HR wants my salary info
June 13, 2011 9:49 AM   Subscribe

Tell them my salary or politely decline? On Friday, I learned about a job opportunity though an ex-colleague who would be my new boss. This person told me they're eager to fill the position and asked what salary I'm looking for. I ducked the salary question and, at their urging, applied online yesterday. Today I get a one-sentence email from an HR rep asking my current salary. I know salary negotiation has been covered on AskMeFi before, but I haven't seen this particular variation. No interview has happened. Doesn't salary talk usually happen later on? I have no idea how much this position pays, benefits, etc.; it could be better or worse than my current gig. The prospective position is grant-funded with a City agency. (Side question: are grant-funded positions risky?)
posted by timnyc to Work & Money (32 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I would probably go with something to the effect of "With respect, my current salary is of not germane to the discussion at hand. Please make me an offer based on my experience and what you have budgeted for the position."

Tailor the above to the level of formality/informality you feel best given your relationship with the HR rep up to this point, but I'm one of those who strongly feel that as soon as you offer a number first, you've lost.
posted by namewithoutwords at 9:54 AM on June 13, 2011 [4 favorites]

If it's grant-funded they probably have a rock-hard salary ceiling and are trying to decide if interviewing you would waste everyone's time.
posted by restless_nomad at 9:55 AM on June 13, 2011 [7 favorites]

As a general rule, if you don't know whether or not you want the position, name an outrageous number. The HR rep opened the door to being a dick by drawing an explicit connection between your current salary and whatever number they're supposed to come up with to lure you away from your current gig.

However, since the hiring manager is an ex-colleague, I'd end run the HR rep and have a conversation with that person to flesh out a number. Then take that number (or that number x 1.1) to HR.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 9:59 AM on June 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

This person told me they're eager to fill the position and asked what salary I'm looking for. I ducked the salary question

It was probably in your interest to state up front what kind of salary you wanted, rather than ducking the question, leading to HR's question about your current salary.

Consult with the hiring manager, but what you want to do is get the subject back on the topic of what your salary expectations are.
posted by deanc at 10:01 AM on June 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

"Hi, thanks for your email. I'd like to learn more about the position/project and meet potential coworkers before discussing compensation."

Pad out to reduce curtness if necessary, based on your relationship with the HR rep.
posted by caek at 10:05 AM on June 13, 2011 [15 favorites]

It's certainly rude to ask someone their current salary. But, for purposes of negotiation, you can't refuse a response. Instead, respond with something appropriate that keeps them on track. Specifically, I'd consider a response that presents them with a range, such as the average salary range for the type of work you're considering. Tell them you'd give serious consideration to offers in the range. Make sure the low end of the range is not less than what you're earning now. Alternatively, take lunch with your friend, the hiring manager, and see if you can reach an agreement between you two that you can communicate to HR.

As for grants, I expect that money will become tighter as the economy continues to flounder. I'd be cautious, unless the rewards justify the risk.
posted by Hylas at 10:09 AM on June 13, 2011

I think the most appropriate response is to tell them that the salary you are looking for is strongly influenced by benefits, workload, responsibilities, and growth opportunities, and you are really looking forward to learning more about the company and how you fit in. That said, you are looking for a salary that is between X and X.
posted by 2legit2quit at 10:18 AM on June 13, 2011 [47 favorites]

My read is that your friend really really wants you, and wants to make a project budget that works around your needs (or realize that they don't have what it takes to make it happen). For instance, they probably have to publicly advertise the position, but since they want YOU, they are trying to decide if they should classify and advertise it as a Planner III position (standard salary range $50k-$62k) or a Planner IV position (standard range $63k-$75k) (totally fictional numbers).

You should ask them the risk question. Some very much so, some no. Grant funding isn't inherently more risky, but if they got a one-off grant to do a single project, are they committed to keeping it funded? Doing that fundraising (via grantwriting) may become part of your job.
posted by salvia at 10:20 AM on June 13, 2011

2legit2quit's advice is solid.

Also, I don't agree with the "you offer a number first, you've lost" advice. As a past hiring manager, I've watched countless potential employees systematically low-balled when they don't offer up their own number first. In the companies I've worked for, it's a sure sign that the employee doesn't know his or her own worth and/or doesn't have the confidence to ask for it.
posted by foggy out there now at 10:21 AM on June 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

The HR rep wants to know what salary you're looking for/what salary you're making for two reasons:

1) If you're looking for too much, better to pass now than to waste resources interviewing and etc;

2) "What you're making now" also answers this question (if the position pays less than your current take, why bother), and it gives the HR person a leg up during salary negotiations later (more info is always better than less).

I agree with deanc, above. Try to steer the discussion back to your -- honest -- salary expectations. "I currently earn $$$$. I expect to make $$$+$$ for the following reasons..."
posted by notyou at 10:21 AM on June 13, 2011

I saw a case once at a University where they had a hiring policy not to pay anyone more than 10% over their prior salary. This rule has all sorts of inherent problems, but possibly they have some strict budgetary limits for what they can pay. If so it seems incumbent on them to publish their salary range rather than asking you such a personal question up front.
posted by dgran at 10:22 AM on June 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

I don't think it's rude to ask the question. What they're asking is, "are we wasting our time, and perhaps yours, by continuing to interview even though the salary range is unacceptable for one of the parties?" Give them a range; no one's time should be wasted.
posted by Melismata at 10:23 AM on June 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

I would make it a little fuzzier and say something like "My current compensation package actually has a lot of variable bonuses that change quarter to quarter. Quoting you any single number would be a misrepresentation. What are you trying to understand?"

And it is never a "salary" it is a "compensation package". Bonuses, benefits, options, education plan, salary, other perks... All of it.

Don't let them corner you into a number.
posted by milqman at 10:24 AM on June 13, 2011 [9 favorites]

I don't think the question is rude or outrageous. Like restless nomad said, they may just want to make sure they aren't wasting time talking to you.

Just tell them your current salary. There will still be plenty of time to negotiate later if it turns out you want the job. You have more to lose than gain by coming across as a p.i.t.a. at this stage of the discussion.
posted by alms at 10:25 AM on June 13, 2011

I saw a case once at a University where they had a hiring policy not to pay anyone more than 10% over their prior salary.

My current company does this - you can't get more than 15% of what you already make. It's part of the reason I'm leaving.

You need to play the question the way 2legit2quit gave you the script. The HR people are not your friends. They're there to make sure that the company gets the candidate at the lowest possible number, and if you give them that information then they'll use it against you.
posted by winna at 10:29 AM on June 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I would consider going back to my pal, the hiring manager, for additional info. But I need to answer the HR person today soonest, right? This is also a test to see how professional and responsive I am, correct?
posted by timnyc at 10:29 AM on June 13, 2011

It's unprofessional not to reply at all. 2legit2quit has a great response above.

If the hiring manager already knows you, that may be short-circuting the need for a formal interview. They already know what they think about you and see no need for futher delay.

I would treat this as the salary negotiation part of a deal, with the potential for an offer fairly quickly afterwards.

Grants have hard caps on the salary allocation, true. They also typically have short timelines from award to fully-running. Your pal probably wants to do this as fast as possible.
posted by bonehead at 10:38 AM on June 13, 2011

I haven't job searched in so long that I am out of touch for the compensation question. You also asked about the riskiness of grant funding by cities. I would be cautious about this because there can be a large risk. Currently we are losing several city agency funded grants due to city government cutbacks. You need to investigate the financial health of the city, the agency and the industry. I am in healthcare in a city with revenue and budget balancing issues, and I would probably not leave a stable job for one that is grant funded right now. This could be totally different where you are though. (Today I am literally removing $1.0m of budget that we used to have for one grant).
posted by maxg94 at 10:41 AM on June 13, 2011

When interviewing on either side, I like the simple response: "I require no less than $XXX for a position with these responsibilities."

Jobs are different, responsibilities are different, and this sets the floor for negotiations. Your current salary is irrelevant, and none of their business. It is *always* used as an excuse to low-ball you.
posted by Invoke at 10:45 AM on June 13, 2011 [3 favorites]

Are you expecting some insane multiple of what you make now?

If not, then there is no reason not to provide current salary info. You can provide a 'total compensation' number, and don't lie about it, because background check if you get the job will show it, anyway.

If they use that as a basis for low-balling you, you have simple negotiating response of "Well, I'm currently employed, and there is no reason for me to leave my current job for a lateral move. I expect to get a raise of x%, plus the security of being in my job and having my vested time. So I would consider a minimum increase of y%."
posted by rich at 10:47 AM on June 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

Effective negotiation is about alternatives. If you're currently working for salary, that's one alternative to taking this new position. If you think this leaves some money on the table, your best strategy is to develop more alternatives, i.e. interviews at companies other than the one you work for and have applied with. Even if you don't have an offer in hand to compare with, you can point to sites like glassdoor with an implication of interviewing.

So I'd just tell them them something along the lines of 2legit's today, and if pressed for a number, ask what they'll do with it, and then give the truth. Then search crazy hard for alternative offers to negotiate by. In some sense, they're doing you a favor by trotting this out early.
posted by pwnguin at 10:48 AM on June 13, 2011

I would flat out state my salary and then say something like "but my overall compensation package is a bit hard to quantify based on the amount of benefits I am currently receiving. Either way, I am sure we can work out something around the fair market value for someone with my credentials and skill set"
posted by jasondigitized at 11:00 AM on June 13, 2011

What's worked for me is to state the number that I want (which I would consider a "win"), and say that the number is "flexible". It depends on the situation whether I'd be willing to take less, but it actually works in your favor if they have to negotiate you *down* from a compensation level.
posted by Citrus at 11:29 AM on June 13, 2011

Response by poster: Called my ex-colleague, the hiring manager and politely conveyed awkwardness of the situation. They reiterated that they want to hire soon and confirmed that the salary question is a standard check is to see if compensation is in the ballpark. What I should have done was asked, is $n ($10K salary range at my floor + 10K) in the range? Didn't think of this strategy until later. Instead I said, I'm currently making in the low Xs but I'm looking for a bump, is this feasible? Yes, they said, without hesitation. I might have just cheated myself out of at >$5K. Seems I'm being under-compensated. Left a voice message with HR. Haven't spoke with them yet.
posted by timnyc at 11:34 AM on June 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't buy the explanation that they're just trying to not waste everyone's time. The same outcome could be accomplished by HR offering a number first. They're definitely playing a game here, unfortunately. 2legit's answer is good. Also, is there anywhere to find average salaries for similar positions in your town? I know that in academics it's easy to find these numbers, which can be useful.
posted by monkeymadness at 11:40 AM on June 13, 2011 [4 favorites]

I hate being asked salary questions, either how much I'm currently earning or what I want for a given position. Tell me the range of the fucking job you're offering, if it's too low, I'll let you know or I won't apply. The response that it's so they won't waste everyone's time is ridiculous. You can not waste everyone's time by being transparent. Firms that obfuscate are ones that usually turn out to be dicks to work for. The example given above about limiting a salary to not more than 10% of current salary is an example. It's unfair and arbitrary. A person with more experience coming from a government job or non-profit may make less than someone with less experience coming from a large company. You shouldn't get less money on your new job because your last job didn't pay well.
posted by shoesietart at 12:12 PM on June 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

If your potential employer is large enough and you're lucky, might have first-hand salary information for the position.
posted by Dragonness at 12:16 PM on June 13, 2011

Perhaps you might say, "I'm seeking a minimum of $XYZ" instead of giving your current salary.
posted by thinkingwoman at 3:07 PM on June 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

The other thing you can do - if it's not a new position - is flip the question back to them and ask what salary the previous person in the job was earning. They hate it, but guess what, if they really actually want you, they'll make an offer.

Also, never ever state your true salary. Always take on at least 10k, maybe more.
posted by smoke at 5:04 PM on June 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think your response may not have been assertive enough unfortunately and yes, you may have doomed yourself there.

However not all hope is lost. At the end of the day, you haven't even interviewed. You have the potential to learn about what they are looking for, responsibilities, work load, benefits, etc. You will also be able to use that time to determine where you are in the experience range of what they are looking for.

If you feel you deserve more than the ultimately offer you, make the business case. If they want you bad enough, and have budget, they aren't going to pass just because they originally thought they could get you for the low end of what they can afford.
posted by Elminster24 at 6:52 PM on June 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Hmm, well, I think of things in the context of sincere engagement and insincere engagement. If the company was really, really concerned about wasting your time, they'd send you an email that says that this position has a salary classification range of $64,000-$89,000, and their hiring range is $64,000-75,000. Is that acceptable? And you'd say yes or no, and everybody would be clear.

Buuutttt, they didn't. They decided not to tip their hand, though they are the ones with the question. They didn't say why they wanted the information - even if the reason is one that says, they hire at a range no higher than 15% of current salary. Is that acceptable?And you'd say yes or no, and everybody would be clear.

Buuutttt, they didn't do this either. Instead, they did the "what is your current salary", without saying why they wanted it. I say this is an insincere engagement, and you can either be sincere and give a couple of the great responses above, or you can punt the response.

Eiither way, don't worry if you gave a number or not, because in the end, you can always tell them that you know you previously stated your range was x to y, but based on what you now understand about the responsibilities, your informed salary range is y to z.
posted by anitanita at 8:40 PM on June 13, 2011

"At my previous position, my salary was in the range of (x-3%) to (x+15%) [specifying an "even" range like 50-55, 70-80, etc.], but the benefits package was also a very attractive part of that position. I certainly wouldn't consider a position based exclusively on salary; I'm looking for the total fit."

Currently, my previous position was a contract job, where I lowered my rates in light of stock options. That gives me real strength in this sort of statement, but it can work for anyone..
posted by IAmBroom at 6:57 AM on June 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

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