Sometimes, when you're in talks with a recruiter, you may reach a point where they say, "We can't proceed without getting your current salary." It's tough, because you might be excited about the company and you don't want to appear uncooperative, but at the same time, you might not feel comfortable sharing this information.
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As someone who has been on all three sides of the table (candidate, recruiter, hiring manager), I think an empathetic approach goes a long way here. You need not feel indignant or powerless. Keep your eyes on the prize – finding a great team to work with that compensates you well for your contributions.
The best thing is to figure out why they're asking you for this information. In fact, you can usually ask about this point-blank. Most good, relationship-focused recruiters will be happy to answer.
Here are some possible reasons why a recruiter might need your salary information:
1. Company Policy
Sometimes, companies require by policy that they have this information about every person in the interview process, and the recruiter may not have an option. You can ask if it's official company policy, and most recruiters won't lie. They'll be honest about the policy.
Sample response in this scenario: "I'd be happy to share that information as we get further along in the process. Is it official company policy to require this information?"
2. Computing an Offer / Making Sure They Can Afford You
Sometimes, this information is used to compute your future compensation offer. If a recruiter asks you this questions late in the process, it's a good sign.
However, giving up your current salary puts you in a disadvantageous negotiating position. Instead, volunteer your desired compensation range and see if that satisfies their requirements.
Sample response in this scenario: "I'm not comfortable sharing that information out of respect for my current employer, but I'm happy to share my expected compensation range, if that is what you're looking for."
If the recruiter asks you early in the process, they might be trying to figure out if the company can afford you. If the company can't afford you, why waste your and their time going through the whole interview process? This can happen at companies that compensate on the lower end of the market rate.
However, salary may not be your most important career factor. Making that clear might put your recruiter at ease.
Sample response in this scenario: "The opportunity to work with great people and on a great mission is part of what I view as compensation, and my contributions at my last company are different from my future contributions at a new company. So rest assured, I'll give fair consideration and be flexible on compensation if it's a great fit for both of us."
3. Quid Pro Quo
If the recruiter has already shared the comp range for the position with you, it's not unreasonable for them to ask for your current comp as a sort of quid pro quo.
Sample response in this scenario: "I'm happy to share my current salary information, but first, could you answer a few questions for me about how the company views compensation and the ranges for the position we're talking about?"
Using Your Salary to Your Advantage
You can use your current salary to your advantage when negotiating a future salary. For example, if the company makes you an offer of $90,000 and your current salary is $100,000, disclosing your current salary is a much better negotiation tactic than simply demanding more.
You Don't Have to Answer
Finally, if you still don't want to share your salary information, that's totally up to you. You should stand your ground.
Sample response in this scenario: "I'm sorry, but as a personal policy, I do not share my salary information with any potential employers unless I have an offer in hand. I remain very excited about and interested in joining the team. I hope that you can understand where I'm coming from."
Vinayak Ranade is the founder and CEO of Drafted, the first referral network that makes referral-based hiring fast, fun, and rewarding for everyone.