Salaries: Why it pays to be upfront and transparent

When you are engaging with a potential employer or a recruitment business, it can be tempting for a whole host of reasons to either withhold or alter your salary details. 

However, this is a tactic which rarely works to your advantage. In almost all cases, it is much better from the very beginning to be upfront and transparent about your current or previous salary.

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Here’s why.

Salary shyness

There tends to be three main scenarios:

1. Refusal to disclose salary

This often occurs at the very start of the recruitment process, i.e. when you engage for the first time with a recruitment consultant or apply directly to an employer about a vacancy.

The reasons for this reluctance could be that you feel embarrassed by what you perceive as a modest current salary, believing this will automatically disqualify you from a role which pays significantly more.

The opposite could also be true: your salary is higher than the prospective job you are applying for and you are concerned about being priced out of the market. This is quite common among professionals moving from London to, say, Edinburgh.

Another reason may be more personal: you feel it inappropriate to divulge such a private piece of information to a complete stranger. Many of us - some would say quite rightly – view it as vulgar discussing salary details with family, friends or colleagues. So why should it be any different with a recruitment consultant?

2. Including additional benefits within your basic salary

This scenario is particularly common among retail bank candidates.

If you are currently employed by a larger bank, you may receive a percentage of your basic salary - for example, 30 per cent - as an additional ‘value add’ package. This can be spent on pensions, healthcare, childcare or simply added as cash to your basic salary.

However, some candidates don’t always disclose this breakdown, stating instead that their salary is, for example, 40k when in reality it is 30k plus benefits.

3. Including future earnings today

This is particularly pertinent to accountants and lawyers who are hoping to qualify in the coming months. If your goal is to be fully qualified in six months’ time but are looking to move today, it is unrealistic to expect that this is matched and even bettered by a future employer.

You cannot use non-guaranteed - you may fail your exams - future earnings as a negotiating platform in the present day.

The benefits of clarity

Whatever the reason for your reluctance to disclose your salary or temptation to ‘finesse’ it, being clear from the very start about the size and breakdown of your current earnings is almost always the best approach.

It is very difficult for your consultant to present you with the right level of job if they are not fully aware of your current circumstances. This is especially true if your profession is defined more by years of experience than gaining certain professional qualifications.

Massaging your salary in the hope that it makes you more suitable for a particular vacancy is also a dangerous game to play. Don’t forget: you will be asked at some point in the recruitment process - usually during pre-employment checks - to provide evidence of your earnings.

Also, it is very tricky indeed to second guess whether your current salary level would put off a prospective employer. Don’t assume that they will only consider a like-for-like hire.

As a senior consultant my aim, wherever possible, is to provide a client with a range of candidates:

  • Lower salary than advertised - cost-effective with potential for growth
  • Salary as advertised - like-for-like
  • Higher salary than advertised - expensive but with more experience

Start as you mean to go on

These points aside, being open and transparent about your salary creates the right impression with the client from the very start. And as you hopefully progress through the recruitment process, any negotiations will be clearer, more straightforward and constructive.

Fixating on the base salary of a particular job can also make you blind to a whole raft of additional advantages that could be on offer – good bonus scheme, generous pension, great working environment, work-life balance and other benefits in kind.

The truth might just set you free.

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