How to navigate salary questions and the recruitment dance

Oh what a dance salary discussions are.  How to navigate salary questions and the recruitment dance is not always easy.

Often mixed with falls, wrong steps and nerves that cripple it’s time to pull the whole salary dance wide open. So a buckle up for all sides – candidates, HR, recruiters and hiring companies. 

The aim of this blog is however to give professional candidates tools and mindsets that flip the dance around. But we need to push the nonsense open first.


I have coached and worked with 100s of executives and professionals in their career job search and observed countless others and their stories. And the salary dance conversation is one of the most difficult ones to have.

It saddens me still just how many astute, powerful and incredible senior candidates acquiesce their power once in the hiring ecosystem.

I see this in so many way and especially with women who seek to people please at the detriment of their own value. Let’s be honest, the hiring ecosystem is still in most cases a ‘them vs us’ mindset.

Despite the pandemic, great reshuffle, current talent gaps and hiring shortfalls the more things change the more they stay the same.

So here in 2022, yes things have pivoted with the talent shortage. But if you are facing any bias (ageism, sexism, racism) in your hiring endeavours the power imbalance can still be intense.  And old habits for HR and hiring companies die hard.


I write this particularly for senior executives and professionals with decades of experience and proven expertise under their belt.

You are of equal importance and value in the hiring ecosystem. It is indeed a two way discussion and it’s critical to never shift that balance. 

Hiring of professional and senior staff is not an interrogation as it is an equal management conversation and process. Sure you need to demonstrate (note not prove) your chops, but so does the hiring organisation.  

It’s so important to not lose your nerve and top negotiation skills. Hold them tighter than ever as this is your future and you are in equal control of the discussion – if you have an equality mindset.


Candidates are advised not to bring up salary upfront. But why not?   

The public sector always has salary bands advertised and this stops the nonsense of game playing and salary dancing.  Alas not many private companies and organisations do this and they should.

Why not minimise time wastage by ensuring that all parties start the hiring dance on the same footing.

Both candidate and hiring company or recruiter should come from market rate appropriateness and skills and experience alignment to ensure expectations equal reality.  

The digital age has evolved us all into a platform of knowledge which underpins decision making and acquisition activities that align within any given industry market place. 

Finding a new job is nerve-wracking for the candidate, and risky and likewise cumbersome for the hiring company – ah it does take 2 to tango!


In our culture whilst we are not overly offended with monetary dialogue, it would still be considered rude to dance up to someone and demand to know what they earn. 

And yet so many recruiters/hiring companies think that they should ask such a direct and frankly illogical question to job seekers upfront and without any regard.  

 It shouldn’t be a question of ‘what you are earning now’ but ‘what are the salary range expectations for a role based on your experience and skills and ability to do the actual job’ – period. 

And if that company pays and rewards well. And humans being well human will exaggerate and misled to save face and court their own agenda

When candidates are pressured into providing their current salary it really sets up the dance to falter down the track in so many cases.  Both candidate and hiring company can get narky and change the goal posts and inflate their worth – no dance partner is potentially exempt. 


And it also sets up the framework for candidates to grossly exaggerate and/or lie about their salary and market worth. It’s a bit like going into a car dealership – both parties are poised to hustle and walk in with ‘attitude’ hence time is wasted unnecessarily. 

Sure given market forces are at play, but they are totally at the mercy of the times and will self correct within time (I promise that).

I also want to say upfront that so many roles/industries/women that are grossly underpaid – inequality exists at the most horrid of levels.  For example the teaching vs sales professions.  Nurse’s vs stock market analysts. But this post is not about addressing the documented and appalling bias and industry salary gaps.


Most jobs and professions have well documented salary industry charts to match skills, experience and education into alignment as appropriate within their sectors

Hence the broadly accepted salary range for positions is quite transparent in the marketplace generally. Sure many people get paid far more than the documented salary range – but hey that’s their and the employers personal business generally.  

Mind you, as we all know many people definitely deserve a higher salary, and many certainly do not deserve one (i.e. nepotism, fear of leaving etc – ahh that’s another blog). And many industries need a full blooming overhaul of the salary ranges which are not up to scratch at all in this difficult economy.

Further, progressive hiring companies and employers of choice absolutely must and do provide a robust culture and infrastructure to reward and incentivise their staff (and we all know that it isn’t just with $$ but money can definitely form part of a bonus, commissions and reward programs etc). 

Feeling valued is key!  Receiving the bare minimum wage &/or being underpaid is a clear sign that someone is just not valued well generally.

The way the issue of salary is raised and dealt with upfront by all parties will minimise the risk of disappointment and wastage of time for everyone. 

So how can candidates and hiring companies answer and work with and around the salary issue? 

Be direct and honest upfront and don’t set in motion a dance where the footsteps just will not align with the other partner.


Be fair & realistic. Look at the exact needs of the job you are hiring for and give the role a definite and well regarded salary level to attract the level of skills required. 

Have a strong and detailed (aka not cut and paste) Job Description and Key Criteria list to ensure the candidate is on the same page as the goals and needs are as required.    

Be realistic that at any given time there may be a candidate market shortage and hence your desired 100% score of skills sought may not be fully met.  

But will you be actually changing the job brief in those cases? No – you may be giving someone a bit more training (and that’s a great thing anyhow) but generally the KPI’s and expectations remain the same. So the salary should remain consistent with the role.

It also ends in grief when a company offers a salary below standard/market rates to try and save money etc- often from a platform of ‘we are so good to work for we don’t need to pay great $$).  

If that is the case, we’ll be upfront with candidates so time isn’t wasted and anger results (not good for anyone let alone your company’s brand and reputation).

Lose ‘the salary based on experience

I have seen and heard 1000s of times a get out of jail lazy and illogical phrase in job advertisements: ‘salary based on experience’ 

But in reality unless the actual tasks and elements of a role change with the successful hire, why would experience drive the salary.  Come on its code for ‘trying to get someone cheaper’.

If a person applies for a role and the company wants to hire them but realise they are not suitable for that exact role they may create another one with a different set of elements and KPIs.. and therefore it’s a different role and salary.

Now I know this will open a can of worms BUT give this some thought.  But realistically ‘based on experience’ will be the determinant of the right person being offered the same job and tasks as a lesser experienced person.  

Again, if the job itself doesn’t change why should the salary (which should be fair and good in the first place. 

It is astounding how many candidates go through a long interview process, get offered the role but at the last minute are advised that they aren’t experienced / good enough to have the originally quoted $$ salary. 

Candidates rightly are furious (as they were given the salary upfront) that all their time has been wasted.

Now let’s also be fair – there are often times when a company feels forced into offering a salary range far above the jobs tasks because the talent shortage is so abysmal. 

Great that they are willing to be flexible for sure – great attitude. But I have observed that a higher salary just isn’t a good enough reason for a great candidate to join you. 

And of course those candidates will jump again quickly when another super-duper salary carrot is offered.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting offering higher than the average salaries isn’t a good thing – sure it is. But for the right reasons and in the right time it will work wonderfully in the hiring process. 

But it shouldn’t be used as bait to get talent as if the role itself is below the candidates capabilities and career objectives, the $$ lure will wear off pretty quickly when boredom and dissatisfaction sets in.

So companies need to be upfront, fair, realistic and market appropriate.


When you are asked your current salary DON’T give it.

Yes this may be considered contentious by fear based interviewers.  But it is no one’s business except yours what you are earning.  It is a game playing strategy that does not ever bode well.

But based on the above – you should know the market rate for the career you are in and the level of experience you bring and seniority and experience relevant to do a role you are applying for. Research, research!  

Then start your salary dance from a position of strength and self-worth. When asked that/ or what salary are you seeking – be clear and upfront with:

‘I’m seeking a salary package circa in the vicinity of $$$.  Are we aligned here in the same ballpark?

Get clarity that your expectations are in alignment.   You must know your worth and value.

You should also be a little flexible (as should the hiring company – again 2 to tango). ie if you are seeking a salary circa $150K and the hiring company is offering a salary circa $145K all parties should be willing to negotiate a little.  

But a significant salary gap is a waste of time as it is a misalignment across all expectations.

Please also do not exaggerate what you are seeking based on current earnings – ie: if you are currently on $110K you will not do anyone or yourself any favours if you state you are earning $170K and seek that level or more.   I saw that many times in my recruitment agency and knew they were pork pies.

Now unless you are being dreadfully underpaid in your current role (and that’s another discussion on exploitation) you should really only focus on the roles requirements, success alignment factors and market rates for that role.

If you are stepping up to a higher position then of course the salary should be commensurate with that IF you are deemed the right candidate.

Lying and trying to inflate your worth will be transparent and you will damage your personal brand, create distrust and lose opportunities.  Start your salary dance from a position of strength and self-worth.

Integrity and goal posts

And don’t tarnish your own integrity with changing your salary expectations at the offer stage. If you don’t want the role at the end of the hiring process (which of course is a candidates right) don’t try and ask for more dollars than was discussed as your expectations at the front end. The dance will stop!

Be honest, if you don’t want the role – tell the company/recruiter. But the way the dance starts will determine the last foot moves!

Now with candidates who are transitioning into a new industry, role etc with a deep learning curve ahead, please be realistic that you may have to take a salary cut. Hey, that fair and reasonable a salary vs skills trade-off negotiation may need to take place.  

The salary dance is a tricky one, and we are talking about a person’s career, financial stability, self esteem and respect.

Hiring processes and the salary dance can and must do better.  Everyone will benefit. 

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