The Money Conversation: Why Honesty is the Best Policy

February 29, 2012

Awkward isn’t it? No one seems to know how much information they should divulge about their salary during the interview process. Opinions vary on this topic, ranging from remaining tight-lipped until you receive an offer, to overselling your current compensation, to divulging everything.



So, who’s right?

Every recruiter will tell you the same story of how they had a candidate who told them what they were presently earning and ended up not getting the job because they told the hiring manager something completely different.  Seems a little bit like dishonesty, doesn’t it?

Consistency during interviewing is of the utmost importance. If you tell a company’s recruiter that you are making $65k and then you tell the hiring manager you are making $75k, why would the company want to hire you?

I often hear candidates say, “I have no idea what I make, I guess ballpark around (insert salary).” Sorry, I don’t buy it. It’s not believable that you wouldn’t know how much money you earn annually — and that applies to those in sales who rely on a commission structure, too. It is your livelihood, so guess what, no company is going to believe that story.

It is also important to keep in mind that we do not live isolated lives and information is often at a hiring manager’s fingertips. With programs like PayScale and an ever-shrinking online world (thanks mostly to websites like LinkedIn), it is impossible to escape the truth. So, I suggest we all just tell it!

What do you have to lose by being honest about your salary? Realistically, nothing. It is not necessary to avoid the money question because it is understood that, if you are currently employed, you will be looking for an increase in pay. I don’t think any hiring manager would argue with that. You get into hot water, however, when you are not totally upfront. It just seems shady. I have heard this so many times when asked what the candidate’s current compensation is: “Why? What is this role paying?”

How can the hiring manger (or you for that matter) know if you are wasting each other’s time (which is exactly what you’re doing if your salary expectations don’t align)? When I interview candidates and they tell me their present salary, I let them know immediately whether or not we can offer them more. Wouldn’t you like to know upfront if the position is even a bump up?

The other issue that needs to be discussed when the money question arises is total compensation, versus base plus bonus or commission.

Most of the time candidates lump those two together and say,  “I make $90k.” In reality, they make $75k with bonus potential that can get them up to $90k. Now, as a hiring manager, I panic when I hear $90k, thinking the candidate is way out of the set price range. But when the candidate tells me that a $15k bonus is part of that $90k, I am suddenly relieved.  So, absolutely do tell the hiring manager about your bonus and total compensation, rather than selling the total package as your base salary. Otherwise, you will find yourself quickly disqualified.

Ultimately, the candidate that is upfront about present salary and salary expectations has a better chance of getting the offer in the end. Divulging your current salary information doesn’t mean you are surrendering control of negotiating power. It simply means that you’re giving the hiring manager a clear understanding of where you are at now, which will allow them to decide if they can financially satisfy you as an employee. Remember, when it comes to the money conversation, honestly is the best policy.

Senior Corporate Recruiter

<strong>Lindsey Gurian</strong> is the Senior Corporate Recruiter at <a href="">Acquia</a>. She was previously a Senior Talent Specialist at Sonian, responsible for recruiting initiatives at both the firm and its portfolio companies.