Dear Liz,

Twice this month I’ve talked with two recruiters who asked me the same question: “What’s the lowest salary you would accept?”

I didn’t like the question, because I don’t know why a reputable company would be interested in paying people as little as they possibly could, but I answered the question in both cases because I didn’t think I had any other choice.

I’m earning $73K now and it wouldn’t make sense for me to change jobs for less than $80K.

I told the two recruiters who contacted me that the lowest salary I could accept would be $80K. The first recruiter (Rick) told me that $80K would work for his client, but he said that paying me $80K would be “a stretch.”

Why was I not surprised? Of course he said it was a stretch. I can’t imagine a recruiter saying “Wow, that’s great — my client has up to $90K to spend on this hire!”

I know my skills are worth $80K, if not more. The second recruiter, Elissa, freaked out when I told her that my minimum salary would be $80K.

She said “That’s completely out of my client’s range.” That was an easy call to cut short, but I still wonder whether I am handling the question “What’s the  lowest salary you would accept?” in the best possible way.

Am I missing a more effective strategy?



Dear Colin,

Way too many recruiters, both internal and external, are in the habit of asking candidates “What’s the lowest salary you would accept?” although it is a horrendously rude and inappropriate question.

As you pointed out, the recruiter is not about to tell you the client’s budget for the new hire, so why should you be pressured to give up your lowest-acceptable-salary number — especially in a conversation with a perfect stranger?

If you knew for sure that the employer had asked the recruiter to pry your “lowest acceptable salary” out of you, I’d advise you to hang up the phone and forget about the job opportunity. Any employer whose recruiting process requires applicants to give up a salary number without knowing anything about the position is an employer you don’t want to work for.

However, the fact that a recruiter asks you “What’s the  lowest salary you would accept?” doesn’t mean that the recruiter was instructed by the client to ask that question. It might be the recruiter’s own obnoxious habit or the recruiting firm’s policy. You can ask the recruiter “Has your client asked you to ask me what is the lowest salary I would accept?”

“I ask you whether the client requested that information from me because frankly, I find the question ‘What’s the lowest salary you would accept?’ an intrusive and offensive question. The right employer for me is not going to want to know the absolute lowest salary I would accept. The right employer for me is going to want to understand my career goals — salary just being one part of that picture — and to collaborate with me on determining whether their goals and my goals overlap.”

You are getting calls from recruiters, so you know that your LinkedIn profile and/or your network are singing your song effectively. You don’t have to kowtow to anybody who calls you. You can let a few pitches slide by you before you take a swing!

It’s a new day in the talent marketplace. Old-school recruiters who berate and badger job-seekers are not going to thrive in this talent-aware environment. Don’t let anybody bully you as a job-seeker. More and more employers are waking up to the reality that talent is back in the driver’s seat, every day.

You are in the driver’s seat, as long as you remember your power in the hiring equation!

All the best,


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