What to Do if a Candidate’s Desired Compensation is too High

It’s a nuanced question for job applicants and recruiters alike: what is your desired compensation?

There’s tons of advice online on how to answer this question — but significantly less advice on how to respond if your applicant’s answer is higher than expected.

When a candidate’s salary expectations don’t match your budget for a role, you’re stuck in a pretty tricky spot.

Hiring top talent is a crucial goal for most recruiting strategies, but should it be at the expense of your company’s budget? How do you navigate a salary negotiation that starts out of your range?

Deep breath, everyone! I’m going to dig into exactly what you should do if your candidate’s desired compensation is out of your budget.

What is desired compensation, anyway?

Desired compensation is exactly what it sounds like — it’s the salary expectation your candidates have for whatever role they’re applying for.

Some recruiters will specify what a company is paying for this role right up front. And, whether or not they disclose that salary range, candidates will likely be asked for their desired compensation regardless.

The point of all that? To make sure that your salary range and your applicant’s salary range match up.

How do you respond if a candidate’s desired compensation is beyond your budget?

It can be disheartening to find an incredible candidate for your open role, just to discover they’re asking for a higher salary than you can afford.

First things first, check to see if there could be room in the budget to meet their salary expectations.

A great place to start is by determining the current market value for the role in question.

To get the best results, opt for fresh, accurate data so you can confidently move forward knowing exactly what you should be paying someone in this position.

If their desired compensation is truly out of reach, there’s only one thing you can do: be transparent about your budget restrictions.

Respond to their salary expectations with an honest, transparent conversation about the issue — and make sure to include what you are willing to pay, so your candidate has actual numbers to think over.

This communication is crucial, so be thoughtful about it! Just as every comp pro should tailor their communication to every level of their business, external communication needs its own unique treatment, too.

Remember — this person doesn’t understand what the issue is unless you break it down for them. And, odds are, they’re not privy to comp jargon!

Drop the industry lingo and thoroughly breakdown your reasoning. This would be an ideal opportunity to bust out that data you used to determine the role’s actual market value.

Take this opportunity to offer non-monetary benefits, too.

Offering things like additional PTO, flex hours, or the option to work remote may help bridge the gap between what you can afford and your candidate’s desired compensation.

Worst case scenario? They reject your offer.

Unfortunately, there’s nothing you can do but let your perfect candidate go — but make sure to not burn your bridges! Assure the applicant that if a relevant role turns up that fits their salary expectations, you’ll make sure to keep them in mind.

What can you do to avoid this moving forward?

The best way to avoid this miscommunication is — say it with me now — transparency!

For starters, set up an appropriate salary range for every role you’re hiring for.

To do that efficiently, you’ll want to invest in software that can access accurate market data. This will play a crucial role in determining a competitive, fair salary range for any role.

Do this well in advance of posting any job descriptions, that way you can include the salary range in your post.

(P.S. If you’re struggling to write those job descriptions, check out our free job description templates. We have an administrative assistant job description, a project manager job description, and many more.)

Make sure to keep a little bit of wiggle room above the top of your range (and keep it to yourself!), just in case you find another great hire who wants a little more money.

When it comes to salary, it’s best to start with this kind of transparency right off the bat. It’ll save you and potential applicants time, and prevent tricky situations like the one outlined above.

Of course, starting off with accurate, relevant data will always get you started on the right foot. That means knowing the true market value of every job you’re looking to fill.

And, good news, there’s now a free (you read that right, FREE) comp solution that offers quick pricing for your jobs! Plus, U.S. or Candian market data, access to the comp community, and tons of rich resources.
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