You can ease into this topic with a bit of rapport building. Start by briefly discussing your company and your industry. Share one or two quick facts to help introduce your firm, especially if it’s not a household name. Then take a minute and describe the ideal type of candidate you’re seeking. By launching into this brief overview, the prospect can relax and adjust to the sound of your voice, especially important if contacted spontaneously. It’s ok to keep it brief to conserve your time.
Then, re-focus back to the prospect with an easy question to get the talk flowing:
Do you have an active job campaign underway, or are you just curious? Or,
What prompted your response to our ad?
After listening to the initial description of motives, you’re now ready to set up your questions about comp. Start by explaining why you’re asking:
Let’s talk about what most folks are interested in knowing – compensation. My role is to determine if my company and a prospective candidate are a potential match financially.
Explain your role in a tone that’s deferential and respectful:
My role is understand a candidate’s requirements and needs… they may be expressed as a range with a targeted goal at the top end and a minimum requirement at the bottom. Having said that, if you were to make a professional change, what would you be seeking in compensation?
Tip #1 – Make sure your voice inflection goes down at the end of your sentence, as if to say “of course you’ll share this with me!” If your voice instead goes up in the form of a true question, some prospects may resist sharing this very personal detail with a stranger.
If asked correctly, most prospects will quickly state a range, as that is less threatening than naming one particular number. Once the range has been noted and verified by repeating it back to the candidate, then you’re ready for the most direct question:
That’s very helpful to know… and can you verify for me what your salary is currently? Or, Can you verify for me what your total earnings were for last year?
If there is hesitation, reassure the prospect that the information shared with you will be kept in confidence and will not “lock” him or her into any particular number later if an offer happens. The purpose for now is to determine if it makes sense financially for the organization and the prospect to keep talking so that no one’s time is wasted.
Tip #2 – Clarify what part is base salary and what part is comprised of incentives, commissions or bonuses. When it comes to variable pay, definitely re-check what you heard:
Is that bonus amount what is potentially available to you, or what you actually earned? Or, What was the actual amount of your last bonus earned?
Comp should readily be addressed in the first conversation, but not right way. While it may be common sense to not spend more time than necessary with prospects who are beyond your budget, it’s not always common practice to do so. The more comfortable you are discussing compensation, the more freely the prospect is likely to share.