Recruiters: this is how and when to discuss salary

Salary is key in drawing candidates to a role, but not every job ad includes this information. It’s one reason that as recruiters, being well prepared to talk money and expectations with candidates is essential.

This also means recruiters need to know when and how to discuss salary packages with their clients, before even starting a search for talent.

James Liley, Vice President ANZ at Frank Recruitment Group, says it’s important recruiters are equipped to talk about money with both parties. “Money is an emotive subject but tackling the conversation head-on and understanding the perspective of both the client and the candidate is a critical part of the recruitment process,” Liley says.

Here’s how recruiters can get salary discussions right

When is the right time to talk salary with candidates?

It’s clear that for job seekers, money is a focus from the outset. SEEK research reveals 67% of candidates say salary is the most important information in a job ad, and the number one driver that attracts them to a job.

Kate Graham, Principal Consultant at Greythorn, believes recruiters should bring up salary with candidates “from the get-go”. “It is important to understand the candidates’ expectations and align their level of experience to their salary or rate expectation,” Graham says.   

Liley says teasing out the specifics of a salary package ensures candidates know exactly what is included, and what isn’t, from the outset. This could be:

  • fixed Salary vs variable commissions/bonus
  • superannuation
  • pay schedule
  • package reviews
  • how commission/bonuses are calculated
  • other allowances like car allowances and gym memberships
  • flexible benefits.

Gauging candidates’ expectations

Both Graham and Liley agree: assess expectations early to ensure there is no misalignment or misrepresentation, and make certain that the positions of discussion are at the right level both from an experience and expectation perspective.  Don’t do this and you run the risk of disappointment and an offer that is likely to be rejected.

This also helps during the final stages of the recruitment process when candidates are often distracted by dollar figures, including financial counter-offers. Having big conversations early enables you to refer back to exactly why your candidate is leaving their current employer and to focus on their end goal.

What other perks can you offer?
Money isn’t all that matters to candidates. Following salary, the top two drivers for people looking for their next role are ‘work-life balance’ and ‘career development’ opportunities, SEEK’s Laws of Attraction study reveals. In fact, 12.8% of candidates consider flexible working hours a must-have when considering a role.

So, if salary isn’t negotiable, there could be other appealing perks you can offer. Graham says benefits like a job closer to home or opportunities to engage with cutting-edge technologies or methods can be additional motivators. “Candidates who are provided with prospects to be trained or mentored into a position are often willing to overlook salary packaging concerns,” she adds.  
Liley also points out that different benefits will appeal to different demographics. “Graduates today are more likely to join organisations offering flexible working hours and remote working options than any other benefit or incentive,” he says.

Likewise, progressive policies regarding parental leave will appeal to many.

Talking to hiring managers

Just like tabling salary conversations with candidates early, it’s crucial to understand your client’s minimum expectations from the start, Graham says. It’s also important to know factors allowing for negotiation, such as flexibility, location, progression, opportunities to study or learn new skills or exposure to interesting projects. “Knowing the absolute maximum banding you have to work with also helps you to advise them of other areas where they may need to be flexible, like skills and experience of prospective candidates,” she says.

Knowing a client’s deal-breakers

You need to understand your client’s limitations for money, and understanding how a salary package has been put together internally is a great way to do this. It may be as simple as the client wanting to maintain parity across existing employees on the same level. Having this deep understanding helps you justify and explain to candidates how the package has been calculated.

Liley says it is a recruiter’s responsibility to advise both clients and candidates on market dynamics. “If a client's budget is out of line with their industry peers we need to open discussions around how we can position them as an employer of choice—this may be through increasing the financial package on offer or introducing other non-financial benefits,” Liley says.