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β€œWhat is your current salary?” is a red flag that you don’t want to work here

jmfayard profile image Jean-Michel Fayard πŸ‡«πŸ‡·πŸ‡©πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡¬πŸ‡§πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡ΈπŸ‡¨πŸ‡΄ ・Updated on ・6 min read

Asking for your current salary is not a legitimate question and should be treated as such.

πŸ™„ The dreaded salary question

Here is the context:

You are on the initial phone screen call with someone from human resources.

Since thirty minutes you are trying to explain succinctly what your life has been about in the last decade to a complete stranger.

Maybe you have been teased with tricky questions on how git works internally, and you have done your best to answer correctly.

You are starting to feel exhausted, but fortunately the call seems to come to an end.

Then suddenly the conversation moves to one last thing:

β€œAnd by the way, where are you right now in terms of salary, and what are your salary expectations if you make this move?”

You may feel the rush to address the second part of the question and skip the first part of the question, but don't. First realize that you are being asked an illegitimate question.

πŸ€” Why do some companies still ask this?

I spent too much time this year looking for a job. I would be happy to report that tech companies have gotten this, and don't ask for your current salary anymore.

Alas, it's still a current bad practice.

Why? Because it works.

A surprising number of people in this stressful situation will undercut themselves by answering the question.

But it's not a legitimate question.

Imagine you are on the other side of the job interview.

If Alice and Bob have similar skills and can do the same job bringing the same value to the company, why is it relevant how much they were paid before? It is not relevant at all.

What the question does is that it creates a powerful anchoring effect.

A candidate who gives this information away will typically ask for only a bit more than what she is currently getting.

The human resources dude will then have a big internal smile: the candidate's expected salary is below the range that was decided for that position. He will then happily give the candidate 3.000 dollars more than what the candidate asks for.

How generous?

No, it's not generous. It is actually the absolute bottom of the salary range that was decided beforehand for that position.

So there is a huge downside for you to reveal your current salary and no upside whatsoever.

So you have a simple rule to follow:

🚫 Never tell your current salary

Simple, right?

But if you can, I would challenge you to go one step further.

Asking for the current salary is a bad practice that needs to die.

And you can help it to die faster by pushing back on the question.

πŸ›‘ Consider it a red flag that you are being asked this question

Companies try to be consistent in their hiring process.

If you are being asked for your current salary, it's likely that others candidates are being tricked as well.

It's likely that if you were to discuss your salaries with your future colleagues at the water cooler - or at the coffee machine if you are in Europe - you will realize that some colleagues are wildly underpaid.

Does that sound like a good place to work?

Bonus point if the company pretends to care about gender equality in their marketing document about their supposed "values".

You know that their actual values is that they are happy to leverage the fact that female developers are being underpaid to... continue to underpay them.

πŸ’ͺ How to push back?

  • Recruiter: β€œAnd by the way, where are you right now in terms of salary, and what are your salary expectations if you make this move?”
  • You: You want to know my current salary?
  • You: ...
  • Recruiter: ....
  • You: Why is it relevant?
  • Recruiter: That’s part of our standard process, which is as follows…
  • You: Ah, I see. Thanks for the clarification. Look, I want to be transparent: If you were to make me an offer, it's unlikely I would accept it. Your company isn’t a great fit for me at this time. So I don't want to waste more of your time. But if you wind up brushing up on your interviewing process and making improvements, feel free to reach out to me again for consideration().*

And then: you leave.

(*) line stolen from Erik Dietrich's post on deploying guerilla tactics to combat stupid tech interviews

Does that sound radical to you?

Consider this:

A company has more incentive to be nice to you during the interview process that it will probably never have after. So if that's the way they treat you during the interview, how will they treat you after?

Don't take the risk to work with them.

❓ What about people who don't have a choice?

Some people don't have a choice of rejecting a company, no matter how bad their recruiting process is. What about them?

Well it's precisely because those people don't have a choice that I encourage you to push back against this bad practice if you do have a choice.

Companies try to be consistent in their hiring process, so if candidates who are high in demand start to push back against those practices, the good companies will change their rules, and everyone will benefit.

❓ Isn't that too confrontational?

It's not about being confrontational, it's about polarizing :

I want to spend more time with good companies, and less time with bad companies.

How can you tell at the start of the process that the company is probably not that great?
Well asking for the current salary is a signal as clear as a sign as it can get.
I mean either the question often works or it almost never works.
If it often works, lots of people are working there are underpaid, and that's not a good sign.
If it almost never works, then they are dumb for asking it, and that's not a good sign either.

❓ What if I don't have a choice?

You should still never reveal your current salary.

It's pretty straightforward: you say you are not comfortable sharing your current salary, and you move on.

Still keep in mind that it's a red flag that the company ask you this. If you later have more opportunities, consider changing jobs.

❓ Isn't that common sense?

If it were so, no company would ask this question.

Maybe it's obvious to you who have years of experience in the industry.

But realize that we are in an industry who are is doubling every four or five years.

So there are lots of young inexperienced people who can fall in the trap!

πŸ‘‚ What do recruiters think of this practice?

Obviously, it depends on whether they are good or not-so-good recruiters.
Google What's your current salary? and you will find an insightful article from recruiter Susan P. Joyce:

Asking for your current salary is inappropriate because it is for a different job in a different environment. In addition, this question is illegal for an employer to ask in several locations (listed below).
(....)
If you are feeling brave (or annoyed), you may want to consider going on the offensive and asking them why the salary paid by a different employer is relevant to a company which pays employees fairly. This may end the opportunity quickly, however.
(...)
In a job search, this question is asked by two different people. From an external recruiter, it may be acceptable. From an internal recruiter OR any other employee of the employer, it is not acceptable.

Now, that looks like a recruiter whom you can trust. Thank you, Susan! I encourage you to read the whole thing here

😁 What's next?

I hope that this article was useful!

Next step: let's talk about how you can handle the ssalary expectation question!

Discussion (113)

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256hz profile image
Abe Dolinger

I respond to this question in two ways:

  1. "Oh, yeah, I was going to ask you, do you know the budget for the role?"
  2. "You guys know the market and are good at what you do, I trust you to make a great offer if you're interested."

I think coming out confrontationally isn't going to help you get where you want to go, and if you are interested in the company, it's wise to give them a chance to give you a good offer.

I also really liked the advice Lusen Mendel gave: always know your "happy number" - what you'd love to be making - and your "walk away number" - the minimum you'd accept. This saves you from last-minute internal grappling under pressure.

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jmfayard profile image
Jean-Michel Fayard πŸ‡«πŸ‡·πŸ‡©πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡¬πŸ‡§πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡ΈπŸ‡¨πŸ‡΄ Author

For sure, you need to know your happy number and your walk away number.

Do you need to tell them though?

I don't think so, what's the upside for you?

On "giving a second chance to the company", well let me ask this:

If you arrive at the job interview two hours late without warning them, do you think they will discard their first impression and give you a second chance?
Maybe this candidate is serious and it is just today that something happens.
My guess is that they will trust their first impression and say thanks, but no thanks.

I think you should come to the job interview with your own set of deal breakers and do the same.

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256hz profile image
Abe Dolinger

Nooo, I wouldn't tell them the numbers! Sorry, I meant, you should have them ready internally, for when they do make an offer. Then you know where it sits on your personal scale, and aren't trying to figure it out during the high-pressure, emotional period of After The Offer.

I agree, it's good to have dealbreakers, and if this is one of yours, I respect that. I think this trick still works for a lot of recruiters, and it's just another tool in the box for them. For me, I feel that if you don't let the tool do its job, but still allow the conversation to move forward, you can discourage its usage without stopping the conversation. Just my approach.

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mrsaeeddev profile image
Saeed Ahmad

Hey Jean
Thanks for writing on this topic.
But let me tell you about the situation of South Asian countries. Here even the top companies of the region ask for current salary and if you don't reveal it they will upfront back off. They see it as a criterion for evaluation of technical skills and think 'if this person is so good at their work, why he/she's working on a low salary'. So, it has happened to me as well. When industry leaders in a country follow such bad practices you are left with no choice.

What do you think about how can we deal with this?

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crimsonmed profile image
MΓ©dΓ©ric Burlet

Totally agree here in Singapore it is a normal basic question. It is asked for the simple reason that a company will want to offer more than your current salary as a normal rule of them ans standard in the industry.

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jmfayard profile image
Jean-Michel Fayard πŸ‡«πŸ‡·πŸ‡©πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡¬πŸ‡§πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡ΈπŸ‡¨πŸ‡΄ Author

I think almost every developer gets a higher salary when he moves jobs, this has nothing to do with asking for your current salary to anchor the salary negociation to the bottom of the range.

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crimsonmed profile image
MΓ©dΓ©ric Burlet

Not at all in europe I got many offers with smaller salaries but because its a big company then I should join them. And we ask this question at our company and we do not use it to anchor to the bottom of the range. I guess we just agree to disagree.

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jmfayard profile image
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xowap profile image
RΓ©my πŸ€–

Well, knowing the current salary of the person you're hiring tells you what kind of gap they're jumping to join you. It gives more meaning because you know if the person is considering lowering or expanding their salary.

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jmfayard profile image
Jean-Michel Fayard πŸ‡«πŸ‡·πŸ‡©πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡¬πŸ‡§πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡ΈπŸ‡¨πŸ‡΄ Author

I understand the upside from the employer to know that information, but what's the upside for the employee?

And frankly given the need for developers, I take it as a given that when you move after 2 users of experience+ or more that you will have a higher salary

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michaelandreuzza profile image
michael-andreuzza

Well, knowing the current salary of the person you're hiring tells you what kind of gap they're jumping to join you. It gives more meaning because you know if the person is considering lowering or expanding their salary.

Hey @remy , in what way is going to help you to know the gap? That has nothing to with either company...

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xowap profile image
RΓ©my πŸ€–

Well because the salary is part of the conversation. That's literally why you go to work. It should not be spoken of? How do you even know how to setup your salary grid if you don't ask what people want?

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jmfayard profile image
Jean-Michel Fayard πŸ‡«πŸ‡·πŸ‡©πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡¬πŸ‡§πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡ΈπŸ‡¨πŸ‡΄ Author

The salary expectation should be spoken of, of course.
On the other hand, I see no reason why good, skilled people who used to be underpaid should continue to be underpaid, just a bit less.
It's none of the companies's business.
The company should only care about how much value the candidate provides for what price.

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michaelandreuzza profile image
michael-andreuzza

You just answered your own question.

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michaelandreuzza profile image
michael-andreuzza

I second this.

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jmfayard profile image
Jean-Michel Fayard πŸ‡«πŸ‡·πŸ‡©πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡¬πŸ‡§πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡ΈπŸ‡¨πŸ‡΄ Author

Hello @mrsaeeddev
I have got some feedback from Erik Dietrich that could probably be useful for you:

That question used to be pretty standard fare, many years ago when I did job interviews. The way I always handled it was to understand that they didn't really have any specific means of verification of what you told them, especially if you talked about your "total compensation"

So I'd start with my salary, add in the last bonus I'd received times 1.25 (I mean, you have to assume this year's will be higher), the pro-rated salary rate for any weeks of vacation above 2, the 401K match amount, the total tuition reimbursement available to me, $1K for the free lunches usually provided, etc, etc, etc. I'd then answer that question with "my total comp was X"

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mdrijwan profile image
Md Rijwan Razzaq Matin

but then they'd question this after you have to provide them with your payslip which would take place after they've sent you the offer letter.

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jmfayard profile image
Jean-Michel Fayard πŸ‡«πŸ‡·πŸ‡©πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡¬πŸ‡§πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡ΈπŸ‡¨πŸ‡΄ Author

What? You have to provide them with your payslip in south Asia?
Didn't know that either and that is very weird to me.
Frankly at that point, I think the solution is that you should unionnize to defend your rights

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mdrijwan profile image
Md Rijwan Razzaq Matin

we do yeah! i guess to ensure them that we weren't lying about it before. it's ridiculous!

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dannymoerkerke profile image
Danny Moerkerke

Do not EVER give them a payslip. That is just ridiculous and is just to lower the offer. I know it happens in certain sectors here in the Netherlands as well but this is about as red as a red flag can get. You do NOT want to work for such a company.

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mrwensveen profile image
Matthijs Wensveen

I've never heard of this in the Netherlands, but that doesn't mean it doesn't happen. I lot of companies ask what you would like to earn (aka the happy number), and then proceed to offer you somewhat less. I always exaggerate even the happy number and then say that I'm open to any reasonable offer.

Negotiating is tricky business and a source of unfair gaps (possibly the gender gap, too).

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jmfayard profile image
Jean-Michel Fayard πŸ‡«πŸ‡·πŸ‡©πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡¬πŸ‡§πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡ΈπŸ‡¨πŸ‡΄ Author

Thanks for sharing, I didn't know this.

In Europe, I would say it's only the bottom 20-30% companies who do it, so the leverage to push back is pretty good.

If most company around you do it, of course it's harder to push back.

I don't really know what a candidate can do in such a context. Accept it and have your deal breakers somehwere else?

On the other hand, if I was a C-level executive in South Asia, I know what I would do: I would advertise that at my company, the recruiting process is free of this nonsense. You get a competitive edge and are doing Good at the same time, what's not to like?

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deca profile image
Deca

I can confirm that also in Italy most of the companies ask those kind of questions...and by the way, salaries here are 1/3 of those my Berlin friends πŸ˜’

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ildar10 profile image
Ildar Nazmeev

To be honest, from my personal feeling , most of the companies except FAANG ask this question in Germany

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jmfayard profile image
Jean-Michel Fayard πŸ‡«πŸ‡·πŸ‡©πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡¬πŸ‡§πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡ΈπŸ‡¨πŸ‡΄ Author

I don't know, I am myself in Berlin and the majority of companies didn't ask for my current salary.
A very famous fashion company did ask for it, but my friends recommended me before hand to not work there anyway, so it reinforced my conviction that asking for the current salary is a useful red flag.

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adsidera profile image
Anna Costalonga

oh good to know you are in Berlin, as well! Normally I am asked my salary expectations by third-party recruiters, and only a few times by companies directly. Do you think that it would make sense not to disclose salary expectations to recruiters as well?

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itsashleighhyo profile image
Ashleigh Roberts

As an external (3rd party) recruiter myself, I think it makes sense to disclose salary expectations to us because the motivation for asking the question is completely different. It helps us filter out which jobs to send to you and which jobs wouldn't be worth your time. And we're not going to try and lowball you as the higher the salary we're able to secure for you, the higher our commission is.

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jmfayard profile image
Jean-Michel Fayard πŸ‡«πŸ‡·πŸ‡©πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡¬πŸ‡§πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡ΈπŸ‡¨πŸ‡΄ Author

That's a good point, I also disclosed my salary expectations to external recruiters and it went well

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190245 profile image
Dave

I have to say, as an employer, you don't even get an interview unless you disclose how much you want to be paid. Doesn't matter if that's inside, under or over my budget.

During interview, I'll judge if you're worth it, and place you into "zones" within my budget scale for the role. HR then get to do the negotiation within the boundaries I've set.

I couldn't give a damn how much you're currently getting from someone else, even if it's an internal hire from another team.

Before anyone asks, yes, I talk to candidates that say they want more than my budget allows. Either they'll demonstrate their wishful thinking & I'll determine they're not worth that amount, or I'll make the case with my boss that we should blow the budget on an excellent candidate.

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jmfayard profile image
Jean-Michel Fayard πŸ‡«πŸ‡·πŸ‡©πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡¬πŸ‡§πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡ΈπŸ‡¨πŸ‡΄ Author

I couldn't give a damn how much you're currently getting from someone else, even if it's an internal hire from another team.

We don't disagree so far then :)

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mrwensveen profile image
Matthijs Wensveen

But why is the onus on the interviewee? You could easily turn this around and state the salary upfront, and negotiate on merit alone. Want better people? Advertise a higher salary. Easy.

To clarify: get the best person fitting the salary instead of the best/lowest salary fitting some person. Obviously you can't negotiate skills with a specific person (they either have a skill or don't). But you have to make sure the pool is big enough so don't be greedy if you want skillful people.

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190245 profile image
Dave

I think you miss the point.

Our job advert, for each level (junior/mid/senior) specifies the salary banding we operate within - so if a candidate thinks we're underpaying, they can save time & not apply.

I expect each candidate to specify how much they want to be paid (ideally within the banding, but if they are happy under it, fine, and if they want more, they'll have to justify it).

From there, during interview, I see:
a) if I want to hire them (team fit, job ability etc)
b) how much I think they're worth paying.

Lets say hypothetically, a junior role is 20-30k, a mid is 30-40k and a senior is 40-50k. I set "zones" of low/mid/high within those bandings, so I would expect to pay a "low junior" 20-23k, and a "high mid" 37-40k.

I've had a candidate apply for a junior role, stated expected salary was within my junior range. I interviewed them and it was obvious to me that they were misjudging their own ability, and we offered a "mid mid" (basically more than 10k over what was asked). I also threw that candidate a relocation package and a few extra perks. A few months after they accepted, I've also put them on a career/training plan to bump them through the senior payscale (potentially giving them another 15k rise over the next year/18months).

There's no reason I couldn't do that for an exceptional senior candidate either.

I'm not a fan of "race to the bottom" in salary/skills or anything else. But I also have to be realistic and work within financial projections up to 18months in the future, and when I want an exceptional candidate, blowing the budget comes at the cost of something else. Sadly, I haven't found the elusive money tree yet.

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mrwensveen profile image
Matthijs Wensveen

That sounds fair. That's a pretty good middle ground.
One last thing I want to add is that when the money question comes up I either go blank or panic. You probably have a lot of experience with that subject but for me it's terrifying.

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jmfayard profile image
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190245 profile image
Dave

It's funny, I've always hated negotiating my own salary and defaulted to a "make sure my bills are paid & keep me happy/interested."

Never be afraid of negotiating though - the worst that can happen is that they say "no."

Lets say you're negotiating salary with our HR - they offer, you ask for more, they say no. At that point, the offer is still on the table (and you choose if you want to accept it or not). HR will always make the offer first, which puts you in the position of power.

Conversely, I always hated going to my current boss and saying I should get a raise. One time I did that, and was told "the only way I can give you anything from the budget is if you threaten to leave." So I interviewed elsewhere, put it to my current employer, and they couldn't compete - so I left.

Know what you're worth, understand Imposter Syndrome (and if you can, beat it) and stick to your guns.

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pblitz profile image
Blitz

Hmm, interesting.
If I'm asking, I'm usually asking for a range that the person is looking for - and tbh that's what the question is about. I can also live with no info from the candidate, but it will make life a lot harder. In general, you always have a range for the role you're filling. If somebody is already above that range, it will make our discussion a lot harder. If they are below it, great. I'm pretty sure i'll get to hire that person, because I can offer her/him more money than they wanted in the first place.

If I'm being asked, I've usually said my current salary outright, and then my expected salary - which of course shows quite some privilege. But if you can pull that off, it work decently.

so TLDR: I'd agree that asking for the current salary is not the best form, but asking for the expected salary is a totally valid question.

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jmfayard profile image
Jean-Michel Fayard πŸ‡«πŸ‡·πŸ‡©πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡¬πŸ‡§πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡ΈπŸ‡¨πŸ‡΄ Author

The expected salary question is another question, I plan a second article on this :)

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ildar10 profile image
Ildar Nazmeev

So, that's why better if candidate asks for a range for position and decides if it is ok for him or not

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gwutama profile image
Galuh Utama

Here’s how I do it instead, which I think is more elegant.

Recruiter: so, you’re asking for xxx Euros per year for salary. May I know what’s your current salary?

Me: Well, my asking salary is around where my current salary is right now, adjusted to several factors such as roles, responsibilities, know-how and experiences that I can bring to the table.

The idea is to divert the question to your skill and what can you contribute to the company instead of discussing what your current compensation is.

If the recruiter still forces you for an answer, just politely say that you won’t discuss it. At this point usually I already lost interest in the company anyway.

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jmfayard profile image
Jean-Michel Fayard πŸ‡«πŸ‡·πŸ‡©πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡¬πŸ‡§πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡ΈπŸ‡¨πŸ‡΄ Author

If the recruiter still forces you for an answer, just politely say that you won’t discuss it. At this point usually I already lost interest in the company anyway.

This is also basically where my red line was one year ago.

Since then I moved my red line a bit further after realizing two things:

  • That it was useful to have a criteria to filter out companies early in the process, so that I can spend more time on the good companies. The hiring process is like the honeymoon of your working relationship. If the company acts in such a gross manner during the honeymoon, how will it act later?
  • That if a company asks me what my current salary was, it probably asked it for all the colleagues too. Which means that some colleagues will be underpaid, just because they are bad at negociating salary or they used to be underpaid. Typically the female colleagues. I would rather not have this.
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feichinger profile image
FJones

I agree insofar as it is indeed an illegitimate question designed to give them an idea of how low they can go.

However, there's two things worth noting:

  • if salary is your main driver for a new job, you should have key figures in mind anyhow - there'd be no point negotiating down against your previous salary if you already have an ideal and a lower bound in mind. In fact, you can precisely state that you aren't happy with your previous salary and that's why you want a significantly better offer.
  • if salary isn't your main driver, you can still negotiate a harsher increase. Why not? After all, you can argue your other reasons for choosing them over other offers.

Questions (and answers) about your prior salary are absolutely in poor taste, but I would refrain from making that a hard pass on the company. Instead, you can very much use that to your advantage in negotiating.

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recursivefaults profile image
Ryan Latta

Whoa, one of my articles was referenced! 😊

My typical response to the, "What is your salary" question is:

"I'm not prepared to discuss numbers yet, but if we each decide that we're a good fit, I'm sure we'll find something we are happy with."

As for external recruiters I take an extrely hard stance of telling them I will not disclose numbers with them at any point. The reason there is it is sometimes hard enough to negotiate as is, but nightmarishly hard when you have a middle-man like a recruiter.

Shameless plug I cover a lot of this in my book and first-ever class

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jmfayard profile image
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alexmartelli profile image
Alex Martelli

I see your points, and the ones made in the many comments. However... my problem with interviews in the last 15+ years (as I've been working as a high-performing, very senior engineer at Google) has been more or less the opposite! You may wonder why, being happy with my job and total comp, I'd be interviewing at all... I just want to know experientially how things stand, just in case I may be missing something even better, and to calibrate me (when I am a hiring manager rather than just a very senior IC) in terms of compensation budgets.

Anyway, I seem to pass maybe two thirds of the interviews I do (interesting in itself: it shows there's no single linear scale of "desirability to ANY employer", it varies case by case!) -- and then inevitably when I get an offer the total comp is simply ridiculous compared with what I'm making TODAY. (Obviously, since I'm happy where I am, I wouldn't even dream of moving without major improvement in total comp, +20% or more). This makes most of those interviews something of a waste of time -- not a total waste, I DO learn something anyway!, but mostly a waste.

So nowadays, when approached by a sourcer/head-hunter (which still happens very often), I mention FIRST THING the ballpark number of the total comp package I'm looking for, before I'll even consider changing employers (in addition to other constraints I just won't be flexible about, such as: I want to keep working close to where I live, in the heart of Silicon Valley; no commuting, no moving, not much traveling either) -- and usually never hear from them again, saving everybody time and effort!-)

Of course this is the viewpoint of a very senior, well-known engineer (I've written popular technical books, there's a Wikipedia entry about me, I'm in the top first-page of Stack Overflow responders by reputation, I enjoy a long tenure with a known-to-be-employee-cuddling star company, ...) -- I might have felt very differently, much earlier in my career!-)

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jmfayard profile image
Jean-Michel Fayard πŸ‡«πŸ‡·πŸ‡©πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡¬πŸ‡§πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡ΈπŸ‡¨πŸ‡΄ Author

Thanks for your insightful comment.
I feel, and you will probably agree, that there is a difference between you choosing to tell your current salary, and a company asking for it to a junior / mid-level candidate.

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alexmartelli profile image
Alex Martelli

You're right, it IS an important distinction!

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miso profile image
Michael

Why is it bad-practices to ask for the current salary? You also don't want to pay for something more than you have to. Recruiters and CEOs know that an employee gets a higher salary when he or she changes companies. But why should I spend more money on an employee than I have to? If I know how much the potential employee earns now, it can be a win-win situation and everybody is happy: The new employee gets more money than he got before and I as a recruiter/CEO don't have to pay too much.

IT employees, whether they are developers, project managers or administrators, already receive a very high salary and I am beginning to wonder if it can be so healthy for the future of IT when we are so overpaid for skills that can be learned in a year or two.

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Jean-Michel Fayard πŸ‡«πŸ‡·πŸ‡©πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡¬πŸ‡§πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡ΈπŸ‡¨πŸ‡΄ Author

Well yes as the recruiter/CEO you are free to try to underpay me, but then I'm free to think that you don't have my best interests in mind and move on to a better company.

If I know how much the potential employee earns now, it can be a win-win situation and everybody is happy: The new employee gets more money than he got before and I as a recruiter/CEO don't have to pay too much.

It's a win-win situation only for the recruiter/CEO who wins on two fronts:

  • on one hand he feels generous because he gave more than the employee
  • on the other hand he probably gave the absolute bottom of the range that was agreed on for that position.

For the employee, it's a loose-loose situation:

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miso profile image
Michael

It's funny that we are only underpaid and never overpaid. Sure I could get more money but I must also know for myself with how much money I am satisfied at first. As long as I get the money I am happy with myself, I cannot lose. Of course, when I learn that other colleagues with the same job as I do earn significantly more, then I immediately think I'm underpaid. But we should perhaps ask the question whether the others are not overpaid and are also not paid fairly. The only way to eliminate this problem is to introduce uniform payrolls for all employees, so that all transparently are paid according to pay grades.

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Jean-Michel Fayard πŸ‡«πŸ‡·πŸ‡©πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡¬πŸ‡§πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡ΈπŸ‡¨πŸ‡΄ Author

Sure, some people are overpaid, it's just that the topic of my blog is how to not be underpaid, because it's a more pressing topic IMHO.

I agree with your last sentence in salary transparency

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miso profile image
Michael

I know your topic differs, but you cannot divide the whole topic into small parts without looking at the big picture.

But to be clear: I totally agree with you to not tell them the current salary! But to tell them the amount of money you want + a buffer to be traded down to your desired salary <3

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Melissa Manousos

In many states here in the US it is now illegal for interviewers to ask this question. This change is especially great for people who are career changers who may not be making even close to what developers earn. It’s also good for women and other folks who are underrepresented in tech who are routinely underpaid. If any of those people have their next salary based on their previous salary it will only perpetuate the problem.
Anecdotally, I fall into both categories I just outlined and my last full time role (before I started working in tech) paid half of what I am making now!

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Jean-Michel Fayard πŸ‡«πŸ‡·πŸ‡©πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡¬πŸ‡§πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡ΈπŸ‡¨πŸ‡΄ Author

Hey @mmanousos , It's awesome that you are finally getting a fair salary!

About laws: I'm happy that there are laws that will help companies think twice about asking this kind of question.

On the other hand, let's be honest. If some company do ask you an illegal question, and your answer "this question is illegal", then what follows is that the odds that you are getting the job at the company is 0%.

So you might as well leave the room in disgust like I suggest.

So the law itself is not a complete remedy, bad recruiting practices are best fought at the same time from above (the law) and below (us being assertive about what we don't like).

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Melissa Manousos

My recommendation would not be to answer "that's illegal". Instead I'd encourage interviewees armed with this information about the illegality of the question to be confident dodging it or flat out declining to answer. Countering with "I am looking for something in [x] range for my next role" or, even better "Can you tell me about the salary range you have budgeted for this role?" The onus of providing salary information is on the hiring party, not the person applying for the position.

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Jean-Michel Fayard πŸ‡«πŸ‡·πŸ‡©πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡¬πŸ‡§πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡ΈπŸ‡¨πŸ‡΄ Author

I removed this paragraph from the main article.
Please read them because they are good!
It's just that because they are broader than my point on "What's your current salary?", they distracted some of the readers

πŸ‘‚ What are others saying?

Here are what two popular articles from fullstackcafe and recursivefaults on DEV.to:

5 Secret Rules of Salary Negotiation
Rule 1: Never tell your current salary
Rule 2: Never tell the salary you want
Rule 3: Know your minimal acceptable salary
Rule 4: Someone who has money (employer) names the price first
Rule 5: Always keep your offer opened, don't burn all the bridges

So now let us break down the rules I follow in negotiating salary:
Rule 1: Don’t say a number
Rule 2: Be ready to walk away
Rule 3: Have stories
Rule 4: Don’t do it on the spot

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Nicolas de Mauroy

I was systematically asked this question (in Europe), and I typically answer openly.

I also answer openly about the salary gap I am expecting to consider a position in a new company and the criteria I will use to compare the offer of the company and my current salary. I would expect a higher salary if the cost of living is higher, and if my new job is in some way more demanding.

I also mention relevant average salaries I will use as a reference in the discussion, and good reasons why I may think my current salary is undervalued (in big companies, there may be general salary freezes depending on the situation).

So my advice: answer the question, and provide at this time other relevant elements.

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Jean-Michel Fayard πŸ‡«πŸ‡·πŸ‡©πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡¬πŸ‡§πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡ΈπŸ‡¨πŸ‡΄ Author

It sounds good to be "open", but would you suggest the same strategy to a female colleague who is currently paid 20% less than she should be?
If not, do you think a good company should ask this question?

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Nicolas de Mauroy

In any big human organization, the salary is dependent on skills and engagement for sure, but it is also dependent on the capacity to negotiate, promote ones work and also network.

There are a few exceptions on the jobs job output can be objectively measured, such as salesmen, but those jobs are the minority.

I am afraid a shy person who got a bad salary in his/her previous company will likely continue the trend in his/her next job, starting from the interview and up to the raise and promotion process inside the company.

I am not sure the question you do not like changes the problem significantly.

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Jean-Michel Fayard πŸ‡«πŸ‡·πŸ‡©πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡¬πŸ‡§πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡ΈπŸ‡¨πŸ‡΄ Author

Being cynical is one option, but I think there is at least some margin to self correct. I will try to propose a strategy for shy people in my next article

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openlowcode profile image
Nicolas de Mauroy

I did not intend to be cynical, but to suggest the problem is deeper than just the very question you highlight. Shy people may even prefer to have a salary on the low range.

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jmfayard profile image
Jean-Michel Fayard πŸ‡«πŸ‡·πŸ‡©πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡¬πŸ‡§πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡ΈπŸ‡¨πŸ‡΄ Author

I understand. The problem is indeed deeper, but you have to start somewhere :)

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Nadia G.

In Italy asking for the current and desired salary is a common practice, and I have never met a single company that does not.
Personally, I feel quite uncomfortable when I hear these two questions. I mean, we developers are constantly contacted by companies; very rarely do we actively seek work. So it's pretty dumb for me to answer these questions when it's the HR who contacted me first for the position. It's like they want to flip the cards by turning the conversation around as if I contacted them first and that by doing that interview with them they are doing me a favor.
So annoying.
Then they post on Linkedin how us devs are spoiled and unprofessional.

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Stephan B. R. Langenau

Thanks for this post. A lot of companies here in Germany ask so many inappropriate questions like this. I hate this, some good companies destroy their image for me because of these kind of questions.

Some examples I have been asked by companies:

  • How often were you sick last year?
  • Do you have any illnesses or disabilities?
  • What is your nationality?
  • Do you have children and are you planning to have more children?
  • ...

And the companies were not small or medium-sized companies, there were large international companies that I had to reject because of such questions.

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Jean-Michel Fayard πŸ‡«πŸ‡·πŸ‡©πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡¬πŸ‡§πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡ΈπŸ‡¨πŸ‡΄ Author

Thanks for rejecting those companies, you are helping bad recruiting practices to disappear.

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SIMON DODSON

this reads like your threatened by the question which may display inexperienc, this is actually a good question because it allows you to position them, respond by above industry rate, and performance based, one you are indicating your skill set is abnormal and you are use to being accommodated for that, two it shows confidence in that you know what you are talking about, three is pivots the conversation to, how do you currently reward high achievers. and also leans on , can you afford me, can you keep me, tell me more about you before i can answer that question

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Jean-Michel Fayard πŸ‡«πŸ‡·πŸ‡©πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡¬πŸ‡§πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡ΈπŸ‡¨πŸ‡΄ Author

It seems to me you are talking about the salary expectation question, while the blog is about the "What's your current salary?" question.

There is no relation with a developer skills/value she can brings, and whether or not she was underpaid before. Therefore the "what's your current salary question?" should be rejected as gross and irrelevant.

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SIMON DODSON

are you not positioning yourself negatively tho by not displaying the ability to answer that question?

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SIMON DODSON

youre quite passionate about the subject matter an its delivery, i cant wait...

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Mia

Why not just lie? They’re not going to be checking your bank statements and you can exploit the fact they’re trying to underpay you. Make them think they’re getting a good deal when actually you’re getting a large salary boost.

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Jean-Michel Fayard πŸ‡«πŸ‡·πŸ‡©πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡¬πŸ‡§πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡ΈπŸ‡¨πŸ‡΄ Author

Let say you would start a romantic relationship, and the first thing that happened was that your future partner asks you a gross question and you lied your way out.

Does that sounds like a sound start to you?

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Mia

I think there’s a bit of a difference between a romantic relationship built on mutual trust and a corporation that pays you money in exchange for your labour.

If you want to try and play fair with a soulless corporate entity, that’s entirely your prerogative, but they’re clearly not trying to play fair in the first place, so you have no reason to be the bigger person.

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Jean-Michel Fayard πŸ‡«πŸ‡·πŸ‡©πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡¬πŸ‡§πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡ΈπŸ‡¨πŸ‡΄ Author

Well in fact you will probably spend more time with your boss than with your loved one, so the work relation is super important. And I don't want to be with people with whom you have to lie. So I don't agree with you, I think the work relationship should also be based on mutual respect and trust.

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lepidora profile image
Mia

Except I’m not dating my boss and my relationship with them isn’t going to be affected by whatever number I say to the HR person in the interview. You can live your life however you want, but your company isn’t your friend and your boss isn’t your partner. You don’t owe them anything.

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jmfayard profile image
Jean-Michel Fayard πŸ‡«πŸ‡·πŸ‡©πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡¬πŸ‡§πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡ΈπŸ‡¨πŸ‡΄ Author

Look it's simple,
I'm a good professional, at least I strive to be one
so I work with other good professionals,
not people who try the dirtiest simplest trick on you.

Also I'm super bad at lying,
it makes me stressed and visibly incomfortable,
so the strategy wouldn't work for me.

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Julien Bouvet

Nice article :)

When I switched job, I wasn't asked for my current salary, but how much i was expecting. If this doesn't send the bad signal that you mentioned (and the company work for is actually really nice), it does product the same effect of suggesting a number not so high compared to salary grids.
In such cases, it's good that you suggested what others says, that emphasizes this point.

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Phil Lembo

The salary expectation question deserves its own article, and I have no doubt you'll handle it expertly. As an old timer I've grown impatient with watching newer developers taken advantage of in this and too many other ways. A long time ago a critical mass of people in our field decided we wanted to be considered professionals rather than tradespeople. In many places tradespeople join together in trade unions to protect themselves. That's usually not the case with professionals. As a professional you're on your own. That means being educated on the market and looking out for your own interests during the hiring process is on you. It also means that there has to be a certain level of agreement among those in the profession, usually through professional associations (e.g. bar associations for lawyers), on minimum standards that as a profession won't be compromised. None of that's enforceable, of course, other than by good sense.

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scroung720

I do not agree with the advice of not saying a number. I believe that it is a good advice for people that is new in the industry. However, after some years in the industry I have classified the types of companies and their salaries. There are places where saying X amount will make them laugh because not even the manager that could be your boss earns that amount.

My recommendation will be:
1)Calculate the salary you need or want to earn.
2)Investigate if there are people earning that range in your country.
3)Compare your skill set with that kind of people. Compare your years of experiences.

That is your reference from there you can know how much you can earn.

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Jean-Michel Fayard πŸ‡«πŸ‡·πŸ‡©πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡¬πŸ‡§πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡ΈπŸ‡¨πŸ‡΄ Author

I plan a second blog post on the salary expectation question, which is a completly different beast.

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Gabriel

Hey, Jean great article thank u for that!
What about I have already told my salary in the first interview and decided to continue? Should I quit the hiring process in the middle or there's something I could say so they could make a fair offer?

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Jean-Michel Fayard πŸ‡«πŸ‡·πŸ‡©πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡¬πŸ‡§πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡ΈπŸ‡¨πŸ‡΄ Author

I can forward you an email from Josh Goody who cover recently this.
Send me and email jmfayard.dev/contact/

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Fawad

I guess we can safely conclude this article is applicable only to so-called first world. In Asian countries the situation is almost always desperate, population size and competition is SO TOUGH that candidates just don't get to have a "say" in things.

Plus, in many Asian countries culture plays a role, a "boss" is like a god most of the times, he bestows his "blessings" of "granting" you a job.

Yes, as you can imagine, I've been to both sides of isle in both places, so I can pretty much tell this article is good natured, just not for everyone, which Jean already mentioned.

Regards.

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Jean-Michel Fayard πŸ‡«πŸ‡·πŸ‡©πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡¬πŸ‡§πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡ΈπŸ‡¨πŸ‡΄ Author

It was the same in the so called first world not long ago

The only way things change is when a small group of motivated people start to organize, mobilize, unionize.

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fwd079 profile image
Fawad

Yeah that comes later, before that, economic situation needs to be at par with the Western civilisation, which it isn't at the moment, so poverty plays a huge role there, much bigger than here.

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raychenon profile image
raychenon
  • HR: What are your salary expectations ?
  • What is your maximum budget?
  • HR 😯
  • While we are at this. What are the last financial reports of the company? I want to be sure this company is a blue chip.
  • HR, CEO 😠 confidential.

Jokes aside πŸ˜ƒ.

I had the most fun with the companies who were transparent about their budget.
This initial question on salary is used to filter out candidates who are outside of the budget.
Imagine the candidate and company spend 5h interviewing each. The offer is 30% less than the candidate current job. Would she/he accept ? The question saves time for both if they know there will no match.

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Alexis Walravens

What advice could you give me for my situation ?

I work in a company (B) for a year now as a consultant (recruitment company (A)).
The contract between A & B ends in a month, B have the opportunity to hire me (at the end of this contract).

I deliberately did not go see B's HR to ask them about this potential hiring of me.
However they did contacted me last week about it.

I'm in a strong position as:
1) They contacted me about it and not me.
2) B is currently recruiting front-end developers (same position as me) because we have a too much work for the 4 of us currently.
3) They probably pay A (the recruitment company) a lot, and I even think it's higher than the salary I want

So they know my skills since I already work with them for a year as any other front-end dev working directly for them.

So I'm asking have you any advice to take advantage of this situation ?
Thanks

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Jean-Michel Fayard πŸ‡«πŸ‡·πŸ‡©πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡¬πŸ‡§πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡ΈπŸ‡¨πŸ‡΄ Author

Do the interviews with them.
Don't tell your salary expectations.
Ask them to make a written offer.
Then reply but email you want a bit more

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Alexis Walravens

Okay, thanks!

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fasani profile image
Michael Fasani

I just avoid the question in the following way. I say β€œYes, so I wouldn’t leave my current position for less than xxxx”. This gives them a rough idea of perhaps what I earn but also sets a clear message around what I expect without answering the exact question and without seeming confrontational.

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Jean-Michel Fayard πŸ‡«πŸ‡·πŸ‡©πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡¬πŸ‡§πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡ΈπŸ‡¨πŸ‡΄ Author

It's not about being confrontational, it's about polarizing :
I want to spend more time with good companies, and less time with bad companies.

How can you tell at the start of the process that the company is probably not that great?
Well asking for the current salary is a signal as clear as a sign as it can get.
I mean either the question often works or it almost never works.
If it often works, lots of people are working there are underpaid, and that's not a good sign.
If it almost never works, then they are dumb for asking it, and that's not a good sign either.

On the salary expectation question, here is how I handle it

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Michael Fasani

Unfortunately, I see it differently. I interview people and I also am interviewed from time to time when I change jobs. As a business, we have a budget and we need to know what a candidate expects.

We have several steps during our hiring process which can take several hours or days per candidate and in stage 1 we need to know what you might want in order to not waste your time and ours. If your expectation is 150k and we only have a budget of 100k perhaps us hiring you will not work. Perhaps we are looking for a mid-level engineer and the candidate applied anyway on a just in case chance that we offer a senior role, perhaps the company they work for already is a fortune 500 and we are a start-up.

A salary is often a pre-agreed budget and it's a waste of everyone's time if the expectation is way above the budget. This is just how business works. A company is not bad for asking what someone might expect early in the process. I agree you should not ask what they earn currently but you should ask what they want to continue the process and not waste time. If the candidate wants slightly more than my agreed budget I may still continue the process because yes sometimes there is an extra budget for the right person.

I recently changed jobs and I had many interviews and offers with a 50k variance in them (80k if we include share options). Some companies are small and some are big, some have low salaries and some high, this is just how it is. I was able to avoid many long and tedious interview processes by knowing early on that they did not have the budget for what I wanted and I avoided wasting their time and mine.

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Jean-Michel Fayard πŸ‡«πŸ‡·πŸ‡©πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡¬πŸ‡§πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡ΈπŸ‡¨πŸ‡΄ Author

I do agree that it makes sense
1) for the company to ask about expectations
2) for a candidate to disclose his expectations if he expects more than what lots of companies ask

My advice "just shut up about your expectations and be happily surprised" is for people who are likely to be underpaid
dev.to/jmfayard/what-is-your-salar...

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msk61 profile image
Mohammed El-Afifi

I even think that the question isn't acceptable from an external recruiter. My salary is my salary and no one has the right - whatsoever - to know it unless I willingly tell it to them. I once read a good article about addressing this question here linkedin.com/pulse/20140924132829-....

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Skyler

I was looking for a job 2 months ago, and a couple of recruiters did ask me this question (not all of them!).
They always were a bit taken aback I didn't answer. They usually responded saying "oh but it for the process blabla".
I don't think being confrontational about it would help. Sometimes the recruiter just accepted my answer and moved on - no worries there. :)

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jmfayard profile image
Jean-Michel Fayard πŸ‡«πŸ‡·πŸ‡©πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡¬πŸ‡§πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡ΈπŸ‡¨πŸ‡΄ Author

I understand your position, this was basically my approach one year ago.

But then I realized that if they try to trick me to underpaid, they probably do the same for all the colleagues too. So I am not satisfied with "it didn't work on me, so this is fine". I don't want to work in a company where my colleagues who do the same job are paid 10-30% less, just because they are bad at talking about money. Or maybe just because they are women.

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fluxthedev profile image
John

Very good. One comment though. I feel like companies do this to save money but also just because they could not know the exact amount. If you are following salary trends for certain skills in your local area and actively looking at job postings (even if you aren't looking) you would know roughly what you should be paid for certain skill sets. I usually start high no matter if they ask the question or not. ($5-10k more depending on skills and company benefits, which plays an important role in compensation) Its much easier to negotiate your desired pay from a higher point than a lower one :)

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Benjamin D Wakefield

I think this is generally good advice but isn't always true. Unfortunately it is almost impossible to tell before you are working at the company. I actually used that information to help get my preferred candidate more money. It also has to line up expectations with reality. Being on the other side we need something to work with and if your expectations are too out of line with what we can do -- there is nothing wrong with that -- but it is better to not waste time on it. I hate wasting someone's time if I know it isn't a good fit. I wish more folks could be honest about that without taking it in a negative light.

Technical Interviews are hard on both sides. Some people interview well and don't have the skills to match. Considering how in some states it can be challenging to fire someone -- I understand caution.

Absolutely know what you are worth -- but be honest with yourself and what your goals are. There are often times non-monetary benefits that could offset things.

A company asking this questions doesn't mean it is a bad place or there is ill-intent.

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Ashley Hoff

But, they will still ask for an expected salary. What if you totally low ball yourself? They are still going to have a wry smile as the offer you the bottom end of your range.

I suppose at some point in time you need to work out what you are worth. I have done the dance recently and was happy they offered me the salary I was on at my now previous employer - to me it was a fair wage and to me (here is the clincher), money isn't everything.

But, hey, maybe I am the sucker.....

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Matthijs Wensveen

Money isn't everything. Besides salary (and secondary remunerations like retirement benefits and insurance and stuff), things like work environment are even more important. Things that motivate you to deliver quality work.
If you ask me, recruiters should take the money question off the table as early as possible and try to get the best fit for the job. You don't pay a hundred bucks less for a crappy copy machine, then why do it with an even more important resource, your employees?

It's like the Joel test rule "Do you use the best tools money can buy?" but for people.

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SIMON DODSON

say its performance based, and ask for the ultimate limit they've budgeted for this position in their financials.

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JM Mariano

This is good. :)