When we’re recruiting someone, we’re often asked the salary range for the position, but we never disclose it.  Candidates think that knowing the salary range will help them decide if an opportunity is worth pursuing.  In fact the opposite is true.   Whether you are above, below or in the middle of the salary range, talking about it just gets in the way.

Talking about salary up front is like specifying the requirements for your engagement ring on a first date – it gets in the way of the real priority – deciding if you should be in a relationship.

Our clients are small to midsize organizations, and our searches are often for one-of-a-kind, mission-critical positions.   So in that world, salary ranges are rarely set in stone, they are simply a budget guideline, a best guess.  Even formal salary surveys are only an approximation – you never really know the true market rate until you have interviewed at least 3 or 4 people who meet all the qualifications for the job.

As a search firm, finding perfect candidates is our priority, and perfect candidates are not always within the target salary range.  To rule out great people before talking with them – based on salary alone – would be a disservice to our clients.  We’ve often seen clients pay above their target salary range to attract someone with unique skills.  In the long run, hiring and retaining high performers is the only thing that matters.  And talking about salary too early in the hiring process prizes budget conformity over job performance.  (Full disclosure, we operate on a pre-arranged flat fee basis, so this is not a self-serving argument to raise our search fees – we’re paid the same regardless of final salary).

OK, so we’ve discussed the problem with people who are ABOVE  the stated salary range, but what about people who have a salary BELOW the target range.  That’s just as big a problem.

What happens when I tell a relatively junior candidate who is currently earning $90k that this position has a target salary range of $100k – $125k?     They proceed to ignore all the other variables that go into deciding if this is the right job, they ignore all the factors the employer uses to set a salary and they lock in on the size of the engagment ring salary range, like it’s the only thing that matters.  Big mistake.  The candidate thinks “If they really like me, they will pay me at the top of the range …  at least $120k.”   Without ever discussing whether $120k is realistic, given their actual skills, they begin to fantasize about how to spend the extra thirty grand.

But salaries are not determined by the target range, they are determined by market rate – what other people with similar skills are earning.   The candidate never knows who they are competing with for the job.  Our $90k junior candidate does not know about:

  • The industry guru who currently earns $130k but would happily accept $125K for a better commute.
  • The strong senior person who could hit the ground running (with no training and little supervision) and would happily accept the job at $115k
  • The even more junior person who is earning $85k but is hungry to prove themselves and would be thrilled with a salary of $90k.

If I share a salary range up front, and then later offer my $90k candidate the job – at a very reasonable $105K, with tons of room for future salary growth – they feel like they just took a $15k pay CUT (from their fantasy $120k) instead of receiving a $15K pay RAISE from their actual $90k salary.  Instead of being happy, they are disappointed, and the employment relationship is poisoned before it even started.

Yeah, you can ask all you want, but we’re not sharing that salary range with anyone.