applicant feels comfortable doing it (it's not inadvisable in every circumstance), something big is wrong when a Goliath of a company intimidates the little job applicant and threatens that David will never see a job if David doesn't surrender his private information. It almost doesn't matter that many or even most HR operations don't behave this way. Enough do that the problem is endemic: People generally believe they have no choice when the demand is made, and that they will be ejected if they refuse even politely.

The HR profession has some housecleaning to do. I urge those practitioners with integrity to remove the salary history question from job applications and to stop defending this practice on any level.

It's time for responsible employers to rid themselves of representatives who abuse their roles and threaten not only the privacy of job applicants but the reputations of their companies. It's time for HR to judge candidates on their abilities, not on their salary, and to stop limiting job offers because "The HR person who does that gets many kudos for their shopping moxie from their boss."

Moxie indeed. What executive-level manager would brag about giving job applicants the shaft and then suggest that I should teach them to take it?

Nick Corcodilos
Ask The Headhunter®

Related articles:

Taking a Salary Cut to Change Careers

Who's telling your salary?

Go pound salt

 Got a job-hunting friend?
Click for book information
Give the gift that helps.


Ask The Headhunter:
Reinventing the interview to win the job

"Your book is simple to read and comprehend, but extremely profound in its wisdom. I recommend it to anyone who states they are unhappy with their current career. After a year of preparing myself, I was able to not only change jobs, but change careers. I followed your instructions. I made contact with those in the business I wanted to go in, found out about what tasks needed to be completed and demonstrated I could complete those tasks the way the employer wanted. Thanks again, Nick! Your book and philosophy are life-changing!"
Andre V. Harris


Learn more
An uncommonly intelligent way to research the companies you think you want to work for. AKA, Scuttlebutt.

What is Ask The Headhunter?
Ask a question
Terms of Service
Who is this guy?


Readers' Comments

I'm a big fan of your approach for finding gigs and turning them into opportunities. Back in 2000, I found your advice especially helpful when I cashed out of a Fortune 200 post and spent the next 5 years as a successful independent "CIO for hire." I think what made this successful was your theme of figuring out what needed to be done, then explaining it effectively to the client. Then, of course, delivering solid results. Using this technique, most of my consulting engagements were extended or I was offered real jobs. It's been my pleasure to recommended you to many colleagues. Thanks Nick, and keep up the good work!

John Murray

Welcome to the Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, which you can expect to receive weekly in your mailbox.

Ask The Headhunter features are
now available for

Universal Press

Your readers need career help like never before. Sign up now! Give them the insider's edge on job hunting!

Does your organization have members who need great job hunting advice? Does your school want to give students and alumni an edge on their careers? Does your company want to keep job applicants "close" rather than pay to recruit them again later?

A custom edition of the Ask The Headhunter Newsletter will do it! 

Just ask how.

What is Ask The Headhunter?
Since starting ATH in 1995, I have answered over 15,000 questions about job hunting and hiring... click here to learn more!

Ask A Question
If you have a question, send it to me. I can't answer every question I receive, but each week I'll publish a Q&A that I think everyone will find helpful. (Don't worry; I won't publish your name if your question is selected. Please note that by submitting a question you agree to make it the property of North Bridge Group, Inc.)

Did you like something you read here? Did my advice bug you? Is there a general topic you'd like to see covered? Have an idea about how to improve this newsletter? Please let me know.

Thank you for subscribing!

Nick Corcodilos
Ask The Headhunter®


This newsletter is copyright-protected. Please see notice at bottom of newsletter. Copying, posting on newsgroups, re-distributing, re-printing, and re-publishing are prohibited. However, you can purchase a license to use this content legally.
Just ask.



Like this newsletter?

Don't miss the

Ask The Headhunter Blog!

Visit www.asktheheadhunter.com    Ask A Question    Feedback    Subscribe   Cancel/Change: See bottom of email

Copyright © 2009 North Bridge Group, Inc. All rights reserved. For personal use only. Re-printing, re-distribution, re-publication or re-dissemination, including posting to news groups, is expressly prohibited. Please ask friends to sign up for their own subscriptions at asktheheadhunter.com. Any mail or e-mail submitted becomes the property of North Bridge Group, Inc. Ask The Headhunter® and other titles are trademarks or registered trademarks of North Bridge Group, Inc. and Nick Corcodilos.

Terms of service & disclaimer. In brief: All information herein is offered as-is and without warranty of any kind.
Neither North Bridge Group, Inc., nor its employees nor contributors are responsible for any loss, injury, or damage, direct or consequential, resulting from your choosing to use any information presented here. Click for details.

This newsletter is not normally archived online. It's available only via e-mail.

Get your own subscription to the FREE weekly Ask The Headhunter e-mail newsletter!