My very worst experience with a recruiter

Andrew Jenkins -

Recruiter scowling and asking how much you make

First, this was a total outlier experience for me. The significant majority of my experiences with recruiters have been good. Also, recruiting is not easy work, and I can sympathize with the heavy workload and the need to get things done quickly. That said, this outlier experience was truly the worst.

I was a young digital advertiser at the time. I had two years of experience under my belt and was just beginning to explore new options around Seattle.

After a bit of searching online, I found a job at a company I was interested in and went ahead and submitted my application. I would say the beginning and middle phases of the communication process were perfectly pleasant. I applied, a recruiter responded via email expressing interest, so we set up a time to talk. The talk went well. They gave me a few technical questions and asked that I do a bit of offline homework to sort of prove I was capable. That went well. They invited me into their office to loop with a few members of their team. That went well. Then it was time to talk pay. THAT didn't go well.

The recruiter I was working with became overly aggressive, demanding I share my current salary so that he could put together an "appropriate offer." In my mind, I was thinking, "Appropriate for who? Certainly not me." I decided at that point not to share my current salary for a couple of reasons:

  1. I had invested no less than 10 hours into the interview process talking about my experience and even showing what I could do. I felt as though it was now his responsibility to determine an appropriate offer based on the pay range and my qualification.
  2. Based on my own salary research, I didn’t think my current salary accurately reflected what I should be paid. I’ll pause here just for a moment to say that this is something you can (and should) do as well. If you think you’re underpaid, check out both The Bureau of Labor Statistics and Payscale to get a sense of what others who do similar work are being paid.

So, there we were. Neither of us willing to budge. At one point, because I was unwilling to share the number, the recruiter said, “So what you’re saying is you don’t want to work here.” As calmly as I could, I replied, “No, that’s not what I’m saying.” It was just plain awkward. This went on for another minute or so, and I ended up asking for time to think. We weren’t getting anywhere, and both of us were frustrated.

After reflecting on whether this was the type of company I wanted to work for and whether I really needed this job, I reached back out to the recruiter to let him know I decided not to move forward. I was cordial. I thanked him for his time and consideration, and despite the whole “bird in the hand” notion, I decided to pass.

It ended up being a great career decision for me. Less than a year later, I found an even better company who throughout the interview process never once asked about my current salary. They ended up offering me a compensation package that literally blew my mind. At that moment, I felt victorious. It all worked out better than I could have imagined.

What I would say is in this type of situation, proceed with caution. Consider and measure your wants and needs. So for me, had I been in a situation where my need for a new job was significantly higher, I would have likely provided my salary and moved forward without thinking twice. The higher the need, the riskier it is not to accommodate a potential employer. Be cautious, but also be confident in the decision you ultimately make. Don’t let a recruiter force you to share your salary.