As a headhunter, I made a lucrative living off of the commission I earned from clients who paid me to secure valuable talent to work in their organizations. Thus, I had to deeply understand these 2 factors to match employee to employer successfully:
(1) My “product”: employable people who hiring managers, HR staff, and internal recruiters would approve of and ultimately be willing to pay for.
(2) What my “product” costs: My candidates’ salaries, bonuses, restricted stock units, stock options, anything and everything that comes with any sort of financial valuation. In addition to the traditional compensation components above, I also look at non-traditional factors like the ability to work from home. This is significantly valued by the candidate community and would lead to a lower compensation at times due to this added flexibility and saved the cost of commuting.
Due to my headhunting experience, I know EXACTLY how to procure salary information in the MOST accurate way possible.
It’s probably NOT what you hear from various professionals who have never truly worked as a top-billing headhunter.
Here are a few ways you could go about identifying salary ranges for ANY role at ANY level in ANY geography:
#1. First and foremost, I caution against using internet “data”. Some people automatically will direct you to salary websites like Glassdoor.com which undoubtedly houses SOME of the salary information you may be looking for. But NOT all of the data exists, and certainly, the existing info is NOT 100% accurate.
Here’s why: Since Glassdoor is candidate-sponsored, review-based, there is an inherent bias and lack of complete information since the companies being reviewed, aka your ultimate target, are not monitoring nor providing the content. Glassdoor is propelled by ANECDOTAL data. Therefore, the nature of this platform is negatively biased against employers.
Think about it! Most people go on Glassdoor to bash their old employers (true OR not, there’s no way to really know) thus it’s NOT exactly the fountain of truth. In fact, many of the companies and roles I hired for were incorrectly displayed or didn’t even exist because nobody bothered to fill out that specific position detail! Glassdoor is helpful, but it certainly isn’t the be-all end-all. For most people, it will not provide the exact details one may be seeking.
So what is the solution?!
To find more accurate data, rely on your information gathering skills by leveraging networks and potential employers. Here are a few more options you can consider:
#2. Talk to the most successful (or at least decent) headhunter in your space – this is the BEST way to get immediate answers. Headhunters know exactly what certain companies pay and how much certain people are worth. Down to the LAST cent and stock option vesting date. Heck, I knew every employer’s 401k match, vacation policy, work from home options, the manager’s dirty laundry, anything! I could even predict which candidate would receive an offer before the final interview even happens. Having worked with a lot of employers and candidates, any decent headhunter would know how the game is about to be played!
Therefore, the headhunter is the ultimate career resource since they work intimately with a VOLUME of companies and roles. Unlike HR or internal recruiters aka talent acquisition, who just work within one specific company, narrowing their exposure to information.
There’s one caveat: the best headhunters who know the most information are busy people. If you don’t qualify for their roles, how can you get them to respond to you?
Well, rack your brains for what you can provide to a headhunter that may catch their attention.
Here are some suggestions: a referral of an esteemed colleague looking for job support help, recommendation for a headhunter to their hiring manager or firm, harmless insider information (“in the future, we’ll probably need 10 people, so it’s good to start networking with the best headhunters now”), your future placement potential (“I may be interested one day to look so I figured I’d network with you”). These are all great excuses to reach out headhunters who specialize in your career/industry.
Furthermore, you can play the numbers-game. If you can’t get the #1 headhunter in your industry, at least talk to #2 through #15. Ask for referrals from your network on who the best headhunters are, go on Reddit, call through the google results. Make contacts, send emails and Linkedin messages to headhunters. Don’t wait until you NEED a job to start looking! Start making those connections TODAY.
#3. Internal HR and internal recruitment staff. Of course, the internal staff of any company can provide the salary details. Yet, you’ll find that they won’t really tell you until you’re deep into the interviewing process. If you’re not sure you want to move forward on a potential job opportunity until you fully understand the salary information, then you should make that known ASAP.
Many candidates who have great morals naturally fear being perceived as pushy, egotistical, or nosey about salary information, so they find out way too late.
Many less scrupulous people have no shame and are aggressive with their salary negotiation from day one. Thus, often times in careers, the more aggressive candidates have higher pay and better positions whether or not they truly deserve it! It’s messed up, but you know this is true because you’ve seen it!
In fact, many of the best candidates I know will shy away from the salary negotiation piece until the very end*. This is innate; moral people are conscientious and highly empathetic. What happens more often than not is that, the “nice” candidate is strong-armed by the internal staff to take on a job with a lower pay than they initially wanted to. Not the other way around!
*If you’re working with a great headhunter, they’ll stop you from shooting your own foot. I always made sure my best candidates got the most they could for their skillset because I believe the nicest people deserve the best treatment and support. If they aren’t willing to be aggressive, I’m happy to take that role for them. Ultimately, companies should pay top dollar for the best candidates or else the candidates WON’T take the offer!
Sadly, too many “negotiation experts,” tell people to avoid talking numbers until the last minute. I find that in most cases, that is the WRONG approach to everyone involved in the process because the “need to please” usually ends up being the candidate’s downfall. Instead of being in control, the candidate now feels obligated to continue “making it work” with the employer because the interview system is geared to make candidates feel fear!
Don’t fall into that trap and control the conversation from the beginning.
#4. Network with colleagues (especially ex-colleagues) and other professional contacts like friends who are in the same industry or those with head-hunting/HR expertise. For as long as you’re planning to stay employed, you HAVE to keep up your Rolodex of relationships.
Ex-colleagues are a fantastic resource because they’ve recently been interviewing and you can get a good feel of the existing job market since they JUST went through it! Obviously, friends who are part of the interviewing process as head-hunter or recruiter or HR would know something you don’t. Treat them to a coffee, lunch, or general catch-up to see what they’ve been up to. This is a generally good way to approach life: Give first, then you can get all the info you want. Tit for tat.
In conclusion, too many people rely on the internet to find the answers they want, when they really should be focusing on in-person, HUMAN relationships. Human capital is increasing in value; the people you know, your networking prowess is what will carry you before, during, and after any career move. Get your hands dirty and get out there!
Dandan Zhu is a NYC-based entrepreneur, Founder and CEO of Dandan Global, headhunter-turned-career coach, and go-getter businesswoman.
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