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What to Do When a Hiring Manager Doesn’t Trust Your Data

Many compensation professionals we’ve worked with have been in this situation: They took what they assume to be a complete job description (JD) and used the JD to benchmark a role. Once they sent the numbers to the hiring manager for the role (e.g. salary range), the hiring manager came back to say, “This number is too low.”

In an ideal scenario, the two parties would then get together to confirm the job description so the role can be re-benchmarked. But all too often, the hiring manager ignores the salary range provided by the compensation professional, and proceeds to make an offer that exceeds the range max.

I’ve also heard stories where a hiring manager agrees to offer a candidate an amount that’s within the established pay range. However, they make the new hire a promise in private: “Hey, I can’t give you more money now because my compensation team won’t let me. However, I’ll get you a $10K raise in a year.” Then, twelve months later, the hiring manager emails the compensation manager, saying, “You need to give this individual a $10K raise because I told them you will do this.”

The reality is, more than a few hiring managers will bypass or ignore guidelines from their compensation team when they want to hire someone badly enough. This tends to be more of a problem in organizations where compensation professionals and hiring managers do not frequently interact or collaborate on pay decisions.  

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Why is this a problem?

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Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

When hiring managers ignore market data and the advice of their compensation counterparts, organizations can run into a host of issues. For example, when a hiring manager chooses to make an unusually high offer,  it could mean they’re hiring someone who is overqualified for the role. When an organization hires such an individual, the risk is the employee may quickly become bored and quit soon after starting. Additionally, when established guidelines around starting pay are ignored, pay compression and other equity-related issues tend to follow. Salary compression is a dangerous issue because it’s one of the fastest ways to turn compensation—one of the largest expenses for organizations—from a motivator to a demotivator.  

I am not a compensation specialist, but I can empathize with their pain. It is frustrating and demoralizing to have your colleagues dismiss your work and go over your head and leave you to clean up the mess.   

Recently, I talked to a couple of compensation and talent acquisition leaders to get their perspective on how to solve this thorny problem. After hearing their thoughts, it’s clear to me this is really a communication and relationship issue. At the end of the day, compensation professionals need to build relationships with hiring managers and recruiters, regularly engage them in conversations so all parties are on the same page about what it takes to be successful in a given role and understand where the organization is competing for talent. Below are their best tips to help you forge a better partnership with hiring managers.  

You don’t have all the information

As a compensation professional, you have a lot of access to information. But, it’s important to recognize you may not have complete information when you go benchmark those roles. In reality, each party — the compensation professional, the hiring manager and the recruiter have different pieces of information. The information needs to be shared in order to yield the best results.

As compensation professionals, we must engage regularly with our internal customers (hiring managers and recruiting). It is important that all three of us are on the same page when it comes to the job. This means being on the same page about the skills, education and experiences required to be successful in the role. And perhaps most importantly, all parties need to have agreement about where/who you are competing for this talent.

When you are in agreement around the candidate profile and the competitive market in which you are hiring, the compensation professional can provide the most accurate recommendation,” says Brian Webber, Senior HR Business Partner and Administrator of compensation programs at PayScale.

How to get to the bottom of what a job description should be

Hiring managers may not know exactly what type of candidate they want. Or, they might want someone who has a profile that is rare in your job market. One of the ways you can add a lot of value to hiring managers is to become a really great investigator. Whether you are benchmarking a role or responsible for sourcing candidates, you need to figure out one thing from your conversation with a hiring manager. According to Chris Stiemert, Director of Talent Acquisition at PayScale, that one thing is, “What does someone need to have done in their past to be able to do this job at a high level?”

I asked Chris to tell me what he does to get clarity on what a job description should be. This is his approach:

“I start by asking the hiring manager what kinds of experiences they’re most interested in, then I’ll dig much deeper and see if they can connect that past experience to them being able to do this job. Most hiring managers default to, ‘I’m looking for someone to do X, so let’s find someone who has already done that.’ That’s not always the right answer though. If I’m a candidate, and I’ve already done X, and I’m a high performer, I probably don’t want to just go do X somewhere else, so we’re looking to connect someone who has done X with Y opportunity.”

Chris also recommend pushing back on a hiring manager when they ask for something to be required in a job description that isn’t a good criterion:

“If a hiring manager says, ‘I need 10 years of experience for this role,’ I push back. ‘So if I bring you someone that has all of the things you’re looking for, but they only have nine and a half years of experience, you’re saying you won’t hire them?’  Every single time, the hiring manager will say, ‘Well no, I’d hire them.’

The point is I get the hiring manager to recognize that years of experience is a poor qualification to add to the JD because you can’t translate how years of experience makes someone capable. It’s the same with educational requirements. ‘So you’re telling me, if we find someone who has XYZ but they didn’t finish their final quarter at school because they had to drop out to take care of a sick parent, you wouldn’t hire this person?’

The root of this issue is it’s really difficult to look at someone’s past success and predict future performance and so most hiring managers approach crafting a JD the same way. They go to Google and pull five JDs from similar companies and copy/paste. I try to get them to write the JD from scratch.”

I asked Brian Webber the same question. Brian recommends asking a hiring manager this:

“For this role, where do you think we are competing for talent?” This question is important to ask because if you can’t agree on where you are competing for talent, you won’t come to agreement on the salary range.  


“Asking clarifying questions is especially important if you are targeting niche talent. In this scenario, the compensation team and the hiring manager should be absolutely clear on the skills/experiences  needed for the position. With such niche talent, it’s key to have strong/accurate data so you can make competitive offers quickly,” says Chris Stiemert.

Keep iterating

“Compensation is not a set it and forget it process,” says Brian Webber.

“To compete really well, especially in a tight talent market, you will need to constantly iterate what jobs truly are and the candidate/employee profile you are recruiting. You must also continue to evaluate what you reward at your organization. This takes forging strong relationships with your internal customers and having a strong acumen for asking probing questions of hiring managers that will help hiring managers realize the type of talent they need to help them achieve their business or organizational objectives.”

Tell us what you think

Do you have ideas on how compensation professionals can forge stronger relationships with hiring managers? Share them with us below in the comments or on Twitter.

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