3 Alternatives to Asking a Job Applicant About Their Salary History


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3 Alternatives to Asking a Job Applicant About Their Salary HistoryOn September 29th, 2019, Illinois passed a new law that bans employers from asking job applicants about their salary history. The law also allows employees to discuss their salary and benefits with colleagues, which is a practice that is often frowned upon by employers. These measures are meant to help close the gender pay gap and eliminate pay inequality. The new law applies to both salaried and hourly workers. Illinois is actually not the only state though that has this law. Currently there are 14 states that have banned the salary question and that number is growing.

So how should employers handle the new law? Knowing someone’s salary history is a crucial part in determining what that candidate’s salary should be at your company. There are a few steps that employers can take to work around not being able to ask about salary. These steps revolve around expectations and research.

Ask About Expectations

If employers haven’t been doing it already, they will need to begin asking candidates about their salary expectations in the first interview. Asking about salary expectations, allows the employer to know if the candidates desired salary is within the salary range of the job. Right off the bat, this will either make them a fit or not a fit for the position. If the candidate’s desired salary is in range, then you know there won’t be a problem with the salary down the line if you give them an offer. If the employer really likes the candidate, then they can give the candidate an offer that fits higher on the spectrum to help ensure they would accept the offer.

Employers can even include this question in their job application, before the first interview. If candidates select a salary well above the salary for the job, that may automatically eliminate them from the candidate pool.

Set Expectations

3 Alternatives to Asking a Job Applicant About Their Salary History Besides asking about expectations, you also need to set your OWN salary expectations. In the first interview, tell the candidate what the salary range of the job is so they know upfront. This would be a good question to ask after you ask about their expectations so they don’t set their expectations around yours. If their salary expectations do not meet the range of the job, ask if it is okay. If there is any form of hesitation, it probably is not okay, even if they say it is okay. Be cautious of any hesitation.

Do Your Salary Research

Before your first interview with a candidate, a good rule of thumb is to do research on the industry and position they are currently working in. This allows you to gauge what their salary might currently be. Helpful resources for research include Bureau of Labor Statistics, Glassdoor, and job descriptions from the same field/position. Having an idea of what their salary range might currently be, allows you to prepare for what their salary expectations might be. If their expectations are well above the salary you found in your research, you will know their desired salary exceeds the industry average.

You will also want to make sure you continue to do research on the industry you work in and the positions you seek candidates for. To stay competitive, you need to offer competitive salaries and ensure you are meeting and/or exceeding the salary expectations of the industry and position.


No longer being able to ask candidates about their salary can cause a slight road block for employers, but these are 3 ways to overcome that obstacle. Asking about expectations, setting expectations, and doing your salary research will be key for the hiring future.

Photo Credit: Adobe Stock

Jennifer Roeslmeier
Jennifer Roeslmeier is a Sr. Digital Marketing and Brands Manager at a staffing and recruiting software company. She has 7+ years experience working in the marketing and advertising industry. Prior to her current position, she worked in advertising on a large automotive account. In addition to her professional experience, she is a divisional Lt. Governor for a non-profit organization, aimed at helping children locally and around the world. Jennifer graduated from the University of Wisconsin- Madison with a Bachelor in Business Administration.


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