Why You Shouldn’t Ask About Salary History When Hiring

By Robert Half March 15, 2018 at 9:00am

Hiring managers, here’s something you need to be aware of: An increasing number of local and state governments are passing legislation to help close gaps in pay. One way they are doing this is by prohibiting employers from asking job candidates about their salary history. Some recent examples are in California, Delaware and Oregon, as well as New York City and Albany, N.Y. And it seems likely that more cities and states will enact similar legislation in the future.

While you will want to seek legal guidance about what exactly your company should do to comply, it might be best simply to avoid these types of inquiries altogether when trying to determine compensation levels for new hires. So just take the question off the table.

Salary history isn’t a relevant factor anyway

The new laws aren’t the only reason to avoid asking about a job seeker’s salary history. You should set a pay range in advance and stick to it when hiring for a position. The range should be based on the skill set and experience required and what the market demands, not on what candidates you interview have earned before.

In fact, communicating in advance to candidates the pay range you’ve set can actually enhance your hiring process. It can weed out applicants who aren’t satisfied with what you’re offering. And, if you struggle to attract suitable applicants, it could alert you early that your pay range isn’t realistic.

Base compensation on solid data

Be sure to use reputable resources when setting pay ranges. Among the best are the Salary Guides from Robert Half.

The compensation figures in our guides are based on actual placements made by our recruiters and their knowledge of the latest market conditions and hiring trends. Robert Half has published our Salary Guides every year for decades, so you can be confident you’re getting reliable and timely data.

With our guides, you don’t have to rely on national or industry averages either; we report starting salary ranges for each position by percentile, based on candidate experience level and skills, as well as the complexity of the job duties. The Robert Half guides also allow you to fine-tune salary ranges to your city.

Laws can change and evolve over time. The important thing when you’re entering into salary discussions is to focus on the compensation range you’ve set for the position, not a candidate’s past pay. You’ll increase your chances of offering a compelling salary that attracts talented applicants, and you’ll stay out of hot water.

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