Headhunters would ask me my salary sometimes before I actually picked up the receiver on the phone- yeah, they were that quick to ask me a question- a question that even the people closest to me don’t know the answer to. Uncle Sam gets to know that; my wife knows too but really nobody else.
You called me, pal. Cool your jets. Tell me why you just called and interrupted me before asking me what my W2’s looked like.
After you’ve fielded a few such calls in your career, you don’t take this very personal question so personal. Understand, the “market value” for anything on this planet- including your current compensation- is the number where a buyer and seller agree to meet. If you agree to work for a salary of X, a market value for your services has been set. It doesn't DEFINE your market value for tomorrow but it is your market value for today. If you feel you’re underpaid, you need to get a raise or by get a job that pays more. Everything else is just talk.
A good recruiter will tell you why they’re asking about your salary- if you feel you must know. It doesn’t mean you have to give them an exact number. The best and most successful headhunter I’ve ever met always talks often and early about money and salary with the candidates he works with- but doesn’t always ask for their current salary. He already knows what his client expects to pay- often advising his clients on such matters- and he also knows if the candidate’s body of work warrants that pay.
Unless you are clearly one of the very finest at what you do in your field, it’s the prospective employer who cuts the check and has first right of refusal with any candidate. And if you won’t reveal your salary of your range, there are a others at your level who will. Your refusal to reveal what your current employer is paying you (your market value as of today) means you probably feel you are surrendering any and all negotiating power before the dance even starts. That’s legitimate though your leverage and “negotiating power” probably isn’t quite what you think it is. Just because they called you doesn’t mean they aren’t calling others. Repeating, unless you know you are on a very, very short list in your line of work- you are likely one of a handful who this position will be presented to.
The headhunter works for the hiring company.
With the exception of highly paid entertainers or “creatives” and a VERY small list of others, agents work for the people who cut the check. Even the truly exceptional 500K a year surgeon does not have an agent negotiating the best deal for them. As skilled as they might be, there are others who can do what they do. The hospital or HMO does not negotiate with the surgeon’s agent. The recruiter- if an independent 3rd party- will seek the best pay possible but the recruiter still gets paid by the hospital.
If you’re working with a recruiter employed directly by the hiring organization, they are NOT incentivized to get you the best pay package. Their job is to get you onboard within a budget. The 3rd party recruiter is incentivized to get you the best pay plan. Their financial self-interest is being served.
Talk about money is so frequently The Elephant in the Room in many cultures.
Not talking about The Elephant gives the elephant a complex and leaves you lighter in the wallet.