Salary, confidential

Jobseeker Advice

Salary, confidential

There’s one salary question you should never answer – or ask

“So, what is your current salary?”

It’s a question that makes frequent appearances in job interviews – and sometimes, even on application forms. Chances are good that you’ve been asked at some point, or perhaps you’ve asked an interviewee yourself.

Now, navigating salary ranges during the interview process can undoubtedly be a tricky thing. And from the employer’s perspective – and generally, the employer is in the power position – it can be tempting to suss out what the candidate is currently earning so that you can make an offer of more… but not too much more.

At first blush, it makes business sense. How great would it be to snag that top prospect away from a competitor, while still being able to say you made the hire at a salary $15,000 less than you paid their predecessor? Seems like a win-win, no?

Well, not quite.

Here’s the thing about asking that particular question during the interview process: who is to say that their current salary range is actually what they’re worth?

There is a chance – in some industries, a good chance – that the person you’re interviewing is currently underpaid. And by learning their current salary, offering them a marginal bump, and calling it a day, you are not actually determining the market value of their skill set or fair/competitive compensation for the role – and at worst, you could actually be contributing to the gender wage gap.

The most recent Canadian data show that “women working full time in Canada still earned 74.2 cents for every dollar that full-time male workers made,” according to a Globe and Mail report on Statistics Canada data. (The Royal Bank of Canada estimates total Canadian incomes would rise $168 billion each year if the wage gap closed, according to an HRPA research paper.)

In fact, in Canada, we have a larger wage gap than the OECD average, which isn’t a great look for a nation that styles itself a leader in gender equity and diversity.

And that gap widens throughout her career – if, with each new role, a woman consistently undervalues her salary expectations, the effect will be cumulative. And according to one report by Hired, the average woman sets her annual salary expectations at $14,000 less than the average man.

Beyond that, more than half of employees – women slightly more so than men – do not feel confident that they have a good understanding of how pay is determined within their company, according to a 2016 Glassdoor Pay Transparency survey.

Even more concerning? A full seven in 10 employees globally wish they had a better understanding of what fair pay is for their position and skill set in their market.

You know who does have some insight into that? Good HR people and good companies. Doing the research, the legwork, and the homework into determining fair pay for your people – accounting for factors such as cost of living, market trends, long-term retention and competitiveness – is a much better measure of fair compensation than trying to outbid other employers by the bare minimum.

And if fairness, equity and best practices aren’t enough to convince, consider this: most experts will tell you that employers who offer competitive salary attract and retain top talent – the key differentiator in a an increasingly competitive marketplace.

All things considered, it’s likely high time to retire any interview question about current salary in favour of more relevant concerns. It’s not about how much you make – it’s about how much you’re worth, and whether an employer values you enough to make that distinction.

Liz Bernier is the managing editor of HR Professional and a communications specialist with the Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA).

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