Inc.com columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues--everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.

A reader asks:

I work in HR and am somewhat new to the field. Part of my job is managing recruitment. When I receive a promising resume, I will email the candidate to arrange a phone interview. In that first email, I ask, "What are your salary expectations?" If the person replies, "I am looking for salary between $X-Y" but I know the position pays lower than that, I will advise the applicant that their expectations are higher than what the position pays and ask if they are still interested in the phone interview. Sometimes they are, sometimes they're not.

I have read your column and it seems many job-hunters are uncomfortable with revealing their salary expectations so soon in the recruitment process. So what is the best, most professional way to ask a candidate's salary expectations?

Green responds:

Rather than putting the burden on the candidate to tell you their salary expectations -- at a point where they know very little about the job or the details of the benefits -- why not just be straight with them and tell them the salary range you're planning to pay? After all, that's information you do have, as contrasted to their position of having really limited information at this stage. Say something like this: "I want to let you know that the salary for this position is $X-Y. If that works on your end, I'd like to set up a phone interview to talk more."

Too often employers operate as if candidates have one salary that they're seeking, regardless of the responsibilities and pressures of the job, the hours, or the benefits. But salary expectations should be significantly dependent on those things, and candidates aren't in a good position to throw out a salary number until they've had a chance to talk with you and get a much deeper understanding of those elements. By asking them to propose a number early on, before they have that information, you're denying them the ability to name a salary they'll actually be comfortable with -- which can result in unhappy employees who don't stick around long, feel valued, or put in the extra mile.

Increasingly, employers are recognizing that it's unfair to put the burden of coming up with a number on the candidate who has almost no context about the job, when the employer already knows what they're willing to pay and is just being coy about it. 

So just tell your candidates! "The salary range is $X. Does it make sense to keep talking?"

Even better, list the salary range in the job ad and let people self-select out from applying if it's not for them.

Want to submit a question of your own? Send it to alison@askamanager.org.

Published on: Feb 10, 2020
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.