Salary history and pay stubs: just say no

Recently I was talking to a recruiter for a large consulting company. She was pursuing Exchange talent for a number of consultancy positions, and I was interested in learning more. Our initial conversations went well enough that we got to the point of discussing compensation, like so:

Her: What’s your current compensation?
Me: …

This is always a tricky question to handle for a number of reasons. The biggest, of course, is that it puts all the negotiating leverage in the hands of the recruiter. It’s a truism of salary negotiation that the first person to mention a concrete number gives away the advantage. While that may not always be true, in my experience it’s true often enough, and enough advantage is at stake, to treat it as gospel.

Suppose you’re an Exchange expert currently making $100,000/year. You don’t want to leave money on the table, but you also don’t want to blow your chance at the job by coming in too high. The recruiter asks you this question. What do you do?

There are lots of different ways to answer, ranging from the completely blunt (“I’m not going to tell you”) to the slightly coy (“It’s between $100,000 and $150,000″) to the seemingly helpful (“If you said $100,000, you’d be pretty close”) to the direct (“I currently make $100,000″).

My suggestion is to address this in one of two ways:

  • ignore the question and ask for a counterproposal (“What salary range are you offering for the position?”) This is useful because once the recruiter gives you a range, you have some idea of whether they’re fishing in the same pond as you.
  • stating a range that would be acceptable (“I’m looking for total compensation between $X and $Y.”) This gives you some flexibility; maybe you’d be willing to take a pay cut to get this particular gig, or maybe you know from talking to someone who works there that their salaries are supplemented by bonus or option programs.

The key for you as a job candidate is to remember this: you are worth what you are worth, and that may not necessarily match what you are being offered. There are lots of other ways to compute the value of a total compensation package, of course. For example, many folks would happily trade away some amount of salary for more telecommuting flexibility. Don’t forget to keep those non-monetary issues in mind when you’re considering what your “total compensation” actually looks like.

So anyway… before I could even answer her previous question, she hit me with another bombshell:

Her: Also, this company is a little different– I’ll need your two most recent pay stubs for income verification.
Me: That’s not gonna happen.

An iOS development mailing list I’m on just went through a very vigorous discussion on this very topic; summarizing briefly, the overwhelming consensus among the list members was to run, not walk, away from companies that do this. This appears to be a common tactic at large consulting shops, particularly those that do a lot of offshoring, and most particularly by those companies that are not US-based. Perhaps it’s a cultural thing.

For me personally, being asked to do this signals a distrust of my personal integrity. Why would I want to go to work at a place that starts our work relationship by saying “Because we don’t believe what you told us about salary, you need to show us your pay stubs?” It certainly sets a tone of mistrust that doesn’t bode well for the future. (n.b. note that I don’t blame the recruiter; her company’s policy is what it is, and she’s just doing her job.)

In this case, I was fine with dynamiting the interview by telling her up front that this is a deal-breaker. Other people might feel differently about it. I’m interested to hear from my readers about their insights and experiences with these issues given how common they are in the consulting world. (And, as always, you’re welcome to send me e-mail if you want your comments posted without attribution.

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6 Comments

Filed under General Stuff, UC&C

6 responses to “Salary history and pay stubs: just say no

  1. Russ Kaufmann

    I, also, put the salary question off by asking what pay range is for the job. If we are in the same ballpark, I let them know. If they push, I tell them I only negotiate salary once we both decide the job is a fit.

    If they asked for pay stubs, I would end the call pretty quick, as it is clear that I don’t want to work for a company that does business like that.

  2. Yeah totally nuts – paystubs are for credit checks not jobs. What they are willing to pay you in the future has nothing to do with what you are making now.

  3. Chris on the Eastside

    When we’re talking contracting, I always ask what the rate is almost from the beginning. I tend to only work with folks I know, I do my homework, and I know what’s reasonable for a given job. A job as a data analyst writing specs is not going to go for the same rate as a senior PM managing multiple global projects with numerous dotted-line reports and senior LT contact. I have a good idea of how the numbers work (having worked with awesome recruiters who have taught me a great deal over the years) so I know what’s fair/realistic based on my resume & work history. Sure, I think I’m worth $150 an hour, fully-benefitted, on W2, but generally speaking the market will not bear that for my skill set. I do ask a premium if I think the skill is uncommon. If someone is low-balling me on a rare skill with high-level deliverables I pass. I’ve been fortunate to work pretty much through the recession, so I’m able to be somewhat selective.

    I have a rule that I never consider companies that are not US-based and that do not have a local office. It’s getting to the point where I prefer not to work for large companies – I’d rather be a big fish in a small pond. I find that offshore companies to not have the same employment values as onshore companies. As you said, it’s a cultural thing. It’s not a value judgement as much as (in my experience) a value mismatch. It’s fine if others want to work in that situation, but it’s not for me.

    As for the pay-stub issue, I would never give those to anyone. There’s too much PII on there for me to pass along with someone I didn’t know.

  4. In India their first two questions are what’s your current compensation? & what would be your expectation? if they meet this then they will move to next level of interview.

    Employee should submit three months of payslip when they join a new company.

  5. Tom M

    Fairness and reciprocity would indicate that they provide the pay stubs of everyone in similar positions within their company. I suspect they’d be astonished at the brazen masculine danglybits of such a request.

  6. Nick

    It’s so irritating when they ask it too. It’s obvious there is a certain pay range for the position, but by trying to force you to reveal what you make, they basically are trying to take away any negotiating power you have. I mean, say you are young and make $35/hour, but want to move to a $40/hour job. If you tell them you make $35, it seems, they instantly categorize you into a $35/hour position in their minds, making future negotiation difficult.

    I appreciate this post, as I’d rather follow these approaches than simply lying.

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