The Question: I’m in the final stage of a job interview and have been asked for my compensation. I don’t want to disclose it because it will compromise my negotiation leverage. Is it ok to refuse to tell them?
As a candidate heads into the final stages of an interview process, it may feel like it’s smooth sailing to the finish line. After all, much of the heavy lifting is in the rearview mirror, right? Wrong.
Despite the upfront efforts of rigorously preparing for interviews, being truly dazzling in meetings and beating out other lawyers for a coveted role, the final stages of the interview process can be the most critical. And how a candidate handles him/herself can make or break a candidacy…and a reputation. The primary issues in the final leg tend to center around compensation and negotiation of the offer (other issues arise as well), which can throw candidates into a sea of anxiety, fear and discomfort. Resulting in behaviors and tactics that can suck all the love out of the room.
In your situation, this employer has requested your current compensation information. It’s a common request – asked by all employers at some part of the interview process (Note: there are emerging laws like in the state of New York that prohibit employers from inquiring about candidate compensation so this inquiry may be widely considered illegal in years to come). And the vast majority of candidates comply. However many feel that divulging this information places them at a significant disadvantage in the negotiating process – as it compromises their leverage if their current compensation is known. This is particularly true for candidates with existing compensation that is below…or a good deal above market. So some candidates may choose different strategies to restore the balance of power. One such strategy is to refuse to disclose current compensation. With the message – and rationale that an employer should assess the value of his/her candidacy and extend an offer that is a reflection of that value…free from the influences of current compensation information.
So how effective is this strategy? And is it advisable?
Generally speaking, “refusing” to disclose compensation information during an interview process is extremely risky. As employers typically interpret this as a sign of secrecy, lack of cooperation and dishonesty. And perhaps a “tell” of things to come…More employers than not will be seriously put off by the refusal and will opt for pulling the plug instead of extending the offer. Even in today’s active market where candidate leverage is increasing, employer tolerance for the black box approach to compensation disclosure is not. So my advice is to take a more transparent approach. It’s a path that will lead to a more virtuous result and better feelings when start your new position.
With this said, in order to maximize your chances of getting the offer you want, you must do more than just provide your numbers. I recommend that you articulate your compensation expectations clearly…and be reasonable as they relate to the provided target range. If you are not realistic, you will lose credibility. Examples:
(1) If your compensation is below the lowest end of the comp range, requesting the highest end of the range is not a wise move. Instead, acknowledge your below market status and note that in your next role you want to be more fairly compensated for your level of experience and the value you bring to an organization. Then provide a number that is between bottom and mid range. After you’ve given the number, let the employer know you believe that this is a fair number…and hope they feel the same.
(2) If your compensation is higher than the top end of the range, communicate that money is not the sole driver for you – it’s the role, culture, team, industry etc. that is important to you. But maintain your preference for the higher end of the salary range.
A candidate’s refusal to disclose salary in an interview process is the product of fear. Fear that the numbers will compromise his/her leverage or candidacy once they are learned. But this type of secrecy creates risk and rarely, if ever produces positive results for any parties involved. So be transparent and focus on an open and healthy dialogue as you kick off your negotiation…and you’ll feel like a winner as you cross the finish line.