This is one time you should dodge a question about your salary
By Maria Lamagna
Market Watch, November 15, 2016 —
Revealing your salary can be uncomfortable, no matter the setting. And if a prospective employer asks you, it could cost you future earnings; luckily some of them are no longer allowed to ask.
Based on new legislation in places including Massachusetts and New York City, that awkward part of salary negotiation could become a thing of the past.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio signed an executive order Nov. 4 that would prohibit city agencies from asking prospective employees their current incomes, in an effort to close the wage gap between men and women.
The thought behind the order: If women are already making salaries that are below market value or below what men make for the job, asking about salary during a job interview can perpetuate that “cycle,” de Blasio said.
The mayor also said his office would support a City Council bill that would spread the policy to private sector employers.
The state of Massachusetts instituted a similar law in August that requires hiring managers to give a compensation figure upfront, also as a push against the persistent wage gap.
“The issue with asking applicants about their prior salary is that we know quite often for women and people of color, for various reasons their salaries are often less for the same jobs and for their co-workers in the same positions,” said Maya Raghu, the director of workplace equality at the National Women’s Law Center, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C.
Of course, the laws have had their critics. “It’s another example of City Council over reach,” Kathryn Wylde, the president of Partnership for New York City, a nonprofit group representing chief executive officers from private sector corporations and investment firms, told the New York Daily News.
The reasons women and non-white people earn less vary and aren’t necessarily or always directly tied to discrimination, Raghu said. There are other reasons, including decisions to at times work in lower-paying careers such as at nonprofit organizations, education and the services industry, or because of gaps in employment history when employees have taken time off for caregiving. (Mothers are still more likely than fathers to work reduced hours, take significant amounts of time off, quit their jobs or turn down a promotion in order to care for a child or family member, according to a Pew Research Center survey in 2013.)
In the third quarter of 2016, the median weekly earnings of white men 16 years old or older were $932, compared with $760 for white women, $732 for black men, $639 for black women, $1,154 for Asian men, $865 for Asian women, $667 for Hispanic or Latino men and $593 for Hispanic or Latino women, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which analyzed full-time wage and salary workers.
The trend seems to hit women at all incomes. Highly educated women in elite jobs earn much less than men, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis; from 2009 to 2014, male doctors working full time earned about $210,000 on average, and female physicians made 64% of that, or $135,000 a year.
Tech companies in particular have recently faced pressure to disclose the wage gap between their male and female employees; during April of this year, leading up to Equal Pay Day, several tech companies released data on how much their employees are paid. Microsoft said in a blog post that its female employees earn 99.8 cents for every dollar earned by men at the same job title and level, and Intel said in February it had reached 100% gender pay parity in the U.S., according to the Journal.
How to respond
If a prospective private sector employer who is allowed to ask does inquire about your current salary, whether you’re a man or a woman, what should you do? Practice answering the question, before the interview. Next: Ask why the employer needs to know that information and how they plan to use it, Raghu said. “That will put it on the employer to come up with a relevant reason,” she said.
Of course, that could backfire, if the employer says the information is necessary in order to move forward in the hiring process, she said. In that case, a job applicant could decline to answer the question, and ask instead what the employer is prepared to offer, said Vicki Salemi, a career expert for the job-finding company Monster.
She suggested making one’s tone conversational and professional. Many times, recruiters are attempting to find out if a job applicant is too expensive for the employer.
“You could say something like, ‘I’m focusing more on the salary for this job, versus my current salary, and I wanted to know, what does this job pay?’” she suggested. “You are interviewing them just as much as they are interviewing you.”
If a private sector employer does not want to answer this question and presses for details about an applicant’s salary, it’s best to give a range of what the applicant would like to make, said Katie Barbaro, the vice president of data analytics for PayScale, a company that tracks employee salaries and allows job seekers to see salary ranges for various positions.
Before an interview, a prospective employee should look up an accurate salary range for the position on a site such as PayScale or Glassdoor, Barbaro said. Salemi also suggested reaching out to former coworkers, a mentor, or industry professionals at conferences, to get a sense of what salary one could expect to make in a future position.
It’s also important to evaluate the company, know how well it is performing financially and to understand the economy generally to accurately predict that salary range, Barbaro said.
Then, it’s possible to say, “I’ve done my research, I understand the market for this position, and based on what I can bring to the role, I’m looking for compensation in the market range of X to Y,” Barbaro said.
(This may not be possible for online job applications, which often don’t let applicants submit their information without including a current salary, Raghu said.)
And if an applicant absolutely has to give current salary, Salemi suggested giving a number based on the entire employment package, including bonuses and any other benefits the employer pays for.
No matter what, it doesn’t pay off to lie about current salary, and that should never be an applicant’s strategy, experts said.
Besides the ethical implications, for one thing, the lie could come out during a background check, which the future employer may conduct after the applicant has accepted a position and resigned from a former company. In that case, that employee could be terminated from the new job, and as a result, end up jobless, Salemi said.
And keeping track of the lie could also prove difficult when applying to multiple jobs and speaking with multiple hiring managers, Barbaro said.