Across the country, advocates are working to pass laws that ban employers from asking job candidates for their salary history — a practice that perpetuates wage discrimination and contributes to the wage gap. (Learn more about why that is true here »)
In Illinois, we passed a No Salary History law this year that will go into effect on September 29, 2019. But in many cities and states, this practice is still legal. So what can you do if you’re faced with salary history questions when you’re applying for a job — whether you live in someplace where there’s a ban on these questions or not?
First, Do Your Research
No matter where you live and what the law is in your area, do your research. Before you even go into the interview process, find out what a fair salary for the job and industry would be. Sites like PayScale, Glassdoor, or Salary.com can help you find out what’s appropriate.
Remember that no matter the law in your area — even in cities and states where there is not a salary history ban in place — you are never required to answer questions about past wages.
What If There’s No Law Banning Questions About Past Wages, and a Prospective Employer Asks?
Whatever your response, don’t lie about past wages. The prospective employer can often get that information from past employers, and you don’t want to appear dishonest.
If the ask for past wages appears in the job ad, do not ignore it when submitting your application. Instead, include your salary expectations or requirements in your cover letter, based on the market value of the job.
If you get the question in an interview or phone screen, don’t refuse outright — but don’t answer right away, either. See if you can redirect the employer. You can ask them their salary range for the position instead. You can also offer your salary requirements, or your ideal salary range. Then wait to see how they respond. You may want to add that your requirements are flexible, if you sense discomfort with your proposed range and you are willing to be flexible.
If they press you, you may want to respectfully tell them why you think your current or past salary should not impact your future wages. Are you changing roles or industries? Do you feel you were undervalued in your past job? Tactfully reiterate that you feel your wages should be determined based on your skills, your experience, the demands of the new job, and the market value for that job. PayScale’s Penelope Trunk offers some suggested language:
If they continue to press, think about whether this feels like a company culture you are comfortable with. In each job interview, you should be evaluating the employer as much as they are evaluating you. If you still want the position, you can respond with a general rather than specific answer to give you some flexibility — “My salary is currently in the upper-forties.” Perhaps with the added caveat that you feel you are worth more because of your skills and experience, or that the industry standard for the position is higher.
What If I Live in a City or State with a Salary History Ban?
Fortunately, the vast majority of employers will comply with the law, and will not ask you for your past wages either on a written form, or in an interview. But if you are asked for current or previous pay during the hiring process, here are a few tips.
- Before going into the application and hiring process, know your rights. Learn about the law in your area and who it covers. If you live in Illinois, read our FAQ on the Illinois No Salary History law.
- Do not answer the question. If you’re filling out an online application, leave the field blank. If you’re asking in a phone screen or interview, the advice we’ve given above can still be useful. Try to avoid the question by redirecting the interviewer — ask for their salary range for the position, and/or share your salary requirements.
- If you feel comfortable, tell the interviewer that questions about salary history or past wages are not permissible in your city or state (they may not know!) but you’d be happy to discuss your salary requirements or the salary range for the job.
- Document the conversation as soon as you leave the room to ensure you have a record of exactly what was asked, by whom, and when if you do ever choose to make a claim. However, DO NOT record the interview. Recording a conversation without consent of all parties is illegal, and the last thing you want is to be in violation of the law.
- If you were asked for your salary history, and you suspect it impacted the hiring decision, learn about your options for recourse. If you live in Illinois, read our FAQ. Or research the law and enforcement options in your area.