Why Giving Salary Ranges During Interviews is a Bad Idea

June 13, 2016

As a recruiter, you’re going to get the salary question from nearly every candidate you interview. And, for most recruiters, the best way out of this is to give a somewhat wide salary range, with the hope of making both the candidate and hiring manager happy.

For example, you might go to the hiring manager and say, "I have a great candidate who will take between $50,000 and $60,000 a year." Then you'll go to the candidate and say something similar: "I’ve talked to the hiring manager and he’s agreed that this position could pay from $50,000 to $60,000 a year."

You may not realize it, but you may have just set yourself up for a possible disaster down the road.

Why ranges are dangerous

“We have to be really careful with ranges,” says Amy Miller, a Seattle-based recruiter for Microsoft. She says giving out ranges — to candidates and to hiring managers — can be a recipe for disappointing everyone and lead to difficult salary negotations. 

"It has been my experience that if I give you a range, if you are a manager, you hear the absolute lowest number and if you are the candidate, you hear the absolute highest number," she says.

Take the above $50,000-$60,000 range you initially gave to the hiring manager and candidate. Suppose the interviews go great and you’re now at the offer stage. You decide to come in right in the middle and offer the candidate $55,000. You think that number will hit the sweet spot that will make everybody happy, right? 

Wrong. 

"Now everybody's mad at you," says Amy. "You know why? The manager heard you could get the person for $50,000 and the candidate heard, 'I could make $60,000.’ Somehow, you're the bad guy that ended up $10,000 off."

What you should do instead

Instead of inflating expectations with ranges, Miller suggests playing the minimum/maximum game in the early interview process.

To the candidate, you give a minimum. “With my candidates, I try to be a little conservative,” says Amy. As an example, Amy reveals what she’d say to a hypothetical candidate she calls “Sarah.”

“’Sarah, we generally pay north of $110,000 for this role,’” Amy says in her imaginary candidate conversation. “’I really feel like you'll get more than this because of your experience, but here's kind of a baseline.’" 

By giving the candidate a minimum, you’ve successfully managed expectations right from the beginning. “It helps you start the conversation,” says Amy. “It gives you a starting point.”

When you talk to the manager at this beginning stage, Amy suggests doing the opposite: give them a maximum. Suppose you’re talking to the hiring manager about “Sarah.”

"'If you want someone with X amount of experience,’” Amy suggests saying to this imaginary hiring manager, “’you might pay as much as $180,000.'"

Fast forward to later, when it's offer time and you come up with an offer of, say, $168,000. Now everyone's happy. Sarah got much more than the $110,000 with which you’d started the conversation. And the hiring manager is happy that you snagged a candidate for less than the $180,000 you’d talked about.

Compare that reaction to what you would have gotten had you started off by giving both parties a range of $110,000-$180,000. Your $168,000 offer would have ticked off Sarah (who was expecting to get $180,000) and the hiring manager (who was expecting to pay $110,000).

“Any number that deviates from that, and it’s, ‘I just got shafted by the recruiter,’” says Amy.

What if a candidate asks you to provide a salary range? Amy would opt for a playful response. “I’m kind of snarky that way,” Amy says. “I would tell the candidate, ‘I could tell you a range, but I already know you’re only going to hear the biggest number.’” Then she goes ahead and reveals the minimum: “’We’re going to offer at least X amount.’”

Remember: It’s not about being dishonest. It’s about managing expectations, which is the best way to keep everyone happy.

*Image by Simon Hayhurst

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