Ask the Headhunter: Job interviewers shouldn’t be asking for your salary. Here’s why

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Mature businessman and businesswoman talking in office.Yokosuka Museum of Art,Kanagawa Prefecture,Japan. related words: job interview, jobs, job, job search Photo by sot via Getty Images.

When employers demand to know your salary, it’s usually for just one reason: to low-ball any offer they make you, writes jobs guru Nick Corcodilos. Photo by sot via Getty Images.

Nick Corcodilos started headhunting in Silicon Valley in 1979 and has answered over 30,000 questions from the Ask The Headhunter community.

In this special Making Sen$e edition of Ask The Headhunter, Nick shares insider advice and contrarian methods about winning and keeping the right job, on one condition: that you, dear Making Sense reader, send Nick your questions about your personal challenges with job hunting, interviewing, networking, resumes, job boards or salary negotiations. No guarantees — just a promise to do his best to offer useful advice.


Question: Massachusetts has made it illegal for employers to require your salary history when you apply for a job. I always thought this was wrong to begin with. It’s how companies justify low-ball salary offers. This seems to back up what you’ve been saying all along — your salary is not an employer’s business unless you work there. But what about those of us who don’t work in Massachusetts?

When employers demand to know your salary, it’s usually for just one reason: to low-ball any offer they make you.

Nick Corcodilos: Job applicants have been getting screwed by HR departments since time immemorial through intimidation and badgering. “We can’t proceed with your application until you tell us what you’re getting paid now,” they say. “It’s the policy!”

This topic comes around on Ask the Headhunter regularly. My advice is always the same: Just say, “NO.” (See “Salary History: Can you afford to say NO?”) When employers demand to know your salary, it’s usually for just one reason: to low-ball any offer they make you.

And now everybody knows it.

Salary disclosure results in lower offers

Last week, the state of Massachusetts passed a law that prevents employers from asking your salary. It takes effect July 2018. HR can no longer threaten to “end the application process” if you won’t tell your salary.

The dirty little secret is out. The New York Times writes, “Companies tend to set salaries for new hires using their previous pay as a base line… which often leaves applicants with the nagging suspicion that they might have been offered more money if the earlier figure had been higher.”

Duh.

READ MORE: Column: A Massachusetts law is the most promising step yet toward equal pay

What’s behind this new law is the effort to end pay disparity between men and women. (See “Don’t blame women for the gender pay gap!”) But the problem is much bigger.

Employers don’t know what you’re worth

When employers make job interviews dependent on disclosing your old salary, everyone gets hurt — men and women. But employers are dummies. They hurt themselves, too, because their silly demand brings guffaws and “Bye-bye!” from the best job seekers who won’t be intimidated and won’t give away their negotiating edge.

When employers make job interviews dependent on disclosing your old salary, everyone gets hurt — men, women and employers.

The New York Times points out that, “The new law will require hiring managers to state a compensation figure upfront — based on what an applicant’s worth is to the company, rather than on what he or she made in a previous position.”

What this really means is that employers will have to figure out what you’re worth.

What a stunning admission from any HR manager who demands to know what you’re making: We need your current salary, because we have no idea how to assess your value ourselves!

No competitive edge

Employers who base job offers on what another employer paid you are admitting five things:

  1. They believe workers are fungible — interchangeable parts.
  2. They’re incapable of assessing your value to their own business.
  3. They judge you based on what one of their competitors came up with.
  4. They believe your worth to one employer is the same as your worth to any employer.
  5. They have no competitive edge on judging value.

This new law is good for employers, because it will force them to hire smarter and be more competitive. Of course, they may need to fire their HR departments and whip their managers into shape. It’s time for employers to figure out how any new hire will contribute to the bottom line.

This new law is good for employers, because it will force them to hire smarter and be more competitive.

Jeez. What a concept.

Kudos to Massachusetts for being the first state to outlaw salary intimidation. I’m not sure the rest of the nation will soon follow. Special interests will fight this tooth and nail.

Just say NO

If you don’t live and work in Massachusetts, you still can and should say NO when employers demand your current salary. Smart employers will back off. The rest aren’t worth a job interview.

Ask The Headhunter subscribers have been saying NO — politely, firmly and successfully — for a long time:

“The hiring manager more or less offered me the position on the spot and indicated a salary range that is roughly 40 to 50 percent more than I make now. Your two biggest lessons (at least for me) at work in the flesh: 1) Never divulge my current salary, and 2) Talk about what I will do, not what I’ve done.” — Rich Mok

“Despite both the headhunter and the company insisting I disclose what I was getting paid at my old job, I stuck to my guns and I was able to double my salary. Plus I got a signing bonus. That would have never happened in a million years if I had caved!” – Bernie Dietz

“I was headhunted for a lucrative job at another company and, following your advice, did not state my current salary nor did I even hint at its range. Thanks to your book, “Keep Your Salary Under Wraps,” I ended up with a 40 percent increase on my previous job and salary! Thanks!” – Daniel Slate

Say goodbye to low-ball salary offers — at least those based on your old salary. Employers can still low-ball you. And the best way to avoid that is to be prepared to show why you’d be the most profitable hire. Don’t be a dummy yourself. See “How do I prove I deserve a higher job offer?

Dear Readers: Is this a fair law? Will it make for more honest and accurate job offers? How do you deal with the salary question when HR demands an answer?


Nick Corcodilos invites Making Sense readers to subscribe to his free weekly Ask The Headhunter© Newsletter. His in-depth “how to” PDF books are available on his website: “How to Work With Headhunters…and how to make headhunters work for you,” “Keep Your Salary Under Wraps,” “How Can I Change Careers?” and “Fearless Job Hunting.”

Send your questions to Nick, and join him for discussion every week here on Making Sense. Thanks for participating!

Copyright © 2016 Nick Corcodilos. All rights reserved in all media. Ask the Headhunter® is a registered trademark.

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