Employers Shouldn’t Ask For Salary Histories

The first words out of most people’s mouths when I call them about a job are usually “what’s it pay?” And if their first question is about pay, then that must mean money is their main motivation to change jobs. Right?

It is more likely that candidates are tired of spending time talking to recruiters about some “great opportunity” only to find out the pay is too low. Salary sure seems to be at or near the top of the list of qualifications companies consider when they are hiring, so it shouldn’t be surprising when candidates use salary as their first filter to sort through and prioritize job opportunities.

A lot of companies require salary information on applications. It’s also asked in the initial phone screen by the recruiter. If you won’t tell them, you won’t be considered for any job at that company. Yet requesting a salary history does not help qualify a candidate on anything that determines how well they will do on the job. In fact, requesting a salary history sounds a lot like a company is trying to make sure candidates don’t get too much of an increase in pay. Why is that a good idea? That kind of attitude sure won’t improve a company’s reputation or encourage more applicants.

Maybe a company wants a salary history because it is paying well below the market rate and wants to quickly filter out anyone that they can’t afford. Bet that strategy leads to some great hires! Easier I guess than paying people well. Perhaps companies ask for a salary history because they don’t know what they should be paying for a particular skill set and haven’t made any effort to find out.

Here’s a thought: Ask a candidate what they would accept for a job. See what they say. Often people will at that point tell you what they are earning and what they would need to make a move. That is probably a pretty good way of finding out what the market rate is for a particular skill in a specific location. It would certainly be a good way for a company to find out if they are being realistic about the salaries they are offering. Candidates will naturally be more interested in and likely to apply for jobs that pay well. If you are letting everyone know up front what a job pays and no one is interested, that should tell you a lot about the market rate for those skills … no need at all for a salary history.

After all, what possible difference does it make if someone does not want to give out their salary history? All that should matter to a recruiter or hiring manager about a candidate’s salary history is whether or not they are willing to work for the pay being offered for the job they have applied for or been contacted about. An employer should not care if a candidate for a job will be getting a raise or making a lateral move. As long as the candidate knows up front the pay range for the position and has agreed to that amount, what other salary information is really required?

Some people refuse to give out their salary history because they don’t want a potential employer to be biased one way or the other about their current value on the market. If a current or past employer grossly underpaid employees for their skills on the market, they don’t want to be punished by subsequent employers and kept on a low pay scale. There are also reasons that people will make a lateral move or even take a pay cut, and all that information should come out during the interview process.

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What a shame to miss out on a good candidate because they don’t want to give out their salary history. There are not enough qualified candidates to go around for a lot of professions. Companies don’t need to set up artificial barriers to keep even more people out.

 

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Charlene Long

Charlene Long is a corporate recruiter with RPO and agency experience who specializes in IT and engineering positions. She lives in Dallas, Texas, and has over 20 years of technical recruiting experience. Previously she was an analytical chemist for environmental labs in Florida and Texas and then for Texas Instruments in Dallas for four years.