Season 6, Episode 8:

Salary history questions

Here in the world of recruiting, there’s been a lot of buzz around salary history bans. More and more states are banning the salary history question, but this can make things tricky for recruiters. 

Legalities aside, it’s a thorny issue – what’s the best way to talk about compensation with candidates? How do we get the information we need without sounding aggressive, pushy, or nosy? 
We sat down with three experienced recruiters at Qualigence to talk about the issue. 

How do you ask candidate the salary question? 

Hanna broke down her approach the question.

“I ask candidates about salary in a variety of ways. It does depend on the relationship or the vibe I’m getting from each candidate. Usually I’ll start with asking them what they’re looking to make, and then once they give me that, I’ll ask, “oh is that where you’re currently at, or is that going to be a promotion for you?” 

Mark had a similar perspective.

“Well, it really depends on the candidate. Some candidates are going to be a bit more open to it, others are going to be a bit more guarded. Now, first you want to really address if they’re competent, if the job is going to be a vertical career move for them. So normally I ask, what’s your must have, if everything lines up right for you, to make a move and go with a different company at this time? And salary is important, but the career move and the advancement should be more important.”

Are candidates usually okay with sharing their current salary? 

Hanna brought up how she sees a range of responses to the question. 

“Candidates can be a bit hesitant when sharing their salaries. I would say it’s probably 50% – 50% will just blurt it right out, hey, this is what I’m making, I’ll be transparent.” Other people are like, “well tell me what your position offers.” So, it really just depends person-by-person or case-by-base. 

Mary Ann counts on goodwill between herself and candidates.

“They sure are. They know that I’m a recruiter and that I’m here to help them as far as maybe looking for that next step in their career. So they don’t give me too much grief about giving me their salary.” 

Have clients pushed you to uncover an exact dollar amount? 

Mark shared his experiences here. 

“Typically, they actually offer that information without me asking. The salary question will come up eventually nonetheless, but once again it goes back to the must-have. They really get to that pretty quickly, oftentimes, “this is what I make now, this is what I would like to make to make a move.” That makes it easy on me, sometimes they don’t necessarily offer that information, so you have to gain trust.”  

“The one thing about recruiting is you’re talking about subject matter that really probably only themselves and their spouse or very close family knows. So you have to establish trust within five or six minutes. Or with some interviews, you know, it’s like 30 minutes…still, that’s very private information, given out over a very short period of time.” 

In situations where a client is pushing a recruiter to get an exact number, they can only get so far. Unfortunately, there’s only so much recruiters can do to verify or confirm the quoted salary from a candidate. We all know that candidates often inflate their salary, and nobody can prove or disprove that. 

Mary Ann mentioned that she brings up a salary range to make sure a candidate is in the right ball park. This usually helps narrow down whether or not the salary will work for the candidate. 

In states where it’s illegal to ask, how do you get around it? 

Hanna discussed her keen strategy for assessing their current salary based on their answer to a different question. 

“I will start off with, what are you targeting…what do you want to make? Most of the time, people are going to give you an answer that’s somewhat inflated from their current salary…so you can make some reasonable deductions.” 

Mary Ann shared a similar approach.

“What I’ll do is ask them, what is the next step for you in your career with regards to your salary? Are you looking for a certain salary figure to make that next step? “You know, I’m working with a client who has a need for a director, I know that if you’re a senior manager, what are you looking for as far as making a step to a director level?” And so usually the candidate will tell me “this is what I’m looking for” and we’ll go from there.” 

Working Around the Roadblocks 

The salary history question may block off the traditional approach of prodding someone on their current salary, but a savvy recruiter knows how to work with this limitation. 

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