In the April 24, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader cites the law about employers demanding job applicants’ salary history.


The job application I had to fill out required I provide my current salary info. I just read that a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decided that employers can’t use my old salary to decide my job offer, so why do they keep asking? (Court Ruling: There’s Never a Reason to Use Salary History When Calculating Pay.) I’ve started asking HR why they need that information and, Man, have I heard some real doozies. Seriously, HR thinks we believe that stuff? You and your readers have probably heard bigger whoppers than I have — can you share a few?

Nick’s Reply

salaryThanks for asking. My purpose behind this week’s column is revealed in the title. When we get to the end of it, I’m going to ask everyone to complete that sentence: “We need to know your salary because — .”

But first, please bear with me while we briefly discuss that new court decision.

What’s the value?

I’ve been warning job seekers not to disclose their salary to employers since I before I started writing Ask The Headhunter, because I’ve routinely refused to tell my clients (employers) how much money my job candidates were making. (See Keep Your Salary Under Wraps.)

“I will help you assess what the candidate is actually worth to your company so that you can make a competitive job offer,” is my counter-offer to the employer’s demand for salary history information.

I’ll admit, I’ve lost a few clients over this, but I also fired a few over it. Most employers realize it’s a healthy exercise to figure out a particular job candidate’s value independent of what any other company paid them.

If they’re not willing or able to figure this out for themselves, then I think they’re not worth working with (or for) because relying on some other employer’s judgement of a worker is both stupid and a revelation that a company has no competitive edge on judging value.

You can just say NO to demands for salary information

I’ll never forget the guy who called to thank me for his 75% salary increase when he landed a new job with one of my clients: “You just helped me buy my first house!” His old salary was $44,000. The job offer he accepted was for $77,000. “Thanks for instructing me not to disclose my current salary even when they insisted, because they backed off!”

While not all HR departments will back off if you politely but firmly decline to disclose (“My salary information is private and confidential.”), readers report that HR usually lets it go and proceeds with the job interview. You must judge for yourself how to respond, but you must also realize that if you do disclose, you’ve probably destroyed your ability to negotiate the best job offer. An employer may have the right to ask for your salary, and it may be legally free to terminate your application, but you also have the right to say NO.

Gender-mandering the salary issue

The article you refer to was written by my good buddy Suzanne Lucas (a.k.a. The Evil HR Lady), and she correctly points out that while the issue in Rizo v. Yovino was gender pay disparity, the decision is not about the gender issue per se. While the gender pay gap is a big concern to me (see Don’t blame women for the gender pay gap!), for now (just for now) I’ll leave that angle to Suzanne.

My bigger concern is that in the battle over equal pay for women the courts keep missing the fact that once an employer learns anyone’s salary history, everyone gets screwed when job offers are issued. Knowing your old salary enables an employer to easily cap your new job offer. That’s actually the defense offered by the Fresno County Schools: They freely admit that they’ve stuck it to more than 3,000 employees over 17 years — men and women — it’s the policy!

[Fresno County Schools attorney Michael] Woods said in an email Monday, “FCSS’ policy, applied to more than 3,000 employees over 17 years, was similar to policies used by many other employers…”
Fresno Bee

While some employers don’t play that game, in my experience most do. It’s never smart to disclose your salary. (See Should I disclose my salary history? and Salary History: Can you afford to say NO?)

The Court issues a general rule about prior salary

Certainly, any legal win that protects women’s right to equal pay is a good thing. But now the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has finally articulated the law in broader terms that seem to apply to everyone (emphasis added):

Prior salary, whether considered alone or with other factors, is not job related and thus does not fall within an exception to the Act that allows employers to pay disparate wages.” – Rizo v. Yovino

It doesn’t say “between genders.” This interpretation of the Equal Pay Act, a federal law passed more than 50 years ago, seems to prohibit any general use of anyone’s salary history to determine a job offer. Maybe I’m reading this too broadly, but I expect the debate has just begun.

HR’s salary game

Now let’s get to the purpose of this article: to discuss the games HR departments play regarding your salary history.

“We need to know your salary because…”

You’ve been there. You’ve applied for a job. Maybe HR called or e-mailed you and asked for your current (or most recent, if you’re unemployed) salary. Maybe you didn’t fill in that box on the job application form, and HR called to reprimand you.

You’ve heard the lines:

  • “We need to know your salary because… without it, we cannot continue to process your application.”
  • “We need to know your salary because… it’s the policy.”
  • “We need to know your salary because… we need to know whether you’re in our salary range.”
  • “Just tell us, because we SAID SO!”

What excuses have you heard?

The explanations for why HR “needs to know” your personal, private, confidential salary information are legion. But in all my years in business, I’ve never heard one good justification for why an employer needs to know how much money you make so it can consider you for a job.

The “reasons” are all so disingenuous and such tautologies that I have a standing challenge to all who work in HR: Give me one sound reason why you need to know how much anybody makes?

I’d like us to compile as extensive a list as we can.

What excuses for this salary demand have you heard? Let’s rack ’em up, expose them, look at them closely and discuss what it all means.

I’d also like to know what responses you’ve offered to HR — whether serious or snarky!

: :



  1. Another annoying thing I see for job applications is this thing to go through this third party thing, supposed for TANF or something like that, that requires social security number, etc. I even saw one where it told me it was “optional” but wouldn’t let me proceed till I gave it. I think I may have (though maybe I didn’t), though lately, when I encountered another one for Buffalo Wild Wings, where it asked a bunch and I thought it was done and then it demanded I complete a next step where it went to one of those things, I just backed off and abandoned the application. I’d already answered some stupid personality tests and didn’t want to give out social security number and who knows what else as well.

    • What’s astonishing is that employers seem to have no idea that this “demand” process effectively rejects potentially excellent candidates — they’re lost. That’s good recruiting?

  2. Another problem is, they can’t legally ask you, but there is NO way to prove that if they ask you and you turn them down citing the law, that they can’t then rule you out but not say it, as it would be on YOU to prove it, which would be very difficult.

    • Actually, I don’t think that’s quite right. It would depend on the state that you lived in, but what I see happening is that you find you didn’t get hired after declining to disclose previous salary. You raise a complaint with the appropriate labor department in your state, and they contact the employer, who then must demonstrate that they didn’t reject you because of it. I imagine it’s difficult to get any real satisfaction (after all, if the labor board were able to get you an interview with the company, you wouldn’t want to work there anyway), but with most discrimination stuff the company has to be able to back up why they didn’t hire you, it’s not really a burden of proof thing.

    • You both make good points. The problem is that these laws are nascent, untried or tested, and this leaves job applicants exposed to the whims of employers and the legal system.

  3. I’ve heard a lot of excuses for needing to know my salary.
    – “(Current employer) pays above market, so I need to know if we’re even in the same ballpark.”
    – “I can’t tell you the range for this role until I know your current comp. information exchange works both ways.”
    – “We’re going to check it in employment verification anyway, so you may as well give it to me now.”
    – “You’re the only candidate I’ve spoken to this week who has asked why I need to know your salary. This is just part of the process.” (Read: feel guilty and comply.)
    – “I don’t want to waste both of our time if you’re making more than we can afford.”

    The list goes on.

    • “I can’t tell you the range for this role until I know your current comp. information exchange works both ways.”

      – Information is what you actually need: The salary range for the job vs my expectations. Previous salaries are not information, but noise.

      “I don’t want to waste both of our time if you’re making more than we can afford.”

      – Fine. Neither do I want to waste time. So you tell me your salary range and I tell you my expectation, OK?

    • That last one actually DOES seem like a legit reason to ask. If they typically pay below what you’re used to, you might not want to go there, so by getting that out there sooner, it DOES helps save time for both of you if it was a bad fit rather than waiting till later to find out that it doesn’t pay enough.

      • @Paul,

        That assumes 2 things…

        1. That the prospective employer is playing it straight. Enough anecdotal evidence exists to suggest that’s not often the case.
        2. That you’re unwilling to accept less, and are willing to cede that choice to the prospective employer.

        If they simply disclosed the range up front, they wouldn’t need to collect that data and would address the question of whether you’re willing to accept less by leaving it in your hands. If they list a range and you, as the candidate chose to ignore what they’ve told you…then you have no business getting upset that “they wasted your time.” You chose to pursue an opportunity that didn’t pay in the range you were expecting and took a chance. Your choice…not theirs.

        • @Stephen: I think you nailed it. All this bullying about salary history can be avoided if the employer (who’s making the pitch, after all, to fill a job) would disclose what it wants to pay for the job.

          Every time I read the kinds of “reasons” folks like Liz describe, I want to call for a Racketeering investigation. It’s plain threats and bullying. The HR profession ought to be ashamed of itself for tacitly approving any employer’s behavior like this. They’d never tolerate that kind of bullying from any employee, would they?

  4. There are only three reasons companies ask for salary information: To determine whether they are competitive in the job market (in other words, for market research), to lowball you on an offer, or to use your refusal to disclose as a reason to eliminate you from consideration since they have “dozens of other qualified candidates” based on their last online solicitation. I say turn it around and ask for the range for the position so you don’t waste their time or yours. If they refuse to disclose, then tell them thanks and hang up.

  5. So really, what DO you put in the box on the application they give you to fill out??? That’s another thing – you have a resume with all pertinent information, and they still REQUIRE you to fill out their application which asks much more detailed info – names of previous supervisors and your starting and ending salary at each previous job, along with Reason for Leaving, etc. And the application – whether online or paper – states that any incomplete applications will not be considered.

    How do you get around this???

    • Enter in some number that they know is false like $1 or $1000000.

      If that box is a big deal to them, you have no way of knowing what the “right answer” is.

      • I was able to fill in a ridiculous number in a salary for an application (I’m not looking for a job right now – but I knew someone at the company and a recruiter contacted me). I put in $0 – although the number is not as important as the fact that I didn’t put in my current salary. I even did this at the suggestion of the “recruiter.”

        I got a rejection in 24 hours – on the weekend.

        Here is what I think is going on: Many companies are looking for people who will follow directions and do as they are told. They say they want leaders, but they really want followers.

        Take an iconic brand that recently contacted me. While I was honored that they contacted me at first, I found their phone interviews to be grueling, and one interviewer (who I actually liked) told me I really need to be better prepared and to be able to answer any question on the tip of my tongue and very quickly. This is as I was standing in the rain with an umbrella outside my office in a phone interview that went on for longer than advertised. In other words, they want people who will do anything to work for them. No thanks! I was being considered for 4 positions – two of them turned me down, and I turned down two others.

        The iconic brand is a leader in their field, but from my experience it is clear that they want people who will do as they are told and not ask questions. This may also be why every person I talked to was under 40. At 52, I am too old for them anyway. Besides, I don’t need the stress.

        PS: My friends who know what company this is wonder why I turned them down. I own a number of their products which are fabulous (using my objective engineering judgment), but I just don’t want to work as a slave.

        • If one is unemployed, however, it may be necessary to jump through some hoops just to get employed again. In my case, I am employed with a different iconic brand and I recently received the best performance review of my life. Likewise, I am not going to jump through hoops for a potential job with another company that has a bad reputation. If I were unemployed, however, I would be more inclined to fill out salary information, and I would have the time to really prepare for an interview.

          This leads me to ask why companies assume you will do anything to work for them when you are happy in your position. Do they not realize that I am going to prioritize my efforts at my current job rather than for a company who probably will not offer me a position anyway? Do they just want to hire desperate people?

        • Spot on, Kevin! This is precisely what I think, too, as being the main, or at least, the most common, reason – i.e. companies are looking for people who will follow directions and do as they are told, and not disrupt the current state of things.

    • @Marla: That IS the question, and your question is also the answer. You go around. You decline to fill out forms until AFTER they invest time to meet you. Otherwise it’s what we in the industry refer to with the technical term “Cluster-F*ck.”

      The system has brainwashed people to believe that a demand for salary is pervasive and thus the norm and thus unavoidable. Nothing is farther from the truth. You tell them you don’t fill out forms until someone meets you. If they’re not interested in meeting you first, then they’re not really recruiting you — they’re rolling dice hoping for a win. That is, the odds they have any real interest in you are very low. Thus the odds you’re wasting your time are huge.

      Here’s the test: Can you get a real, live manager or employee of the company to personally refer you for a job? If not, even a desperate unemployed applicant stands virtually no chance of getting an interview, much less the job.

      When you cull opportunities by testing to see whether they have real interest in you, your odds of success go up — as does the freedom to walk away from a waste of time.

      If the answer to “I don’t share my salary or fill out forms” is met with “Well, forget YOU!”, then what it really means is, “We have no idea who you are and no reason to want to meet you. We’re processing thousands of forms, not recruiting the right candidates.”

      Then it’s ON TO THE NEXT.

      Find your opportunities by talking to people who will refer you to the front of the line.

      • Perfect advice, Nick. Too bad most folk will not do the work to follow this advice, and instead, waste time filling out online applications…

  6. Oh my. Nick is right. The reasons given a legion. As are the potential responses.

    The most common reasons I’ve heard are the usual “So we can be sure we’re in the right range”. “So we’re not wasting time”. “Because that’s the process”.

    There are a couple of interesting back & forth experiences that stand out.

    On on occasion, when asked, I asked why and was told “Because we often get applicants that make more than we’re offering and we don’t want to waste time.” After discovering that they don’t even discuss their offer range with folks that come in high. I asked “What if that candidate is moving from a higher cost of living area?” or “What if someone is looking to reduce their level of stress and take on a role with less responsibility and are willing to take a commensurate cut in salary?”. Unsurprisingly, they hadn’t even considered that someone might be moving from a more expensive area. They were absolutely taken aback by the suggestion that someone might decide to take on less responsibility. To that HR replied “we always want someone who’s ambitious and wants to move up. We don’t really want anyone that doesn’t want to move up.” I followed up asking what their turnover rate was and what percentage of folks move up in the organization during their tenure. There was a bit of agitation at those questions. Surprisingly, they knew the answers and were willing to share them. Turns out they had a 12-15% annual turnover for a company of only 200 employees. Further, less than 5% of folks in the company made an upward move. When I pointed out that statistically, any employee 3 times more likely (more, actually) to leave the company, than to get promoted, that was pretty much the end of the conversation.

    The most snarky response I can recall, was when given the standard, “it’s our policy” response. I asked whether the HR rep would be willing to share their salary along with the salary of the last two folks in that role. They responded that company policy made such information confidential and that they couldn’t share any of that. I asked them if such policies were common place in industry. To which they replied “of course it is.” I then asked why they felt it was appropriate for me to breach such a confidentiality policy with regard to my current salary, despite a clear understanding on their part that such information is commonly considered confidential. I went on to ask whether they really want anyone willing to disclose confidential information working for them. I further asked why I’d want to work for an employer that routinely asks applicants to violate confidentiality as a matter of policy. Needles to say, that was a short conversation as well.

    Ah…fun times.

    • ““we always want someone who’s ambitious and wants to move up. We don’t really want anyone that doesn’t want to move up.””

      Sooo…they want someone with ambitions to rise in the ranks, but not pay the salary increase which follows…?

      • Not only do they not want to pay the salary increase that follows, but given their turnover and internal promotion statistics, they clearly want to set the ambitious folks up for failure and disappointment when those ambitions are thwarted by the reality of the culture.

        Go figure.

    • …takes notes for later…

      You and Nick could collaborate on his next book!

      • @Andy,

        That’s very kind. However, I just put a few twists on information I’ve gotten from Nick over the years. I might be able to offer anecdotes, but Nick had been my primary source of the core information, and as a result, the courage to have those conversations.

    • @Stephen: Brilliant and elegant. Now take it a step further.

      Contact the company’s legal/compliance chief and cc the chair of the board of directors: “Your HR office just demanded that I breech my legal covenant with my last employer to disclose confidential company information, then rejected my job application when I would not comply. And that’s after they admitted YOUR company has the exact same covenants with your employees. Shall we talk, or shall I have my attorney contact you?”

  7. It is so disingenuous for companies to claim they “need” your salary info so they don’t “waste” your time (really, THEIR time).

    1) It rings a bit hollow to be concerned about “wasting” a candidate’s time when 99% of these same companies do precisely that with stupid ATSs and ridiculous personality assessments.

    2) They could just as well avoid “wasting time” by stating a salary range upfront, instead of being coy about it.

    • True dat!


      They could avoid wasting everyone’s time by:

      1) Completely stop using ATS. Post the salary up front.

      2) Develop hiring managers who know what they want and can read a resume (or business card) to determine if the candidate provides what they need.

      3) Develop in both hiring managers and HR staff the ability to “listen for understanding” rather than just “listen to figure out what to say next”.

      Just because you can make hiring the equivalent of a Rube Goldberg Machine™ does not mean that it is necessary or helpful to do so.

  8. Marla – you get around it by bailing on that job application.

    If you absolutely insist on filling it out, put in an obviously bogus salary, like a dollar, or even a million dollars (some I’ve seen won’t let you put in an extremely low number). The system will probably kick you out, but that’s what will happen if you don’t put anything in anyway. But at least then you can follow up and hopefully contact real flesh and blood instead of an automated system, which should be your initial goal anyhow.

    The only other alternative is to enter your desired salary range, but this puts you at a disadvantage.

    • I’m curious – would it then be grounds for termination if you’d falsified that information on your application? I don’t have an answer to *how* they’d find out, unless you subsequently told them yourself. Maybe this isn’t a good solution, unless you’re pretty sure you don’t want to work there anyway?

      • @Mark: I’m not a lawyer and this is not legal advice…

        During onboarding/orientation many companies require you to provide a recent pay stub. That requirement is in the employee policy manual. If you don’t fork it over, you’re in violation of the policy you agreed to when you accepted the offer. (That’s why I tell people to request AND read all docs associated with a job offer, including benefits details and policy manual.)

        Violation can be grounds for termination. That includes a mis-match between the stub and what you told them earlier. It’s called getting busted for lying. Be careful. Once you are an employee, it’s not just the law that you’re subject to, but also the policies you agreed to. (I know of no law that requires anyone to divulge salary prior to hire.)

        • @Nick: I’ve heard of this (requiring people to submit a recent paystub) but can’t figure why, or come up with any good reasons why employers require this. If they want proof that you worked or are working where you say you work(ed), can’t this be verified when they do one of their many, myriad background checks and reference checks? Even a simple phone call to HR at your current and former employers will at least result in the minimalist “yes, she worked from January 2010- September 2015” or if you lied, they’ll say they have no record of such person.

          So why require the paystub? It just seems to be one more unnecessary hoop for candidates. Thanks!

          • @ Mary Beth, This is pretty common from Sales Managers considering sales candidates. When they are considering an applicant who is claiming spectacular (sales) accomplishments on their resumes, particularly with tours of short tenure.

            In most cases sales comp is heavily commission driven. And hence your pay is the proof in the pudding.

            I’ve seen it more demanding than a pay stub…because commission pay has it’s ups and downs. They asked for your tax submission for the last X years.

            But as you can guess, when the situation reaches the stage where the question is asked, it’s signalling that the Mgr thinks you’re BSing and the applicant’s credibility is already gone.

            It’s a “oh yeah? show me the money” question

          • Can someone in HR explain to us why they require new hires to produce an old paystub, and why such a requirement is included in the company policy? (“Show us your teeth” could probably get you fired, too, if it’s in the policy for everyone, eh?)

  9. It might, just MIGHT, depend on the position you are applying for.
    If you are applying for a position analyzing the OS of the alien spacecraft at Area 51 or doing an autopsy on one of its pilots, then, yes, expect a very invasive background check, you parents, grandparents, every job you’ve held or applied for, everyone in every class of every school you’ve attended, fingerprints, blood, urine and stool samples.

    But for any lesser position?

    I once had a Bastard-Manager-From-Hell whose mantra was “What have YOU done for me TODAY?”
    Nasty, but ultimately that is what a job appraisal should be about.
    As a hiring manager I always believed that Attitude, Willingness and Ability to work as part of the team are more important that walk-on-water brilliance. All to often I found HR got in the way.

    When corporate policy changed in the name of ‘good governance so that I *HAD* to go though HR, had to submit a job description and only respond to the resumes they decided to let me see, when I could n longer hire on the basis of recommendations by my team members or people I met ‘networking’ at professional events, well, I decided to pack in being a manager. A manager is only as good as his team and if I no longer had control over how I built me team then I was no longer any use as a manager.

    • I had a “What have you done for ME TODAY?” kind of manager a couple times, and one of them made the mistake of asking me that in one of the endless meetings he’d run. I pulled a company memo out of my pad and quoted the company mantra on how managers were to help expedite their employees in their daily work – and then looked him square in the eyes in front of everyone and asked him “well, what have YOU done for ME today?”. It was the last time he asked that question in a meeting… or so folks who stayed with the company told me. ;-)

    • Ugh this is SO frustrating to hear! As Nick and lots of others extol frequently, hiring managers who are actually willing to do the work of networking, bench-building, and taking referrals are doing management the right way… nobody knows better than you do who to put on your team. But it’s hard to get managers to do all that; they’re usually given more direct reports than they should be, and still have individual contributions to make for the work, and they just don’t have time to dedicate to hiring. That’s all really problematic, but to see that companies are going the other direction and actively removing the power of managers to create their teams is infuriating.

      • @Kimberlee: Andy F. just revealed the real problem. Managers concede their management prerogatives to HR, and are untrained in recruiting and hiring. Companies “let HR do it.”

        It doesn’t work.

  10. My favorite was also the most honest, almost comically so. For an IT position in a major New York teaching hospital: after reviewing my CV and having me in for what seemed like a very good interview, I received repeated emails and phone calls demanding my salary history. At first, they came from lower-level administrative folks, but the questioning rose to a fever pitch when actual members of the group started calling.

    I finally spoke with one of these people, and told him that this was private information, and unnecessary for them to figure out what the job was worth to them. I asked him to tell me HONESTLY why he thought they needed to know my salary history, and he said, right up front: so we can decide how much to offer you.

    I said no, very politely, without laughter (difficult!) and again emphasized that they should be able to work things like this out on their end without demanding such information, and that was the end of it.

    • @Rick,

      I had one of those managers. I worked for him for 5 years. Each year, I made review time a living hell. On average, it took him a week to finish up my review and get an “appropriate” salary increase on the table. After my first year I got a very unsatisfactory response regarding the initial increase offer. After that, I started each annual review cycle with an in-depth review of what value I’d brought to the table. Once that was complete, I told that manager the following. “51 weeks out of the year, I spend my focusing on ‘What can I do for [insert company here]’. One week out of the year, I focus on ‘What can [insert company here] do for me.’ I think that’s a very fair trade.” I often sent him back to management several times over a week explaining that the pittance they were offering clearly showed they didn’t understand what I did for them. I explained that I’d be happy to bring my services where they were more readily appreciated. In the end, I always came away with an increase I was able to live with until the final year. Management came back and said they were tired of my “threats” to leave, they didn’t buy it, and I could take their offer or leave it. So…I left it. I did enjoy the looks on the faces of senior management as I waved to them on my way out with my box of personal effects.

      • Ooops,

        That reply should have been to @Ajia.

    • @Rick: The really profound problem that companies miss in all of this is what it says about them. When they want to base a job offer on another company’s judgement of a worker (the prior salary), it says they lack the acumen to judge value for themselves.

      Where’s the competitive edge if you can’t judge value except by using your competitor’s judgement? Why are you even in business??

      @Stephen: The other profound problem is that companies do not run an analysis and calculation on how each and every employee (and job) contributes to profit. Every job either contributes to costs or revenues (+ or -). How much? I’ve listened to top execs wax eloquent about how “that’s just not possible.”

      But business failure is.

  11. Here are some of the explanations HR reps have told me over the years, much of which has already been mentioned:
    1. “We have a set budget for this position, so we don’t want to waste your time or ours if you are already earning within this range and expecting a higher salary.”

    2. “We are in a lower cost of living area than where you live currently, so let’s figure that into the equation about salary, if your current salary is higher.”

    3. “It is our policy to require applicants to reveal their current salary. You know we have ways of confirming your current salary. We will require you to provide evidence of your current salary (if you are hired), and if you are not truthful, you will be dismissed, so you should be honest about your current salary.”

    4. “We require that you provide a copy of your most recent W-2 if you are a finalist for this position.”

    5. “We have had our salaries vetted with a compensation consultant and feel confident that what we are offering is competitive. So, we need to know your current salary and discuss whether you are willing to accept the compensation we are currently offering before we move to the next step in this process.”

    6. “If you refuse to reveal your current salary, I will have to get approval from the CEO to continue with your application because our policy requires us to have your current salary. The CEO is very busy, and you won’t be setting a good track record with him if you come into this company asking for so many exceptions to our policies regarding the salary information, the offer package we provide to you, vacation time, and so forth.”

    7. “This is X company. We get 8000 unsolicited resumes every week from people who really want to work for us and will provide any information we request.”

    • LOL #5. So bass-ackwards. We need to know if you’ll accept our offer, so we need to know your personal information so we can determine if you’ll like our offer.

      No. The way you determine if someone will like your offer is YOU MAKE THEM A DAMN OFFER. Jesus.

    • @Dee:

      “You know we have ways of confirming your current salary. We will require you to provide evidence of your current salary (if you are hired), and if you are not truthful, you will be dismissed, so you should be honest about your current salary.”

      That’s really the only “gotcha” for job applicants. If you lie during the hiring process about prior salary, and during orientation they require your prior salary stub, that can be grounds for termination. But please pay attention: During the interviews you are not obligated to tell them your salary. But after you are hired, you ARE bound by any company policy that uniformly requires all new hires to hand over a prior pay stub — you just accepted the offer and all the policies that go along with it!

      The best way to protect yourself (I think) is not to disclose the information during the interview. No disclosure, no foul. However, once you’re hired, you may have to deliver the stub in any case. That’s why I advise asking for ALL benefits, company policies, and documents “incorporated by reference” into your job offer. Know what you’re getting into.

      “If you refuse to reveal your current salary, I will have to get approval from the CEO to continue with your application”

      GREAT! It’s GOOD to have the CEO approve you up front! Then you’ll know you’re a “designated candidate” that the CEO has pre-approved! Imagine if CEOs reviewed ALL applicants like that!! What a concept!

  12. Mr. Brouillard:

    I was considering carrying a copy of my own non-disclosure agreement, and telling HR, “I’m sorry, I signed a non-disclosure with myself on that matter.”

    Worth a try . . .

    • Nice!

      Truth is, you may have signed one by virtue of accepting the terms of the employee handbook at your previous employers. That handbook, very often, specifies that your salary is to be kept confidential.

      • It is illegal under federal law to prohibit employees from discussing salary with each other.

        • @Molly,

          I was unaware of that. I researched and found that not only are you right, but the law has been on the books for 80 years!

          The truth is, however, that the policies remain and companies are convinced that they are in the right. It also doesn’t change the hypocrisy in companies where they feel they’re justified in requiring confidentiality from their employees while expecting prospective employees to violate that same confidentiality.

  13. Many years ago a “recruiter” contacted me and I ended up with a job offer that was too low and I turned it down. He said one reason the offer was limited was due to my previous salary and that they would need to see my previous W2 to verify.

  14. As others have pointed out, there are many variables that go into someone’s salary, not all of which are under someone’s control. Any HR/Management/Recruiter tool who says “they understand” likely does not.

    I have heard people justify that salary history can indicate someone’s level, knowledge, type of job or work ethic/ambition. While this may be true on a high level/in aggregate, it doesn’t necessarily hold on an individual basis. It basically leads to uncomfortable interrogations by the employer for someone to justify the salary. In other words, you should be able to get the information you need by reading someone’s resume/CV and actually asking them well thought out questions that will hopefully get the candidate to tell enough about themselves to make a decision. This would likely lead to a better candidate experience overall.

    The other reasons companies ask is because they are simply cheap.

    • @Dave: It’s all self-serving HR double-talk. Consider these scenarios.

      1. HR makes you an offer. You complain it’s low for your expertise. They explain they rely on salary surveys to set salaries and offers, so there’s nothing they can do. “That’s what this kind of job pays in the market.”

      2. HR makes you an offer. You complain it’s low for your expertise and you cite a salary survey that shows your job title/description pays more (elsewhere) than they’re offering. HR explains that the specific job they’re offering you is not adequately described by the salary surveys, which describe jobs only generally.

      Got that? :-)

  15. Do your own dialing for dollars, when the website holds up your data entry, see if it will accept non numeric entry and if not, do a print screen. Same thing with anything that reveals sex. Save this stuff and do a consultation with an attorney and see if there is a possible settlement.

  16. I’m a company recruiter – i follow you, liz ryan and sometimes suzanne. Lately managers say, “what was their last pay?” And i say, “i don’t know and it’s not our business”. In interviews i ask target salary or salary expectations. I had to coach a new prog manager that we don’t ask for references unless we know we’re going to make an offer. She wanted us to ask on the application to save time. I’m just venting because i feel like an hr unicorn. I think they believe i’m too liberal and naive, and that i’ve never had to manage a budget, which unfortunately is true. It’s tough to stand up for these ethics on my own. Its like they don’t take me seriously when i say that i follow hr trends and try to stay ahead of the curve. Because it conflicts with budgets. I hope someone reads this so you see that some company recruiters are on YOUR side and fight for it.

    • @Melissa

      Would it be possible to answer the managers question with a question?

      “Hiring manager, would you share your salary with a potential employer? Because if you did and they offered you a pittance above what you’re making now, I can guarantee you’d complain about it. But it’s OK for you to do it now because you have a ‘budget'”

    • You’re doing god’s work, Melissa. There are some really basic things that I’m amazed recruiters and hiring managers still do: ask for previous salary, refuse to put salary range right there in the job posting, asking for references up-front, refuse to contact every applicant to let them know the situation (at my last company, that ended up being my only goal; simply getting hiring managers to actually reject the people that take the time to apply but aren’t getting the job. I failed at even that small, simple goal, when a new director was hired and declared it to no longer be a priority for the entire department I worked in).

      It’s really amazing how many very good “best practices” there are out there that companies just don’t follow. If your managers are too busy to send a form email blast to all the candidates they are rejecting (and ideally sending custom ones to anyone they actually talked to, but beggars can’t be choosers apparently), then there’s a deep problem with how you’re setting up workload and prioritizing as a company. There’s no good excuse.

    • Uh, Melissa, I think I love you…

      Please do not change your standards. Your practices are grounded in common sense, respect, intelligent judgement, and loads of business savvy. More important, your practices reveal that you’re willing to do the hard work of hiring a good candidate, rather than turn it over to a “process.”

      All I’d add to your request for salary target/expectations is a statement of what the job you’re trying to fill will pay.

      You could always print out my article and all the comments and pin them to your office door :-).

      Thanks for showing us there are unicorns in HR. You should be a trainer and policy-maker.

  17. The only fair question an employer should be able to ask is how much money you’re looking for. What is your salary range requirement? This, of course, should be preceded by the employer PUBLISHING the salary range for the job. Someone has to go first, and it should be the employer. “Competitive salary,” “depending on experience” are all weasel words that mean absolutely nothing. Honesty in hiring pays big dividends for employers. It is not possible to get an appropriate response to a job posting without indicating the salary range. Who would know better the value of a job to a particular employer than the company itself?

    • YES. Job postings should have the salary range right there in the ad. In the vast majority of cases, hiring managers know the range before they ever post the job. If companies are gonna complain about getting too many applicants, then this should be an easy compromise (it’s not, because companies only decline to do this because they want to save money. The motive becomes transparent after awhile).

    • Even the question about “salary requirements” can be somewhat tricky: How can you answer that without first having a conversation about what the job actually entails? Sure, there’s the posted job description, but let’s face it – how reliable are those to begin with (especially ones containing verbiage like “including, but not limited to….” or “and other duties as needed….”)?

      If I were ever to get to the interview stage and that question was sprung on me, I’d have to respond along the lines of, “Well, why don’t you tell me some more details about the position so I can get a better idea of how to answer your question.”

      • @Askeladd: Salary should indeed depend on what the job actually entails. But even that’s not enough. I really love it when an employer says, “We will not consider any applicant who expects more than $X salary!”

        So what happens if someone comes along who could do the job in a way that doubles the expected profits of the company at a far higher salary than the limit? Would the employer reject them?

        Cost is not the issue that employers should be worried about. How much profit the employee can contribute should be. Isn’t the point of every hire to BOOST success of the business? How much is that worth?? I dunno — the employer has to figure it out.

        The answer is not in the applicant’s last salary.

  18. I’ve had several jobs that required documentation.

    One paid me almost exactly the same but with better stock (that I never received because they kept repricing) and another that was within a few dollars of a 10% raise.

    In both cases it was clearly an absolute demand.

    • This is quite common. In my more naive days, when I shared, I conveniently received offers that were “just above” what I currently making. To top it off, they couldn’t understand why I rejected their offers in the end. “But But it’s more than your making now! This is an awesome position!”

    • @Bob,

      In recent memory (last 10 years or so) I have nearly always met such an absolute demand with anything other than an absolute (albeit polite) refusal. On the few occasions I have done otherwise…against my better judgement…I have regretted it. It has always been as a result of allowing emotion to override careful thought. On one of those occasions, I was in need of employment ASAP. I even got the job (at a very small compensation increase, of course). I was miserable and looking for other opportunities within 30 days….Go figure.

      • Correction

        ***I have nearly always met such an absolute demand with an absolute (albeit polite) refusal.***

        • I took those as absolute demands and didn’t push back.

          Perhaps I could have refused.

          I have heard of companies that “absolutely” will not go forward without verified current salary (pay stub or W-2).

          • Agreed. It’s easier said than done on the prospective employee side when it becomes emotional (read I NEED A JOB).

            I don’t have a problem with verifying employment. I don’t even have an issue with verifying current salary with a W2 or Paystub…as long as it is AFTER an offer is made. Truth is, though, there’s no need for it. After all what need is there to verify salary if you haven’t asked for it to begin with?

            I turned down an offer once after verbally accepting it because they added unreasonable demands as contingency in the written offer. The real kicker was that didn’t disclose until the written offer that pay was on a monthly basis. That smelled fishy and I researched with that state’s AG. It was illegal for them to pay monthly unless it was requested by the employee. I even confirmed that there was no legal waiver available for that particular statute. When I confronted them with my concerns, rather than even feed me a line that they’d look into it, they accused me of lying. Game over. All of that to make the point that if a company is sketchy about the small things, you can’t be certain they won’t be about the big ones.

  19. @Kevin brings up an interesting point: Company Reputation & Ethics.

    Back when companies really cared about their reputation, every department (including Salary and Benefits) projected and added positively to the company reputation.

    Most, if not all of the time, when Modern HR “needs to know your previous salary” it is to use it to low-ball the offer. The question I ask myself is: “Do I really want to work for a company whose Corporate Ethics are so low that they have to low-ball?”

    The conversation never gets that far (my time is valuable too), but if they have to low-ball because of “the economy”, haven’t they already filled out the corporate death certificate and just haven’t had the courage to sign and date it?

  20. I always find it humorous when potential employers, whether the HR folks or the hiring managers, tell me that they “know what people in [my targeted job / department] are paid.” More than 25 years ago, after I’d left one of the Detroit Big 3 for one of the Asian car companies on the West Coast, I had lunch with one of my former co-workers. He’d accepted a transfer with a promotion about the same time as I’d left, and he told me about his most recent performance review. His manager had given him an “A” rating, but said that he couldn’t give him a raise in pay because he was already “at the top of his position’s range.” My buddy said he knew that wasn’t true, and that his salary was actually below the mid-point for his position. My buddy told his manager what he was actually being paid, which caused the manager to go to his director for some clarification and advice. The director went to HR where he learned that HR had doctored that portion of their records to make that part of the Organization look more attractive than it actually was. So it’s not just the accounting folks who keep two sets of books.

    Interestingly, when I related this story to my dad a few months later, he told me that something similar had happened to him back in the 1940s! He’d accepted an offer from a Major Oil Company to work in the oil fields in Venezuela. His first performance review was outstanding, but his manager told him that he wouldn’t get a raise because he was already being paid at the top of his range. Evidently, someone had monkeyed with some salary figures when configuring the offer, but hadn’t properly informed everyone who actually needed to know.

  21. Actually, the danger isn’t just lowballing, but also being ruled out for making too much before. (I get it, that second one could be helpful if you really would cost more than they could afford, but it could also rule you out if they COULD afford it but, from disclosures from other people, saw that they got paid less and thought that they’d be willing to take a lower offer than you.)

  22. I had an inside recommendation for an unlisted job with a Fortune 500 employer during the recession in 2009 (think…..mmmmm, mmmmm, good). But first, I had to take a phone interview with HR.

    The very first question from HR was “You have to tell me your salary now or we cannot continue the interview or hiring process”. I told HR that my previous employer made this information confidential. HR terminated the interview. I went back to my inside source and told them about this shoddy treatment. I asked them to guess how many qualified people never got past this first question. All they could do was shake their head.

    • Yah, shake their head and continue the S.O.P. Another progressive company that rewards thinking out of the box and creative management.


  23. During an interview once the owner of a small company asked me my salary requirements. I told him that I have not gotten a chance to think about it. I asked him what he was thinking and he refused to tell me because “he asked me first.” I told him I would think about it and get back to him, with the understanding that salary is negotiable and I did not want him to reject me if I came in higher. I work in a niche industry and live in a small town, which makes looking up normal salaries tough. I e-mailed back with a reasonable number I never heard from him again. I learned that day never to disclose current salary or salary expectations because it can only be used against you.

  24. @MollyG: Asking for your salary requirements is a litmus test to see if you will do as requested on the job – no questions asked. Maybe my recent experience influences me to say this, but if someone won’t disclose his or her salary, they might also say “no” to doing something of questionable ethics. It’s just as well you never heard from that awful company again.

  25. Hr’s response that they ask about salary because they do not want to waste our time is a load of BS. What they are concerned about is not wasting their time.

    Today, an average job seeker spends many hours researching the company, finding connections and trying to rewrite their resume to get it past that electronic box of rocks they call an ATS.

    If HR was truly concerned about not wasting our time, they would simply post the salary range on the job description.

    • “that electronic box of rocks they call an ATS”

      Tom, please refrain from using highly technical hilarious terms on this forum. (I love it.)

  26. Several recruiters recently have used some variation of “I need to know your salary so I can negotiate a better deal for you.” Huh ? Like you work for me, a complete stranger who does not sign your paychecks?

  27. After calling a former coworker at a firm that is expanding, I sent a resume and exchanged emails with the HR generalist. An email came asking me to fill out a boilerplate application, which included salary history.
    Salary information from prior positions, more than 12 years ago, was listed with a question mark (?) based on my best recollection. My current salary was not disclosed, as my most recent employer requires a draconian non disclosure non compete which includes pricing and billing info.
    I’m meeting with the new firm tomorrow and will post a follow up.

  28. Agree Kevin, consider the ask and the response to not disclosing as an interview question. Do I want to work for this company? My bet is if they can’t price their position competitively without a single, unreliable datapoint, i.e. your salary history, they’ll also struggle in performance evaluation, talent management, turnover, thought leadership, compliance, risk management, and positioning for growth. No thanks.

  29. @Jim – a perfect interaction for that phone call to the CEO with the message “I just had an interaction with your HR department that if I were CEO, I would want to know about – name and number – and press 1 to leave message.”

    I think it is important to document the times when a company does ask and file the complaint, even if it is unlikely to get traction, as it documents the bad behavior.

    Personal note

    I got this gem from a colleague.

    Interviewer asking Friend – what is your current salary?

    Friend – My salary is public record on the web, but the positions I am currently evaluating offers from is in the range AA-BB.

    He thought that one up on the fly.

    Shout out to @Melissa for doing ‘Very Good Work”

    • “My salary is public record on the web, but the positions I am currently evaluating offers from is in the range AA-BB.”

      See also, “I make $X but I won’t even interview with you unless you can commit to a salary range of $Y-$Z. Agreed? Please don’t waste my time.”

      • @Nick

        This reminds me of a story I once heard:

        Someone was unemployed and was looking for a job. Met with a recruiter and they were of no help. (surprise!)

        Fast forward some amount of time and the person finally lands the job they want. Same recruiter who didn’t help is now “harassing” the person to talk about potential opportunities. The person basically tells them what you said above, that they were happy where they were and that it would take $X to move on.

        Of course the recruiter balks at that number and said it would be unlikely to reach that number.

        So the person says, “You do realize that 6 months ago, I was unemployed and would have taken significantly less and it’s not like my ‘skill set’ has changed drastically in that time, but you wanted nothing to do with me.”

  30. Another way of looking at Nick’s point. Ideally a company develops a process to find, recruit, and bring on board people of value to their company. Ideally. If done, a person’s comp history is irrelevant, and need not come up.

    Hence, if a company asks for it, they signal a lack of confidence in their process, i.e themselves. Conversely, those that don’t ask, signal self confidence…

    Hiring and being hired is not risk free, but in my experience, the confident route offers better opportunity, because if they are unsure of themselves in hiring, don’t be surprised if that uncertainty and second guessing management & processes exists just about everywhere else.

    Confident means confident in demonstrated good leadership. And good leaders develop and place good managers in whose judgement they trust,,,particularly in who will add value. They know a good manager and company…is only as good as his/her team.

    As a job hunter, I never had a problem with the question. 1st,I guess I’m fortunate as it didn’t always come up, & if it did, it didn’t matter that much to me. I either had a good story ..and/or it was a way for me to gain a sense of my worth to that company or how I fit into a locale. It I had the right value, they’d deal with it. If not..onward.

    From the inside view…Most of the time I was a manager, there was a hard & fast rule of thumb. I say rule of thumb as I can’t recall it being a documented policy. But a manager faced a hard wall if a starting salary effected over a 10% jump. One had this feeling you were dealing with an HR paranoia that the applicant was trying to pull something over on the company. As a manager you were facing an improbable hire, but not impossible. You really had to sell the candidate & not everyone wanted to make the effort. This was an obstacle for sure. But a few times, especially when times were fast growth good, and confidence high, there were no constraints. Nice.

    And note..everyone refers to HR doing this or thus…sometimes it’n not HR balking, it’s the Hiring Manager who’s expressing their closed minded ideas about hiring.

    Also Companies/HRs who slavishly and stubbornly ask for this info, may be doing so to collect salary data to see how competitive they are in the marketplace. But…many companies participate in industry surveys (for a price) that collect that information (generically, not on individuals) . Hence it’s not really necessary to ask applicants. It’s really not needed as there are established ways to get that info. Refer back to my point about good processes.

  31. The more I read your posts, the more I realize that many companies out there did not get the memo that the economy is actually good and that not everyone is desperate for a job.

    Before the millenial depression (aka Great Recession), I found employers would definitely treat me differently if I was employed – that is, if I was looking for a change and I had the skills, I would become a more attractive candidate.

    Yet today, even if a company contacts me first, I still get treated as if I am desperate to work for them. No thank you! In one recent inquiry, the company’s founder was a notorious jerk, and I will not work for jerks.

    You do not have to be a jerk to be successful. There is another famous CEO I will not name, but in my eyes he is not a jerk, is highly successful, and humble. Say, maybe I should take a look at that particular company! I think I will!!!

  32. Maybe @Malgosia has hit on something:

    Perhaps all the “disruption champions”, “disruptive technology” and “disruptive leaders” have worn a little thin on the business community, and they are looking for people who can go along, get along, hit their marks and say their lines.

  33. @Stephen J. Brouillard
    8:50 am on April 24, 2018

    and @Nick Corcodilos
    1:30 pm on April 25, 2018

    @Stephen: Brilliant and elegant. Now take it a step further.

    Contact the company’s legal/compliance chief and cc the chair of the board of directors: “Your HR office just demanded that I breech my legal covenant with my last employer to disclose confidential company information, then rejected my job application when I would not comply. And that’s after they admitted YOUR company has the exact same covenants with your employees. Shall we talk, or shall I have my attorney contact you?”

    Good points, but think of the last employer telling you to go to if your prospective employer needs to check out your references, etc. This is a workaround so that the last or prospective employers don’t have to deal with any legalities, as described by Nick above.

    • @JM,

      I am not an attorney, so I obviously am not familiar with any nuances of the potential legal arguments. That said, I don’t think this would bypass the legal issue.

      1. Whether or not a service like this is available, any legal requirements still hold. So in a state where it’s illegal to require you to provide your salary prior to an offer…it still is. Further, if I can’t use your salary to determine my offer to you, then why do I want to verify it anymore?

      2. If a previous employer made it a policy for my salary to be held as confidential, whether it is revealed via a third party service, or by me or my former employer directly, the confidentiality is still breached. Whoever made the information available through the third party service is still in violation of the relevant policy and/or statute.

      In the end, it comes down to this. Don’t play the game. Don’t let them bully you. Say no. If the American workforce refuses to play the game en-masse, then the employers have no choice but to accept the new norm.

  34. Oh, boy, these are some doozies!

    From HR and more than a few times from the hiring managers, I’ve heard:
    1.) But it’s REQUIRED and if you refuse (bad girl!) we won’t continue to process your application
    2.) It is the law (no, it isn’t, and when I asked both the HR lackey and the hiring manager to show me where in the MGLA it is written that prospective candidates are required to provide their salary history in order to be considered for a job, they blustered and bullied, hemmed and hawed, and of course, couldn’t provide the relevant statute)
    3.) We have to know what you make now and what you made in the past in order to decide what to pay you (right—as if my salary from my first post-college job, in a different industry, 25+ years ago, is relevant to what THIS job in this industry is worth to you NOW)

    Funny, but whenever I ask “what is the salary range you have budgeted for this position?”, the reactions are always negative, often shocked (how dare I, a mere applicant, ask about salary and benefits), and I am told that it is none of my damned business, that I don’t need to know, that they never ever discuss salary with applicants until they have made an offer and the offer has been accepted. I was once called an uppity b$tch for even thinking that I had a right to know.

    If employers don’t want to waste “their” time talking to people who make too much money, then post the salary range along with the job description. Put a statement in a different font in bold indicating that they will not negotiate or whatever so people looking at the add will know that management isn’t willing to go higher. Prospective applicants will then self-select out if they can’t afford to work there, and won’t even apply. Then HR won’t be burdened with processing all of the applications. Et voilà, problem solved!

    • > I was once called an uppity b$tch for even thinking that I had a right to know.

      And people wonder why they can’t find anyone to take their jobs. Must be a “talent shortage.” Right….

      • @Dave: Yeah, that must it. There’s a special talent shortage of smart, experienced people who are willing to take employers’ sh!t.

        Earlier this month I tried (the operative word being “tried”) to apply for a job at a local company not far from where I currently work. Naturally, there was no salary range posted, and to add insult to injury, those interested in the job are being told to apply through LinkedIn. Because I currently work so close (as in a matter of yards) to this business, I wrote up a new résumé and cover letter, searched the employer’s website to try to figure out who the hiring manager is, and even contacted an alumna (recently in the news for a book she had published) re what it is like working there, etc. She was very forthcoming and helpful, even providing me with the name of the hiring manager and contact info. Not only did I get a different variation on the same old song and dance “you MUST go through HR in order to be considered”, but was told that LinkedIn would be doing the first few rounds of screening rather than anyone on site. If I wasn’t willing to follow directions and go through LinkedIn, then they not only wouldn’t even look at me, but told me that meant I would be a very poor fit for the company. This last bit came from HR. It is too bad–the job is full time, the alumna with whom I spoke loves her job and the company, and strongly encouraged me, a fellow alumna, to apply. No deal. They’ve outsourced the hiring (at least the first levels).

        • “I would be a very poor fit for the company…”

          While I appreciate the concerns (e.g., discrimination, etc.) the closed-mindedness of people astonishes.

        • @Marybeth: LinkedIn is doing the screening? What does that mean?? Does Linked now have screeners? Did I fall asleep and miss something?

          Please explain. Thanks.

          • Nick, I have no idea. That is what HR told me. I looked at the job ad, which provided a link to LI, and the directions were to post a résumé, etc. to LI. Both HR and the hiring manager told me that the only way to be even considered for the job was do as directed (apply through LI), and it was an HR lackey who told me that LI was doing their first few rounds of screening for them. I didn’t ask any further questions but figured that LI must now have some kind of ATS that employers can use, which, when I think about it, adds yet another layer between candidates and the employer.

            I don’t think you fell asleep and missed anything. The HR girl (and she did sound very young as if she weren’t more than an unfledged 15 years old) and merely parroted the same thing each time I tried to ask her more. I got discouraged and gave up, then later wondered about LI. I didn’t call her back to try to get more information (she may not have had any to provide).

            I just did a quick search and see that LI will do some sort of screening and provide a list of the best matches based upon keyword hits to employers. I didn’t investigate further, so they must offer some kind of ATS for employers who don’t want to do this themselves. Jeez!

            • Thanks, MB — think I’ll take a look at what LinkedIn purports to do regarding screening. But are employers nuts? (Don’t answer that.)

  35. One positive story. It didn’t last, but lasted longer than you’d expect. One company I worked for was very transparent wit salary ranges…At least in its engineering world. HR issued wallet sized cards with the engineering (hardware, software etc) job classifications with the salary ranges. If an applicant asked, or if I wanted to get it done up front…you handed or sent them a card

    Until someone decided that you were de facto giving the info to the competition, something the company decided was not info they wanted to share.

    But …we could show them and tell them.

  36. I have never disclosed my old salary. It always seemed to me that it was none of their business, and I simply refused to do so. On websites, where I had to enter an amount, I entered 0, $1 or something like that. While I do appreciate your article because it seeks to help others that do struggle with disclosure, for me this is simply a non-issue. I don’t understand why people even fret over this.

    • People fret because they feel intimidated, but they should not. In the throes of wanting/needing a new job, applicants become unwisely compliant.

  37. All these things boil down to one thing, IMHO:

    Know your place, “boy!” (Or “girl.”)

    You’re a peon. A replaceable cog. It reminds me of an episode of “Kung Fu” (now I’m dating myself) where a rich man’s son was in love with one of the indentured Chinese women. His father said “I could buy a dozen like her for the price of a good meal.” And that’s how employers view people these days.

    • @David Hunt PE: I agree with you. I was thinking the same thing, and several others here noted that although most employers say that they want talented, creative people who think outside the box, they don’t treat applicants who try to go around HR as outside the box thinkers. They punish them by refusing to talk to them, by refusing to move their applications forward. I agree with the other posters who wrote that what they really want is future employees who will do exactly what they are told when they are told to do it, and who will never ask any questions or make any waves.

      And yes, that feeds into the employee as cog/peon philosophy (if you don’t follow the rules, I can get someone to replace you more cheaply). I remember “Kung Fu” too!

      • FYI, after that meeting, I came out and someone asked me “What did you think about that session?”

        A: “Get me out of this chickensh*t stupid place.”

      • And specific to your point. Employers don’t like “uppity.”

        I took down a number of my essays after feedback to the effect of “I read your article. Interesting. You know, you’ve got a nice job search effort going. Be a shame if something happened to it.”

        • @David Hunt PE: I agree. I post here, but I’m not posting elsewhere. Employers and those outsourced to do sundry screenings for them are doing all kinds of social media searches too. I think they are eliminating anyone who posts blogs with constructive criticism re how to make the system better, anything detailing negative experiences, and anyone who posts comments that point out the stupidity of the current system.

          I like your articles and blogs. If no one ever points out that the emperor has no clothes, then it easy for employers to complain about the talent shortage and to much easier to lobby for more H1B visa workers (and get them) because no hears or reads the other side.

  38. I remember one HUGE meeting / training exercise at an employer when we were told THE EQUATION.

    Profit = Selling price – cost

    OK, I buy that. But then we were told there is “nothing” we can do to affect the price we can charge, so the only way we have to increase profits is to decrease costs.

    “But won’t that relegate us to a role as a commodity supplier? Wouldn’t it be a better strategy to focus on developing technologies and capabilities that differentiate us from our competition so we can charge a premium for those?”

    “That’s just business theory…” the manager said as he burned my name into memory for later.

    At that same company, later, I had already accomplished what would develop into a $250K/year cost saving, and got test results showing extremely promising potential for a $750K/year cost savings – more development work required, but very promising.

    I was laid off two weeks later. They never followed through on that second idea.

  39. HR Processes
    One day while walking down the street a highly successful Human Resources Manager was tragically hit by a bus and she died. Her soul arrived up in heaven where she was met at the Pearly Gates by St. Peter himself.

    “Welcome to Heaven,” said St. Peter. “Before you get settled in though, it seems we have a problem. You see, strangely enough, we’ve never once had a Human Resources Manager make it this far and we’re not really sure what to do with you.”

    “No problem, just let me in,” said the woman.

    “Well, I’d like to, but I have higher orders. What we’re going to do is let you have a day in Hell and a day in Heaven and then you can choose whichever one you want to spend an eternity in.”

    “Actually, I think I’ve made up my mind, I prefer to stay in Heaven”, said the woman

    “Sorry, we have rules…”

    And with that St. Peter put the executive in an elevator and it went down-down-down to hell.

    The doors opened and she found herself stepping out onto the putting green of a beautiful golf course. In the distance was a country club and standing in front of her were all her friends – fellow executives that she had worked with and they were well dressed in evening owns and cheering for her. They ran up and kissed her on both cheeks and they talked about old times. They played an excellent round of golf and at night went to the country club where she enjoyed an excellent steak and lobster dinner.

    She met the Devil who was actually a really nice guy (kind of cute) and she had a great time telling jokes and dancing. She was having such a good time that before she knew it, it was time to leave. Everybody shook her hand and waved goodbye as she got on the elevator.

    The elevator went up-up-up and opened back up at the Pearly Gates and found St. Peter waiting for her.

    “Now it’s time to spend a day in heaven,” he said. So she spent the next 24 hours lounging around on clouds and playing the harp and singing. She had great time and before she knew it her 24 hours were up and St. Peter came and got her.

    “So, you’ve spent a day in hell and you’ve spent a day in heaven. Now you must choose your eternity,”

    The woman paused for a second and then replied, “Well, I never thought I’d say this, I mean, Heaven has been really great and all, but I think I had a better time in Hell.”
    So St. Peter escorted her to the elevator and again she went down-down-down back to Hell.

    When the doors of the elevator opened she found herself standing in a desolate wasteland covered in garbage and filth. She saw her friends were dressed in rags and were picking up the garbage and putting it in sacks.

    The Devil came up to her and put his arm around her.

    “I don’t understand,” stammered the woman, “yesterday I was here and there was a golf course and a country club and we ate lobster and we danced and had a great time. Now all there is a wasteland of garbage and all my friends look miserable.”

    The Devil looked at her smiled and said…

    Yesterday we were recruiting you, Today you are an employee.

    • Actually Don, I can’t think of any example of HR making the job environment seem much better than reality.

      What I think should have happened to the HR manager would be to have to go through many hoops to be finally granted entrance to heaven, such as phone screen, panel interview, technical panel interview, cultural fit panel interview, etc. etc. Meanwhile the HR manager is in a kinda of purgatory (even though I don’t believe in purgatory), not knowing how long this whole process is going to take and whether s/he will ever be granted access to heaven.

  40. I hate the salary question and refuse to play that game when I’m jobhunting. Of course that means I have been rejected for not completing a “required“ step in the process.

    Previous salary is irrelevant. My employer doesn’t ask this question on the application, and we’ve instructed our hiring managers to never ask this question. When I’m talking to a candidate in the early stages of the process, I will let them know what the range is for the position and ask them if we are in the same ballpark. All I need is a yes or no, although sometimes they will tell me either what they’re making now or what their desired salary is. Regardless of what they currently earn or need, we make offers based on market rate, internal equity, and how the candidate’s years of experience and relevant qualifications compare.

    Employers who try to lowball candidates will just end up with an employee whose skills and experience are probably worth more than they’re paying and that employee will be looking for another job somewhere else within a year that will pay them what they are worth. And the EEOC isn’t waiting for people to make wage disparity complaints. They are conducting random audits and busting employers that demonstrate wage inequities.

  41. There is good news for anyone who lives in California–AB 168 (, which went into effect January 1, 2018. This law makes it a misdemeanor to ask for salary history. Also, they have to tell you the salary range if you make a reasonable request (“reasonable” is not defined). They can only use your salary history to determine your job offer if you willingly tell them, without being asked.