One of the hardest parts of the job interview process comes in the form of a very simple question: “How much do you make?” The question typically comes up in the first screening call with the human resources recruiter. It is also asked on the online job application.
The problem is that answering the question — “how much do you make” or “how much do you want to make” — can put you at a disadvantage as a job seeker. Sites like Glassdoor have shown us that there are a huge range of salaries offered for roles. Salaries aren’t standardized across industries or even within companies.
If you answer this question off by almost any amount at all, you can be (and often are) eliminated from consideration. In other words, the company has a pay range in mind. If you don’t correctly guess a number in that range, you’re out. If you’re too low, they may consider you to be underqualified, and too high, they’ll assume you’d say no to an offer. If you’re inside of the range, but on the low end, you will be paid on the low end in the future.
If you ask a recruiter why they need to know this information, they’ll tell you they just want to learn if you’re in their budget. But, we aren’t products to be bought and sold. We’re humans. The company knows the value of the role. They ought to share their number, and allow the job seeker to determine if it’s a fit.
The good news is the laws around salary are evolving. In a number of states and cities, companies can no longer ask for salary history. In California, if you’re in a job interview and you ask for the pay range, the employer must share it with you.
Beginning in October, Maryland is going to join this trend. The legislature has passed HB123 that keeps employers from asking for your pay history — verbally, in writing, or by any other means. In addition, if the job applicant requests the pay range for the job, the employer must provide it.
This is a huge step in the right direction. Long term however, what I’d like to see is the pay range posted for every job. It shouldn’t be a secret game that you need to know the rules of. Plus, as a job applicant, asking for this information can leave a negative taste in the company’s mouth.
On top of that, I’ve found many companies aren’t aware of the rules. Even in states where the laws are very clear, the company will ask these questions. That puts the job seeker in a very awkward position.
If you’re currently looking for a job, research the rules in your area. No matter what they are, check out the salary data for the company on Glassdoor, Indeed, and LinkedIn. This will help you to be prepared for anything.
Angela Copeland, a career expert and founder of Copeland Coaching, can be reached at copelandcoaching.com.