In addition to a resume and our candidate assessment, clients always ask us to provide current compensation information. It’s common practice, as no company wants to spend time interviewing an attorney who would ultimately reject its best offer. And although many attorneys bristle with reluctance at the request, we are usually able to get the information our clients request.
The landscape is changing. Most notably, Massachusetts has made it outright illegal to ask an applicant what he or she is making. New York City has a similar law going into effect in January (that one is not statewide). These legislative efforts are intended to combat gender pay disparity. The ramifications, of course, are much broader.
The common concern in public wage disclosure debates, is that an underpaid employee will get an offer below what a person of comparable skills and experience — but with a higher pay history — would get. However, in our very specific world of in-house legal department recruiting, the challenge is rarely one where a candidate needs to worry about undervaluing.
I more commonly come across the opposite issue. Many excellent candidates for desirable in-house positions are willing to accept lateral or even reduced pay in order to make the move. The typical example is a law firm Partner from so-called “BigLaw” who segues into an in-house career below the General Counsel level. But there are also a vast number of inside counsel who would make less dramatic downward pay moves for a more desirable company, position, and/or location. They don’t want to be perceived as over-qualified.
So what is a company, or in my case a recruiter working on behalf of a company, supposed to do? Where it is legal to do so, we’re still going to ask. But I think law departments should be prepared to hear “no” more frequently from candidates who perceive that giving salary information puts them at a disadvantage.
The topic has nuance to it, and I’m not taking a one size fits all approach. I will be softer on candidates who decline to answer the question. Frankly, I used to hammer for the numbers, as I viewed my job as getting my corporate clients the information they seek. But candidates should know that they take a risk by withholding compensation data. They can be viewed as difficult. It will take time for HR and law department leaders to digest “no” as a new normal.
Bottom-line: I think we are about to see a trend away from disclosure, at least at the early stage of an application. For an outside recruiter like me, ultimately this is an opportunity to add more value. I can be the diplomatic go-between who assesses the likelihood of a placement, even in the absence of perfect information. For individual candidates, this trend might feel empowering. But I would caution candidates to also take a nuanced approach and be realistic about when they are helping or potentially hurting their own cause.