To Ask or Not To Ask For The Salary History?

“What do you currently make?” – a question we’ve all heard at least once in our lifetime.

“Why does it matter?” – a response we’ve all thought more than once in our lifetime.

Salary talk is cringe-worthy—there’s no doubt about that. It’s awkward on both the recruiter’s and the candidate’s end.

Unfortunately, a salary discussion has to be had to find the best candidate for the job. Plain and simple.

The good news is, it doesn’t have to start out with “what do you currently make?” or “how much were you making in your previous position?”

Because honestly, that actually doesn’t matter.

What matters is the current expectation.

If you are a recruiter, you’re told by the hiring manager the position you’re recruiting for has a budget of $XX-$XX salary range. That’s that. Now it’s your job to find a solid piece of talent who can fit that number.

Think about when you ask a candidate for their salary history—what if they were grossly underpaid considering their experience, skills, and market rate? And they know that? How are they going to step up if they’re being paid $40K for a job that should be paying them at least $60K, but you only want to offer them $45K because “it’s still more than their salary now, but $20K under budget”?

It’s all a bunch of beating around the bush, lies, and not being straight to the point. It’s annoying, honestly.

The question that matters to ask a candidate is: “What are your salary expectations?”

That’s it.

No digging in the past. No low-balling. No salary history checks.

Do the candidate’s expectations meet the salary expectations of the job? Do they fall within the salary range? If so, GREAT! Now you can move on to see if they’re a good fit on a cultural and motivational level. Keep it moving.

And though I’m targeting primarily recruiters and hiring managers in this post, I have a note for job-seekers as well: If you’re asked to give your salary history, especially at the beginning of the hiring process, do not hesitate to respond saying “I’d be happy to discuss compensation as soon as I learn more about the position.”

Now, you should do extensive research on the type of position you’re applying for, your market rate, etc. upon applying so you have a solid salary range expectation in mind, but if you’re waiting to learn in detail the responsibilities you’d be taking on, that’s just smart business.

So here’s the TL;DR: Stop asking for salary history. Ask for salary expectations. If it’s a match, then it’s a win-win.

FOT Background Check

Elizabeth Dickerson is the Creative Marketing Lead at Kinetix, specializing in Graphic Design + Video Production. She uses her mad skills and desire to make an unforgettable visual impact to bring all things media, design, and video to life in the HR and Recruitment Marketing world. Want to hang? She's probably in the editing room drinking coffee, so find her best on Twitter or LinkedIn, or email her at edickerson@kinetixhr.com.

5 Comments

  1. Steve says:

    As a current HRM job seeker, I’m playing both sides of this silly exercise. Eegads.

    Reply
    • Danna Blum says:

      Yes, join the fun (not so much). I much prefer the employer simply stating a salary range for the job and allowing the discussion to go from there. That’s often how I proceeded when recruiting.

      Reply
  2. Chris Johnson says:

    How about just saying how much the position pays? When the candidate sees the pay range and they do not like it, then they don’t even apply and you no one wastes their time. “What are your salary expectations?” “I expect to be paid somewhere in your companies projected range for this position, which I assume is very close to what others in the same or similar position with your company are making.” That’s a real salary expectation. Asking what my expectation are is still “a bunch of beating around the bush, lies, and not being straight to the point, it’s annoying.” just openly disclose the salary range and take it from there.

    Reply
  3. Nomsa Nkosi says:

    Salary should not be sole determinant of whether one gets the job or not because ,there are so many dynamics that are involved e.g. Some companies are sadly paying at 0-10 percentile, does it mean those great employees will always be disadvantaged simply because of where they worked? This creates problems for them because they will never be employed by companies that are paying at higher percentiles ,regardless of how good they are. This salary issue should be an issue that is understood by the recruiter so that they do not
    Loose out on great talent because of salary being low or high and unaffordable. All the possibilities must be taken into consideration for an informed decision ,than just a number which could be very deceiving . A robust engagement on the salary must take place before a decision can be – “no we cannot employ you because of your low or high salary”

    Reply

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