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How To Talk About Compensation Without Sounding Like A Jerk

Written by: Rikka Brandon
Published on: Dec 11, 2017

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How To Talk About Compensation Without Sounding Like A Jerk

Ahh, yes. That awkward money question that everyone’s wondering about but no one wants to ask. We all know that we’d never point blank ask someone we just met at a party – “So, what do you earn in a year?” Yet, as a recruiter, I ask that question many times a day.

So, let's talk compensation!

So, what does your compensation package look like at (current or last employer)?


So, where are you at now, in regards to compensation?

You might be surprised how natural it starts to feel after a few interviews.

Pro Tip: You may want to take notice that I don’t ask what they are looking for at this point. I am asking what their current reality is. Employment offers are based on where the candidate is currently and the new job’s responsibilities. Not, the 15% bump the candidate wants.

It’s best to ask this question after you’ve developed a rapport with your interviewee. I try to position this question in terms of “I want to make sure this is the right opportunity for you.” However, a lot of people are advised not to talk about money until the last possible second, so you might encounter a lot of well-meaning candidates being very evasive about their salary requirements.

If they won’t stop beating around the proverbial bush, I usually say something like, “Here’s the deal: if you want $200K and this is a $50K job, it’d be a lot better to find out now.” Because who can argue with that?

For the candidates who are determined to not talk money until the hiring manager has “fallen in love” with them, I have another approach.

I will just flat out say to them:

“I can understand your position, but my role is to determine if you are a good fit for the opportunity and that includes compensation expectations. This process can’t go any further without an expected compensation range. So, you can decide if you want to share this with me or if I should move on to a more forthcoming candidate.”

I have never had anyone decide to pull themselves out versus talk money with me. But this sort of behavior from an interviewee is often a red flag of a pain the neck candidate who’s going to always expect more, want more, etc. So you might want to prepare yourself for more of the same from them.

If you are the owner and you are the one doing the initial compensation question you can simply say

“I can understand your position, however, I am not interested in wasting your time or mine, so until we have an understanding of your expected compensation we won’t be able to do an interview.”

I highly doubt anyone would continue to withhold their compensation range with you at this time…but if they did consider it a gift and move on to a better candidate, they seem like a pain in the neck!

Pro Tip: If you think they may have enhanced their current compensation package you can always “call their bluff” by saying, “Ok, you said you were making $47,000 at XYZ company, part of our process is going to verify your employment history and compensation.  

Does $47,000 seem like the amount they will verify you were earning?” You will rarely do an employment check at their current employer when they are still employed there (which is how you could verify their compensation), but it does help you get a much clearer idea of what their compensation actually was, versus what they were hoping you'd believe it was.



Rikka Brandon is the author of the best-selling book Hire Power: Everything Entrepreneurs Need To Know To Hire Awesome People. She’s the creator of the Hire Power Program, an online program designed to help small businesses build a rock-solid recruiting strategy and stop settling when they hire. She’s the Founder of and  Building Gurus. Rikka is the go-to girl for growth-minded entrepreneurs and forward-thinking business leaders and is considered as the USA’s Top Hiring Expert for Small Businesses.