Answer by Michael Wolfe, startup founder
People will rarely call you “difficult” because of what you say. It will more typically be because of how you say it. Are you sure you weren’t defensive or combative? I hope you didn’t say you “can’t” reveal your salary. You are only choosing not to. It would have been better to say that you’d prefer not to, explain why, then ask the recruiter to help you work around the problem you perceive it will cause.
Have an honest and frank discussion. You could have been very specific about the salary range you are targeting, then engage the recruiter to help you get it (remember the more you get paid, the more they get paid, if they are contingent).
Also, remember that most recruiters (especially contingent) are hired guns: they don’t represent the company well or have deep roots in the company. The hiring manager may not even know or like the recruiter, and the recruiter may be representing multiple companies at once. Don’t worry that you’ve burned bridges unless the recruiter is in house and seems to have a relationship with the hiring manager. Be professional and get her on your side, but don’t worry too much about her.
I also have to say that using terminology like “play ball” and “team player” makes me wonder how professional this recruiter is and whether she has much respect from the companies she works for. There are many good recruiters, and a qualified candidate has many options. If you are not comfortable with her, then jump.
Answer by Mary Carello, recruiter for Silicon Valley-based firm
When it comes to the topic of compensation, I can give you one rule: clear and simple. The less energy (and amount of words) devoted to talking about money, the better.
I’ve had this conversation with hundreds (if not thousands) of people. The people who walked away with the biggest salaries and stayed in the most positive light did this:
Never actually told me their salary. They let me know they did their research about the position and said what their expectations were for it, and left the door cracked open if the available salary was not in line with their numbers. An example: “My expectation is that this position will be paying around X amount, which, from my research, seems to be in line with industry standards for the role and is very close to my compensation now. If this is outside of what you or your client were thinking, I’m happy to have a conversation about it and regroup if it’s a good opportunity.”
Never said anything about their “target salary.” For some reason, it comes across as suspicious. It can be a giveaway that your pay now is far different than the number you just mentioned.
Never got into conversation about how/why they were underpaid if indeed they felt they were. This is like going down a rabbit hole; you’re bound to say something that comes off negatively. Less is more. Try not to open Pandora’s box – nobody needs to know you are underpaid or how undervalued you are or that your company is in financial trouble and recently asked you to take a pay cut. In fact, that’s often private information, which if you read your employment agreement documents, can violate non-disclosure agreements you signed when you accepted your job.