Featured, Know Your Worth, Salaries

This Dreaded Interview Question May Soon Be Illegal

Two business people meeting in a bar

Your interview is going great — then, all of a sudden, the topic of pay comes up and the hiring manager asks, “What is your current salary?” If you dread this age-old interview question, you’re not alone. According to a new Glassdoor survey, 53 percent of U.S. workers¹  (who are employed or unemployed but looking) believe employers should not ask candidates about their current or past salary history when negotiating a job offer. Perhaps not surprisingly, significantly more working women (60 percent) than working men (48 percent) feel this way — after all, asking this question could potentially perpetuate pay inequality. Women earn $0.76 for every $1.00 men earn, on average, according to Glassdoor Economic Research, so this question could disadvantage people from day one in a way that the company may not even intend. This is compounded by the fact that about two in three women (68 percent) do not negotiate pay compared to just about half (52 percent) of men.

Recently, cities and states such as New York City, San Francisco, Massachusetts, and Delaware, among others, have passed laws banning employers from asking job candidates about their salary history, and several other municipalities are considering enacting similar laws. These measures aim to close pay gaps, combat discrimination in the workplace, and promote equal pay regardless of gender, ethnicity, race, etc. The time of looking backward to go forward to determine pay is over. Now, the onus will largely be on employers and if violated, it can cost them up to $10,000 in fines in some cases. But, these types of laws are not yet in effect in several cities and states that have passed the measures, while in many other cities and states, the salary history question has yet to be addressed by lawmakers.

Knowing that salary matters to people — almost 3 in 4 U.S. workers (72 percent) say that a salary and compensation package is among their top considerations when determining whether to accept a job offer² — what should you do if asked about your current or past salary? We’ve put together the following tips and advice to help job seekers and employees navigate the conversation:

1. Don’t be Afraid of the Pay Conversation

The salary discussion is an important, two-way conversation. As a candidate, you are as much in the driver’s seat as the employer, and if they choose to ask the salary history question, they need to be prepared for a different type of answer from you than a specific dollar amount. Be direct in your communication to avoid any wrong expectations and focus on your skills and experience, the job responsibilities, and your current market value. Use the salary discussion to also gain an understanding of the company’s overall pay philosophy and how they determine their total compensation package, including different factors that go into it (base pay, bonuses, stock options, tips, other factors). (Job seeker tip: Calculate your current market value here).

2. Redirect and Reframe the Conversation

If you are asked, “What’s your current/past salary?” this is your opportunity to take control of the conversation with a response that reframes the answer to the specific role and prerequisites. This can be empowering, but it does require that you do your homework to make sure you know the market value for the role you’re interviewing for before the interview starts. For example, if you do get asked about current or past pay, you could respond with, “I’d prefer to focus on the value of my skills, relevant work experience, and current market value for this role at your company. Depending on other compensation factors and benefits, from the research I’ve done, including what other companies are paying, given my experience and track record doing x, y and z, I believe between $[80,000 and $100,000], is reasonable.”

3. Know Your Current Market Value

In addition to addressing your relevant work experience and skills, you’ve also got to know beforehand what you are currently worth in your specific market. What is fair pay for your level of experience, industry, and geography? Are you willing to trade base pay for other types of perks and rewards? Spend some time answering these questions prior to interviewing using Glassdoor’s Know Your Worth tool and Local Pay Reports, published by our Chief Economist each month, which provide insight into current market values and pay changes for specific jobs. A free Employee’s Guide to Know Your Worth is also available to better understand the tool and answer questions. You can also search salaries and compensation on Glassdoor. The salary conversation might be an intimidating one to have, but the more info you have, the better off you’ll be.

1. U.S. workers refers to adults who are either employed or unemployed but looking for a job


2. The 2017 survey was conducted online within the United States by Harris Poll on behalf of Glassdoor from March 30 – April 3, 2017 among 1,329 U.S. workers (who are employed or unemployed but looking) ages 18 and older. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. For complete survey methodology, including weighting variables, please contact pr@glassdoor.com.

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