John Borrowman, CPC
Borrowman Baker LLC
This is the article in every issue that let’s you have a private discussion with someone in HR about how things really work. In the previous issue, we explored some of those nagging questions about breaking through to Partner.
Today we reach out to the Human Resources Director of a CPA firm in the Southwest with responsibility for staffing the BV/LS group. The confidentiality of our interviewee is important to the candor of the answers you will read. Send in your questions for our rotating panel of experts.
Every once in a while, we’ll encounter a candidate who doesn’t want to reveal current base salary From your point of view, what kind of a signal does it send when the candidate does this?
A couple of things come to mind. Maybe it`s been a long time since they have searched for a job and they`re not as up on the way recruiting is happening these days. Secondly, as a recruiter I’ll wonder if this potential relationship is going to be set up on honesty. Of course, you can turn the tables and say, “Well, I`m going to ask the company what they`re going to pay.” The problem with that, frankly, is not so much that we’re sidestepping building a trusting relationship, but that we allow latitude based on individual experiences and skill sets and our level of need for them. Also there`s a level of confidentiality and protection required both for current employees and company information. We would not have a business need to share it at that point.
As a practical matter, if this person is so off the mark with us in our general compensation framework, it doesn`t make sense for either of us to invest more time. A company`s resources and people, my time or a hiring manager’s time on the phone or flying someone in for on-site interviews and a few days in the community all equate to a financial investment. We simply can`t afford to make financial investments where there is no return.
So, what do you think candidates misunderstand that leads them to go down that road at all?
It could be that they feel they will undercut themselves if they give up the salary information now, because they might feel they`re taking away their negotiating stance.
And are they?
I haven’t experienced that. Frankly, if somebody tells me their current salary or their salary expectations, then I know if I`m in the same ballpark as they are or not. I might be able to live with someone saying what their expectations are without saying their actual salary in the first conversation. But, they need to be prepared to tell me their current total compensation – base salary, bonus, and other financial arrangements – in the second conversation.
We may want to motivate someone to join our organization. Offering a salary increase is one way to do that. Knowing what their base is can help us provide that incentive. If we don`t know what their base is and they just give us a salary range, then I can`t promise where we`re going to come out. It’s important that they`re honest with us from the beginning in saying “This is my base” and telling me what the issues are with that base. If they say, “Look, this is my base; however, I haven`t had a raise in two years because the company has not been profitable. In the meantime, I`ve still received ratings of five out of five in the last two evaluations.” Then, that tells me a story. But, if they don`t share that information with me, then how can I meet their needs?
Without salary information there’s no way to calibrate the offer. If candidates keep compensation information to themselves, it doesn`t help us develop a positive relationship during the selection process. So, we`re probably not going to be as inclined to want to move forward with them. It will likely stop us dead in our tracks. If you`re honest with me as a candidate to tell me what the story is around your salary, great, we can move forward.
Look at it this way: You`re going to end up getting an offer letter with some figures in it. We would prefer that that offer be just what you`re looking for the first time.
What do you suggest for candidates for approaching this money issue?
First, setting salary aside for a moment, make sure you learn about the company, the location, and your best estimate of how you might fit in the company based on your research. Focus on that first. It`s a big turnoff when the first statement out of a candidate`s mouth is about salary. Sometimes, a position can be created for a candidate who brings something that the company wants and needs. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot right away. Also, what if I need you for a position six months down the road? Let me get to know you a little bit.
Once you’ve gotten to know the company, you`re in a better position to say, “I`m very interested in your organization. It sounds like the type of opportunity that would be a fit for me. Would now be the appropriate time for us to have a brief discussion about salary expectations or opportunities?” That might be a way to lead into it in a conversation without making the recruiter feel that the most important thing to you is money. Discussing salary in isolation is not a plus on the candidate side. At the appropriate time, on the other hand, you can tell an interviewer that “This sounds like a real opportunity and I have a real interest. Would it be possible for us to talk a little about salary so I can know whether this might be a realistic opportunity for me? I`m more than willing to share with you what my current situation is, if you`re willing to hear that at this time.”
That`s a much more polite and positive way to handle the conversation. The candidate should have some knowledge of what the going rates are, the salary ranges in their field or specific roles in that geographic area. Some of this research you do as you progress through the selection process. Still it is helpful to have some background information so you have reasonable expectations.