How to Deal with Recruiters: Salary Related Questions

19 Jan 2013

Bomb sign in Point Nepean National Park It all starts with a friendly-sounding recruiter who rings you up in the middle of your working day. He says that he's just found your CV in their database and you might be a perfect match for this new exciting role with their cool client (who, by the way, has got a bright new office that is filled with XBox consoles and unlimited free coffee; they also use this latest cool technology that you fancy and operate in a startup-y mode with none of this managerial crap that you have to put up with at your current place).

Then he changes tone of his voice slightly, just enough so you can notice it, and starts asking questions about you: your experience and technologies that you used in the past. The conversation then quickly shifts to things like your current position, salary and your manager's name.

I hope that you already can see a problem here. The sheer fact that some dude rings you up out of the blue, bursting with enthusiasm and friendliness like you've just pulled him from under an approaching train should ring a few alarm bells immediately. It's possible that he's got a genuine role on his hands and you are a likely match. Although more often than not it's just a case of another mindless recruiter, who cannot tell the difference between HTML5 and his shiny new iPhone 5, and all he's got on his mind is milking you for as much information you can provide him with.

You see, being a recruiter is tough. It's quite a cutthroat, overly saturated market that is mostly driven by demand and rarely by supply. Individual recruiters are being paid the % of placements, or really, sales that they make. The toolkit of a modern recruiter includes quite a few dodgy tactics that help him to solicit potential sales leads and undercut the competition.

I don't envy anyone working in that industry. In fact I feel sorry for them. The goal of this post is to uncover the dodgy tactics of recruiters. I want to help you navigate this sea of uncertainty so you can land a job or a contract that suits you both personally and financially, avoiding being taken for a ride.

Rate/Salary questions

Without further ado, let's have a look at the most popular one-liner that recruiters use, and the true intent behind it.

- Jim, what's your current rate (salary etc)?

This normally gets asked in a casual tone after you already answered a few questions, such as who's your current employer and how many years of experience have you got with some technology X. It's standard trick, akin to "yes-set", where a sales person asks a prospect some obvious questions that are easy to answer positively, thus increasing the likelihood of a prospect saying "yes" next time when a key question gets asked.

Never answer this question directly. Letting a recruiter know your current rate/salary is a dumbest thing you can do. It gives him a tremendous advantage - now he knows how much he can sell you for, and what margin to set. He also learns what are the salaries like for this role in your organisation. He now can tailor his cold calling to be more accurate shall he try to sell his candidates to your employer.

I'd suggest that you should reply with an amount that you are looking for. You could say something along the lines of:

- I'd be looking for $850 per day for my next role.

Usually this is sufficient, although some recruiters may try to push you into answering the orignal question. Again, declining this attempt politely but firmly should suffice: you could say something like

- I understand your interest, although I would prefer not to disclose this kind of information.

Be prepared to be told that your rate expectations are unreasonable, and while it would have been an OK rate few months ago, the market has softened somewhat since then. Take this with a huge grain of salt, especially if negotiating a contract rate - this way recruiters generally try to increase their margins by pushing your rate down. Don't let this happen to you.


Initially I planned on writing a comprehensive post that would include most of the dodgy tricks known to me. Now I realised that a post like that would be about the size of a small book. So I decided to turn this into a series of blog posts. In the further articles I am going to cover things like:

About myself

Who the heck am I? Why am I writing this? Most of the learnings above come from personal experience in dealing with recruitment industry. Quite a lot of this is hard learned - I wish somebody told me that stuff before. I used to change jobs/contracts quite often, on average once, sometimes - especially during the latest latest downturn of 2009 - three times per year. Inevitably, I had some significant exposure (probably more that I'd like) to all sorts of interaction with recruitment agencies. I hope this series of blog posts will help you to deal with various dirty tricks recruiters employ.

PS: This post is a part of the series that I wrote to uncover the dirty tricks of the recruitment industry. If you are interested, check out my other articles and see how you can win at job searching game.

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