The latest hiring debate to rock Twitter involved a recruiter getting all too real over the weekend about how a salary negotiation went down with a prospective candidate.
Freelance recruiter Mercedes Johnson shared on her Facebook page that she recently offered a woman a job for $85,000 despite the fact that the company Johnson worked with actually had a budget of $130,000 for the role. “I offered her that because that’s what she asked for and I personally don’t have the bandwidth to give lessons on salary negotiation,” Johnson said.
“ALWAYS ASK FOR THE SALARY YOU WANT (DESERVE), no matter how large you think it might be…#beconfident,” she added.
Her words were quickly screenshotted all over social media, sparking a very heated conversation about the responsibility of the recruiter to help out a candidate who is underselling their value during the job offer process.
Some argued that what Johnson did was not something she should have proudly celebrated:
Some people used Johnson’s story as an example of what not to do, with many sharing stories of helpful recruiters who saved candidates from themselves:
Ultimately, Johnson posted an apology on Facebook and Twitter, saying she understands how her post “made a lot of people feel, especially the candidate that was directly impacted by my choice.”
“It doesn’t feel good and this should have gone differently,” she wrote. “She deserves to be paid what she’s worth from the company despite what she thinks the job responsibilities are worth.”
Johnson told HuffPost Monday that as a freelance talent acquisition specialist, she did not feel empowered to share the salary budget with the candidate and has been let go from her role with the company due to her viral post.
“I posted to my personal Facebook to encourage people around their worth. I never imagined it would leave my personal page,” she said. “With this particular candidate, I did what the company required and I was let go.”
Johnson said that she already has another job lined up in recruiting, but declined to elaborate.
Hiring practices like this are common. But what’s the best thing to do in this situation?
In her Facebook apology, Johnson noted that what she did is a common practice in hiring. But should it be? And what was the right thing to do?
“We all know it happens. We just saw it happen,” said Tejal Wagadia, a recruiter for a major tech company. “The people that care about inequitable pay and closing the gender pay gap, the racial pay gap, will not do what this person did.”
Wagadia said the blame does not lie wholly with Johnson, pointing out that she’s a product of a hiring system that was created to lowball candidates and save companies money.
Jennifer Tardy, a diversity recruitment consultant, noted that though this is common practice, it can also perpetuate inequities.
“Many recruiters have been conditioned to believe that it is a good thing if the candidate’s salary expectation is lower than the salary range for the role because in their mind they are saving the company money, which can often be celebrated,” she said. “The second challenge is that many recruiters aren’t connecting this practice ― lowballing candidates in order to save the company money ― to a greater systemic issue regarding inequity in the hiring process.”
So in an ideal world, what should happen in the salary negotiation stage?
Some hiring experts argued that candidates do have a responsibility to figure out what the role they want is worth. Tardy said that it’s important for candidates to recognize that “pay is aligned to the role, not to the person,” and to find roles that match factors like their desired pay and title.
Kira Bascombe, a human resources manager at Empowered Diagnostics, said salary reporting tools like Glassdoor and PayScale can be used for research, but she believes 90% of the onus of figuring out the salary range falls on the recruiter, not the candidate, because there are so many factors like company size, industry, experience level and location that go into calculating an employee’s salary.
If she were in Johnson’s shoes, Bascombe said, she would first let a candidate know the salary range if it was not already posted. Then she would make a recommendation about what she believes that candidate should be paid, based the company’s salary range.
“This smoke and mirrors game when it comes to salary and salary negotiations is really disheartening,” Bascombe said. “We are going through a Great Resignation, and this is one of the reasons why.”
Wagadia said that candidates should ask recruiters what the budget is for a role during a salary negotiation. “There’s nothing wrong in being like, ‘Hey, could you share what your budget is?’” That way, candidates have a better sense of what their skills are worth to the company and whether they want to take the job.
But, ultimately, Wagadia agreed that recruiters bear most of the responsibility when it comes to creating fair and equitable hiring conditions. Ideally, she consults with hiring managers to determine where a candidate’s skill set falls in the company’s compensation band, and makes job offers based on their answer.
“If a candidate’s ask is lower, I will still offer them what their skills are worth and what is within in our budget,” Wagadia said. “Just because an ask is lower doesn’t mean we need to pay people lower, especially when it comes to people of color, minorities, women that don’t know how to negotiate, that historically have been paid lower than their white counterparts. For recruiters, the onus, realistically, is on us.”
What candidates and hiring teams should do in salary negotiations is an ongoing debate. And Johnson said that in the end, she believes the controversy sparked by her post has a positive lesson for everyone, recruiters and candidates alike.
“Everybody is not going to agree with the things that were said in that post, but I believe that the post did 100% of what it was supposed to do,” she told HuffPost. “I’m confident that the over two million people that saw my post will now negotiate properly in the interview process.”