Here’s the Biggest Job Interview Mistake That’s Costing Candidates in a Hot Job Market

April 7, 2022

In this job market, candidates have a lot of power. But more candidates are pulling a “salary bait and switch.” It’s costing them not only jobs, but credibility.

We’ve written a lot recently about how the current job market is great for candidates. The pandemic has upended working styles, and the expectations candidates have for their employers, leading to the so-called “Great Resignation” of candidates picking up shop and taking their skills elsewhere.

Closer to home, in our recruitment specialties of supply chain management and procurement, pandemic disruptions and other convulsions to the global supply chain have made skilled professionals more important than ever. Companies need people who can not only navigate these disruptions, but can retool their supply chains to make them more resilient, more transparent, and less vulnerable to risk. Demand for these people has never been higher.

These and other factors mean that candidates have a lot of power in this market.

Compensation is strong, and opportunities in supply chain abound. The top candidates are often fielding multiple offers at the same time, making it difficult for companies looking to hire. They’re also raising their expectations for new roles. They’re asking for more salary, increased work/life balance, and remote/hybrid work options. Companies that hope to compete for the best talent have to address these needs — while also streamlining their hiring process to avoid losing out.

But even in this market, it’s easy for candidates to take this too far. The candidate is king, but they’re not an emperor. And there’s one specific candidate behaviour that we’re seeing more and more. Both in our own recruitment practice, and in our conversations with companies and hiring managers. It’s a tactic that seems like smart behaviour, but can actually sink your chances of landing a role — not to mention your credibility with hiring managers.

It’s the salary “bait and switch.”

In short, sometimes a job candidate tells HR, a hiring manager, or recruiter that they’re looking for one salary level, only to ask for a much higher salary during the interview process. Sometimes they’ve submitted a job application to a role with a posted salary. Sometimes they’ve told a recruiter that they’ll accept a certain salary range. The candidate goes through interviews, sometimes all the way to a final interview stage, before they let it drop that they’re actually looking for a much higher salary.

Here’s a recent example: a candidate interviewed for a role with an $85k base salary. In an initial conversation with one of our recruiters, they said this fit their needs and wanted to be presented at that level. They went through multiple interviews over the course of two weeks. In the final interview, the candidate said that they would only take the job for $95k. Apparently, they had done research about salary levels, and decided that the market rate had risen that much in the two weeks it took them to interview.

Unsurprisingly, they didn’t get the job. Supply chain and procurement compensation is rising to be sure. But not by $10k in two weeks. This candidate thought they were doing due diligence, but by raising their salary expectation so drastically halfway through the process, they actually demonstrated a lack of awareness about salary levels. Not to mention a lack of respect for the process. It hurt their credibility with the hiring manager, as well as the recruiter working with them. Not for nothing, they also wasted the time of everyone involved.

(By the way, $85k for this role is well in line with the current market. If they actually wanted $95k, that’s fine, of course. Candidates can and should request any salary they think they deserve. But the time to raise this was during an initial talk with a recruiter or a hiring manager, rather than late in the process.)

So why do candidates do this?

At first glance, this seems like a smart strategy, or one that’s not so different from the sort of salary negotiations that happen all the time. You might think that, because you’re jacking up your salary expectations very late in the process, you’re playing the game. But salary negotiations happen in one of two contexts:

  1. Roles with a defined salary range. This is a range that the company has communicated in advance, either through a job posting, or an initial conversation. In this case, feel free to negotiate yourself up to the top of the range, or — if you’re confident that your skills match the market — slightly above. But if the company has told you what salary range they will accept, don’t give them something unacceptable. And if you’re working with a recruiter, you have to tell them your expectations up front, because trying to negotiate later risks not only your credibility, but theirs as well.
  2. Roles where neither party has communicated their expectations. If a final interview is the first time you’ve talked about salary, by all means, negotiate based on your understanding of the market. But telling anyone in the process one thing, only to change your tune, isn’t good negotiating. It’s misrepresentation.

If you say you’re happy with one salary now, and change your mind later, you’re not negotiating. You’re pulling a bait and switch.

Candidates who do this think they have leverage. After all, the company has spent considerable time and resources moving you through the interview stages. They must really want to hire you. And in this market, they often do want to hire you! But companies put considerable resources into identifying an acceptable salary range. It’s a complex calculation at the nexus of market research, internal pay equity, and budget. It’s not arbitrary. By changing your salary expectations, you’re showing contempt for that process— not to mention the hiring manager’s time. A company isn’t going to accept a salary beyond their range just because they’re interested in hiring you.

Some candidates might do this because, somewhere along the line, they decide they don’t actually want the job. You might as well ask for the moon. If they accept, great. If they don’t, well, you weren’t going to move forward anyway. But there’s a much more professional way to communicate that the discussed salary range no longer meets your needs. It’s much better to withdraw from the process, and keep the relationship, than to burn a bridge by showing that you can’t be trusted.

But here’s the biggest reason not to do this:

It never works.

You might think that by raising your salary expectations late in the process, you’re going to bat for yourself.

But by risking your credibility, you almost always strike out.

Have you had a job candidate try to change their requested compensation halfway through the interview process? Let us know in the comments!


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