Salary History: Why The Most Feared Interview Question Is Being Banned and What To Ask Instead

July 20, 2018

Job interviews are nerve-wracking for everyone involved, including the interviewer. On both sides of the table, you have only a limited opportunity to learn as much as possible. Certain questions need to be asked and answered in the most efficient way possible, including ones concerning experience, goals, references, etc.

But some questions are more difficult to discuss. One long-standing interview question has caused quite a bit of anxiety and dread over the years for both interviewer and interviewee — “What is your current salary?”

It is not hard to see why this question would cause even the most proficient interviewer or confident candidate to squirm in their seat. Surprisingly, the purpose in asking this question is not solely rooted in salary negotiation. Employers rely on it as a way of better understanding the market rate for certain positions, as well as assessing an applicant’s overall skill level.

But the interview game is changing—from recruitment to onboarding. Many feel this question perpetuates gender and race-based pay inequalities as workers move from one job to another. An increasing number of state legislatures (Delaware, New York, Oregon, California, Massachusetts, New Jersey) and city governments (New Orleans, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Francisco) have enacted laws that ban employers from requesting salary history information from job applicants—and more are sure to follow.

These laws are varied and enforced differently depending on location. Before your next round of job interviews there are several steps you must take to ensure compliance:

    • Review and amend your company’s hiring process, including interview questions, email templates, and, if you use one, an applicant tracking system (and if you don’t use one, you definitely should).
    • Retrain all current employees involved in the hiring process, including which questions are and are not appropriate.
    • Even if voluntarily disclosed, do not factor in an applicant’s salary history when determining whether or not to extend a job offer.
    • Do not release salary information for past employees without written authorization from that individual.
    • Because it is always better to be safe than sorry, consult a local legal professional.

So, as a company and hiring professional, how can you determine fair pay that reflects a candidate’s qualifications and experience without asking the big question? As society progresses and continues to adopt fair hiring practices like this, changes in mindset and approach are required.

Here are several tips to help you formulate a fair and competitive salary offer for each candidate while still following these new laws:

1 – Perform market research to determine current salary trends
There is an abundance of employment market data and trends available online, including from most job listings websites. This can be used to cross reference average salary ranges for your specific listing, as well as previous positions held by current candidates.

While useful, it is best to take this salary reporting with a grain of salt. Most of the sites rely on user-reported salary information, which can be skewed high or low depending on the users’ personal experience. Regardless, it is a great starting point to learn more about fair and equal pay.

2 – Define a salary range for the open position
One question has to be answered before you even post an open job listing—what are you prepared to pay the new employee who fills this position? A range can be set according to universal job descriptions and current salary trends.

It is foolish to go into the hiring process without at least a broad range in mind. Without one, salary negotiations get even more awkward. You also need to show applicants upfront that the position will pay equally to all candidates, with the only differences based on valid, non-discriminatory reasons, such as experience.

3 – Find salary history clues in their resume
With resumes, sometimes you need to dig a little deeper and read between the lines to get the information you need. Without directly asking the question, you can still glean enough information from the resume (and LinkedIn) to formulate a fair guess on current salary.

What were the candidates’ previous job titles? What markets have they worked for? How many years of experience do they have? What were their specific job responsibilities? This collective information is important for many reasons, but when examined specifically in regards to salary, a clearer picture of salary history emerges.

4 – Revise your salary question
If more insight is needed, the topic of pay can still be broached in the interview—just not as directly. Try asking, “What are your salary expectations for this position?” This, coinciding with a posted salary range with the listing, should help alleviate the pressure and awkwardness of this topic for everyone involved.

When you alter the salary question and provide upfront info, you stay in compliance and open up a more fluid conversation with job candidates about reasonable salary.

5 – Avoid self-disclosed salaries
Do your best to lead the conversation away from an applicant self-disclosing salary history. As a gray area, it is best to avoid this altogether. If revealed despite your best efforts, make note that the interviewee self-disclosed the information, but do not include any particulars in your interviews notes. Do not let it factor into your decision-making moving forward.


Netchex is a leading HCM partner – offering a complete suite of HR services backed by industry experts. Helping you manage your workforce and focus on making your company a success is our top priority. Our booth is a staple at HR conferences, and our team regularly visits local and national events. In addition to this presence, we hold our own Netconnect user conference annually to share tips and techniques for effective HCM.

Talk to us to find out how to put Netchex to work for your company. Take a look at our award-winning HCM technology including payroll, HR, compliance, benefits administration, and time & attendance that has more companies switching to Netchex.