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How Do I Answer When
Asked My Salary History?
Neither candidates nor hiring companies want to waste time with interviews if there isn’t an overlap of the compensation that the candidate is seeking and the company’s willingness to pay. Moreover, many recruiters see compensation as a proxy for job level – they use compensation questions to get a sense of what level a candidate is, since titles can be ambiguous. As a result, a compensation question can often be one of the earliest in the process. Responding to this question can be particularly challenging if the job is not in the candidate’s local market or the job scope isn’t yet clear.

Candidates need to develop a market-based view of their salary expectation, especially if they have been out of the workforce for a while, are seeking a promotion, or are seeking a less demanding (and potentially lower paying) role. Market insight can come from networking and research.

In Illinois and many other geographies, it is now illegal for recruiters or companies to ask for salary history. The purpose of this law, which came into effect in September 2019, is to overcome historic wage discrimination against women and minorities. As an Illinois resident, you are protected by this law, regardless of where the role is. Although the law has been in effect for more than a year, candidates report still getting questions about salary history.

Candidates should be prepared to confidently answer a question about salary expectations. I don’t recommend providing any splits between base salary and bonus, as companies can have very different philosophies about the mix of fixed and variable pay. A sample answer is “ I am looking for total cash compensation in the range of $XXX to XXX thousand.” The size of the range is dependent on many factors. In general, the higher the compensation, the wider the range.

If asked for current salary, I recommend that candidates politely deflect the question, and ask “What is the compensation range for this role?” This often works, and candidates can then let the recruiter know whether this range overlaps with their own expectations. Potential responses might be:

·      That matches up well with my expectations. 
·      That is a bit low, but let’s keep talking, as compensation is not the top consideration for my next role. 
·      I’m sorry, but that is well below my expectations. 

I have heard of some recruiters being very adamant in asking for salary history, despite candidates using the types of responses I have described above. In those situations, I recommend responding:

·      My previous compensation isn’t really relevant. I have shared my compensation expectations – does there seem to be a fit here? 

Candidates need to be prepared to crisply talk about salary expectations and as in all aspects of the job search, stay polite, positive, and confident.

-Pat Henahan, Finance Executive, Career Coach, CRC Presenter
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