What's your current salary?

In places like New York, it’s illegal to ask this question because it propagates the gender pay gap and unfair wage practices. While it's not yet illegal in Southeast Asia, candidates are starting to push back against recruiters and employers who enquire about their salary history.

Often, the candidates who are uncomfortable answering this question are those who feel they have been underpaid in their past jobs. They’re concerned future employers will use their salary history to;

Unfairly pay them below market rate by offering them a salary increment that will still be lower than the actual market rate salary.

Make unfair assumptions about their talent by assuming their low salary is a reflection of how their past employer valued their skill and ability.

We are bias and we can’t help it.

Most of us are conditioned to assume a professional who earns well is more talented than a professional who earns less. However, salary is not a reliable measure of talent.

A candidate may have been forced to take a lower paying job due to personal circumstances such as having to work closer to home to look after a sick parent. Or a candidate might have been a victim of low salary increments at their past job. There are also candidates who may have chosen to work in a nonprofit or early-stage startup that didn’t have the budget to pay market rate salaries. There are a variety of reasons a candidate may have been in a low paying job that have nothing to do with their talent.

What about ‘money hungry’ candidates?

Some employers will argue they need to know a candidate's salary history to be able to assess whether a candidate’s main motivation for moving jobs is a salary increment. Understanding a candidate's motivation is important but employers don’t need a candidate’s salary history to make this assessment. Instead, motivations should be tested during the interview process through high quality questions.

Stop asking about current salary and start asking about expected salary.

Instead of "What is your current salary?" ask,

"What is your salary expectation?"

The objective of knowing a candidate’s salary expectations should be to understand if their expectation is within your budget. Don’t leave this question until the end. Ask about salary expectation question on the first pre-screen call, after you have assessed the candidate's fit for the role. Get it out of the way early so that you don’t waste your time and the candidate’s time if your budget doesn’t fit their expectations.

If their salary expectation is higher than your budget, have a frank discussion about your affordability and gauge if they are still interested.

If a candidate is not sure about their salary expectation, share your salary budget with them to see if it’s agreeable with them.


Navin Muruga