You’ve applied for a job and your resume has made it through the first round of screening. Now, the HR manager is calling to have a quick chat to qualify you.
The conversation seems normal at first. You field basic questions like “Why did you apply for this job?” and “Tell me about yourself.”
But then comes the curveball: “How much do you make?”
It’s a deceptively simple question, and your answer has more influence on your future than you might think. Giving a figure that’s too high can eliminate you from the running altogether, while giving a figure that’s too low can lock you into a career’s worth of underpaying jobs.
A number of states and cities across the US have started to eliminate the salary question altogether. In 2017, Delaware and New York City banned employers from asking candidates about salary history. Earlier this year, California followed suit. Massachusetts, Oregon, and a handful of other places plan to impose similar bans in the near future.
But what’s so wrong with talking salary history? Sure, it’s an uncomfortable question for job seekers to answer, but many employers ask it in order to determine whether or not a candidate fits their budget for the role. Seems harmless enough, right?
The problem, however, is that employers use a candidate’s current salary to determine the compensation packager in the eventual job offer. That means that if a candidate is currently underpaid for any reason, they are likely to be underpaid in their next job, too.
Once you’re behind on your salary, you will always be behind — which is why so many places are starting to ban employers from asking about salary histories. These bans force employers to decide what a role is worth in and of itself, regardless of a candidate’s current pay. This guarantees employees are paid more fairly, based on the work they do rather than their skills at the negotiating table.
So, before you answer a salary history question, do your homework. Determine what you think the role is worth. The less you need the job, the riskier you can be with your answer.
I often advise job seekers to ask the recruiter/HR pro first if they would feel comfortable sharing their pay range with you. That way, you get the company to divulge its salary. Alternatively, you can offer your target range instead of a single figure. Just be sure to base this range on sound data. Use sites like Glassdoor to find out what the average pay of people in this role in your area is, and formulate a range accordingly.
A version of this article originally appeared on Copeland Coaching.
Angela Copeland is a career coach and CEO at her firm, Copeland Coaching.