Show Me The Money! How To Talk Compensation Like A Pro

No matter if you are distributor or manufacturer, sell windows or make stair treads, prospective candidates all really want to know one thing.

What does the position pay?

Yes, candidates want the details of the role, how to be successful and to get a feel for your employer branding. But, at the end of the day, they want to know about salary. I’m always very happy to talk about it! Today, I’m going to explain how I handle compensation like a pro so you can too.

Why Be So Frank?

I am happy to talk about it because the pay is a major deal breaker. So, the more frank we can be about salary and compensation, the less time we all spend. If you can't pay more than $75,000, why talk to someone who needs at least $95k or $120k? It doesn't make sense.

If you think a candidate will take a $20k+ drop in pay, I challenge you to say yes to the same bump up from what you planned. It isn't going to happen! You'll waste a lot of time and probably tick off a candidate in the process.

What To Ask

Get ready, this is going to be eye-opening for you! Here are two questions I always ask when I talk with candidates:

Where are you at currently for compensation?

What type of compensation do you want in a new role?

OK, you probably weren't just blown away by the language or my straight arrow approach. But, there is a method to my brief questions.

I have been a building products recruiter for many years and I have learned straight, simple language works best. To be fair, I don't jump right into compensation before I get to know the candidate, but I do cover it early in my process.

How You Lead The Conversation

My candidates know to be straightforward regarding salary. However, many people have been told they shouldn't discuss salary or skirt around the issue. So, chances are good you will run into someone isn't comfortable doing so.

Your job as a hiring manager is to make them comfortable and start the discussion.

I typically say: “Your background looks great and I have enjoyed getting to know more about you. Before we move forward, I want to make sure we are on the same page regarding salary and compensation.”

Then I ask my two questions. If I feel like I am not getting the full answer, I might ask them to break it down more. For instance, many of the roles I fill in the building products industry pay a base and some form of bonus or incentive. I will ask more questions about each of the components until I get to a solid answer if I need to.

When It Doesn't Go Smoothly

Sometimes, a candidate will refuse to directly answer the compensation questions. They might say something like: “I am confident you will make an offer based on my background that is satisfactory to us both.”

I will usually respond: “Absolutely, but I don't want to waste your time if we aren't able to be in the same ballpark.” And then ask my questions again.

If they still don't answer, I might say: “If you need a specific amount and I can't get close to that, it is better we find out now. This helps save time in the long run.”

If I run across a truly stubborn candidate who refuses to discuss it with me, I use a different tactic: “I know you have a specific number in mind and a reason for declining to talk about compensation with me. However, my job as a recruiter is to see if you are a good fit for my client and the role. This includes figuring out if it’s in your anticipated salary range. So, either you tell me what you are looking for in terms of compensation, or I will have to move on to the next job applicant.”

Consider A New Approach

Sometimes the compensation talk goes smoothly but you find your salary isn't quite what they are hoping for. So, you have to be a little creative in your approach.

For starters, I don't condone lying or fibbing to candidates. Being led on with a ‘bait-and-switch' offer is pretty awful and makes candidates angry. You can emphasize the best parts of the package, though.

Awhile back, I was working with a candidate who had a similar role at the hiring company's competition. The candidate was passive but open and he did have his second child coming so he would like to make more money.

He worked on commission and my client didn't have a great commission payout during the first year. They did, however, pay a base salary that was $10,000 higher than his current. And he would be managing a small team so he would gain management experience.

I was blatantly honest but at the same time focused on the positives. Not a lot of companies will give a guaranteed $10k salary bump – even if the commission wouldn't get going until year two. The candidate was able to do a comparison and come to a great decision. He accepted the offer and both sides of the table were happy. Even if you don't have a great salary or part of your compensation seems not so hot, you can talk about it in a way that highlights the good.

So, I encourage you to practice talking about compensation and to be upfront in your interviews. The more comfortable you are, the more easily candidates will be able to talk about compensation like a pro.



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