Employers Yell: 'Show me the Money!'

There was an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal this week, "High Salaries Haunt Some Job Hunters." The upshot of the piece was that recruiters and corporate applicant tracking systems (i.e., where your resume goes after you click "submit" on the website) are getting more aggressive about asking candidates their salary histories and requirements early in the process.

Corporations are using this information to decide whether to move forward with a candidate. Basically, if your last salary is higher than what the company was planning to spend, you're often out of consideration. Candidates - particularly unemployed candidates - are getting priced out of the market.

The article asserts that, during the last recession, the practice became more prevalent as a way for recruiters to quickly cull masses of applicants. Employers had the upper hand - at the time, there were more candidates than there were jobs - so companies had their pick of job seekers. Their philosophy: "You want too much money? Forget negotiation, I've looked at the market data, and I'll move onto the next guy who's willing to take what we're offering."

I worked as a corporate recruiter for 19 years, and I'm now on the other side of the fence helping job seekers. I see and understand both sides of this issue.

Companies need to manage costs, and salaries comprise a massive part of G&A, so why not ask what the job seeker is looking for up front? And job seekers have accumulated valuable skills and experience, which should probably count for something in the salary negotiation process.

Let me be clear - not all companies are in salary cost-containment mode. Many organizations are willing and quite eager to pay highly competitive salaries to attract top talent.

But a trend has indeed emerged. Companies have gotten used to asking about salaries, and job seekers have gotten used to sharing what they've made. This squarely puts the power in the hands of employers, who essentially "pre-close" an individual before they have a chance to engage in any sort of salary negotiations, and before a job seeker fully understands the scope of the role. For example, an employer may be looking for senior-level skills, but has budgeted based upon a more junior role.

As a job seeker, you need to keep the following in mind:

  • Systems play a role. Applicant tracking systems have automated a great deal of the hiring process, allowing recruiters to use keywords, quizzes, and assessments to search through candidates based on a broad variety of topics, then filter the results. It's an easy way to cut through the swaths of applicants - often more than 500 people will apply to an open position - rather than review every single resume.
  • But not all applicants are qualified. Yes, more than 500 people may apply to a job, but not every one is going to be qualified for the job. In fact, there are individuals out there who will apply to any job posted regardless of their qualifications or interest, in the hope of getting noticed. But when employers are receiving that many applicants against open jobs, they often think they've got the upper hand and that there has to be at least some qualified applicant who's willing to take the money being offered. That's not always the case: I can say from experience that reviewing all the applicants against an open position is a slog, but sometimes you really need to dig into the resumes - even the poorly written ones - to find that gem of a candidate.
  • Employers often hold the best cards. They already know what they can and will pay for a job. They're usually not going to tell you what that actual number is, even if you ask nicely (as a job seeker, you'll be criticized for being rude and too focused on the salary). It's a guessing game for candidates.

Here's what you, as a job seeker, can do to try to overcome these obstacles:

  • It's best not to give a salary. The ideal scenario is to wait for salary negotiations after receiving an offer, but that's not always feasible. If pressed, give a very broad salary range you would consider, then hammer out the details at the end, after the company has fallen in love with you. And remember to consider benefits, bonuses, and other perks.
  • Do your homework. Learn what the market will bear for your skill set and experience. Sometimes job postings will even include a range. Examine a broad variety of related job postings so that you can get a sense of the market. And, if you happen to know somebody inside your target company, hopefully he or she can give you an idea of the organization's compensation philosophy.
  • Sell the hell out of yourself. Even companies that tend to nickel and dime on salaries may be willing to negotiate if you can clearly show that you'll enhance the bottom line. Be polished. Submit an outstanding resume filled to the brim with your accomplishments. Know and explain the value that you can add to an organization, preferably illustrated with metrics and examples. Prepare for the interview. Know everything you can about the organization. Send thank you notes right after the interview. Get your recruiter and interviewers excited about you as a candidate.


Insider Note: Employers fixated on controlling salaries may be fostering turnover. For example, let's say you were earning $75,000 at your last company, and the company you're interviewing with is willing to pay you $50,000. They expect you to apply the same level of expertise as you did at your last company, but for 33% less pay. Even if you accept this as an employee, how do feel about the company - or about yourself - for having been offered and accepted such a cut. Sometimes the hit to the ego may undercut an employee's sense of loyalty. Likewise, if the organization is filled with individuals who are compensated at a low salary but expected to perform at a high level, competitors will identify the company as a feeding ground for talent.


Scott Singer is the President and Founder of Insider Career Strategies Resume Writing & Career Coaching, a firm dedicated to guiding job seekers and companies through the job search and hiring process. He is a Human Resources professional and staffing expert with almost two decades of in-house corporate HR and staffing firm experience, and is a Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW) and Certified Professional Career Coach (CPCC).

Insider Career Strategies provides resume writing, LinkedIn profile development, and career coaching services, including a free resume review. You can email Scott Singer at scott.singer@insidercs.com, or via the website, www.insidercs.com.