I read an interesting discussion thread on Linkedin this morning (rare I know) regarding a recruiter who had just interviewed a candidate with one year’s experience. The candidate in question requested a c40% pay increase. They were working in a specialist area of digital marketing. The recruiter who posted the discussion made 2 main points:

  • The candidate was asking for a salary out of synch with the marketplace and was seeking a salary that was more representative of a candidate who had 3 plus years experience rather than 12months
  • The candidate was asking for a very significant jump in relation to their current salary. Rules of thumb say a 10% to 20% is likely in any job move – 40% is very high (it’s worth noting that this candidate was not underpaid at present)

This threw up a variety of entirely predictable responses:

  1. It should inappropriate/irrelevant to ask someone their current salary and compensation
  2. It is illegal in some states of the USA to ask someone’s current salary and compensation
  3. People should be paid for talent/ability, not experience
  4. A selection of angry passive aggressive comments putting the blame at the feet of the recruitment industry.

Let’s discuss each in turn:

1) It might be culturally awkward to discuss your earnings or compensation with your friends but discussing it during the recruitment process is entirely in context. Recruiters often have clients that ask for this information (almost all clients ask for this). Some will not accept applications without it so you as the candidate have the choice: refuse to answer and ask the recruiter to try and submit your salary anyway deciding that you don’t want to work for a company that demands this information or; you can just discuss it. Don’t get angry, don’t get offended it’s entirely appropriate to be asked but its also entirely appropriate to refuse to answer, good recruiters will know that.

2) It is indeed illegal in certain parts of the USA to ask this information but it isn’t in the UK. Until this question is banned then companies will continue to ask the question, recruiters will have to ask you. I feel it should be illegal as I do consider it irrelevant. I believe the question should be “what salary and compensation are you looking for” but until legislation is passed to make this illegal, companies have the right to ask: you have the right to refuse.

3) People should be paid on ability, not experience. If we asked a room full of people we would get near universal agreement with this statement the problem is this is not how the world works in practice.

Looking for top tier talent is the role of a good recruiter. By virtue of only looking for the best talent you are made aware of people that represent anomalies and as such, they are often paid an anomalous level to the marketplace. Professional sport is a very good guide for this statement. The best sports people on a team are paid the most money, the experience is often an irrelevance. There is a transparency to professional sports. The results are easy to quantify. This can be true of more everyday work environments: Investment bankers who make more for their companies money will get paid the largest bonuses, designers with a fantastic portfolio can evidence their talents, developers can demonstrate skill with code and again show portfolios of work. In many other areas, this is not the case. The reason we use years of experience is the reason companies often still ask for people with degrees. We are using these factors to streamline and filter the candidates we consider for each role.

It’s more important to me that we look at assessment. How do we assess talent both at recruitment stage and during their tenure as an employee and also a change in culture is required. We may have to adopt longer more in-depth methods of assessment, this will take time and resources and be more expensive. We must all be willing to participate in this process, candidates and clients alike and if we are not we will continue to suffer the same arbitrary methods of assessments and selection: years of experience and qualifications.

Candidates who are looking for salaries and compensation that are above market rate must demonstrate they are worth that additional investment. If you are engaged with a recruiter then take the time to explain why evidence why and then let that recruiter make your case without explanation you simply look greedy or delusional or both.

4) The recruitment industry is a dysfunctional model however it is sculpted not by the industry itself but the clients of the industry. If the clients unanimously decided that they would not ask for current salary information then recruiters would stop asking. If clients stopped asking for candidates with “X” numbers of years experience then recruiters would stop using this as a method of assessment. Buying behavior drives the recruitment industry as in any other industry unless client behavior changes either through a cultural shift or through legislation then the questions will continue to be asked