Salary History Interrogation

As Recruiters, HR Personnel and Hiring Managers there is one question we all ask without fail. “What is your current salary?” I have always felt awkward asking that question. I cringed every time I would ask that question, as though I was asking them to give up their kidney.

Now I want you to remember your first job as a Recruiter or HR personnel. During your training you might remember your trainer asked this question to their candidates and told you to do the same. This has been drilled into us so innately that sometimes I, still accidentally ask that question. As soon as I realize what I just did, I apologize to the candidate and let them know that they don’t have to share that information.

So why do we ask this question besides the fact that it comes out without us even trying these days? I think it’s because we want to have the upper hand in the conversation. Maybe it’s to convince the candidate to take a job that’s only marginally better pay wise. Maybe it’s to see whether what they are making right now is what our client or company is looking to pay. But no one has really questioned the why. Someone a very long time ago said this is what we are going to do and we followed like lemmings.

Now that I have planted this worm in your head, you are thinking how do I know whether this candidate is the right fit  for my company or client? Well, here is a simple solution: “What are you looking to make in this next role?” And you should know what your hiring manager is looking to pay. If the two numbers match or are in the same range, you can move forward with the candidate.

Lets say that the candidate doesn’t know the market and doesn’t know their worth, you still know the market. You know what they should be making, tell them that. If you don’t know the market, do some research. But your life is infinitely easier in this regards since your hiring manager has given you a range.

As Recruiters it’s our job to make the right match between employee and employer. We don’t need someone’s current salary to do our jobs. I am hoping  that soon this awful question will be illegal to ask by any employer or staffing agency. Two states and a city have taken the first step and made it illegal to ask about candidate’s current salary.

Next time before you get on a call with a candidate, ask yourself whether or not you would give someone you have never met or don’t trust your current salary information?


One thought on “Salary History Interrogation

  1. I can respect some of this, but have some thoughts that diverge. After 15 years in the hiring trenches, I am very comfortable asking this question. First, it’s all about establishing that initial rapport, and gaining interest from candidates in what you’re talking about. I work feverishly to espouse an “open kimono” policy on both sides of the hiring spectrum, in corporate and agency settings. I believe there are people who wish to know salary, so they can limit offers to at, or slightly above, current/most recent compensation. However, I don’t believe that to be pervasive. For agency recruiters, it’s a great frame of reference on what to/not to contact candidates about. Sure, there are margin considerations, but candidates also may not elect to participate in the role, and recruiters can decide to take margin hits to accommodate candidates (assuming contract). Now, FTE contingency hiring, it’s in the interest of the recruiter to get them more, while not gouging your customer.

    In a corporate setting, the same premise applies, yet is a bit easier, since you typically have at least rough ideas on salary ranges.

    Overall, most recruiters, HR, and hiring leaders, are not in the business of making candidates scrape by while they do important work. Sure, the savings are great, but there’s a line, and people understand it, as do all of the above know all-too-well the turnover these practices cause.

    While some may be ill-intended, I can provide a wealth of times where I, people I know, use one’s current/previous salary, to get them a bigger offer. I have had plenty of occasions where candidates provide a salary expectation lower than their most recent, and had I not asked, and not provided that data to the right people, the lower compensation would have been offered and accepted.


    – If your expected pay is much higher than what you’ve made, sell yourself, and make the case with strengths and market data to back it up. If you’re confident, yet flexible in this approach, it’s amazing what you can accomplish – and I’ve personally done it myself. As an example, I personally say things like, here’s what I’m accustomed to, here are other factors that are important to me that may cause added flexibility, and overall, here is a good general range that accounts for it all. Just know the market demand for your field and skills.

    – For people who do well financially, this is often a strong indicator of performance. I’m a firm believer in Laissez-faire economics, so the old adage “getting what you pay for” is at work in this case. For these people, I find it a hindrance that companies are being forced not to ask, which may benefit this constituency,


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