“So what are you currently making?”

This is one of the most common, and often one of the most dreaded, questions any professional candidate is likely to hear early on in a job search or if they’re getting called by a marketing recruiting agency.

It also generates a lot of confusion. We live in a society where it is usually considered taboo to ask about salary or bring up specific numbers in casual conversation, even among family, friends and coworkers. So when it’s asked abruptly by a marketing recruiter or hiring manager, it can make the discussion uncomfortable.

Making the issue more complicated is the wide variety of conflicting and confusing information out there on the subject. A quick Google search will turn up no shortage of career ‘experts’ weighing in on the best way to respond.

In reality, there is no perfect one-size-fits all formula for professionals to follow. Different people in different industries at different points in their career may want to take different approaches to discussions about marketing executive salary.

Fortunately, this isn’t a conversation that needs to make you squeamish. In the world of marketing, great job opportunities can come and go quickly; it pays to be prepared to respond to this kind of inquiry when the occasion arises.

The Best Option for Most Marketing Professionals

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One particular response strategy will be useful for the majority of marketing professionals in most scenarios, and that is simply to be upfront and forthcoming about your compensation. Remember, this might seem like highly sensitive information to you, but for most employers and recruiters it’s a ‘just business’ matter that is dealt with every day.

This approach to the “compensation question” benefits you as a candidate in multiple ways:

Avoids wasting your time:

Imagine going through a lengthy recruitment process involving multiple interviews and similar processes over the course of several weeks with an employer or marketing temp agency, only to find during the offer that you’re far over or under the employer’s budgeted range.

All the time, effort, and emotion you invested disappears in the blink of an eye when you discover that your most recent salary isn’t even within the ballpark of what the client was looking to pay. Being upfront with your salary background and expectations early ensures you’re at least within a negotiable order of magnitude of what’s realistically possible.

Helps you stay competitive as a candidate:

It’s fully within your rights to withhold this information if you see fit. But keep in mind that if the job you’re interested in is highly desirable, then you’re probably not the only person who’s in consideration for it.

Competition for the best marketing jobs is high. If you’re in competition with another candidate with similar qualifications but who is willing to be upfront about compensation early on, you’re likely to be overlooked. Key decision makers and hiring managers are extremely busy, so they’re almost always going to take the path of least resistance so they can focus their time and efforts elsewhere.

You may not realize how high your market value is:

If you haven’t been on the job market for a few years, you might be quite surprised at the going rate for top marketing talent. Demand for experienced marketing experts and executives, especially those with a proven track record in emerging digital disciplines, is extremely high–and salaries are rising to match.

You could very well be getting compensated less than your fair market value and not even realize it. But you’ll never know unless you’re willing to engage in an honest conversation.

Understand Your Local Laws

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In recent years, some local governments have considered or passed laws restricting what salary information employers and recruiters are permitted to require or ask.

Perhaps most notably, New York City recently passed a law prohibiting businesses from asking for candidates’ salary information or using any information they might have gathered in determining an applicant’s compensation. A similar law was also passed last year for the state of Massachusetts and this year in Philadelphia. California is considering similar legislation, and it was considered but ultimately rejected in Illinois.

Such regulations are still rare, and those that exist tend to be controversial. But regardless, it’s always wise to know your options and empower yourself with and understanding of your legal rights. Understand that these laws can change over time, and each one may offer different protections and mandates from the others.

Take Some Time to Understand Your Real Compensation Level

So, how much do you get paid? Think about it. You’d be surprised how many people don’t even know what to say, even when they want to be cooperative with a marketing recruiting agency.

It might seem strange, but it happens all the time. Many people don’t put a lot of day-to-day attention into what their income really is. You might know your salary when you start a new job; but what about after a few years of moderate raises? Even a few percent a year can add up quickly, other factors like bonuses and stock options can skew the picture as well.

If you haven’t lately, it might be wise to review exactly what you’re bringing in right now. Check your tax statements and deposits. Contact your HR department and see what they have in your file. Review the value of your perks and benefits.

What NOT to Do

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Ultimately, this is extremely personal information and it’s up to you to decide whether to divulge once you know the likely outcome of either choice.

But whatever your response to inquiries about your current and past compensation is, it’s absolutely essential that you always be honest about the information you give.

When you’re asked about your salary history, you might feel tempted to inflate the numbers a little (or a lot) with the thought that it will give you a stronger position at the negotiation table if you get the role.

This is an extremely self-destructive strategy and one that almost inevitably fails if you’re interacting with a marketing recruiter who knows what they’re doing. Lying is one of the quickest ways to get disqualified from consideration for a role and blacklisted by an employer and recruiter indefinitely. The reality is that recruiters who are doing their due diligence will be reviewing your background for things like job history, education, and yes, salary. And if what they find doesn’t match up with the information you’ve shared, you’ll be quickly removed from the process and lose the opportunity.