That brings me to the last point: It can be acceptable to say that you are unable to reveal salary information due to privacy agreements you signed with your company. If you’re really backed up against the fence, you can revert to this but only if you can do so tactfully. As Michael Wolfe mentioned above, it isn’t what you say, it is how you say it. An example of what I wouldn’t mind hearing: “I’d like to partner with you to explore this opportunity, but as it relates to salary, I’m a little limited with what I can share due to the non-disclosure agreements I signed when I first joined my company. The payment and bonus structures at my company is considered by them to be private/inside information, and they have asked us to keep that confidential. I know that can be a bit difficult on your side, so the total number that I would be expecting is X amount. If that’s not possible for your client, we can have a conversation about what they were thinking, but that’s close to what I make now and what I would consider for the new position. Just let me know if that is not possible.”
On a positive note, it sounds like the recruiter you are working with is a permanent placement recruiter – she will get paid more if you get paid more, so it’s in both of your interests to get a good salary you are happy with.
Answer by Rob McClinton, executive manager
I’ve been on both sides of this question as a candidate and a hiring manager.
As a candidate, I answer with my target compensation by saying “My total target comp is X amount. If I’m pressed for the exact amount for my current position, I’ll answer with the knowledge that if I’m having the compensation conversation later things have obviously gone well. I can address any discrepancies between my target and their offer with a discussion of my value and ability to address their needs.
As a hiring manager I accept the total target comp answer without challenge. I respect if a candidate knows their number and can speak to what they’re seeking. I know there is padding and I know what I’m willing to pay. If we want to make it work, we’ll get there.
All of that said, I would coach any of my mentees to proceed with caution with any organization that places their value below their cost.
Answer by Erin Wilson, recruiter
As a recruiter, I ask every one of my candidates what their current compensation package includes. We cover exact base salary, benefit coverage, benefit contribution, bonus structure vs. actual bonus paid, vacation days, 401 K (matching or not and what level contribution, matching), whether or not you are able to work from home, and last but not least any other soft perks like free meals, onsite massages, commuter program, etc.
I feel it is important to have this information for a couple reasons. One, I hold myself accountable to knowing my candidates and truly understanding their current situation, as well as their current objective. As recruiters we understand everyone would like a raise when switching jobs, and as Michael Wolfe put it, the more you make the more we make as contingent recruiters. That said, each time I discuss compensation it is a new conversation including that company’s budget, the business need, candidate’s current salary, candidate’s salary expectation, the value a candidate proposes by joining the team, and how well the interviews themselves go.