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"Peeling the Onion" on Compensation

December 13, 2008
by Tim Tolan
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To get to home plate on a search assignment we have to verify many aspects of a candidate’s past. One key item of course is compensation. On occasion I get feedback on the compensation question that creates uncertainty and doubt - or shall I say sometimes I just don’t understand the candidates’ math. Clients want to be competitive when making an offer and we need to have the baseline on the candidates’ current compensation package to craft an offer or make any recommendations to our client. It’s a fairly simple question – right?

The answers we sometimes get from candidates makes me want to stop and scratch my head. Some are worse than others. I once had a CIO candidate of a 160 bed facility explain to me that his base salary was between $175K and $250K + bonus. WHAT? That is a severe (wide) gap – like $75K. The salary is what it is. C’mon. He went on to tell me he preferred to give me a range on his salary as he did not want to put himself in a (compensation) “corner” and he wanted to see what the client would be offering before he was willing to give me an exact salary number.

Great - OK – thanks. I don’t get it.

There is plenty of sufficient CIO and CTO salary data that we recruiters use to benchmark where the market is – including by geography. It is a colossal waste of everyone’s time to play games with what should be a fairly straightforward question and answer. I do understand that 95% of the professionals reading this piece DO NOT operate that way. It is worth taking note that more and more facilities are using current salary data and comparing that to industry data when formulating an offer. So the next time a search firm asks the question - just understand that they will be peeling back the onion a bit to validate your answer.

It puts me in tears just thinking about itJ



As always, thanks for bringing these interesting issues to your blog. Since negotiating is one of the central competencies of a CIO, doesn't this behavior help you classify where this candidate is on that skill?

If that's true, is the candidate wasting your time, demonstrating what level of sophistication they can demonstrate, or is it more subtle than that?

I would have to choose Door # 1 — they are wasting my time. We all know that time is a precious commodity that we can't get back. I try to be very up-front with candidates regarding an opportunity I present to them. I just don't have the cycles for someone that can't answer a simple question like "what is your current salary"? It's really not a difficult question to answer. Many times, when I am working on an executive level search assignment, I am on both sides of the table. I need reliable information from both parties to get the job done. As always, thanks for your post Joe.