Attitudes Shift Regarding When to Discuss Compensation During Recruitment

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For years, the conventional wisdom has been that job seekers should wait to ask about compensation until later in the recruiting process, but that attitude is changing, according to a recent survey released by Robert Half, a staffing services consulting group.

Nearly one-third (31 percent) of HR managers responding to the survey, which was part of data collected to produce Robert Half’s 2014 Salary Guide, said they thought it was acceptable for applicants to ask about compensation and benefits in the first interview; another 38 percent reported that it was an acceptable subject in the second interview.

“It may not sound overwhelming that about a third of respondents said that the first or second interview is not too early for candidates to ask about compensation, but what’s important here is that this demonstrates a trend,” Ryan Sutton, a regional senior vice president at Robert Half, told SHRM Online. “Fifteen to 20 years ago, asking about salary during the first or even second interview was considered a no-no and just wasn’t done.”

According to Sutton, the more significant fact revealed in the survey is that only 8 percent of the survey respondents said they have ruled out a job candidate because he or she asked about compensation too early in the hiring process.

“If you look at this and the fact that nearly two-thirds of the respondents didn’t express an opinion about when it is too early to ask about compensation, then it’s pretty clear that most employers aren’t bothered by it much,” Sutton said.

Although most job listings include salary ranges, final compensation numbers tend to be negotiable.

“Usually if you see a job listing that advertises pay between $70,000 to $85,000 per year, expectations of the employer and the job candidates typically vary quite a bit,” Sutton said. “A employer is usually thinking about the low side of that range, probably somewhere between $72,000 and $75,000, while an applicant’s expectations may be in high 70s and low 80s range.”

Tradition is often a tough thing to change, especially when it is deeply ingrained in your corporate culture. So Sutton said some employers may still be turned off by a job candidate asking about compensation early in the hiring process.

“But these employers and hiring managers may be looking at this issue wrong,” Sutton said. “I tell my clients that this is a good thing, because it can quickly identify job candidates who have unreasonable expectations or aren’t prepared to negotiate on salary.”

Identifying these type of candidates early on can be a money-saver, because an employer won’t invest a lot of time and effort in recruiting a candidate and then discover that compensation is a deal breaker. On the other side of the coin, Sutton said job seekers also can learn from the survey results.

“It’s clear from the results that it really doesn’t hurt to ask,” Sutton said. “So my advice to job seekers is if you really need to know before going any further in the interview process, then go ahead and ask.”

According to Sutton, the sluggish U.S. economy, generational differences and changing attitudes in the digital age have been drivers of the trend.

“People are much more interested in taking a job if it makes economic sense,” he said. “Also, Millennials expect to have access to information instantly, but this is also the sign of our times and life in the information age.”

Bill Leonard is a senior writer for SHRM.

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