If you've been on at least a few interviews (or even if you've just filled out a few online applications), then you are most likely familiar with this question: "What is your current compensation?"
And, oh, the agonizing over how to respond! Do you give a range? Do you give your exact salary? Do you make something up? (Spoiler alert for the third option: that's a hard no!).
Is an employer allowed to ask me for my current compensation?
First things first: if you're currently looking for a new job and actively applying and interviewing, you'll also want to be current on what's legal in your locality.
To date, 21 states and 21 localities have enacted some form of a ban on asking candidates what they’ve made in previous jobs. And all those laws have been passed in just the last few years. While not all employers will be aware of the changing laws, it's important for you, as a self-advocating job seeker, to be current so that you're ready to confidently respond if you're posed with this type of a question.
How to respond if you're asked about salary history (in an area where the question is legal)
In this situation you should do whatever you're most comfortable with. There is no hard and fast rule that says you have to hide your current salary at all costs. Of course, as I've mentioned in other posts, my professional advice to you is to keep this information private. Sharing salary history can work to lower your earning ceiling (significantly, in some situations) as it can be a result of systemic inequality.
So, if you decide that you do not want to share that information, you have a few choices of how you may respond.
Alison Green of Ask A Manager recommends redirecting the question to what salary range you’re seeking, with language like:
- “I keep that information confidential, but the range I’m looking for now is…”
- “My previous employers have always considered that information confidential, but I’m seeking….”
- [Or, if it feels like humor could work in the situation] “That’s not something I share with anyone but my accountant, but I’m seeking…”
Pro Tip: Do your research before the interview so you’re prepared to give an appropriate salary range in this scenario.
If the interviewer still pushes for your salary history, Green says you’ll have to decide if it’s worth answering the question or potentially losing out on the opportunity by refusing to answer.
If you decide to share your salary history, frame it as one part of a comprehensive compensation package and reiterate your expectation that you’ll be able to agree on a fair salary that works for both you and the organization if the role turns out to be a fit.
How to respond if you're asked about salary history (in a locality where the question is not legal)
One option, if you’re comfortable with it, is to address the illegality of the question directly—but respectfully—and then pivot to a different topic. For example: “I don’t think that’s appropriate for us to discuss with the new law, but one thing I would like to talk about is…” and then ask about the office culture or what they would expect someone in this position to have accomplished in their first year.
Another option is to go straight to the pivot with language like, “Before we talk about salary, I’d like to learn more about the role. Could you tell me more about what you would expect someone in this position to have accomplished in their first year?” With any luck, your interviewer will have forgotten about salary history by the time they finish answering your question.
No matter how you choose to handle it in the moment, you can always report the incident if you want. Check the law for reporting procedures, or call your elected representatives for help finding those details in the statute.
Did you enjoy this post? Get more tips from our Interview Q&A series.
As the Associate Director of Editorial and Career Content at Idealist and a lifelong nonprofit professional, Alexis offers job seekers, game changers, and do gooders actionable tips, career resources, and social-impact advice.