A recruiter asked me about my compensation. What should I do?

We get this question a lot at Shortlist. The simple answer? Be forthright.

If you’re called by a reputable recruiter (either in-house or with a retained executive search firm) and the role appears interesting, being transparent about compensation is vital. The reason recruiters ask for comp is simple: it’s the first thing the hiring company will ask the recruiter after they’ve glanced at a resume.

So, the next time a recruiter asks for compensation, give them some accurate guidance. The right answer is something like: “directionally around 500k”; “last year I W2-d around $750 — all cash”; or “In the $6–700 range for the last few years.”

Why this is vitally important

This level of transparency is of huge value to recruiters, who need to be authoritative about the candidates they introduce.

Conversely, candidates who are evasive about comp raise a red flag. It suggests either an insecurity around compensation or a naiveté around the process.

There’s an interesting pattern I found during my career as an executive recruiter — the more senior someone gets in their career, the more open they usually are about comp. They get the drill and will share comp remarkably quickly.

On the flip side, people who are earlier in their career tend to be more sheepish and loathe to share comp: they feel less comfortable with their comp and unclear about the process. As a former recruiter, I found it frustrating when a — typically junior candidate — would say: “I don’t think comp matters, I’d rather they learned about me and built the comp around what I’ll bring to the firm.”

Comp as a light candidate assessment tool

The truth is that comp IS sometimes helpful in candidate assessment for a particular role. While most quality firms have a high degree of flexibility around comp for senior roles (the mandate should be “find the best athlete and then we’ll get comp sorted”), recruiters need to know if someone is either dramatically underpaid or overpaid.

For investment roles in particular, we believe the market tends to price talent fairly efficiently. If someone is getting paid seriously below market, there’s likely a reason. And, if a candidate is exceptionally well-paid, it may make taking the conversation further a non-starter.

Be scrupulously honest

A final point. Don’t ever exaggerate your comp or mislead in any way — companies will want strong supporting info (W-2s, contracts, stock certificates, etc) at the offer stage, so early-stage embellishments will bite you in the derriere. Not only will this ruin your prospects on a role, it’ll also make you persona non grata with the recruiter and their network.

I remember losing a strong lead candidate after he’d exaggerated his compensation by 10% early in the process. It didn’t matter that he was a capable guy: the company simply wouldn’t hire someone with — at the very least — poor judgment.

As usual, we’d love your thoughts on the topic.


CEO @ Shortlist

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