Earlier in my career, I tended to picture a salary conversation during the recruitment process as reminiscent of a standoff from an old Western movie. Two people are awkwardly positioned across from one another, locking eyes, with neither wanting to make the first move. After what feels like an eternity, one of them eventually flinches and poses the dreaded question: “Can we talk about salary for this position?”

Sure, maybe that’s a little bit dramatic, but for those of us working in human resources or a managerial role, this dynamic may feel a little more accurate than we might want to admit. In reality, talking about money can be uncomfortable, but it really doesn’t have to be. By viewing the recruitment process as a value exchange between two professionals rather than a stand off between two combatants, you might be surprised to find yourself taking the lead the next time you’re in this situation.

Initiate the conversation early

For starters, conversations about salary can, and should, happen early on in the recruitment process. Once you’ve screened your initial candidates and moved on to your “first touch,” whether a phone screening or an interview, it’s important to normalize talking about money as soon as you can. Of course, there may be some variations depending on your industry, but money is a huge part of everyone’s decision-making criteria. Lindsay Lalonde, head of people at T&P Group, explains the value of this approach. “By talking about salary early on, you are showing that you respect the applicant’s time, as well as your own. If there is misalignment, it can be addressed, or if it can’t, you can part ways quickly and amicably.” The fear of talking about salary too soon might be a result of not wanting to scare off the candidate, but in actuality, the longer you take to broach the subject, the more likely you may find yourself deep into the recruitment process with a fundamental part of the decision-making criteria left off the table.

Bring the job to life for the candidate

For those who feel apprehensive about discussing salary early on in the recruitment process, you may feel this way as a result of the approach you take to bring the job to life. As a human resources professional representing an advertising agency, Lalonde clarifies how important it is to represent your organization’s brand in a positive way. “The first time you connect with a candidate, you are responsible for moving from the ‘paper’ version they’ve seen in the job posting to the ‘real life’ version of the role. Too often, we place all of the responsibility on the candidate to sell themselves to the organization, and don’t view it as a reciprocal process. This is your opportunity to bring the candidate into the conversation in an engaging way.” The more a candidate knows about the position, the more comfortable they will be discussing all aspects of the opportunity, including salary. It also creates an environment where candidates are fully informed and able to put their best foot forward, as they will be able to articulate how they see themselves fitting into the role, which helps you make an informed choice as well.

Go beyond the basics

When it comes to bringing the job to life, you should come prepared to speak about all aspects of your organization, beyond the basics of job description, organizational structure and culture. Lalonde offers up some additional tips to bring more context to the position. “To be able to have a productive salary conversation, it helps to go even deeper so that the candidate really understands what they are signing up for. Consider offering up answers to additional questions, like: ‘Why are you trying to fill the position?’, ‘Why did the previous employee leave?’ and ‘How does it support our strategy?’ It might sound like going above and beyond to share this information, but without it, there can’t be a fair exchange about salary with so many questions left unanswered.”

Recruitment can be a difficult, expensive and time-consuming process. However, by enhancing your ability to lead productive conversations about salary, you are not only addressing a stressful, anxious topic for your candidates, but also increasing your chances of getting an enthusiastic “yes” to your job offer. Money is a part of life – a big part, if we’re being honest – and by accepting that fact, you can lead a recruitment process where money isn’t taboo, but rather one aspect of a collaborative process where you’re trying to find the right person for the right job for the right price. 

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