Playing a Game of Chicken Over Salary Expectations

I play this game everyday with candidates and it is exhausting to say the least. Thankfully, I am not the type of recruiter that won’t tell you what the salary range is – let’s face it. It’s a waste of my time and yours if the salary isn’t at the very least a close match.

I also think that you have to gauge your situation and who you are interviewing with. There are no hard and fast rules to finding a job/interviewing. Each situation is different. But in general, and especially if you are working with a recruiter, having a range and being willing to tell them is ok. If the company/recruiter isn’t willing to give you what range they have in mind then I would proceed with caution.  The article below has some great points in it, even if it is a bit harsh towards recruiters!

Who Should Reveal Salary Expectations First?

By Suzanne Lucas | May 14, 2010

I submitted a resume for a position at X company a few weeks ago. The posting for the job requested a resume, cover letter and a salary range; however, I simply sent an email with the resume and the cover letter with an explanation that I was happy to negotiate as I did not have anything in mind.

I received a reply stating they were contacting me to request a salary range for the submission of the job they had advertised.  I again, very politely, replied that I was more than happy to negotiate and that if they could send me a range and I would let them know if that would be satisfactory. I received yet another reply from the same person in a manner which could only be seen as impolite. The reply is as follows:  “This is our third request that you provide us with a range for a salary. Unfortunately, if you are unable to furnish us with your salary expectations we ask that you please withdraw your application.”

Once I received this last email, I knew this company was not going to be a good fit for me, but I went to and found a salary range for that job title.  I e-mailed them that.  I received a reply later from such person stating that my salary range was outside what they could provide. I wanted to reply at this point as this bothered me…however I am not completely sure if I am correct about this matter.

As a professional of Human Resources, what is your take on this? Should I go ahead and not reply to this last email? Any advice would be appreciated.

I’m going to answer your last question first.  Go ahead and reply but only say, “Thank you for taking the time to consider my application.”  Anything else may make you feel better, but it sure as heck won’t help you find a new job.

At some point, everyone decided that when it comes to salaries, he who speaks first loses.  So, we end up with people not being willing to disclose their current salary, companies demanding that they do so, and everybody lined up against each other in this big game of chicken instead of being honest about what expectations are.

It doesn’t make sense for a company to waste a time interviewing candidates for a $50,000 a year job when the candidate will only accept the job if it pays $75,000.  And the candidate doesn’t want all that stress for a job they’d never accept.  So, the logical thing to do is talk about it.

And who do I think should talk first?  The company.  I think the people you were dealing with were incompetent paper pushers who also sit around and whine about their lack of visibility in the company.  I have no idea if you would have been willing to accept the salary they were willing to offer, but the reality is neither do they.

The recruiters are those that have a checklist of rules and heaven forbid you don’t follow it.  These are the same people that reject you if your resume goes two pages, you don’t “show initiative” by calling, or any number of other rules that they’ve decided are deal breakers.  These people will never staff a great company, because they don’t know how to actually find the best employee.  They know how to match things on a list.

You didn’t have solid salary expectations (hence your foray into the internet), so you pulled a number out and presented it.  They looked at their list and it didn’t match, so out you go.

You are probably better off not working for such a company.  For many people, there are a lot of things more important than salary.  (For me, for instance, it’s flexibility.)  For some, they’ll accept a lower salary for a better location, or better benefits, or a boss who isn’t a raging idiot.

Companies are afraid to disclose salary information because they think candidates are idiots.  If they say, “Our range is $45k-$65k” and then offer you $55k, they are sure you’ll run screaming and demand the full $65k.  Because, you know, no one outside of the secret Human Resources Compensation Department has ever heard of a salary range or of paying people based on their experience and what they’ll bring to the table.  Most grown ups can handle this information.

It’s a shame these recruiters couldn’t.


Why Should I?

Why should you write your own resume?

Plain and simple: because it’s not you talking on that resume if you pay someone else to write it (or if you’ve convinced your nice recruiter friend to write it for you). And it’s quite obvious that you didn’t write it when you’re in an interview. Things just don’t match up – the level of experience documented on the resume doesn’t match what you say about your background.

The best example I have of this is when I was interviewing a candidate and I asked him to tell me about the projects he worked on from a previous employer. He leaned forward in his chair, looking at the resume I had in front of me, and asked “which company was that?” He honestly had no idea what was on his resume and this trend continued through the rest of the short-lived interview. (Nope. Didn’t hire him.)

I had another candidate on the phone, had a great conversation with him, he was personable, knowledgeable in his field, and in general a good fit for the role. Then he sent me his resume…

  1. It was aiming for an executive level look for someone who has worked in lab/engineering settings most of his career
  2. It was so busy with boxes and tabs and certification logos all over the place I didn’t even know where to start
  3. It had quotes from past managers on it (not the place to include accolades – save that for reference letters and LinkedIn)
  4. His actual experience was buried 4 pages deep (you know, the actual “meat” of a resume and what I’m looking for)
  5. Everything was in a different font, different size, and even different colors
In short, it was the most distracting resume I had ever seen. It also didn’t match up with the great conversation we just had. No way could I present this resume to a hiring manager! Luckily for him I had talked to him before seeing this mess so we still continued in the interview process – after he did some rewriting on his resume.
I’m not saying there aren’t some great resources out there to help you write a resume – even ones you have to pay for. What  I am saying is make sure you are taking responsibility for your own resume. It will sound like you and it will be genuine. Make friends with some recruiters that are in your industry and ask them to take a look at your resume – they are the ones with hands on experience – they see, everyday, what hiring managers are looking for in candidates and they have hundreds of examples. And then – added bonus – they usually have jobs or know of who is hiring and who to talk to.