“How much do you earn at your current job?”
Whether you are an employer asking the question or a job candidate who is responding, this particular query tends to lead to discomfort.
Despite the uneasiness it may generate, many employers still commonly inquire about current and past earnings as part of the interview process. They often ask the question because a candidate’s responses can offer insight into their motivations, their personal assessment of their own value and their expectations for future earning potential. Asking this question can also demonstrate whether or not candidates conducted any research prior to the job interview on the pay trends of the overall industry and the company that is hiring.
In the months ahead, a national conversation may be initiated on the topic. A growing number of states are taking legislative steps while others are actively debating the issue. Proponents claim that salary history questions are fair and they help companies manage costs. Critics say the practice may lead to unfair wage disparities among different sectors of the workforce. So what are HR departments and hiring managers to do?
If a company decides to discontinue asking about salary history, there are some alternative questions that provide helpful insights without asking specifically how much a candidate makes. Here are a few examples:
"What are your salary expectations for this position?"
Sometimes, asking a simple, straightforward question can provide the clearest information. Regardless of what employees have earned in the past, they are entitled to expect a fair wage that accounts for their experience, performance and knowledge in their next position. Even if they ask for a number the company is not prepared to offer, negotiations can still take place. Continued discussions very well may result in a salary agreement that meets the needs of both parties.
"How do you see your career progressing in the next five years?"
This is an age-old job interview question and one of the reasons it remains popular is because of the insight it can offer into both current and future wage expectations. If a candidate responds to this question by stating he or she hopes to be in a much higher position than that for which they are applying, it is possible that salary expectations may be pretty lofty as well.
"Have you ever proactively sought a promotion?"
Employees may be promoted internally without asking, but those who take the initiative to grow their own careers may be motivated both by job responsibilities and salary.
"How many times have you managed a team? How many people were you responsible for?"
Gathering quantifiable data about a candidate’s managerial experience can help determine the appropriate salary bracket for a potential employee. If the candidate has previously managed multiple people across a number of different industries, it is safe to assume that individual earned more than non-managers and expects to earn the same or more in a new position, whether or not it is a managerial one.
Kay Oder is a Certified Business Performance Advisor and Eric Bonugli is a district manager for Insperity located in the company’s Austin office. Insperity, a trusted advisor to America’s best businesses for more than 30 years, provides an array of human resources and business solutions designed to help improve business performance.