“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 Vice President of Talent Acquisition for DentalOne Partners and the founder of HRHardball.com (2008). He specializes in building and developing strong recruiting teams who are unafraid of “kicking the ant pile.” Like most Texans, he loves to tell a story (especially those that include an armadillo or a poker game) and cutting through the chaff…don’t take it personal.