Why Do Recruiters Ask For Salary Expectations? (And How To Best Respond)

by | Finding A Job, Interviewing

“What are your salary expectations?” If you’re looking for a new role, you’ve likely been asked your salary requirements, possibly before even having an initial phone screen or Zoom call with a recruiter.

Why do recruiters ask for salary expectations, how should you respond, and is it possible to ignore their request politely? Let’s dive in.

3 Reasons Recruiters Ask For Salary Expectations

To begin, here are three primary reasons that prospective employers will ask for your salary requirements, often before you even have a first interview:

1. To determine if the company can afford you.

The primary reason recruiters ask about your compensation expectations is because they want to understand whether you and the company are in the same ballpark.

It’s rather simple. Companies have a budgeted hiring range for each open position and want to understand whether they can afford to hire you, or at least are in the same ballpark.

For instance, if your salary expectations are 20% higher than the top of their budgeted range, a recruiter might be able to advocate for additional budget or up-leveling of the position. However, if you require double what the company has allocated for the role, it’s unlikely you’ll come to an agreement.

Of course, there are exceptions, such as very technical or senior executive roles, or you might even be open to a pay cut, but recruiters want to level set from the get-go.

[Read: How To Best Prepare For An Interview With A Recruiter]

2. To confirm you have similar compensation philosophies.

Along similar lines, recruiters want to ensure your compensation philosophy is aligned with how they pay and reward their employees.

Let’s say you’re expecting primarily cash up front, yet the company primarily incentivizes employees with large equity stakes. You may not be the right fit, at least right now, for their organization.

With equity, RSUs, performance bonuses, retention packages, etc., compensation packages are getting more complex, particularly in the tech industry where these additional forms of remuneration can easily equate to hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not more, in annual pay. Consequently, recruiters want to ensure you’re on the same page from the beginning of the interview process.

3. To avoid wasting their time — and yours.

Building upon this, recruiters have very limited time and don’t want to waste it if your salary expectations are too high.

Try to look at it as a blessing to learn that your salary requirements are misaligned and an opportunity to recoup valuable energy when you’re already busy trying to land a job.

As a candidate, you may wish to speak with the recruiter to be considered for future roles that may open at the company. However, it’s not unusual for recruiters to juggle 20 to 40 or more requisitions at a time, so they often don’t have capacity to interview a candidate who is not a fit for their current open positions.

[Read: Why Do Recruiters Ghost Job Applicants? 4 Explanations]

How To Respond When Recruiters Ask For Salary Expectations

Now that you understand why recruiters want to know your compensation goals up front, how should you respond when asked about your salary expectations?

Ask for the salary range.

If it wasn’t already included in the job posting, you can begin by asking the recruiter for the salary range for the position. If the recruiter sidesteps the question, you can circle back and ask what the budget is for the position, since no company posts an open role without having a budget in mind.

Think twice before putting out the first number.

Now, some recruiters still might push back and refuse to share a salary range or budget for the position, pressuring you to disclose your salary expectations. You might consider responding with something like, “It’s difficult to provide a salary range this early in the interview process without knowing more about the role and scope as well as well as understanding the compensation philosophy and benefits package.”

Important: Sharing your number first can leave significant money on the table if you later learn the position has much greater oversight and impact than you originally anticipated. It’s incredibly difficult to assess the market rate for a role from a mere job description.

Provide a range backed by current market data.

Finally, if a recruiter won’t provide a salary range for you to respond to and requires you to disclose your salary expectations before moving to the next step in the interview process, you want to provide a range that’s acceptable to you.

Sharing a range, rather than a static number, demonstrates that you’re flexible and open to the possibility of negotiation, which is critical during salary discussions.

Importantly, you want to avoid the mistake of basing the range on your personal needs, since salaries are based on market supply and demand, not your own requirements.

Therefore, you want the range you provide to be backed by current market data. The following are popular sites you can use as you calculate your salary expectations:

Levels.fyi Salary Range for Recruiter

Note: Salaries vary across these websites, so you’ll want to consider the industry and company, your years of experience and skills, and your geographic location, among other factors, when deciding the range to provide recruiters.

Why Do Companies Ask For A Desired Salary?

Let’s recap. The primary reasons recruiters ask for your salary expectations are to ensure they can afford you, that your compensation philosophies are aligned, and to avoid wasting each other’s time.

How To Answer The Target Salary Question?

If a recruiter pushes you to provide a target salary, provide them with a range, rather than a specific number, as this demonstrates that you’re flexible and open to negotiation. Thankfully, salary transparency laws make it easier to get a sense of what competitors are paying for similar roles.

How Do You Ignore Salary Questions?

You might be tempted to ignore asks for your salary requirements. However, recruiters will typically drill down on the question, so you’ll want to be armed with a solid response, which might include asking for their budgeted hiring range. If this doesn’t work, you can follow up with a salary range backed by current market data from platforms like Levels.fyi and Team Blind.

Final Thoughts

While there are some companies out there that are intentionally trying to underpay workers, the primary reason recruiters inquire about your expected pay is to ensure they can afford you. It’s as simple as that. If you’re not sure how to respond when asked about your target pay, give the strategies outlined in this article a try. You’ve got this!

About Dr. Kyle Elliott

About Dr. Kyle Elliott

Dr. Kyle Elliott is the founder and career coach behind CaffeinatedKyle.com. His expertise is in Silicon Valley and high-tech. As a result of working with Dr. Elliott, senior managers and executives have landed jobs at Meta, Amazon, Google, and nearly every other tech giant you can imagine.

A trusted career expert, Dr. Elliott’s words have been featured on Business Insider, CNBC, CNN, Entrepreneur, Fast Company, Fortune, Harvard Business Review, and The New York Times, among dozens of other leading publications. He has been recognized as a Best Career & Interview Coach, Best Resume Writer for Silicon Valley/Tech Managers & Executives, and LinkedIn Top Voice (the platform’s highest honor).

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