5 Things a Candidate’s Salary History Reveals about Their Personality

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ManTwo of the main reasons for asking for a candidate’s previous salary are to help you with your starting salary negotiation and to determine the size and scope of their role within their former/present organization. However, there is much more information to be gleaned from a candidate’s salary background if you can manage to get a clear salary history — i.e., how their salary has progressed over the last 5-10 years of their career. This may be easier said than done, but if you can get the information, it can provide you with some useful insights into the candidate’s personality. I have outlined five such key insights that a candidate’s salary history can reveal about their personality.

1. Their Attitude toward Risk

When gathering salary history, look at at a candidate’s salary/bonus ratio. Is it 95/5, 80/20, or even 70/30? Clearly, the higher the ratio between salary and bonus — e.g., 19:1  vs 4:1 or 7:3 — the more risk-averse this candidate may be. This could suggest that they don’t like taking risks and/or are not that confident in their ability to deliver in a pay-for-performance environment.

2. Willingness to Accept More Responsibility without an Immediate Pay Raise

Now, I am not suggesting that people should be prepared to work at a less-than-fair wage. However, it shows a positive attitude, ambition, and an appreciation of the loss-leading strategy (for future gain) if a candidate can show periods in their career where they have accepted increased responsibility for a period of time even though they didn’t get an immediate pay rise, either to help out, get more experience, or get ahead.

3. Patient, Mildly Ambitious, and Loyal

If a candidate’s salary has shown steady but above-inflation salary growth of about 3-7 percent per year, then this indicates that you may be dealing with a reliable, patient sort of person with average levels of drive and ambition who is prepared to wait a reasonable amount of time for progression opportunities. There is a good chance of this type being a loyal, long-term worker.

4. Impatient, Driven, High Potential

If you are looking at a candidate whose salary growth has been anything from 10-30 percent a year, you are looking at a high-potential, highly driven individual. If you are not able to provide an environment which meets this individual’s needs for sharp career progression and personal growth, this candidate may quickly become bored and dissatisfied and look elsewhere for higher-paying, more challenging opportunities.

5. Disengaged

If you are looking at a candidate whose salary has declined, with some sharp, continued, double-digit drops, this candidate could be disengaged and burned out. As a result, they may have stopped learning and developing, making them a less attractive candidate to employers. Of course, this career downshift may be a lifestyle choice, calculated to bring better all-around balance to their life, but you’d need to check this.

A person’s salary history is only an indication of the type of character they may possess, and it’s vital that any deductions arising from it are considered alongside a range of assessment factors in the hiring process.

Read more in Personality Test

Kazim Ladimeji is a Chartered Member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, and has been a practicing HR professional for 14 years. Kazim is the Director of The Career Cafe: a resource for start-ups, small business and job seekers.