Who Should Reveal Salary Expectations First?

Last Updated May 14, 2010 8:00 AM EDT

I submitted a resume for a position at X company a few weeks ago. The posting for the job requested a resume, cover letter and a salary range; however, I simply sent an email with the resume and the cover letter with an explanation that I was happy to negotiate as I did not have anything in mind. I received a reply stating they were contacting me to request a salary range for the submission of the job they had advertised. I again, very politely, replied that I was more than happy to negotiate and that if they could send me a range and I would let them know if that would be satisfactory. I received yet another reply from the same person in a manner which could only be seen as impolite. The reply is as follows: "This is our third request that you provide us with a range for a salary. Unfortunately, if you are unable to furnish us with your salary expectations we ask that you please withdraw your application." Once I received this last email, I knew this company was not going to be a good fit for me, but I went to salary.com and found a salary range for that job title. I e-mailed them that. I received a reply later from such person stating that my salary range was outside what they could provide. I wanted to reply at this point as this bothered me...however I am not completely sure if I am correct about this matter. As a professional of Human Resources, what is your take on this? Should I go ahead and not reply to this last email? Any advice would be appreciated. I'm going to answer your last question first. Go ahead and reply but only say, "Thank you for taking the time to consider my application." Anything else may make you feel better, but it sure as heck won't help you find a new job.

At some point, everyone decided that when it comes to salaries, he who speaks first loses. So, we end up with people not being willing to disclose their current salary, companies demanding that they do so, and everybody lined up against each other in this big game of chicken instead of being honest about what expectations are.

It doesn't make sense for a company to waste a time interviewing candidates for a $50,000 a year job when the candidate will only accept the job if it pays $75,000. And the candidate doesn't want all that stress for a job they'd never accept. So, the logical thing to do is talk about it.

And who do I think should talk first? The company. I think the people you were dealing with were incompetent paper pushers who also sit around and whine about their lack of visibility in the company. I have no idea if you would have been willing to accept the salary they were willing to offer, but the reality is neither do they.

The recruiters are those that have a checklist of rules and heaven forbid you don't follow it. These are the same people that reject you if your resume goes two pages, you don't "show initiative" by calling, or any number of other rules that they've decided are deal breakers. These people will never staff a great company, because they don't know how to actually find the best employee. They know how to match things on a list.

You didn't have solid salary expectations (hence your foray into the internet), so you pulled a number out and presented it. They looked at their list and it didn't match, so out you go.

You are probably better off not working for such a company. For many people, there are a lot of things more important than salary. (For me, for instance, it's flexibility.) For some, they'll accept a lower salary for a better location, or better benefits, or a boss who isn't a raging idiot.

Companies are afraid to disclose salary information because they think candidates are idiots. If they say, "Our range is $45k-$65k" and then offer you $55k, they are sure you'll run screaming and demand the full $65k. Because, you know, no one outside of the secret Human Resources Compensation Department has ever heard of a salary range or of paying people based on their experience and what they'll bring to the table. Most grown ups can handle this information.

It's a shame these recruiters couldn't.

Photo by AMagil, Flickr cc 2.0

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