Is it time for employers to stop asking candidates about their salary history? Here are the pros and cons.

Amy O'Neill
Amy O'Neill
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Salary is always a touchy subject during interviews. Should you ask about a candidate’s previous wage or not?

One the one hand, it’s a viable way to make sure that both their experience and expectations match up with the role, but on the other, you might be seen as trying to lowball your prospective talent.

The decades-old debate regarding salary history has been back in the news recently, as BBC reports that The Fawcett Society’s survey of 2,200 working adults found that 58% of women and 54% of men felt salary history questions led to them being offered a lower wage than they might otherwise have been paid.

Of those same 2,200 workers, 61% of women said these questions had an impact on their confidence to negotiate better pay, leading The Fawcett Society’s chief executive Jemima Olchawski to stress how these kinds of questions often contributes to the gender pay gap.

The campaign group stresses that asking prospective employees about their salary history could unwittingly lead employers to replicate gender pay gaps from other companies.

But women aren’t the only ones pushing back against these questions, with only a quarter of those surveyed feeling that their new pay should be based on past salaries.

Whether you’re deciding to scrap the salary history question from your hiring interviews or keeping it as is, we’ve put together a list of pros and cons below to help you consider both sides.

 

Pros:

Better transparency: We’ve mentioned it briefly above but asking about a candidate’s salary history can be useful in determining their suitability for the role. While salary isn’t the be-all and end-all when it comes to determining the right candidate, having conversations around the topic allow employers to make candidates aware of any pay disparity early in the interview process, thus increasing their interview-to-hire ratio and cutting down their hire time.

Ease of negotiation: Once the salary history question is broached, it also gives the employer and potential employee the chance to have an open and honest negotiation. Knowing a candidate’s salary history can be incredibly helpful – particularly if the candidate is taking on more responsibility or otherwise applying for a role that is above their previous station.

Maintenance of pay: Although a lot of employees view salary questions as having the potential to land them on a lower wage, lots fail to consider the opposite. It could be good practice for employers to ask candidates about their previous salary to ensure that their pay does not fall below their employees’ previous salary.

 

Cons:

Unclear intentions: One of the most glaring cons of asking about salary history is the lack of clarity from employers regarding this information. Better transparency within the job advertisement itself is one way of mediating this factor, while employers are also encouraged to be clearer and more direct when it comes to pay scale.

Pay disparities: As outlines in The Fawcett Society’s findings, the salary question has been highlighted as a potential contributor to the gender pay gap, with over half of women surveyed feeling that this negatively impacts their ability to negotiate their salaries.

Lack of mobility: Meanwhile, candidates of all genders often view this type of question as a form of gatekeeping – harming their economic or corporate mobility and unfairly hindering junior-level candidates from progressing in their career.

 

As it currently stands, the question of salary history within the recruitment process ultimately falls to the discretion of each employer. Going forward, Peter Cheese, head of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), mentions that it’s not an “unnatural question to ask”, but also encourages employers to “be transparent about how they pay; the basis under which they pay and how that reflects things like market dynamics.”

 

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