How to respond when asked about your salary history


Johnny C. Taylor Jr. tackles your human resources questions as part of a series for USA TODAY. Taylor is president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management, the world's largest HR professional society and author of "Reset: A Leader’s Guide to Work in an Age of Upheaval.”

Question: During a preliminary interview, a recruiter asked me about my current salary. Is that something they can legally ask? If so, how should I answer?

Johnny C. Taylor Jr.: Depending on where you work a prospective employer may be well within their right to ask about your current salary. While asking about your current salary is legal under federal law, there are 22 states and 21 cities/localities where salary history inquiries are prohibited. If your jurisdiction allows employers to ask about salaries, you have a few options for how you can answer.

Obviously, the easiest way to advance in the job search process is to answer the question. The recruitment process is a two-way street where you’re trying to learn as much as you can about the job and the employer is trying to get to know you better. Why would a company want to spend time pursuing you for a role that pays significantly less than you currently make? In the event your current salary is higher than what you know they are willing to pay for their role, explain that you are nonetheless genuinely interested in the role for other reasons (e.g., following a spouse/partner, wanting a career change, etc.). Strong HR professionals know compensation is not always a primary motivator for wanting a job.

Now you can obviously refuse to answer the question. You’ll need to stay professional and state that you would like to learn more about the position before discussing your salary. Or you could ask about the salary range for the position and share your salary expectations. At the end of the day, you can simply refuse to answer the salary question, but keep in mind the employer can simply refuse to keep you in the applicant pool.

If your state or locality prohibits employers from asking about your salary, then, of course, do not share this information if the recruiter is asking for it.

Research and preparation will ensure confidence in finding the perfect response to difficult interview questions. Best of luck to you in your future endeavors!

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