We had a candidate this week who was asked what her salary was in her last job. She answered, “I don’t think that’s relevant” and then proceeded with silence. According to the employer, he was so taken by her response, he was not sure what to say. So, according to him after a long pause, he asked again but in a different way. “Look,” he said, “I need to know for the interviewing process how much you were making.”

The candidate previously read that in some states it’s illegal to ask how much a person has been earning. Therefore, she decided not to answer the question. The candidate was correct, in more than a dozen states including California, New York, New Jersey, Illinois, and Washington it is illegal to ask previous salaries.  Even some cities, such as New York City and San Francisco they have passed similar laws.  However, given this employer was in Texas and no such law exist, the hiring authority had the right to inquiry about the candidates previous earnings.

The logic behind these laws is the assumption companies want to pay as small a salary as they can get away with. Apart of that assumption is if a candidate has had a low salary either now or most recently, the company will not pay a fair wage for the job they are hiring for. This logic is flawed.  The majority of companies are willing to pay whatever they estimated the position is worth. What companies are seeking by gaining salary history is to understand in the initial phase of the interviewing process if the salary associated with the position is in the “ballpark” of what the candidate has earned before.

Gathering salary information is not utilized to handicap the candidate’s salary negotiation leverage but to prevent wasting anyone’s time, mostly the companies, if salary expectations are out of range.

The employer, very politely, told the candidate that he did not see any sense in continuing the interview because he felt a simple question was asked, therefore a simple answer should be adequate.

In Texas, and most states, salary inquiries are reasonable for hiring authorities to ask. Here at Babich, we ask it of our candidates. Frankly, I will not work with a candidate that will not disclose with me what they have been earning. This kind of situation happens mostly with candidates that have been earning a low salary and want a substantial pay increase, based on the position, without prejudice.

While I can understand the candidate’s point of view, as well as the logic behind the laws stated above, the majority of reputable companies require a salary history.

Therefore, whether you agree with salary inquiries or not, it’s likely that you will be asked about your previous earnings.  Rather than be put on-guard, simply answer the question and find out if the employer is reputable in offering a fair pay, based on the market.  If employers are not reputable and utilize previous salaries as a leveraging tool to practice ‘unfair wages’, it’s best to know that upfront.  However, my experience, clients have a pre-determined salary for the positions to be filled and are interested in candidates’ skills and assets, not to cheat them on the salary they deserve.