15 May 2018
By Megan McQuade Posted in For Employers, Compensation

Can I ask candidates about their pay history?

By Megan McQuade On May 15, 2018

What's your current salary? So many interviewers have been programed to ask this question. It comes out automatically for most. And, many candidates respond without thought or hesitation. In light of recent legislation, should interviewers be asking this question? And, should applicants answer in turn?

How much do you make_

Can I ask candidates about their pay history?

The answer to this question depends on the state in which you reside. However, many feel the time has come to break this habit regardless of the state you currently work in. According to Genevieve Douglas, "The intention of salary history bans is to close the wage gap for women and minorities." Not to mention, the potential bias generated if a candidate chooses not to disclose. Many interpretations may be made about an individual who chooses not to share. The pay history question(s) may have originated to help recruiters qualify candidates for positions but has had some negative effects over time. 

States and localities that have banned pay history questions:

According to HR Dive, there are currently seven state-wide bans and eight local bans. To see a continuously updated list and further details, visit HR DiveIt is important to know your local and states laws as they are always changing. Some laws ban pay history questions, others prohibit employers from using an applicant's pay history to set compensation if discovered, and others prohibit employers from taking disciplinary action against employees who discuss pay with coworkers. Some organizations in unaffected states are choosing to alter internal policies to avoid questioning that correlates to the wage gap altogether.

What does this mean for recruiters?

Should a person's current or past salary have any bearing on skill level and experience for a new position? Many say NO. However, past salary history has been used to qualify and disqualify candidates for years. Salary ranges are designed to accommodate various levels of ability and skill - internally and externally. Past salary often times establishes a starting point within that range. However, it is unnecessary and often misleading.

According to Susan Milligan, "Instead of looking at what an applicant is earning, pay attention to the skill set the person has and how relevant it is to the job being filled." Read more in Susan's article, Salary History Bans Could Reshape Pay Negotiations. Following this perspective, recruiters and hiring managers should assess a candidate's skills, not evaluate based on past pay. What if the previous person's compensation was under or over market value? What if the person's needs have changed? However, understanding expectations is still as relevant as ever before. A candidate's expectation of pay should correlate with the range of the position being considered. Otherwise, there is misalignment.

Possible alternate salary questions:

As a recruiting firm, we work with several different employers with different perspectives and opinions on salary ranges. Below, are two possible questions that we recommend asking candidates when discussing pay. 

What are your salary expectations?
What type of compensation structure are you looking for?

Pay is an important component of a candidate submittal. But, it's more about pay expectations and work history. Pay history is becoming irrelevant. In a tight market with multiple generations in the workplace, compensation is a critical factor in a hiring decision from a candidate and employer perspective. However, we find that individuals are driven by different "benefits." One may value commute time, another flexibility, while someone else is more concerned with the health benefits. Nowadays, benefits are valued individually. And, while pay may still be at the top of the list, it is not the only differentiator. But, this is a topic for another day!


As a trusted recruitment source for more than 15 years, recruiters at TruPath have a customizable process that helps our partners feel comfortable in their search for a candidate. Contact TruPath today to tell us about your staffing needs. 

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