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Goodbye to low-ball salary offers

Question

f-off-2I read that Massachusetts made it illegal for employers to require your salary history when you apply for a job. I always thought this was wrong to begin with. It’s how companies “justify” low-ball salary offers. This seems to back up what you’ve been saying all along — but what about those of us who don’t work in Massachusetts?

Nick’s Reply

I told you so.

Job applicants have been getting screwed by HR departments since time immemorial through intimidation and badgering:

“We can’t proceed with your application until you tell us what you’re getting paid now. It’s the policy!”

This is a popular topic on Ask The Headhunter, and I advise people to just say NO. (See Salary History: Can you afford to say NO? and Keep Your Salary Under Wraps.) When employers demand to know your salary, it’s for just one reason: to low-ball any offer they make you.

And now everybody knows it.

It’s illegal to threaten job applicants

The state of Massachusetts just passed a law: Illegal in Massachusetts: Asking Your Salary in a Job Interview (New York Times). No longer will HR threaten to “end the application process” if you won’t tell your salary.

The dirty little secret is out:

“Companies tend to set salaries for new hires using their previous pay as a base line… which often leaves applicants with the nagging suspicion that they might have been offered more money if the earlier figure had been higher.”

Duh.

The impetus behind this new law is to end pay disparity between men and women. (See Don’t blame women for the gender pay gap!) But the problem is much, much bigger.

Employers are the dummies

When employers make job interviews dependent on disclosing your old salary, everyone gets hurt — men and women. Even dopey employers get hurt, because their silly insistence elicits guffaws and “Screw you!” from the best job seekers, who won’t be intimidated and won’t give away their negotiating edge.

The New York Times points out — duh — that:

“The new law will require hiring managers to state a compensation figure upfront — based on what an applicant’s worth is to the company, rather than on what he or she made in a previous position.”

Read the boldface again. Employers will have to figure out what you’re worth.

Jeez. What a concept for a business! What an indictment of the stupid employment system that HR departments have propped up for decades.

No competitive edge

Employers who base job offers on what another employer paid you are admitting five things:

  1. They really, really believe people (workers) are fungible — interchangeable parts.
  2. They’re incapable of assessing your value to their own business.
  3. They’re willing to judge you based on what one of their business competitors came up with.
  4. They believe your worth to one employer is the same as your worth to any employer.
  5. They have no competitive edge on judging value.

This new law is good for employers because it will force them to hire smarter and to be more competitive. Of course, they may need to fire their HR departments and whip their managers into shape. It’s time for employers to figure out how any new hire will contribute to the bottom line.

Jeez. What a concept.

Kudos to Massachusetts for being the first state to outlaw salary intimidation in job applications and interviews. I think the rest of the nation will soon follow.

noJust say NO

If you don’t live and work in Massachusetts, you still can and should say NO when employers demand your current salary. Smart employers will back off. The rest aren’t worth a job interview, because if they don’t take advantage of you up front, they’ll do it later.

Ask The Headhunter subscribers have been saying NO — politely, firmly and successfully — for a long time:

“The hiring manager more or less offered me the position on the spot and indicated a salary range that is roughly 40-50% more than I make now. Your two biggest lessons (at least for me) at work in the flesh: (1) Never divulge my current salary, and (2) Talk about what I will do, not what I’ve done.” -Rich Mok

“Despite both the headhunter and the company insisting I disclose what I was getting paid at my old job, I stuck to my guns and I was able to double my salary. Plus I got a signing bonus. That would have never happened in a million years if I had caved!” – Bernie Dietz

“I was headhunted for a lucrative job at another company and, following your advice, did not state my current salary, nor did I even hint at its range. Thanks to your book, Keep Your Salary Under Wraps, I ended up with a 40% increase on my previous job and salary! Thanks!” – Daniel Slate

Say goodbye to low-ball salary offers — at least those based on your old salary. Employers can still low-ball you. And the best way to avoid that is to be prepared to show why you’d be the most profitable hire. Don’t be a dummy yourself. See How do I prove I deserve a higher job offer?

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77 Comments
  1. Just read about this. Can we assume most states (except the south) will follow suit? Keep those fingers crossed :)

    • If you don’t live in Massachusetts, don’t cross your fingers – work to get similar legislation enacted in your state.

      • And if you DO live in Massachusetts, State Senator Pat Jehlen was instrumental in getting this passed. She’s facing a challenger in the primary. So if you live in the Second Middlesex Senate district (Cambridge, Somerville, Medford, Winchester) be sure to vote in the primary on Thursday, September 8th.

        Turnout is likely to be low, so A) it will be quick to vote (no lines), and B) a single vote will have a bigger impact.

    • @Marilyn and @Gwen: I think there will be fierce resistance for a while, then hopefully the rest of the states will come around. If you don’t live and/or work in Massachusetts, then I agree with JP: contact your state representative and state senator re getting similar legislation passed in your state. My state senator is great–he’s responsive, gets back to his constituents, sends out newsletters with info re what they’ve been doing in the MA senate, what kinds of monies/grants, etc. are going out to the local communities, where he’s hosting meet and greets, breakfasts, etc. He’s on Facebook too, and I’m not shy about contacting him. My philosophy is that the lobbyists have the ear of politicians, and while I’m not a lobbyist with tons of money, I vote and if I don’t communicate my needs and concerns with my senator and representative, then the only ones they will listen to will be the lobbyists.

      It is time to begin another revolution!

      But there’s nothing wrong with keeping your fingers crossed too….and sometimes once a law gets passed in one state, other states will eventually follow suit.

    • Marilyn, please spare us your bigoted smears of the south. Y’all stay classy, ya hear?

      • Sometimes those pesky facts can be such a buzz-kill :(

      • I don’t think it’s a smear of the south, but rather plain political reality. Look at which states passed the anti-union “right-to-work” laws before the Reagan era. A handful of Western states, and Iowa — and every single Southern state except Kentucky.

  2. @Nick I cannot express how much your insight positively impacts lives that read your advice. In learning about Massachusetts having this law, I smile and realize that progressive legislature does exist for the betterment of those in their working years.

    @Marilyn I will keep my fingers crossed with you. I’m not holding my breath for the South either.

    • More laws like this are going to take time and there will be stiff pressure from employers, HR, and special interest groups. Remember that Mass. is a relatively liberal state. Like CA, it tends to lead the pack.

      The accusations will be that “we don’t need more regulations!” What we don’t need is employers’ intrusion into people’s privacy. Imagine a job applicant telling an employer, “I’ll come interview with you after you tell me the boss’s salary, the salary of the person who did this job last, and the salaries of the people I’ll be working with.”

      They’d be appalled. It’s private and confidential. But your salary is not because it’ll save the employer money during salary negotiations.

      But honestly, much as that’s a problem and totally unfair to job seekers, there really is a bigger problem that affects the entire economy even more profoundly. Employers who assess the value of an applicant based on what another employer paid them have no methods of assessing value themselves.

      Tell that to the stockholders’ meeting and you’ll see the board and C-suite get fired instantly, and rightly so. This is a stunningi failure of accounting that no one sees or addresses.

  3. (I believe the Massachusetts law comes into effect in 2018.)

    I have had several screening interviews where the screener says “We can’t proceed with your application until you tell us what you’re getting paid now.” I always respond politely and say “That policy is a sign to me that I would not be a good fit for your company’s culture.” And it’s true – if a company treats people so poorly before they are hired, just imagine how they’ll treat you after you’re hired.

    On the other hand, I think it’s fair to ask what salary I am looking for. But that’s a different topic.

    • Bulldog: I agree with you on both counts. There’s a sea change going on, with job applicants fed up answering that intrusive question, and good talent is walking away from employers that play the game. There’s part of the talent “shortage.”

  4. @Bulldog: Yes, the new law goes into effect in July 2018, so employers have nearly a year to whip their HR depts. into shape, to update any training re what questions they’re not supposed to ask candidates and applicants. I’m thrilled (I live in Massachusetts)–but I did ask my state senator just how they plan to implement and enforce this law. It is a good start.

  5. Nick,

    While the law may pass in all 50 states that employers may not ask what your current/past salary WAS, I predict they will simply use the gaping loophole of demanding what your salary WANTS are – i.e. “State your salary requirements – applications will not be processed without accurate information submitted.”

    In essence, they will bypass the negotiations by forcing people to make the first offer, and any tactics such as “I’m sure you have a budgeted range – could you tell me what that range is?” will be met with “Sorry, you have to tell us your number or else the process stops.”

    So, the details may change, but the overall system will not. HR flacks will simply not allow it.

    • @Hank

      I think, even if hiring managers encourage you to give your desired salary range it is still a huge improvement over providing your salary history.

      If you are being underpaid and looking for a pay bump your current salary will not bog you down.

      I think the law forces employers to act decently. It’s none of their business what you earned in the past.

    • Hank: The new Mass. law is useless without a complementary law that requires employers to disclose the salary range of the job. “Truth in advertising.” But I have no problem with employers asking what you’re looking for — you should be prepared to state a range, and to go a bit high, and to say you’d be glad to discuss it once you have all the details about what they need you to do on the job. I’d trade my desired salary for the salary range of the job any day. It’s a great start to putting everyone on the same page and ending the mystery and secrecy.

      I’m convinced that HR demands your salary history because it has no idea how to negotiate with anyone.

      • ” The new Mass. law is useless without a complementary law that requires employers to disclose the salary range of the job. “Truth in advertising.” ” Bloody right.

        But, because there is NOT such a law, they will simply now dig in their heels and refuse to disclose the salary range until you have disclosed YOUR number – and as others have stated, the range may be many thousands above your number or even double. If you know the range up front, which they ALL refuse to disclose, you can now accept that range with your number in the high 1/3 of that range, negotiate a higher range, or just terminate the negotiations if the number is too low.

        I even have had headhunters that have cold called me frankly DEMANDING to know my number up front, yet they give some blather of “oh, the budget has not been finalized so a salary range is not established yet, blah, blah, blah.” I usually tell them to call me back when the range IS finalized. I have yet to have one do it.

  6. I’m a bit nervous to put this out there, but that’s what the back-and-forth is all about, right?

    As a hiring manager, I will admit to asking people what they are making now, early on in the discussion, and as part of what I’m looking to pay for the role (I don’t hide that). More often than not, it has led me to increase my offer for someone in a particular role. I have a smaller company, which means we’re often hiring into a role for the first time. I do some online research to try to understand what people make in similar roles, but knowing where someone is coming from and then knowing you’re making an offer that truly is attractive for them generally results in people accepting that offer and feeling good coming in.

    While I know it’s a bit different from asking what you make on an application, I’m a strong advocate for having a salary discussion early in the process. Getting salary right is too important to leave for the end.

    • Annette: Thanks for sharing how you do this. This is not a loaded question: Why do you need to know their current salary? If you have their desired salary range, and you share the range you’ve already put on the position, all that remains is for you to assess whether the person can do the work profitably for you.

      Knowing what the desire tells you whether it’s worth continuing the discussion. But what someone has been earning tells you nothing about what they’re willing to accept.

      You’re different because you don’t seem to hold past salary against your applicants. Most employers do. I agree that it’s critical to talk salary early in the process, or why bother talking at all?

      Thanks again for sharing your approach!

      • In your last relationship: How much verbal abuse were you able to tolerate? We are willing to be slightly less abusive, but will need to confirm that before making an offer.

        I have a policy with all contracts, mutual non-disclosure. Neither party can reveal to anyone details of compensation except where mandated by law. It protects both sides of the equation. If you can’t get an NDA with that, find a friend or family member and create and sign that NDA that you will not reveal any financial information except where mandated by law. This leaves you with the standing statement: “Prior NDAs prevent me from discussing or revealing any prior compensation schemes. I am very sorry, but bound by contract.”

        • JimDR: I love that suggestion. Have someone write an NDA for you… “Prior NDAs prevent me…” Oh, that’s golden!

          • Thanks! It prevents confrontation and poses an immovable obstacle that is not the fault of the applicant. Allows the HR person to move past this without further interrogation.

            There is also the overarching concern about security and privacy issues. By requesting additional information that is unnecessary for the job search, the HR department creates a greater liability for the company should there be any data breach. Given the number of applications (rich with personal data) and resumes the current candidates must send out, a wider variety of search firms, HR departments, employee clearing services have vast stores of information they do not require and pose potential real targets for ID theft and fraud.

      • “You’re different because you don’t seem to hold past salary against your applicants.”

        Nick – I disagree with your assessment there. While Annette may not consciously hold someone’s past salary against them, it seems like their current/previous salary certainly affects the offer that Annette makes to them. Let’s say Annette had in mind $80k for a certain position’s salary, but a great applicant (let’s call her Amy) comes in saying she currently makes $90k. When Annette says “More often than not, it has led me to increase my offer for someone in a particular role”, I take that to mean that Annette might offer Amy $95k, because she wants Amy to feel good about accepting the job. But, if instead of Amy, a different applicant applied for the job (let’s call this one Bill) and Bill says he currently makes $100k, Annette might offer Bill $105k. She thinks she’s just increasing the salary in both cases, but starting with a lowball figure and just raising it up based on people’s past salaries is still the same discrimination at work.

        • Andi – It’s not that you’re wrong, it’s that compensation isn’t a science. If, after due diligence, I think $80K is right for a position and Amy convinces me that she should get $95K, I’d have no clue that Bill might possibly get $105K because that conversation never happened. For most types of positions, small companies don’t have enough hires to have that insight.

          And there is an important difference between trying to get the right information to make an offer and salary discrimination. If I’ve hired Amy at $95K and I need another person in the same role and Bill successfully negotiates $105K, this is where it gets easy: I need to give Amy a raise. And I’ve done that, too – and yes, it fell along gender lines. Pay discrimination between men and women is such an easy problem to fix, it’s ridiculous that it’s even a conversation once it became part of our consciousness. But I digress…

      • Nick – I’ve taken some time to reply because I have been going through past conversations in my head to figure out why I do what I do. As I reflected, I realized that it has a lot to do with the fact that most people (at least here in Wisconsin!) are generally awful at coming in to a conversation ready to talk about what their time/experience is worth in the marketplace. It’s actually easier and more comfortable for them to say where they are now. You need to keep increasing your readership!

        When I’m discussing compensation with more experienced individuals, I do ask more about their salary expectations because they generally are better at having that conversation. If they don’t know, then I move to, “okay, where are you now” and we go from there.

        Overall, the reason for my response was to clarify that not all hiring managers are looking to shortchange employees with compensation. Many of us know that someone coming into a new role feeling ticked off due to a measly $5K (over a year!) is not going to be inspired to do their best on Day 1.

        • Annette: I don’t doubt your intentions or anything you say. I read between the lines and I see someone in HR who has integrity. A dear friend of mine works in HR, and she asks for salary history, and she often winds up making offers dramatically higher – because the candidate has been way underpaid. I don’t think everyone in HR is trying to take advantage of job applicants.

          But Andi has a point, because – whether Andi realizes it or not (I’m not talking down to anyone here) – the “anchor effect” influences all of us, whether we realize it or not. As soon as a number is implanted in our brains, it creates an anchor that affects how we then judge value. For more on this, check Bill Poundstone’s excellent book, “Priceless: The myth of fair value (and how to take advantage of it.” It’s a great, very readable intro to behavioral economics.

          Another but… like Andi, I’ve run into more HR folks who are NOT like you than who are. So I really enjoy reading your posts. I wish more HR people would read what you write!

    • “More often than not, it has led me to increase my offer for someone in a particular role.”

      For every one of you, there are 10 other people who will use current salary against them.

      • One company actually told me that they used previous salary to set the salary they offered and they never gave anyone more than an x% increase.

    • @Annette: Please don’t be nervous: I find it helpful to hear from the other side as well. We can’t fix the problems if neither side discusses the issues with eachother. I commend you for talking about salary early in the discussion. I wish more employers/hiring managers were like you. In my experience, I’ve found it rare that the employer will bring up salary unless it is my own salary history and current salary, leaving it to me to ask them what they’ve budgeted for the position. Asking that simple question often brings shocked looks, snarky comments (how dare I ask how much they’re paying), and I’m sure that question has disqualified me from consideration more than a few times. I ask because I need to know if we’re in the same ballpark. If the budget for the job is too low, I’d rather know early so I don’t waste my time and the employer’s applying and interviewing for a job (both can be time-consuming, onerous tasks) that I can’t afford to take. Likewise, I would think an employer would want to put it out there–most serious job hunters won’t apply for a job that won’t pay their bills. I wish employers wouldn’t waste my time.

      • Marybeth – EXACTLY what you said. It should be a back and forth – I volunteer what I budgeted for the position so the candidate doesn’t have to ask. We’re starting an important relationship and this is a huge factor, why waste time.

        And… sometimes we all have to take the crappy job with the crappy employer because we need a home and have mouths to feed. Hopefully there’s some job training or experience that allows the next job to be an improvement, but I also understand why some job seekers accept terrible behavior on the part of employers.

        • Annette: “I volunteer what I budgeted for the position”

          What a concept! Why do so many HR people think that’s SUCH A SECRET???

          A pitiful analogy: You’re dating. It’s prudent to tell your date what you hope for in a relationship – just as it’s prudent for an employer and job applicant to talk about the job and the salary. It’s about what comes next, the future.

          But that date – you don’t want to tell them what went wrong in a past relationship, because it’ll gum up the future. Does your past experience tell your date something important about you? Maybe – but maybe some lousy past experience doesn’t really reflect the best of you. So move on – deal with the future, with your hopes, with your expectations.

          Leave the past behind.

          (I dunno – does that analogy work??)

  7. Many of these HR amateurs don’t even know how to use the info they are requesting. A small Oregon town w/a small financial institution wanted someone w/my experience. As I was in Seattle at the time, I knew my salary level would not transfer to small town USA but the amateur did not. She misused the data and concluded they couldn’t afford me even tho I was not asking for that equal salary level. Just dumb behavior.

    • @Marilyn: Your tale is a excellent example of why employers should not require, let alone ask, candidates’ and applicants’ salary histories! If the small Oregon town offered a lower cost of living, that means salaries tend to be lower. Too bad that the HR amateur didn’t take the differences in the cost of living and salaries into account, and even worse, too bad that her bosses, be it the head of HR AND management didn’t do a better job training her AND supervising her.

  8. Once received an offer that was within $10 of exactly a 15% raise. This was early career when salaries often rise quickly. Never quite believed in what you discuss until then.

    Company demanded a paystub.

    Even “wonderful companies” are sometimes demanding documentation of salary. Funny how that so often is associated with a lowball offer.

    • Demanding salary documentation should also be illegal.

  9. I dealt with this many years ago. And it took a a while to work it out. It took some time to work myself up to the correct frame of mind and body to tell them it was none of their business. I finally came to the words that worked for me. I said it was irrelevant what I made now or my last job as I am not applying for that job. When they persisted I simply said “No.”

    Working myself up to this was a way to ensure that I was congruent in my body, voice, attitude and language. Everything had to flow in the same direction. And fi done correctly it can make it embarrassing for them to keep asking an irrelevant question.

    If it came to that they can reject me but they would feel silly for doing so. I can console myself with the idea that I didn’t bow to some silly policy.

    • That’s a great way to think about saying NO to salary information demands. It works best when mind, body and attitude are all in sync. Many people are afraid to take a stand, but I think your perspective may be useful to others. Thanks for laying it out, and my compliments! Feels good when you know you’re doing the right thing, even if others don’t get it.

  10. NPR reported that the Mass law won’t take effect until 2018. It’ll be interesting to see how long it takes stupid HR people to stop using the salary requirement as a negotiating technique.

    All it is, is a means for lazy HR people to not have to do an actual salary survey. Or buy one from a research firm. And it clearly drives out the most qualified applicants.

  11. I had an interview with a local Fortune 300 company, where I had been introduced through a long-term contact. The first question was my current salary. I would not disclose it, and they terminated the interview immediately. I let my friend know what happened, and he said “typical HR”. The position is still open, and the HR interviewer is still in the same job.

  12. Even if your state has no law equivalent to Massachusetts’,you could cite Massachusetts when you’re asked about your salary. And if you’re in a federally protected category [Title VII], you could sweetly tell the hiring manager why it was passed.

  13. Addie, why bother getting bogged down in laws. The law in this case is just codifying common sense. It’s none of the employer’s business what you have earned in the past. Just say no to disclosing your salary and move on.

    — or —

    I’ve found HR is often not used to assertive candidates and reverse the question. Instead of providing my salary I ask them “What does this job pay?”. 9 out of 10 times I get the salary range.

    • I’d feel comfortable saying, “You know there’s a place in the U.S. where that question is illegal” and then following up with one of your suggestions.

  14. Another aspect of the equal pay law in Mass is making it illegal for companies to prohibit employee discussion of current salary. I found that this is current law in New Hampshire as well. This encourages companies to keep salaries equivalent for equivalent work! I do know that NH companies in the past have made salary disclosure a termination-level “offense!”

    • The National Labor Relations Act at the federal level already prohibits companies from restricting salary discussions in most cases. Problem is, the law is not well known or widely enforced. So companies routinely violate it. This includes salary NDAs or similar pay secrecy policies.

      • I have heard of managers asking employees not to share salary info with each other.

        A co-worker was all scared when we were talking about raises/salaries/etc. I informed her of this law you speak of, and that if anything happened because we talked about our salaries, it would most likely be a slam dunk case.

        I think part of the problem is many times management is not transparent and/or fair and wants to hide stuff like this because it would show that the emperor has new clothes.

  15. Whats astounding to me is that these same companies that ‘require’ disclosure of your salary promptly will tell you that discussion of your salary in their company is ‘company confidential’ in the employee handbook.

    So perhaps – “Im sorry, my current compensation is confidential per company rules. I assume you expect your employees to follow your rules of protecting company confidential information or are they free to disclose your compensation scheme to your competitors?” would be the order of the day?

    @Jim – why do we keep the names of these companies secret? I can state the a colleague of mine applied to Corning in NY and if they did not fill in the current compensation box with a number, the form was rejected, for instance.

    • @VP Sales: I’ve noticed that too. I think this goes back to Nick’s point about job seekers being brainwashed for decades.

      @Howie: This ties into the Lilly Ledbetter case and act (federal). Her company prohibited employees from discussing and sharing information about their salaries, and in her case, she was underpaid for a long time.

      Unfortunately, the MA law doesn’t go into effect until 2018, but it is a good first step (though I would have liked to see the law require employers to post salary ranges for jobs too).

  16. Boston is also offering FREE salary negotiation workshops for women. I am one of the facilitators.
    It’s a great program and it follows Nick’s advice.
    In the program we explain the wage gape — what, why, who, long term effects.
    Teach attendees to know their value and get used to speaking about their achievements and strengths.
    Encourage attendees to share salary information with friends /trusted peer groups.
    Learn to Identify a target salary based on the market, experience and industry (in advance of phone screens/interviews)
    Learn to Identify min acceptable salary and bolstering range
    Never to give a number first — give a range if you absolutely must, even better ask them for the range of the position
    Ideally wait to talk any numbers until you have met with Hiring manager you really understand the full role (and they really are enthusiastic about you and want to make an offer).
    Tips on how to ask for a raise, when and what to have prepared, anticipate responses etc.
    You are expected to negotiate and almost everything is negotiable…..we review things other than salary.
    Then we practice!!!

    If you are in the Boston area check it out
    http://www.aauw.org/work-smart-boston/

    • @HRHybrid: Thanks for the reminder re these workshops. I’d read about them in the Boston Globe and online, and I wish they were offered here (I live in the western part of the state).

    • HRHybrid: I’d love to make a guest appearance and do a workshop – there are several other angles that job applicants can use to press for a rational, fair, business-savvy salary. Glad to see AAUW is doing this! If you’d like to put whoever manages this in touch with me, I’d be glad to discuss.

  17. There was another bill, An Act providing fair chances for employment that didn’t quite make it in the session. ( SB954: refusing consideration for employment or was not hired by an employer because of the person’s current employment status (gaps), or any person who was not recruited, screened, considered or referred for employment opportunities) by an employment agency because of the person’s current employment status.) Will be re submitted next session. I talked with my state senator who sponsored this one and help uncover holes in the legislation, namely it could be a finger pointing in a situation between a placement person and the hire-ing organization allowing both to Wiesel out of responsibility. The penalties are civil fines. I suggested going a step further and recommended short mandatory jail terms for habitual and repeat offenders

    • Eddie: Good for you for talking to your state senator. I can tell you from firsthand experience that going to elected officials about things like this can pay off handsomely. I wish more people would do what you did.

      • Well, he called me, My own Senator was positive about my interest but referred my inquiry to the next district over who was the originator of the bill. Been over the years bringing my problems with the system to them. Now 2 state reps. and 3 senators know me on a first name basis, but I wish this would lead to a meaningful job in my field.

  18. Most companies today use only online applications and require an applicant’s previous salary or salary range to continue the application process. I’d be interested to know if there is some way to get around this electronically. But regardless, many job hunters are reluctant to respond as you suggest because it is so easy for employers to reject an applicant and go on to the next one who DID provide salary information, whether it was in the application or during an interview. I live in New York City, where the hiring pool is very large, and employers know that we know it.

    • From the limited audience that I have dealt with (colleagues and other contacts), most of these online application systems do not end up with a call or any further contact. They seem to be black holes anyway. I would be interested in any statistic about how well these suit the candidates or even the companies who use them. In my experience, they tend to be a huge waste of time and generally want a lot of info with little hope for work and little guarantee of security of information.

      • …Which is why I give them as little information as possible.

        • @Jen: What goes right past most people is that employers who ask for so much up front are contributing nothing themselves. That by itself is a sign that you’re dealing with jerks. A serious employer invests in recruiting and interviewing — they don’t avoid it like so many do today.

          • Agreed. They think we are desperate (and sadly, some of us are–I’ve been looking for about two years with little to no luck!) but one thing I’ve learned in my time in the workforce is that no one is going to stand up for us. We have to stand up for ourselves.

            I’m only in my late 40s, but I’m winding down my participation, for a number of reasons. My last full time job really did a number on my health, due to the level of negativity and abuse. But I’m trying to find PART TIME work, and it’s really difficult, especially for admin folks like myself. I’m working as a VA for myself, but it’s not bringing in enough, so I’m trying to supplement it.

            All of that said, however, I am NOT putting up with any crap from these employers. I’d rather live a little skint than continue to be abused. I’m working my network, but I don’t have a great one. I hand out my business cards and network when it’s appropriate, but I’m just not having much luck. BUT I’m happy. I would like more money coming in, but I’m happy to be free of the sick dynamic that I see in today’s jobs environment. Sadly, the bad seems to outweigh the good for most workers below C-level. I’m hearing this from people who are still IN the workforce. Sad!

    • Reply with 1 or 123 or 999 (or similar) on automated apps.

    • Take the Zen approach. Need to get over the mountain? Can’t get past it no matter what you do? The Zen solution is simple:

      There is no mountain.

      (Don’t use online application forms. As JimDR points out, they lead nowhere most of the time. You need to start pursuing jobs by talking to managers and other insiders at your target companies. It’s more productive, and it’s more fun, too.)

    • The website may not complete the process without inputting data, but may allow you to save your entries to complete at a later date. That is segregation. If it was in Massachusetts a call to the Attorney generals office may help.

    • I usually simply type in a bunch of zeros, or–if it requires something other than zeros–9s.

      Those online applications are a joke, and that’s how I treat them, if I bother at all.

  19. If I am fundamentally unhappy with my pay and that is the reason I am looking, then making an offer based on (capped by) my current salary will not be satisfactory. I do not want to offer it and don’t!

  20. The worst I’ve experienced was being asked for my desired salary before any discussion of the position. If I could work in Ohio, it would have been one number. If my wife had to quit her job and we’d have to move to California, it would have been a much higher number.
    As for my current salary, as a federal employee, there is a website with my salary anyway.

  21. I’m going to try “I’m sure whatever you offer will be fair market & fine”. I’m tired of making below average. I found out I as slow balled after my boss left the company and admitted it to me. Recruiters are letting me know um woefully under paid. I live in the Valley and its an expensive place.

    I’m lucky as the interviews are set up for me by head hunters. I once was asked in 2009 “my salary” when interviewing thru a recruiter. I differed to the recruiter “he’ll handle that piece for me”. I was laughed at and asked “really?” then told that salary range was needed. Didn’t work. But later on I folded when interviewed in person.

    So now I’m finally learning my lesson.

  22. This can work the other way. Being at a company that paid more than local industry averages, got interesting reactions when offering salary. Fun to watch the squirming. Many companies didn’t want to play. So what about deflating your salary? Has anyone been fired for understating their compensation?

  23. So after all this discussion, after all this back and forth, after all the many comments and different viewpoints, we are all now ready to sit back and let the government solve a “problem” that has been ongoing for thousands of years, yes? Do we not remember one of the most frightening phrases many of us have ever heard – Hi, we’re from the government, and we’re here to help you? Look, when buying a new car, a movie ticket, or an employee, the seller wants to sell it at the highest possible price, and the buyer wants to buy it at the lowest possible price – it’s always been that way, and it’s always going to be that way. I would much rather have an ongoing negotiation about salary than have the government telling me or the employer what we can or can’t disclose to each other. And as already mentioned, within 60 seconds of this new law going into effect, both sides will already have figured out at least a dozen ways to get around it.

    • I agree, Chris. In my view, the role of the government in this matter is to highlight the problem, not to solve it. New laws make news. News rattles people. Rattled people prepare for change. Some of them create change. New laws are usually the tail end of social change – and this is no exception. Even with a law like this in place, as others have noted the desired change will not happen, as employers will find ways around the law. It’s up to the job seeker to take this idea and use it – perhaps with the knowledge that a legislator has vetted it :-)

  24. @Stevie Wonders: Yes, I’ve read that people have been fired for such things; whether understating salary, understating a job title, or leaving off early job experience to hide your age from the many employers who engage in age discrimination. In my last position, my title was Director, which was an overblown puff title given the responsibilities (and lack of authority) at the small startup company. I have no doubt that the title keeps me from getting calls, but if I were to claim that I was merely a manager on a job application, that’s a recipe for a typical HR department at a typical company to fire me the first time I disagree with somebody.

  25. I agree, and that is why all salary data should be internally published, and available to all employees, at least the ranges for each position. Sunlight is an excellent disinfectant.

  26. I am going thru this now. I passed all of the pre-employment testing in the 95th to 100th percentile. I cleared the background, credit, reference, education and employment verifications and was told I was “cleared” as per the conditions of my signed offer letter. That was Friday afternoon. Monday morning, the day I was to give my notice to my current employer, the HR contact demanded a pay stub. I refused. I compromised and offered an HR contact who has historically been known to verify employment and salary range. The HR contact called my HR rep and confirmed the information verbally. That was not sufficient. They called me back several hours later and demanded the pay stub. I emailed my recruiter to state I would sleep on it and make my decision today. I stood firm in my decision and communicated to the HR contact and the team I was asked to join that I believe my current salary is private and confidential and that I would not submit to salary verification as a condition of securing or keeping my position. I had declined a role that was $10,000 higher and came with 10 additional vacation days to accept this role that they were now demanding salary verification for. I am sure they will not back down and I am sure I will lose this opportunity. In the end, I win because I still have an amazing job (I am currently employed and not unhappy) and I have the opportunity to secure a position with an organization that will not play games with me after already determining I meet their requirements. The organization is in a lose lose situation. They lose me and they have no other candidates for this position. They will be starting back at square one. It felt amazing to stand my ground and remain true to my values and principles. Nick’s articles and comments provided the courage I needed to finally not cave. Thank you!

    • Not Desperate: Thanks for sharing the details of your story. Deciding to give up an offer over salary disclosure requirements is a personal decision. It’s pretty clear what my position is and what I would do. Your screen name says it all — if you’re not desperate, you don’t have to cave. My guess is you taught this employer a frightful lesson: The “talent” is not a commodity.

      If anything I’ve written was helpful to you, I’m glad. Good for you for taking stock and keeping control of your career. While it may sound like sour grapes to some, I agree with you that “what you see is what you get.” Any employer that is so hung up on a pay stub is going to be a bear to work with.

  27. I successfully dodged the “what’s your current salary” question from HR, and now I’m set up for a 1/2-day interview with a bunch of people. However, I could not get a salary range from HR, so I have no clue what they might pay for the position. Is it worth even going to the interview and potentially wasting my time if they won’t pay what I am looking for?

    • JobHunting: That’s a very good question. If that’s how you feel, why not call them. Say something like this: “I’m looking forward to our interview, but before I come in, can you please me what the salary range is for the job?”

      If they won’t tell you, then I’d say, “I’m sorry but I don’t think that’s prudent. If we’re not in the same ballpark, we’d be wasting your time and mine. My policy is I don’t interview for a job unless I know what the salary range is. Would you like to tell me?” (Ask a second time like that, just so it’s clear you’re not the one blowing this up. It’ll be on them.)

      If their response is to ask your salary, I’d say this: “Sorry, but I don’t disclose that. I’m not looking to hire someone, you are. It’s your budget that sets the salary, not me.”

      You can probably handle the rest. My guess is they’ll tell you the range. If they don’t, thank them for their interest and say goodbye. Ever go to a car lot where there were no price stickers on the cars? The one doing the selling posts the price. The employer is doing the selling, not you. They advertised the job.

      Make sense? Employers that play “guess the salary” are dopes.

      • I agree with you. I tried to get a range but was told, “Oh, it’s a large range” (so?!) and, “Well, we’ll table salary until we get to that discussion in the interview.” Needless to say, I felt that we’d be playing the you tell me first, no you tell first game. I will try your suggestion. Thank you.

  28. JobHunting: I think that sometimes the problem goes a bit deeper than the employer trying to get a salary out of you. I have noticed in my job hunt that several of my prospective employers have not put any real thought into what the role should pay or frankly what they are able to pay for the position.

    Sometimes they are even quite candid about it, one hiring manager said he couldn’t provide a salary range until he spoke with the senior team when I asked, so my first thought was why are you advertising a job when you know you are not in a position to make offers (i.e. you have no budget).

    This feeds into the very serious problem of rescinding job offers. When a hiring manager hasn’t thought through what value a role brings to his business it is too easy to cancel the position. After all no business case for the position has been made.

  29. As other commentators on this and other sites have noted, another plausible reason companies want this info is to serve as an ersatz salary survey, and gather competitive business intelligence. I suspect many fake job ads are run for this reason. In pre-internet days, I had the evil catbert idea of running a fake job ad to see what my competition looked like. But I never did, just not Machiavellian enough.

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