New Law Coming to a State Near You

John Whitaker Compensation/Cash Money, John Whitaker 5 Comments

“So, [candidate-person], how much do you currently make?” 

How is it that something so obviously inappropriate to ask in any social or professional setting is one of the boilerplate questions asked of every job candidate?

What do you currently make?” Excuse me, but what in the hell does that have to do with the price of grits in Charleston?*

I know the reason the question is asked – or at least I know the spirit of the question – but think about it from a candidate’s vantage point. Why would I offer you information that could be damaging to me?

Compare it to a poker game (and to me, everything can be compared to a poker game) – you’ve got a pretty decent hand, and if you play it right you may rake a pretty fair stack of chips. But the only way to get maximum value for your hand [I’m sure it’s obvious, but to confirm, the “hand” is your value as a candidate] is to raise the bet, thus creating the illusion (or is it?) that you’re holding the best hand. Now imagine you make that raise, but – before your opponent decides to commit money to the pot, they ask to see your hand. That takes the starch out of it, amirite??

Or, even worse – imagine you win the pot, but then you’re only allowed to collect 5% more than you’ve won in the past. Yes, you qualified to receive it all, but you don’t have the experience, sorry.

Now tell me how that ridiculous scenario is different than basing an offer to a prospective candidate on their current compensation. I realize we’re tasked to negotiate a compensation package with a potential employee, but to require the candidate to give you the starting point is hardly a fair negotiation. In fact, it’s blatantly unfair. And guess what? Starting October 31st, 2017, it’s also illegal. Yes, for now it’s a limited scope, but in principle what’s not to like about this law? You either have a salary range established for the position based on experience, or you don’t.

Why do we do ask? Maybe you convinced yourself this is for the benefit of the candidate. A proper “fit,” you see, is only achieved with the appropriate compensation expectations. Or, we might ask this question knowing that our own compensation offering is sub-par and we’re just praying the answer is low? Most likely it’s a simple matter of habit – it’s a question that has been part of the process for as long as most of us have been in the business of asking questions.

Now try the interview without asking that question – it changes the dynamic completely. You can still get the candidate to kick off the negotiation by asking “what compensation are you seeking?,” but the conversation takes on a different tone when you haven’t handicapped the discussion. 

Pull up a chair and deal ’em…NOW we’re playing poker.

John Whitaker

“Whit” is an HR Business Strategist and Staffing Professional: he primarily works in the healthcare industry, because… healthcare. A Texan, he tends to amuse us (okay, he amuses himself) with colloquialisms and a cowboy’s view on our industry. John honed his HR chops at Alcon Laboratories and CVS Caremark before starting HR Hardball™ in 2010. He currently hangs his sombrero at DentalOne Partners where he has been fortunate enough to lead a world-class team of recruiting professionals. You can email Whit, find him on LinkedIn, or read more of his brain-droppings at

Comments 5

  1. That makes sense if you view recruiting as as poker game or buying a car. For a recruiter who works hard to build partnerships with both clients and candidates, understanding compensation is critical in setting expectations and ensuring a mutually successful outcome. If we are way off on either side there is no reason to waste anyone’s time. Savvy recruiters will remind their clients that if you steal a candidate you run the risk of them getting stolen from you. If a company is willing to pay competitive compensation for a quality associate, a low ball offer indicates that that the candidate is not of sufficient quality for the role. Would they double the salary just because the person was overpaid when there are others who are equally talented and willing to accept their range? I think not.

    I certainly understand the spirit of the new laws, but believe that in practice it will it be harder to effectively manage expectations without the desired result regaring pay equity.

    1. nope, don’t align me with a car salesman Steve, that’s getting tacky…this shows a difference in perspective for someone working for the company vs. providing an external search. It’s not a matter of being savvy, it’s a practice that has been deemed illegal in some states & will certainly expand to others.
      The motivation should be obvious – the glass ceiling in compensation for women & minorities is real – asking a candidate about their current compensation just helps perpetuate a bad practice.

      1. I 100% agree,John! In my personal experience that question is asked to keep me at a low base pay and I am so happy to see the law is favoring candidates of color as well as women in this aspect.

        1. Thanks Jae, you’re absolutely right – that’s the spirit of the law. With the focus on women and minority injustices still occurring in the workplace, I want my team to be ahead of the curve on this one.

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