company said they’d base my job offer on my current salary

A reader writes:

After a lot of hard work and preparation, the company I have been interviewing with called me today to let me know they wanted to make an offer!

This job would be a significant jump for me in terms of both seniority and responsibility, and normally I would be thrilled and probably accept immediately. Everything sounded great, but then they said that HR would reach out to ask for a proof of my current salary and that their offer would essentially be based on my that plus a little extra, implying that this was just their normal process. I’ve never heard of any company doing this so openly! I was so taken aback I didn’t react.

Asking for this information is not illegal where I am, but I’m currently underpaid. I had to accept a job that pays significantly less than I would normally earn after I was essentially laid off while pregnant two years ago. This is part of the reason I’m looking to move, so I’d really rather not share this information. This role is significantly more senior and also comes with more risk, so I would need to earn at least 20% more than what I’m currently making for a move to make sense. I’ve spoken to recruiters and got to a final round interview with another company in this field recently, so I think I have a pretty good sense of what this kind of role should pay for someone with my background in my area (namely 20-30% more than what I’m earning now).

How can I diplomatically avoid providing this information without alienating the company or jeopardizing the negotiations?

Ugh, yes, some companies do this. It’s a terrible practice, and it disproportionately harms women and people of color, who on average are paid less than white men. Basing offers on previous salaries keeps those salary disparities in place and in fact enshrines them in the company’s salary structure, building in a potential legal violation with every offer. And of course, employers should be able to determine a new hire’s value themselves, based on the person’s accomplishments, skills, and track record, as well as the responsibilities they’ll have in the job.

I would say this to the company: “One of the main reasons I’m looking is because my current salary is under-market, so it wouldn’t make sense to base an offer on that. From speaking with recruiters and other employers, my sense is that the market range for this kind of role is $X-Y, and I’d be looking for an offer within that range. Is that in line with what you’re envisioning?”

If you want — and particularly if they balk — you could also say: “A lot of states are banning asking about salary history, because there’s so much evidence it suppresses the wages of women and people of color. I don’t share my salary history so would just ask that you make me an offer that’s fair within your existing salary structure and in line with the market. I’m really excited about the job, and I think we’ll be able to find a fair number.”

Some companies will rigidly hold to this kind of policy. But others will back down if you calmly, matter-of-factly explain why it won’t work for you.

Good luck, and here’s to the day when this is illegal everywhere.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 293 comments… read them below }

  1. Mainely Professional*

    What on earth. What if you were making an extremely large salary at your previous position? How would they know? This is nonsense. They have a budget for this salary line and they should be clear about what it is.

    1. 867-5309*

      Exactly! If you’re making 50% ABOVE market rate are they going to offer you more than that? It’s an outdated and ridiculous practice.

      1. Smithy*

        Or if someone is moving from a higher COLA or region where salaries for those roles are just higher….

        1. So long and thanks for all the fish*

          My father’s university works like this, and it’s a problem for exactly this reason.

        2. YouCanGoHomeAgain*

          Exactly!! I moved from a high COLA and though I would LOVE to make what I made there, I know that’s not a reasonable expectation.

      2. Momma Bear*

        Companies that do this are literally banking on underpaying you. My spouse once held off on an offer and they offered him $2K more to get him to take the job. This snowballed with subsequent jobs because of the whole salary history thing. I appreciate the script that Alison offers because that whole salary game is outdated and wrong.

        1. LunaLena*

          Yeah, I completely agree with this. I once worked for a tiny company and was extremely underpaid for what I did, which I was okay with for [reasons]. A couple of years later it was bought out by a large corporation, and they insisted on paying me exactly the same salary that I had received as a tiny company employee, regardless of market, what the other members of my new team were making, or changes in job duties. They also offered less benefits. The tiny company owner even told them I was underpaid and asked if they could offer me a little more, which they turned down flat. Not surprisingly, it turned out to be one of the most dysfunctional and miserable workplaces I’ve ever been in (I have never seen a company try so hard to squeeze every last penny out of its employees), and I left within a couple of months.

          1. Trina*

            I “retired” for 14 years to raise a kid and went back to work when she hit high school. I had previously worked for a non-profit so my pay was below market. When I returned to work at another non-profit in a lower step HR position to renew my skills and knowledge in a field that changed and also dealt with the coming of the internet, I took a fairly low salary; there was a unique benefit that compensated in part for the pay. I did well and got a promotion and pay bump but I was still below market when a life change made it clear I needed better compensation. Around the same time my wonderful boss was sidelined to another position and a new HR head came on board. Since others in the organization also asked for raises, a comp study was conducted. I was told that my position did not merit any increase. Not long after, someone in the same dept. left; she had more experience than me and was paid better. When the my boss, the HR head, set up the hire process, he realized that the departing colleague and I were at the same pay grade, he would not be able to hire her replacement for less than the old employee due to specialized skills and knowledge needed, and, since there was no way to avoid me learning due to my job duties, that I would know from day 1 what the newbie was earning. He gave me a 15% raise. I left shortly thereafter for another postion and ended up making 30% more than I was pulling in 6 months earlier

      3. Hah*

        Lol! I had that happen! Ended up making 50% more than their regional Medical Director . It was hilarious. I interviewed, they offered me the position, and when it came time for salary negotiations I was told 5% above current pay. I informed them of my current pay , they didn’t believe me and had me produce my 1040. Lol! I was worth every dime. I came from private practice in the NE and not academia in the south.

    2. Diahann Carroll*

      They have a budget for this salary line and they should be clear about what it is.

      This is the most important piece here. They know what they’re going to pay based on their budget, so stop messing around and just give OP a number within that range and go from there. Companies need to stop purposely trying to screw over job candidates – it unnecessarily sours the relationship before the person even starts (if they choose to move forward), and when something better paying comes along, you can bet the new hire will move on with no regrets.

    3. Mid*

      Exactly. They’re ignoring the entire compensation package, ignoring market rate for the position, etc. What would they do if someone was switching industries? Or if someone was returning to work after taking a decade off?

    4. NerdyKris*

      Or working somewhere that ridiculously underpays. I can just imagine them deciding that someone who was being paid $15/hour as management in a failing company is going to accept being paid $20/hour while their contemporaries are making $30-35/hour .

      1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

        That is exactly what they are hoping. They are hoping they can scoop someone up at a “discount” because their current company underpays.

        This may even be why LW was brought in for interviews. They only interviewed people from companies who they knew underpaid their employees so they would not have to pay market rate salary.

        I’d continue searching.

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          I might take the job, depending on circumstances, but I would also assume that it was short-term, the only question being how long I would have to stick around to make it an asset on my resume.

    5. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

      There’s no good way to spin this. Either they are so incompetent and/or lazy that they just shrug their shoulders and say “we have no idea what salary to set for this, so we’ll let your previous employers decide it for us”, or they are scheming and graspy so they use this process to deliberately underpay people while pretending that their hands are clean.

      Dollars to donuts, if OP’s current salary is too much for their taste, they’ll come back and say “oh, we’re sorry, turns out we can’t give you that bump after all”.

      1. AKchic*

        Yep. I can guarantee that once she puts a hard number out there and it isn’t the number they want to pay her, they will say so. In the meantime, she has to guess at that number, bid low (so to speak), and then be “happy” when they smile fatuously and “generously” add in a few pennies extra to give her the number that THEY wanted to pay her all along, regardless of the market, her previous salary, or anything else.

        They know what they want to pay. They just don’t want her knowing how little they want to pay. They just want to see how little they can get away with paying without showing their hand.

      1. The New Wanderer*

        I’m sure they have some flimsy excuse for why it wouldn’t work in any way that benefits the employee. “Suddenly” they’ll have a fixed budget at the salary they were willing to offer if they couldn’t get a bargain by using someone’s underpaid status.

        Really, there’s no excuse for a company taking this approach at all, particularly now in the rising age of calls for salary transparency and better understanding (on the employee side) of how this continues to perpetuate inequity.

        1. Wendy Darling*

          I interviewed with a company that told me at the beginning of the interview process that they based salaries off your previous salary and I was like “great!” because I’d just gotten laid off from a company known for terrible work-life balance but excellent pay. As soon as I disclosed what I made at my previous job they announced that they were removing me from consideration because they couldn’t come close to matching my previous salary.

          There were a lot of other red flags about them so I was like, welp, that’s a bummer, bye!

    6. allathian*

      Yeah, this is utter nonsense. It would also be illegal where I am for one employer to pay significantly different salaries to different employees who are doing the same job. Some employees will be more productive than others and it’s absolutely the norm for employers to reward good employees with a bonus or a performance-based salary percentage, but it’s illegal to have different base salaries for people doing the same job.

      1. TardyTardis*

        Which never actually stops the company from doing it whenever they think they can get away with it, though.

  2. AutoEngineer57*

    Not to mention, it’s pretty silly to base your entire offer off of one number. What if you are losing vacation days moving to the new position? Or your health insurance is more expensive? The comprehensive benefits package as a whole is much more important than that single number.

    Every time I read one of these posts, I want to slam my head into my desk, haha

    1. laughingrachel*

      So true! I didn’t even think about this, but looking at just salary I’m currently at the low end of the market rate for my position. BUT my company pays almost all my health insurance costs and we have an extremely generous vacation policy for the US, so I don’t feel under-compensated. I would need quite a jump in salary to cover losing some of those benefits

      You’re so right, looking just at the salary doesn’t tell the whole story for sure!

    2. BenAdminGeek*

      Exactly! I’ve had friends go places and accept terrible benefits because the pay was crazy high, and my folks both worked for low pay (state/local jobs) for great benefits. Having a comprehensive benefits overview is hugely important. Not just “What did Wendy’s pay you, and we’ll bump it up 10% for this accounting role?”

    3. LSP*

      I started at my current employer coming from a job in government. My salary expectations were LOW, and when they asked me for what I wanted in terms of salary, they basically said, “That’s too low. Ask for more,” rather than just making me a higher offer. It was weird.

      Fortunately, the salary was 25% higher than what I had been making, and I’ve received some significant raises and bonuses since, so despite the weird start, I feel good about my pay now. But just like, make an offer, and stop trying to get some deal for the cheapest labor possible.

      1. ProdMgr*

        “That’s too low, ask for more” sounds like someone trying to get you into the right range while also potentially needing to be able to go to their management or HR and say “this is what the candidate asked for” to get the offer finalized.

        1. LilPinkSock*

          That’s what I’ve done. I never ask about a previous salary, because it. doesn’t. matter, but when I have a high-value candidate, I want to be sure they’re appropriately compensated for that value. I don’t want anyone being paid below the fair market rate just because they undervalue themselves or aren’t good negotiators, it feels very dishonest to me.

          1. Librarian of SHIELD*

            Do you ever suggest a range to them that would be more appropriate? Because I’ve only ever worked in the government sector and would have zero idea of how to go about figuring out what kind of salary to ask for.

            1. LilPinkSock*

              Yes, if the reply is still very undervalued (or, with rare exceptions, way too high). Also, I live in a city with a lot of transplants, so we get a lot of newcomers to the area who aren’t aware of what’s reasonable/competitive here.

      2. Ross*

        I was in a similar position when I started at my current employer. I was working for a quasi-government agency in a relatively rural state and was applying for a job in a major east coast city. I was required to submit my salary information for my current role (prior to the first interview!) but I told them upfront that there was a major difference in the cost of living and I would not accept anything that was less what I considered the difference. When it came to salary negotiations, I asked for a bit more than that difference. They responded with an offer than was $10k more than that number. Apparently that was a pretty standard starting salary for that role at the company. There’s plenty of practices I wouldn’t consider great about how internal promotions are handled but they certainty treated right when I was initially hired.

    4. Meg*

      yes! the insurance one for sure. My current company pays 90% of our insurance premiums, so I’m only paying about $5/month out of pocket for my health insurance. Any new job I take will need to include an increase after absorbing any increase in those healthcare costs.

    5. TootsNYC*

      Or your health insurance is more expensive?

      I know someone who took a job because it was a big salary jump, but the company she went to had shit insurance; low rates for single people, and high rates for 2 or more. She was the sole insurance provider for her family, and she ended up taking a pay cut.

    6. Donna LaPointe*

      Your 401k match is also important in the long run. I worked for a company that got bought out. New company’s match was a mere .o5% in company stock. New employees were not allowed to participate for or even defer their own money for a year. New employees who were married possibly could ramp up their spouses deferral for a year for joint tax purposes. The irony was the company was in the financial services sector!

  3. SEM*

    Yeah, it really should be illegal to ask this in all of the USA and yet- look how we handle everything else so

    1. Batgirl*

      At least something’s getting done about it in parts of America. It’s not even on the agenda in Britain.

      1. MayLou*

        I’ve never been asked my salary history in the UK and have always known the salary range before applying, so this must vary by sector or something. Also we have statutory holiday entitlement and national health care, so it is a very different calculus.

        1. Batgirl*

          Lots of industries, partucularly better ones, are pretty good about posting salary, because no one with any kind of wherewithal wants their time wasted. It’s also what a job seeker with options is looking for. However it’s not illegal at all for a shitty employer to base pay on previous salary even when they posted a range and it happened to me fairly often until I got my head above water seniority wise. It still happens to my partner a lot; a well paid industry but they’re crap in this very particular way. He just very cheerfully refuses to give proof…these days. He wasn’t always in the position. The NHS is fantastic, and so is holiday entitlement (if you get it, not everyone does; hello zero hours contracts!) But I’m going to push back against the idea that it’s okay to lowball salaries and keep everyone in their boxes based on how well they can afford to negotiate. The calculus on that one doesnt work out ok because people can still use the hospital.

  4. laughingrachel*

    I think if a company balks at the totally reasonable script Alison gave you, that tells you that you probably don’t want to work for them. If they don’t like the idea of someone leaving because they’re underpaid, they’re probably hoping to underpay you.

    1. JokeyJules*

      10000% My job now was fully negotiated “at market rate” and only discussing “market rate” and unique qualifications. Anything else is irrelevant and should be to you and your company. There’s no reason they should really care what you were paid previously IMO

    2. Diahann Carroll*

      they’re probably hoping to underpay you.

      This is exactly why they’re asking for proof of OP’s current salary – they’re trying to get her for as little as they can get away with. It’s crap.

        1. Disappointed*

          For real. So sorry OP.

          here’s to the day when this is illegal everywhere.

          I’m ready for that day, so bad. Neither my masters or PhD could ensure the salaries that I want, and meanwhile the men in my cohorts make six figures? Oh, the joys of being a person of colour, woman, and young, especially in light of such systemic barriers and brutal policies that have yet to be eradicated.

    3. Anonymous Educator*

      Honestly, the fact this is even their standard practice means the OP should probably let this offer go. It really says a lot about this company. Imagine how promotions and pay raises go. Yikes. That said, Alison’s script is a good one, should the OP still want to go ahead with this company.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        It would give me serious pause about proceeding as well. If the company’s not working from market, that’s going to continue to be a problem for raises in the future. Our in-house compensation team reviews market surveys annually and use that info both to assess pay of current staff and also for new salaries.

        My experience working with someone who relied a lot on past salary was that they were trying to pay the bare minimum someone would take and did end up with substantial pay inequities because of it, including paying new hires more than existing staff. I’m sure there is an exception to this out there but I’ve not had good experiences with salary-setters whose primary metric was prior pay.

    4. YetAnotherNerd42*

      +100% and if this is how they treat you as a candidate, imagine how they’ll treat you as an employee. I would have serious second thoughts about working at a place like this.

      1. MissDisplaced*

        Eh… I mean yes and no. It might just be a clueless recruiter.
        I get there is some give and take. Candidates trying to get the highest salary they can, while companies try to fill positions for the least amount they can. Both have the mindset of making the best deal, because every little bit earned or saved affects the bottom line.
        But it doesn’t excuse the company (because they hold all the power) from having a number in mind.

  5. Should be grateful (?)*

    Feeling your pain, OP. I suffered a pay cut during an unwise job change, and every other company seemed to set that as a benchmark moving forward. Regretted it ever since ;_;

  6. HR Exec Popping In*

    As time has gone on, I am more and more in favor of full transparency when it comes to pay. It infuriate me when some hiring managers try to low-ball candidates and get them as cheaply as they can while caving to candidates who push for more. I have seen this cause significant pay equity issues. What someone was making at their past job should play into what they make in their new company.

    1. SBH*

      IME at our shop it only creates ticking Timebombs of turnover. One FTE will leave for a company that pays market rate, and then that one opens the door for five others. All because someone wanted an ‘exceeds expectations’ in one box on their year end review. Total mess.

    2. Anonymous Educator*

      On a really basic level, it rewards the wrong things. They can claim it’s a “meritocracy,” but they’re then giving more money to the person who’s pushier than the person who’s qualified and does good work.

      1. Legal Beagle*

        It goes even further — because women and POC are told not to be “pushy” (ie, negotiate, know your own value) and then are perceived poorly when they do, which further entrenches gender and race disparities in pay and career advancement.

        1. Nanani*

          Exactly. A woman using the exact same negotiation tactics as a man may end up losing the offer because she gets perceived as (insert bad word here) but he got perceived as savvy and standing up for himself.

          You can’t say negotiation is rewarded and then cut most demographics off for negotiating, AND pretend you’re being fair.

          1. Anonymous Educator*

            Or she gets the offer, but then still gets punished once she’s doing her job for being too “difficult” or whatever.

            1. Legal Beagle*

              Ugh yes. Even if the negotiation is successful, will you be subtly penalized on the job because the company is now paying you more than they’d hoped you would settle for, and higher-ups are salty about it? It’s a minefield.

            2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

              Yes. Punished by being held up to impossible standards is a thing I’ve heard of over the years. The men making the same range can sloth around all day long, that’s okay, they’re hard workers and worth their paycheck but if she’s caught making a second cup of coffee one day, there’s a huge to-do about it.

          2. Anonymobile*

            Recently saw two senior managers not hired. About the man who made it to a final round I heard ‘we couldn’t afford him’… about the woman, “she asked too much.”

          3. SeluciaMD*

            YES! This x 10000000000.

            Hell – look at what’s happening on the national stage! I’ve heard several times already that one of the “concerns” about Kamala Harris as VP is that she’s “too ambitious.” When what they really mean is (of course) “too ambitious FOR A WOMAN.” Like how else do you rise to that level in politics?!? Has that charge EVER been leveled at a man in politics? Or in any career for that matter? Of course not. It just makes me want to set my hair on fire every time someone brings up things like ambition and “warmth” when discussing the viability of women in leadership (particularly politics).

            This is just really been eating at me this week since Biden announced her as his running mate and too many of the talking heads are talking about these kinds of things as if they should be legitimate concerns about her candidacy or ability to do the job. ARRRGGGGGHHHH.

            OP, I hope you use Alison’s script effectively and they surprise you buy being reasonable and transparent and put out a good-faith offer that demonstrates an appreciation of your value. Good luck!

    3. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      We had a problem like this at one of my previous jobs.

      We had a very competent and easygoing manager, Tangerina. Tangerina was responsible for her own job, plus six “miscellaneous” floating duties like Safety Captain. She was paid to work 40 hours a week and was working 60. She asked, several times over several years, for a full time employee to assist with the workload, as well as a title change and raise to better align her pay up with the duties she was performing. She was told no, repeatedly, and eventually she snapped and left.

      WELL. When Tangerina left, they had to rehire. And in order to rehire, they had to reassign five of the six miscellaneous floating duties to other people and add a full-time employee. The new hire hardballed them on salary, and ended up starting at 10% more than Tangerina was making when she left, even though New Hire was early in his career and Tangerina was late career, and the job had been stripped down to have much less responsibility. And of course, in the time the job had been empty, the jerk boss who refused to give Tangerina a raise managed to alienate the customers, which shrunk the volume that New Hire was handling, making it even less work and the department far less profitable.

      It would have been cheaper to give Tangerina her raise and assistant.

      1. Ray Gillette*

        Good on Tangerina for seeing what she was worth and leaving. I hope she’s being fairly compensated for her work now.

      2. Batgirl*

        Happens all the time. Plus what’s the bet that Tangerina got lowballed in her next role too because of previous salary?

      3. MissDisplaced*

        When I left my last job, they had to hire two full time people (senior and junior roles) to take care of all of the work I was doing, plus hire an agency for some other work I did. This, despite being told “the company didn’t really need my role.”

        I was asking more for a title alignment, and modest raise + some temp help for the low-level duties, which would have only cost them about $30-$35k in total (I proposed a $5k raise + $25k part-time assistant as the best way to accomplish the workload) versus the $130k+ for what it actually took to replace me ($75k salary + $35k salary + $20k in agency billable work, maybe more until they filled the jobs). Oh well. I guess I see why they’ve having financial troubles.

        1. MissDisplaced*

          Forgot to add that when I left, I immediately got an offer that was $3k more than I made, but after a year, I was making 10k more than when I left due to salary and bonuses. It’s good I didn’t stay, but I really did like that job. It’s just the “leaders” were so short-sighted sometimes and didn’t want to listen to the person who was, in effect, running the department. They were still calling me with questions 2 years after I left too.

          1. SeluciaMD*

            And I hope you consigned every one of those calls to the deep freeze “never-to-be-returned” voicemail trashcan. :0)

        2. TardyTardis*

          Yes, this sounds familiar–when I moved internally, they generally had to farm out whatever I did to 2 1/2 people.

    4. Sparrow*

      I once had a hiring manager offer me a certain amount and then lower it because HR deemed it too high based on my salary history (nevermind that the new position was higher in responsibility-level and was in an area with a significantly higher cost of living.) I turned that job down. I might not have if they’d offered me the lower number to begin with, but the fact that they had to offer me less than they thought I was worth because of this dumb policy really annoyed me.

      1. Cj*

        Good for you. Hope you found something that pays you a fair market rate based on the work you are performing for them.

      2. TootsNYC*

        ooh, I had an opening, and my best candidate was an internal hire.
        She accepted the position, gave notice in the other department, everything. When her first paycheck came, the budget lady/business manager had cut her salary at the new job because she thought it was too big of a jump, that she didn’t deserve that raise because she was internal (which is of course the only way the budget lady knew what she’d been making before).

        My employee came to me with her pay stub, I went to my boss, we went to HR, and the HR lady went flat-out ballistic. My subordinate got her money and a strong apology from the HR lady.

        1. Diahann Carroll*

          She unilaterally cut somebody’s pay without discussing it with her manager (or you for that matter) and she got to keep her job? Wow.

    5. Librarian of SHIELD*

      “What someone was making at their past job should play into what they make in their new company.”

      I vehemently disagree. What will help make pay more equitable is if companies stop asking their new hires what salary they would like.

      Companies who want salaries to be fair and equitable pay all employees at the same level reasonably similar salaries. Sit down and figure out your company’s structure and hierarchy. Do a market study and find out what your local market level is for those positions, and set a salary range for each level. And POST THE SALARY RANGE IN THE JOB LISTING so employees know whether or not it’s even worth applying.

      1. Double A*

        From the context of the rest of the post, I think that was a typo that should have said “shouldn’t” play into current salary.

  7. Trout 'Waver*

    I wonder if they would be open to sharing (with proof) what they have previously paid people in this position?

    I would absolutely not work for a company that pulled this stunt unless I had no other options. Employers with that kind of mentality are going have dozens of other ways they nickle and dime their employees. That they’re doing it so blatantly from the get-go tells you everything you need to know about them.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      I wonder if they would be open to sharing (with proof) what they have previously paid people in this position?

      Ha! I would totally counter with this – but I also don’t need a whole new job right now either.

    2. sssssssssssssssssssssssss*

      Not likely.

      I once asked what the salary band was for a posted job for a friend who was looking for work. I was already working there. HR refused! It was “confidential.”

      1. Windchime*

        I’ve had that happen with my own position. I repeatedly asked what the salary band was and my boss kept saying he would get it for me, but he kept “forgetting”. Now I work for the state; I don’t know what my salary band is but I sure know what everyone else on my team is making because it’s public record.

  8. Snarkus Aurelius*

    Whatever they tell you, OP, always remember that they’ve budgeted for this position long before they met you. So they already have an idea of how much they’re going to pay. No employer would ever post a job without having any idea of what they will pay!

    If nothing else, that’s why your current pay is extremely irrelevant!

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      One time I was interviewing at a place that I knew would give me a significant pay cut from my current position, and I was okay with a pay cut and let them know that, but I wanted a general sense of roughly how much the cut would be, and they absolutely refused to give me any kind of number. I was like “Even + or – $20K range”? Nope. That was a real put-off. I know they had money budgeted for the position, and even if there’s some flexibility in a budget, it’s usually not over $40K for a lower-level position (this wasn’t even close to director-level).

  9. MissGirl*

    A few years ago, my rapidly growing company did an across-the-board salary survey to check if there were biases in the system. There were. The first thing they did was establish pay bands and bring everyone up the their pay band. The second was to forbid asking about a candidate’s current salary. They also don’t negotiate offers. Their transparency and willingness to admit and fix problems were one of the reasons I chose them.

    1. Dragon_Dreamer*

      They don’t even negotiate within the pay band? And will they revisit the bands every few years to make sure they’re still market rate?

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        They don’t even negotiate within the pay band?

        Honestly, I wouldn’t because you can still end up with inequity issues if, say, all the white dudes negotiate to the top of the band, but the women and minorities either don’t negotiate at all or try to negotiate and still end up at the bottom of said band.

        1. Snarkus Aurelius*

          Thank you for saying this.

          Given the research on how women and POC are negatively perceived after negotiating for more pay, negotiating needs to be banned.

          Easier to do that than try to remove biases.

          1. Diahann Carroll*

            I agree – and I say that as a black woman who negotiated my current salary up to almost the top of the range given for my role (which was almost a 27% increase from my salary at my previous employer). With my quarterly bonuses factored in, I actually ended up $7k over the stated salary range.

              1. Diahann Carroll*

                Oh yeah, absolutely. The market will shift and you don’t want people to be underpaid because then they’ll leave. I worked for an insurance company that re-evaluated pay bands every two to three years, and I think that’s a good timeline.

          2. Gazebo Slayer*

            Thirding Diahann Carroll and Snarkus Aurelius. Salaries should be right there in the job listing and non-negotiable.

        2. HR Exec Popping In*

          YES. We no longer negotiate salary with candidates for this very reason. We had significant pay equity issues because white men tend to negotiate harder and the company would give them whatever they asked for. We no longer negotiate base pay, period. We make our best offer right out of the gate knowing that we are ok if the candidate walks because it is not high enough. My goal is to pay people fairly – all people.

          1. TootsNYC*

            As a manager, I prefer to make my best offer. I did that the one time I was given a band.
            I had a good candidate, and I said, “This is the offer. I can’t give you any more. They gave me a range, and I’m offering you the top of that range, because I really want you to come work for me and I want you to feel valued, and I want you to be happy working here.”

            The only time I wouldn’t offer the top of my range is if I felt I was giving up some important ability, especially if it might cost me money and productivity (like, the copyeditor I was hiring didn’t have recipe experience, and I’d need to hire a recipe editor for awhile to make up for it).

            1. TootsNYC*

              I’ve hired freelancers for less because they’re new to me and an unknown quantity for some reason (not a lot of references or experience), precisely because I figure they won’t be as valuable to me; then once they’ve proven themselves and gained experience with me, I move them up in rate.

        3. Anonymous Educator*

          Yeah, negotiation needs to go. Now, that shouldn’t be an excuse for underpaying people (which many companies still do, even with negotiation being the norm). But your offer should be actually competitive (not “competitive”) and fair, and negotiation just reinforces societal inequities.

      2. MK*

        In my experience, not negotiating at all is most likely the better policy. I know people think that it makes sense to pay more “qualified” candidates more, but unless they have a specific skill that you know for a fact will be immediately useful on the job, most likely you are paying for qualifications you don’t particularly need for the job in question or simply rationalizing being affected by the candidate’s charisma (I think the common use of the phrase “they wowed us at the interview” is … telling). And, worse of all, afterwards a manager often unconsciously wants to justify the higher salary by trying to convince themselves the higher-paid person is indeed a better performer, when they are really on par with the rest of their peers.

        1. Anonymous Educator*

          I know people think that it makes sense to pay more “qualified” candidates more, but unless they have a specific skill that you know for a fact will be immediately useful on the job

          I’m fine with paying more for a more qualified candidate, but the criteria should be determined before even looking at any candidates. “What would we pay for someone with this many years’ experience?” “Do we pay more if they have such-and-such advanced degrees?”

        2. goducks*

          Yes! My state (Oregon) has a very strong pay-equity law that says that any differences in pay need to be based on job-related items that are pre-defined AND that all people who have these differences get that same differential.
          So, if you say base for this position is 50k, but we’ll pay 10k more for an MBA and 15k more for 10+ years experience, then you have to have decided those criteria BEFORE you met the candidate, and any other people you have in that role need that same differential. And the differential criteria need to matter to the job.
          Our pay equity law is literally down to the penny. Not just pay bands, not approximations, equal pay for equally situated employees. Negotiations are starting to go away, as more employers and employees learn the law. I have high hopes that this changes the nature of compensation as time goes on.

          1. TardyTardis*

            Sadly, I know at least one company that totally ignores that law, but since they’re in a high unemployment rural area, nobody is going to complain since they’re the big dog in town. (granted, their benefits package almost makes up for it).

      3. MissGirl*

        Yes, we are given a 5 percent raise every January until we max the pay band. We meet twice a year to determine if we’re ready to move up a level. We’re also given clear steps for each level.

        1. Cj*

          Are any additional bonuses/raises based on merit? Or is that what the moving up to the next level rewards? Even if there aren’t merit raises, I can’t remember the last time I got a 5% raise, even with awesome reviews.

          Although when I changed jobs last year, I got a $10,000 pay increase, and 80% of my health insurance paid for (I had no health ins through my previous employer – had to use ACA). They never asked about my salary history. They paid me based on the value the perceived I would bring to the (CPA) firm. It is awesome.

          I was fully prepared to negotiate, but was actually offered exactly what I wanted, plus fewer hours than I was prepared to work, so I jumped on it just like it was.

          1. MissGirl*

            Yes, our move to the next pay band is based on merit. Plus, if anyone is on a PIP or something they wouldn’t be eligible for the full increase.

    2. Sled dog mama*

      This is one of the things I love about my profession. My professional organization does a salary survey every year and breaks the data down by years experience, education, specialization, work environment, certification and a few other things. In the members only version of the survey they break it out by gender and race too, they produce a version for showing to employers that does not show race or gender. You can see that over the last decade we’re approaching equal pay for equal experience and I think this survey has a lot to do with it.
      The transparency also means that jobs are often advertised as pay in line with salary survey and everyone is on the same page from the beginning. When I interviewed for my current position I was told in the first interview, “salary is what the survey says.”
      This also helped me at a previous job that after I obtained the major certification in my field (which comes with the authority to do a lot of functions unsupported) I was able to get a 15% raise because I could show that industry norms for my qualifications was well above what I was making.

      1. Mighty Mouse*

        My professional organization released an algorithm for calculating salaries just a few years ago and told women to take a few thousand dollars off the figure! There was an uproar and the response was basically, “well, that’s what the data shows.” It was eventually fixed, but I wish I could quit without losing a lot of benefits that I need.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          So the data showed a problem and they just reported how to perpetuate it… good grief, someone needs a clue-by-four.

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            If the messaging on this was not, “Hey, we uncovered a major issue you should all be aware of!” v. the “Sorry, ladies, do some subtraction!” then the professional organization needs some training.

          2. Mighty Mouse*

            They backpedaled and said it was just what the data showed and that it wasn’t ok, that women shouldn’t be paid less, blah blah blah. The original flow chart did not say anything clarifying except that men should jump to the next step and women should subtract $2400. My industry is just over 50% women and kind of diverse, but the leadership is probably 80%+ old white men. The students graduating these days are 80% female so we are definitely not well represented. Another major industry publication ran an article about how women don’t want to work in the more physically demanding parts of the industry and that’s why they were going the way of the dodo, not that they also paid significantly less.

        2. MissGirl*

          What??????? That can’t be legal. I would be job hunting so fast. I don’t know what your profession is but don’t give up the search. There are jobs where pay is fair and you have benefits.

          1. Mighty Mouse*

            Fortunately they are not my employer, but an optional organization that happens to offer the best options for needed personal coverage for my industry.

        3. Gazebo Slayer*

          So basically they were saying “hey women, you should expect to be paid less and just put up with it.” And worse, “hey employers, just pay women less, everyone else does and that’s just the way it is.”

          Wow. Just wow.

          1. TardyTardis*

            There was a Duffel Blog (military humor blog) that explained ‘there are two salary schedules now and women at each rank get the lower one’. They meant it as satire, but people didn’t think that was very funny.

      2. Jay*

        There are national benchmarks for my profession, and they’re published annually. At my last job, I was handed an offer sheet for contract renewal that said “Your productivity is at 95% of national benchmarks. Salary offer is at 28%.” I almost quit on the spot – and in retrospect I wish I had.

    3. ampersand*

      It’s never occurred to me to do away with negotiating salary to level the playing field. I’ve always thought the answer was: since negotiating is a thing, women and POC need to make sure we negotiate so that the system is more equal. This actually makes so much more sense than putting the burden on the people who are disadvantaged (as is, of course, typical practice in the US). My mind is kind of blown by the thought.

      1. Jay*

        Yes, it makes all kind of sense. “Women and BIPOC need to behave more like white men” is a well-established approach to social inequity. For one thing, it doesn’t work (see above re: how we are punished for attempting to negotiate). There are so many ways we expect individual people to solve large-scale systemic problems – like the ways in which individual parents are supposed to deal with the lack of and expense of decent childcare and the enormous differences in quality of schools. This why people think “Mom should quit her job or cut back while the kids are young” is an appropriate response to the ways in which employers make it difficult to work full-time and be a decent parent.

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          Yep. And unfortunately, placing the burden on people disadvantaged by the current system usually also means *blaming* them because they aren’t negotiating hard enough, or in the right way, or just don’t have a positive enough attitude, or or or.

      2. MCMonkeyBean*

        Studies have even shown that sometimes a woman doing the exact same negotiating as a man would be seen as a *bad* thing while the man’s negotiation would be seen as good. It would not surprise me at all if there are similar biases in play when people of color negotiate as well.

        It’s some real BS and not allowing for any negotiation helps counter that.

      3. TardyTardis*

        Sounds like a wonderful idea! Except that women and POC are considered too nasty to hire if they try.

    4. Book Badger, Attorney-at-Claw*

      I love the way my office does it. There are clearly defined pay scales for every position, with steps up per years worked. Meaning if you come into the organization with 5 years of relevant experience, you start on the five year salary and continue to rise. Every single person with 5 years experience is paid the exact same amount. No negotiation, no guessing, no nothing.

      The only wiffly things is what pay range you are in (ex: paralegals and admins have separate ranges, even though you might be doing elements of both, so some people negotiate to be moved to a different role and therefore a different pay range) and, for people who have not-very-relevant job experience, it’s up to our CEO to determine how much of your experience translates to the salary scale. Like, my paralegal had never worked as a paralegal before, but the CEO determined he had ~7 years of “relevant” experience as a counselor so he got bumped to the 7 year salary, instead of starting at year 1.

    5. blaise zamboni*

      Yup. My company was in the middle of adjusting pay bands for all employees when I was hired on (though I had no idea at the time). I got a nice and unexpected bump 3 months into my role and was very glad I took this job despite reservations about the pay initially. Not just because I got a pay bump, but because my company took the initiative to address inequality for their employees instead of just exploiting it.

      I tried to negotiate during the offer (first time I’d ever tried!), using Alison’s “is there any room to increase that?” approach. The HR rep asked if I had any additional work experience that wasn’t on my resume, and when I said no she explained that they couldn’t bump up their offer because it wouldn’t be equitable for the other person on my would-be team who had the same amount of experience that I did. She took the time to emphasize their benefits package instead, and went through all my questions about that. I wasn’t thrilled about the pay rate, but I really appreciated the transparency and equity in their process and that’s what made me accept.

      Since then, I’ve proven my experience relative to my coworker and accordingly received a pay bump further along the salary range than she did. My company doesn’t always do it right and I definitely have my gripes, but I’m overall happy with how I’m treated and how I see others treated, and that’s invaluable to me.

  10. voyager1*

    I disagree with AAM one point of her script. Don’t use that first sentence about being paid under market. The rest of the script is good. If they balk at you telling them that they need to give you a number then you don’t want to work for them.

    If you know you are going to walk or they are definitely use the script about states banning this practice.

    If they really want you they will give you a set salary number.

    1. MissGirl*

      I agree with you. Saying you’re under-paid doesn’t matter to them. The OP is taking on a more senior role with greater responsibilities. That is more than enough to justify a pay increase.

      1. MissBliss*

        It should matter to them, if they’re an organization that cares about equity. You may not need to say it to get them to respond with an adequate salary, but it may give you useful information to see how they respond (and may make them think more broadly about equity, though I doubt it).

      2. Cj*

        Since they are basing it on her current salary rather than the market value of the new job, it does matter. They can’t just say “this job has 20% more responsibility, so will give you a 20% pay bump from your prior job” and have it be fair. If it’s 20% more responsibility, then it needs to be a 20% from the market value of her old job, not what she was actually paid at that job.

        It also sounds like if it’s 20% more responsibility, they still only plan on giving her something like a 5 – 10% increase. I’d walk away from this if they won’t pay fair market rate, even if it is more than the OP is making now. Unless it would look good on her resume to have the additional responsibilities, with a plan to leave in a couple of years.

        1. MissGirl*

          The old job shouldn’t matter at all. It doesn’t matter if she was making market rate or not. All her negotiation should be around why THIS job is worth whatever range she is asking. If she says she was low-balled at her last job, they might begin to wonder if they can get away with low-balling her or if there’s something wrong with her that she made less and accepted it. The company looks like a place that might do that. That’s why I wouldn’t bring up that she was paid below market rate into the conservation. I don’t know if it helps or hurts.

  11. Irvina Shane*

    Are interviewers being “crafty” when they ask what your salary expectations are? In other words, are they asking this question to see what you are expecting and if you are expecting less than what they’re offering, do they bring down their offer to save some money?

    1. Beth Jacobs*

      I would assume companies do this to lowball candidates, there seems no other reason to do so. Yet my anecdoctal experience shows they don’t even listen! One place that did this came in with an offer that was below market and below the range I had named. The other went way above my existing salary and my named range (I guess they are aware of the liability, but still ask out of habit?). It’s so weird, stupid and incompetent.

    2. HR Exec Popping In*

      Probably some do. But I know my organization does not. We are just trying to understand if comp expectations are aligned. If someone is expecting to make more than the salary range for the position (or more than what we are willing/able to pay based on internal peers) that is good information to know so that no one wastes their time. That said, we don’t disqualify them. We open up a conversation about comp at that point and ask the candidate if they want to proceed.

      1. Beth Jacobs*

        1) Present earnings are not equal to what the candidate is seeking in a different job.
        2) You can check for alignment on comp by naming your number first and then asking if it still makes sense to talk. You’re the party with more info and more power, you’re the one who should name the number first.

        1. Legal Beagle*

          YES YES YES to your 2nd point. I do not understand this logic at all. “See if we’re in the same ballpark” by making the candidate take a guess as to what *your* ballpark is? And we know people will lowball themselves to not put themselves out of the running. Why not share your range with the candidate and then see if it’s a match? And as Alison has said before, if you can’t adequately explain why a candidate falls at x point in the salary range (if not at the top), then you need to work on that. Don’t punish the candidate because you haven’t done the work of properly assigning a value to the role and qualifications.

        2. College Career Counselor*

          Exactly so. Name the range/pay band IN THE JOB POSTING. HR and/or the hiring manager know what the budget for the position is going to be, so stop the Needless Lowball Song and Dance with candidates. Oh, and the pay range? Should not be a $50k spread. Former employer of mine used to break the pay bands into 3rds, and the *best* you ever got coming in was at the top of the lowest 3rd.

          “But what about applicants automatically expecting the top of the range,” I hear you saying. That’s another reason to keep the range smaller and more realistic. Also, “depending on experience and qualifications” should be in that job description. Someone with the minimum qualifications/experience should come in on the lower end (and tell them why if there’s a negotiation for a higher rate). Someone with objectively better qualifications & experience should be offered higher from the start. And also told “nope, this is what we are budgeting for the position” if they want to go beyond the range.

          TL;DR: Organizations should publish a reasonable salary range with the job description. This kind of transparency will save everyone time, effort, and agita.

      2. PJS*

        Sorry, but if your organization really cared about not wasting people’s time, you would put the salary range in the job posting. Then people can decide if expectations are aligned before wasting time putting together a resume and cover letter.

        1. Diahann Carroll*

          + a million

          More companies just need to put the salary range on the job postings and call it a day.

          1. blaise zamboni*

            Salary ranges in the job posting are a common thing in my partner’s blue collar industry. He wanted to move to an office professional industry a few months back and since that’s my world, we looked at potential jobs together. He was SO FRUSTRATED that none of the postings had any indication of salary range, and I was bewildered at his insistence that he wouldn’t apply for any job that didn’t include that. I totally agree with his stance, it was just like looking into the Twilight Zone to imagine a world where companies give pertinent information upfront. Maybe someday…

        2. Seeking Second Childhood*

          I’d go so far as to include vacation accrual policy. I’m dragging my heels in applications partly because I’ve been at this US company long enough to have accrued what EU residents take for granted. I’m not interested in going back to 2 weeks. If you’re doing better than that brag on it and I’ll guarantee you’ll get more candidates.

          1. Windchime*

            Yes, this. And my efforts to negotiate more vacation have usually been unsuccessful. My current workplace offered 3 weeks to start, period. No exceptions. But they give more holidays off and a better retirement plan, so I accepted.

            1. MCMonkeyBean*

              Really? I was under the impression that vacation was usually one of the easier things to negotiate. I’m pretty bad at negotiating in general but I’m 2/2 on getting them to match what I previously had for PTO when moving companies.

        3. Gazebo Slayer*

          Damn straight. And not only will you avoid wasting your applicants’ tine, you’ll avoid wasting your own time looking at applications from people who won’t accept what you’re willing to pay. It’s a win-win.

        4. 867-5309*

          My only counter to putting the salary range in the job posting is that, for example, I was once willing to go much higher because a candidate was that stellar. If we posted the salary to start, they would not have applied. (They were more senior than we were looking for and in that case, it made sense to adjust so we could keep them in the process.)

          Further, our total comp package is generous and it’s difficult to communicate that fully in a job post. Our base is usually average for the market, while we can negotiate things like stock options and bonuses, plus there’s great 401k match, benefits and paid time off. That said, we do address it upfront in the initial phone screen so both sides can determine if we’re able to get in the ballpark of one another.

          1. 867-5309*

            Nuance is lost in black-and-white and pay is not black-and-white, at least in the U.S. where things like health insurance and retirement are so critical to employment vs. mandated by law and globalized.

          2. Diahann Carroll*

            Our base is usually average for the market, while we can negotiate things like stock options and bonuses, plus there’s great 401k match, benefits and paid time off.

            You can put this, as well as your salary range, in an ad with a note saying that you are open to speaking with individuals with a higher experience level for the role, which would increase your band by X. Just be clear what higher experience level means to you in terms of years worked, education, etc., and then you wouldn’t have to worry about your high earners necessarily not applying. Shoot, some high wage earners would gladly take a pay cut if it meant they got to work in a good company with decent work/life balance and had excellent stock options, 401k matching, unlimited paid time off, etc.

        5. HR Exec Popping In*

          It depends on the type of job, frankly. For hourly positions, I totally agree.
          For other jobs, it just isn’t done in my industry. I can not imagine posting for a Chief Marketing Officer and putting a salary range in the job posting. I’m not saying I’m opposed to it in theory, but it is challenging to pull it off. Now everyone in the organization knows approximately what the CMO will make. You would need to implement full comp transparency first. I.e., job A is grade B and the salary range is XXX to XXX. I would love to get there, but my own organization isn’t ready for that. I hope it is someday.

          1. blaise zamboni*

            I’m curious why it’s such a bad thing if everyone in the org knows what the CMO makes? Or even why that would necessitate making all other jobs transparent first? (Though I’m very much in favor of full comp transparency, personally.)

            I haven’t ever thought to google what the CMO of a potential employer makes, but I’m not in marketing so that affects me a little less. I absolutely google what the CEO of a potential employer makes, and review any BoD or other high-ranking roles that I can find publicly.

            1. Diahann Carroll*

              I’m curious as well. This seems like one of those “because this is the way we’ve always done it” situations.

    3. TimeTravl_R*

      Only one time have I had an offer come in higher than the salary range I requested. I appreciate that firm had their own formula for calculating salary and did not hold my previously under market salary against me.

    4. Paige*

      I wonder… But this too disadvantages people with less experience/exposure. Take my job, for example. The salary band is huge, and there’s not an easy correlation to other parts of the industry (I expect on purpose). The title is weird. The duties are a mish mash. There’s a huge range in seniority of people who have this job. Anyone unfamiliar with the system would likely guess badly as to where they should fit in the salary band.

      When i was brought on, i aimed for the middle of the band and was told that was too high because of “equity.” Really, they just took my previous salary and added 6% or something dumb, even though it was an enormous jump in responsibility.

      Five years and multiple pay reviews later, I make almost 30% more entirely due to equity raises. Oops! So i should have negotiated harder at the beginning, but i was missing a lot of really key details. Im glad Im making what Im worth now but I’m mad it took five years and an external consultant to make that happen.

    5. Anonymous Educator*

      Are interviewers being “crafty” when they ask what your salary expectations are?

      Absolutely, because they 100% have a certain amount (give or take a little) budgeted for the position, so the only logical reason they’d need to know your salary “expectations” before disclosing the actual salary is to lowball you. If they wanted to not waste your time or theirs, they’d just say the range they have budgeted. Just list it in the job posting or, at the latest, say what it is during the first phone screen.

    6. AKchic*

      I think it depends on the company and the interviewer, to be honest.

      There is a reason why I will never work for a small, family-owned company again. I’ve worked for a few, and I have never found one that was run competently. One was run by a very (so they claimed) religious family that did everything they could to cheat their workers. Even in the interviews. I’ve spoken about a few incidents previously. In regards to salary, they had posted that the office job would be $10/hr (at the time, minimum wage was $6something IIRC). They tried to take money from my checks to tithe to their church (a church I was banned from a decade prior and refuse to support, not to mention did not give permission for them to deduct any money for that particular endeavor). They also tried to guilt me into letting them pay me less than minimum wage because they were “gawd-fearing, holy” people who “supplied jobs to people in need”… um, no. Y’run an antique store and hire 15 people at most. If you can’t afford to pay what you said you could, don’t keep me, but you aren’t shorting my pay under BS reasons.
      They were horrible people. How they stay in business is beyond me.

        1. AKchic*

          Anchorage, Alaska.

          And the church, at the time, was my most-hated. It is now in my top 3 most hated. It’s just the longest-running one that happens to feed/support the other two (in specific ways).

      1. Gazebo Slayer*

        Wow, what scummy people.

        I’ve learned to be wary of employers who make a lot of noise about how religious they are, or how ethical they are, or how progressive they are.

    7. Batgirl*

      Yes, the thinking is not paying what you’re worth, but paying something that will cover your current bills, with a little bit left over for lollipops.

  12. Snow*

    The US government does this for certain types of positions (outside the standard salary-grade system). I was recently recruited for such a position; in order to start the salary conversation, I literally had to submit my W2 and most recent pay stub from my current job. And in order to negotiate based on a competing offer, I had to submit that written offer. Now, there was also room for verbal negotiation. But the starting offer was very much based on written evidence of my current salary.

    I’ve never been asked to do this for any job in the private sector, and I don’t think I would. The federal government is a very special case.

    1. Ana Gram*

      I work for a county government and we ask for salary as well (no W-2, though) but we have a matrix to determine offers and we don’t negotiate. I asked why we ask for salary since that’s the case and it’s because HR has to approve all offers that are a certain percentage above current salaries. Except…I don’t verify current salary and I’ve hired hundreds of people and never once been wrong about where they’ll land on the matrix sooo…. Government is just weird in general.

      1. MayLou*

        What happens if someone goes from a completely different type of job? So for instance they move from working part time in retail while studying to doing a specialised job they just qualified for? Of course the salary will be substantially higher – does that have to be approved?

    2. soon to be former fed really*

      This is RARE. Thirty-three yr. Fed here, most people are paid under the General Schedule or Wage Schedule and prior salaries/wages are irrelevant. You donot that this is outside the GS system, but most positions are NOT outside the GS system.

      1. Student*

        Not as rare as you think it is! Very, very common for contractors switching into federal roles in my area of the government. Just not widely documented. Did it myself a few months ago; managed to skip ahead several years in steps within my GS pay band by doing so to match the salary I was making as a private contractor.

        The trick is that normal “negotiation” is swapped out for the “how good of a bureaucrat are you?” game.

        The gov offer tells you that you will receive the salary of Step 1 of the GS-## band that this job is in, and you will get salary bumps on a regular schedule if you meet time-of-service and performance metrics, going up the steps in the GS-## salary band.

        If you’ve made contacts and done your homework, though, the secret (paperwork-lined) path to a higher salary is revealed. Not a good way to do business… but also typical of the government.

        If you ask them to match your current salary because you bring a lot to the table, and that salary is within the lower half of the GS-## band you are being hired for, then they will say, “Please submit X, Y, and Z paperwork for Superior Qualifications.” Then you submit paperwork X, Y, and Z. Your hiring manager reviews it, along with gov HR. It’s meant to document that you exceed the minimum hiring criteria in the job post enough to justify being brought on at a higher step level within the band. If everybody agrees that your paperwork justifies it, then you start on the step in the band that most closely matches your current salary (or, very occasionally, something better – matching your current salary is the easiest thing to do because it is very routine; you’d need to make an exceptional case to get something better).

        Actual use of this discretion varies widely by federal agency/component. It’s more common in higher GS bands than lower ones.

        In addition, you can negotiate other perks of gov jobs. Annual time off, or remote working arrangements (pre-COVID), or an unusual work schedule, or on rare occasions, specific duties.

  13. AndersonDarling*

    The company just admitted that their priority is lowballing you. They don’t care how valuable your skills and experience are, they just want to play armchair psychologist to see how little they can pay you to begrudgingly accept the position.
    I can’t believe they admitted to doing this!

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      Which means they’ll lowball you for cost-of-living increases or pay raises or bonuses, too.

  14. AnonGoodNurse*

    Had something similar happen with a large, well known company that was actually known as a sweatshop and for paying below average salaries. Most people want to work there because it looks good on a resume and they know it. They were shocked when I wouldn’t disclose my current salary (which was close to what they wanted to pay; where I worked fewer hours than they expected…) And then they were even more shocked when I withdrew. They rarely have people telling them no thank you. Oh well, I landed a better gig with a higher salary and it’s only 40 hours a week (practically unheard of in my industry… but it’s with the government, which actually looks even better on a resume..) Joke’s on them.

    If they insist on knowing your salary after using Alison’s script, I’d give it to them and then counter with your expected salary. Then I’d walk away if they come in a dollar less than what you’re asking.

  15. Alex*

    I recently was offered a job in which they required me to tell them my current salary. They then offered me $100 more PER YEAR than my current salary.

    I took that as showing me one of two things:
    I was actually overqualified/more experienced than the position required and that they had expected to hire for, and were really stretching their budget so that they could lure me even though I was already making more than they had planned on paying.

    They had a policy of offering just a smidgen more than what people already made.

    I kind of suspect it was option #1, but honestly, both scenarios are bad! I did not want to be already maxing out the amount that they had planned to pay a person in that position. I ended up declining the job.

    The point of this story is that BOTH scenarios–them offering either higher or lower than they had planned after seeing your current salary–are bad for you. If they end up offering less than planned because you are currently underpaid, that is obviously bad for you. But if they stretch their budget and pay you significantly more than their internal expectations, that is also bad, because it could limit your raises once there. You don’t want to be underpaid, but you also don’t want to be wildly out of synch with others’ pay at the company.

    1. Steveo*

      $100 isnt worth the time it takes to fill out the onboarding and benefits paperwork. That’s actually more insulting than just offering you the same pay and completely insane.

        1. Anonymous Educator*

          It’s kind of like leaving a $.01 tip at a restaurant. At least if there were no tip, you could think “Maybe they just forgot?”

    2. Anonymous Educator*

      I was actually overqualified/more experienced than the position required and that they had expected to hire for, and were really stretching their budget

      I’ve worked at some places that are really strapped for cash, and even at those places, $100/year is nothing in the total budget. I’m going to say this was probably not what happened. Places that know they can’t hire you at market rate will be up front about that, and then try to convince you to work there anyway for a low salary (company culture, benefits, “the mission,” etc.).

      1. Alex*

        To be clear, I think that what they had budgeted was significantly below what I was making, and they stretched their budget by several thousand to reach that $100 more than my current, and it was just a stretch to meet it.

        The problem was that I had many years of experience, and they were really looking at entry level. It wasn’t exactly obvious because the job was the same job that I was doing, but I’d been doing it at a higher and more complex level. I rejected the job because I realized that the job was much more junior than I’d thought. The problem is that there isn’t really a job title change between “entry level” and “person with 10 years’ experience.”

        1. Anonymous Educator*

          I still think it’s a generous read from you (but we don’t know 100% for sure what actually happened), and I’m glad you didn’t take the job.

  16. PJS*

    This kind of thing burns me up and I dream of the day it is illegal to ask about salary history. I am convinced that I only got the offer I got at my current job because HR forgot to have me fill out the official application (that asked current salary) before making an offer. Even then, I found out later that I was making significantly less than my two predecessors (one of whom was fired for incompetence). I know I was underpaid at my previous job and I shouldn’t be doomed to have that follow me for the rest of my career. No one should.

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      More and more places are making it illegal, but it would be nice if this practice was illegal everywhere.

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      I rejoiced when my state joined the list, because I graduated into a recession, then got laid off and changed careers during another one. Alison had a full list but I couldn’t find it — this turned up instead. It’s a running list for the USA of states and smaller jurisdictions that ban the practice. Unfortunately there are some states that make it illegal for smaller jurisdictions to do that.

  17. Khatul Madame*

    OP, if you are interviewing for a senior role, your should look at total comp including bonus. There may be a scenario with a low-ish salary and a potential for a high bonus. Consider whether you’d be open to this proposition – it’s risky, but you already mentioned that the position entails a certain degree of risk.
    All this is apropos to the main point of your letter, in which I agree with other commenters – it’s a crappy practice and ideally you should hold firm and be prepared to walk away. Ideally… because I know how hard it can be to say no to a job you want and went through a grueling interview process for.

  18. Summersun*

    My NDA requires that I keep company details (like IP and my salary) private from competitors. Whether that’s enforceable is up for debate, but you can bet I trot it out when it’s useful to me.

  19. Anonymous Educator*

    This “we will pay you a little higher” approach is also extremely short-sighted.

    One time I left Job B for Job C, and my boss at Job B kept trying to get me to disclose how much Job C was paying. When I refused to say the number, my boss wanted me to admit that Job B paid a little more than Job A, as if that was supposed to make me stay at Job B.

    (Side note: both Job A and Job B severely underpaid me, and I was happy about the amount Job C paid me, but that wasn’t the primary reason I left Job B.)

    1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

      Yeah, once I was leaving a toxic job and HR asked me how much I was getting – I was not aware that I was brought in highly -paid (by their standards) — I was getting a 23 percent raise PLUS better benefits PLUS a technical education budget …. the place I left offered no tech training at all …. they were horrified because, hey, I was the bad boy they were trying to get rid of! But I digress…

      They asked me “Did you tell (co-worker) where you were going?” YES.
      “Did you tell (co-worker) about your new job responsibilities?” YES.
      “Did you tell him how much they’re going to pay you?” No, but I did tell him that a) it was a raise and b) there’s developmental training there, too.

      But he could figure out that I was getting a raise to go.

  20. Earl Ombre*

    Last time I switched jobs, I was recruited and so I was in an unusually powerful position for my career (legal support). My now-boss was super pushy about wanting to know what I was making in order to inform what he would offer me. I finally told him what I was making – which was already above market rate – and after consulting with my retired Wall Street banker dad, I asked for 20% more on top of it. Honestly it was a stretch for my industry, but I ended up getting way more than I otherwise would have. It’s the first time I’ve every negotiated after receiving an offer and it went surprisingly well.

    I don’t know where I was going with this… I was put off my how pushy my boss was about knowing what I was making, I was shocked at my dad’s advice to ask for that much of a raise, and even more shocked that it panned out the way it did. We really need to regulate how salaries are decided because there is such a wild disparity among industries, career paths, and seniority– but guess what? We all work, we all need to earn a living, and we all need reasonable raises to match the cost of living and job market. It seems like most job searchers are looking elsewhere because they can’t get a decent raise without leaving. What’s up with that?!

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      It seems like most job searchers are looking elsewhere because they can’t get a decent raise without leaving. What’s up with that?!

      Companies are bad financial planners – over leveraged with not enough cash reserves and low revenues. The ones that have the funds and still lowball employees are just cheap and greedy.

      1. Gazebo Slayer*

        And yet individual people who don’t make much money are the ones who get berated because obviously we’d own a paid-off house by now if we stopped buying lattes.

        1. Diahann Carroll*

          Yup. This recession and global pandemic has really pulled the curtain back on things – many people, including corporations, are not doing as well as they pretend to be. Employees now see this and should plan accordingly.

      2. LGT*

        Seriously. Help me understand how my company is simultaneously hiring new employees (not replacing people who left, creating new positions), opening new office locations and expanding existing ones… but we’re really struggling and I need to just hang tight while they get it together, and *after that* I’ll get my long awaited raise. Hm.

    2. College Career Counselor*

      ” It seems like most job searchers are looking elsewhere because they can’t get a decent raise without leaving. What’s up with that?!”

      Because once you’re there, you’re locked in to whatever the annual salary increase is (+/- 1-2%), absent a significant promotion/job change. And those are probably rare. And even if you got a major promotion, the pay bump is unlikely to be anything close to what you might be offered if you left the organization. In the last three new jobs I’ve had, I got 11%, 60% (yes, you read that correctly) and 0% raises (the last was a completely lateral move). The best I ever did was back to back 10% annual raises in the first two years of my career when
      1) I was hired at the absolute lowest salary possible by the organization
      2) I had very little experience/track record to point to

      Unfortunately, to raise your salary, you very often have to leave your employer.

      1. Earl Ombre*

        Ugh, I know it’s true but I wish employers would realize it’s in their best interests to give employees regular raises. High turnover costs money! Interviewing, training people, all the hours lost doubling back over something because so and so left last year, etc. Not to mention morale.

        My employer gives us 3% cost of living raises and $5000ish year end bonuses every year (fingers crossed this doesn’t change this year… our industry has been mostly solid through the pandemic). I realize how rare this is, but I’m still going to bat trying to get *merit based raises*, because the way things are right now, I’ve been here for years and am taking on more complicated/high level work, being the point person on more and more projects… and yet, I can only expect that they’ll adjust my hourly rate for inflation, not for the increased workload or level I’m putting in now.

  21. HR Bee*

    I’ve only had one employer ask me what I currently made as opposed to what I was looking for. I’ve never hid the range I was seeking. Though to be fair, in my roles, I’ve researched and paid for actual market data so I had actual numbers behind my range that most people just don’t have access to.

    When the company asked me what I was currently making, I simply told them what I wanted instead and they didn’t push. I ended up getting the job and fought the whole time to have them stop asking the question (and basing their offers on it). I found out later that the reason they didn’t push was because they misunderstood my answer and thought my number was what I currently made and not what I was looking for. Definitely explained the 5k increase on the number in my offer.

    Now that I run my own HR department, I just put our range on the post and wash my hands of it all. No need to play games. We’ll still get the occasional applicant who wants 10k+ over the range in the post, but those are few & far between.

    1. HR Bee*

      Realized this wasn’t completely clear. I didn’t just say “80K” to their question, I said “I’m looking for $80K” so there really shouldn’t have been any misunderstanding.

  22. Ule*

    Well OP could lie. In Massachusetts, even if they do a background check, they will call the previous employer, but previous employers do not give out the information because they do not want to be sued.

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      In Massachusetts, isn’t it illegal for the hiring employer to ask for your current salary?

      1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

        I’m in Massachusetts. Never been asked. I was asked “what I was looking for” but not “what I was making today.”

        Some years ago – the big companies used to trade salary info – no names attached, but they’d know – if you were a senior teapot maker at company A, every other company in town knew your range.

        Sometime in the late 1970s they stopped , under a legal agreement.

        1. Anonymous Educator*

          I’m glad you’ve never been asked, because I think that law went into effect only a few years ago.

          MGL c.149, §§105A-105D Equal pay. Employers may not ask about wage or salary history until after an offer of employment with compensation has been made.

    2. Jennifer Thneed*

      Maybe? OP said this: “they said that HR would reach out to ask for a proof of my current salary”

      And the idea that total compensation isn’t even worth talking about? If OP absolutely has to give a figure, they should give the total comp figure. If they don’t know the actual dollar value, they can still give the details: xx salary PLUS xx days vacation PLUS 401k matching PLUS health club membership or whatever, with a stated assumption that of course the things outside of salary will be equivalent.

  23. BigGlasses*

    I’m so glad this didn’t come up when I was switching jobs & also switching companies at the same time. AFTER I had received & accepted an offer, when I was doing onboarding paperwork, my now-company did ask for my previous salary. It looked bizarre to write it next to my now salary on their paperwork — my previous salary was significantly less than half my current salary. I can’t imagine how a company like this would deal with a negotiation where someone is coming from a vastly different market that simply pays a vastly different amount for the work.

  24. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    Do you remember the weird posting in here from someone complaining about an overworked employee — who warned that he couldn’t handle the stress much longer – he needed help – and finally – threw his hands up and walked.

    And the manager lamented “ohhh, this is unprofessional!!!!” and later a “happy story” – they hired two people to fill his slot “and the rest of the responsibilities” were spread across four other people, IIRC.

    I once was in that position – in an operations role – in an overnight shift. I worked on a crew with two other guys (and a supervisor and lead).

    I took a vacation. Now when one of the other two guys took va-ca, we just sucked it up, some of the work may have been delayed slightly but it got done.

    I was out – it DIDN”T get done. We worked Tuesday AM-Saturday AM – yes, Friday nights we worked.
    My vacation encompassed Labor Day weekend. The two guys were given overtime to complete the work I wasn’t there to do. Then on Friday night they called in sick. There was NO ONE to do the work.

    And, from what I was told, they frantically called me on Friday night, Saturday morning and all day Saturday – even Monday (Labor Day) – BUT – I was out of state. And there were no cell phones or recording boxes in those days. Ironically they were going to chew ME out for that, and were going to threaten to fire me, but someone in management intervened.

    The big problem in Tangerina’s case – is likely management “sticking to their guns” in spite of common sense. Yes, Tangerina deserved a raise and the situation may have warranted an additional head count – but if this were raised by Tangerina herself, it would be an example of “inmates running the asylum”…. and many management types cannot handle that.

    In the computer/IS/IT world, it is not uncommon for someone to be told to take a hike when they ask for a reasonable accommodation – sometimes the guy or gal is fired; and then, three-five months later, they beg him or her to come back.

  25. Anonymousaurus Rex*

    I had success doing this for my last position. This was in California, but before the law prohibiting salary history went into effect. The HR for the company reached out and asked for my salary and I told them almost exactly what Alison said. “I don’t share my salary history, but I’m looking to make $X-Y in my next role. Is that in line with your salary budget for the position?” I was being severely underpaid at the job I was leaving, but it was a job I loved and I wouldn’t leave for just a modest salary bump. My ask was 20%+ over what I made in my underpaid position. The HR person pushed back, saying it was company policy that they needed my salary history, but I was really staunch and said I wouldn’t disclose. Honestly I wasn’t excited enough about the job to take it without the monetary incentive, so I was willing to walk away, which made it easier. They came back a few hours later with a number in my range. I took it, and have been very happy.

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      The HR person pushed back, saying it was company policy that they needed my salary history

      What a terrible policy. I’m glad you were able to make them make an exception.

    2. MissDisplaced*

      Unfortunately, being willing to walk away is what needs to happen sometimes. But again, this practice also means that the candidates most at risk (underpaid or unemployed), will also be unable TO walk away. I remember running into this a lot in the last recession when I was unemployed.

  26. MissDisplaced*

    This practice makes no sense to me. If their HR department is doing their job, they should have current market info, and a budget range in mind for the position, as well as a profile for their ideal applicant.
    It does not matter what the applicants make currently! You’re hiring them for their skills and experience, and not their current salary with a different company! Hiring this way goes against EVERY notion of free market capitalism.

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      It’s also a great way to lose amazing employees, who may realize that you lowballed them and that the only way they’ll get to actual market rate is to leave you for another company.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        THIS. I’ve left every job I’ve ever had because of this. And if I don’t get a raise next year and my bonuses continue to be cut due to this COVID nonsense, I may be looking again (I’d come back once the dust settles and they reinstate raises, but I can’t take a pay cut).

        1. Anonymous Educator*

          While I loved my last workplace, it was severely underpaying me. I moved to a lower-cost-of-loving area and am making significantly more. It would have taken me literally decades of “COL” increases to get from my old salary to my current one. Every significant jump in salary I’ve gotten has been from changing jobs/workplaces, even though I have gotten unsolicited raises in the past (just never as much as actually changing jobs).

          1. Diahann Carroll*

            Yeah, I’m used to yearly increases and I’ve bounced between different industries, but my biggest salary bumps came from promotions and leaving companies altogether.

  27. RozGrunwald*

    Source: I work as a Compensation Analyst
    My company does not do this (which is good because this is yuck) so I don’t have specific advice on how to combat this particular practice (which no one should ever do). I will say that to some degree, cash compensation is always negotiable (much more so than things like vacation time accrual rate, which we cannot change for anyone, sorry). I would not provide your paystub but instead submit information you have accumulated through your research about appropriate pay ranges for the position. And then give your number – if it’s 20% more than you usually make, ask for that number. I know that in most negotiations advice is “never be the first person to say a number” but in this case, you need to give a number. If they keep asking for your current pay information, just keep politely pushing back and saying “I gave you the number for the minimum salary I require; please let me know if you can offer that amount or we need to conclude this process and say goodbye.” They will either do what they can do to get you the number you want, or they won’t. Frankly I think this is a huge red flag that the company has issues that may be tough to live with. Like, I would not expect an organized or equitable merit review process or expect much in the way of salary increases in the future because bottom line, this way of determining an employee’s starting salary is just plain lazy. If they can’t put effort into benchmarking salaries or creating salary bands that are then applied to starting offers, I wouldn’t count on them doing the work and research necessary to determine market-based and equitable raises in the future.

    P.S., anyone who is in a decision-making position and is making a decision to determine starting pay in this matter: you almost certainly have massive pay equity issues in your employee population that are leaving you open to legal liability. Pay equity is reinforced at multiple levels in law and via regulatory means and there are serious consequences to paying people inequitably. Hiring expert advice to figure out a way to get this changed, like yesterday, will benefit your business in the long run.

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      Frankly I think this is a huge red flag that the company has issues that may be tough to live with. Like, I would not expect an organized or equitable merit review process or expect much in the way of salary increases in the future because bottom line, this way of determining an employee’s starting salary is just plain lazy.

      100% this ^

    2. Diahann Carroll*

      I will say that to some degree, cash compensation is always negotiable (much more so than things like vacation time accrual rate, which we cannot change for anyone, sorry).

      See, I’ve had the opposite experience – most companies I’ve dealt with are way more open to negotiating vacation time than salary. My current company negotiated both, and I started with a three year vacation time accrual rate instead of the one year rate.

      1. RozGrunwald*

        If you work for companies with less than 10,000 employees I’m not surprised. I work for a company with 10k+. We don’t negotiate vacation time but we do negotiate salary, within a few thousand dollars (going up to $100k from a $70k offer doesn’t and can’t happen, because we base our salary offers on equity analysis).

        1. MCMonkeyBean*

          My last company had 15,000 employees and I negotiated the vacation up to match what I had at my previous company because they already offered me the top of the salary range, and honestly I would not be willing to take a job that only offered me the entry level of PTO at this point.

  28. irene adler*

    If I didn’t care much about the position, I’d be very tempted to submit a redacted pay stub.
    I know this would do me no favors. But I would justify it with, “I submitted the paystub as requested. No one specified it had to be a complete paystub”.

  29. AvonLady Barksdale*

    I hope the LW sends in an update! This is my nightmare, especially now that I really, really want to get out of my current position. If I were unemployed, I can totally see myself feeling like my hands are tied– it’s hard to wait for a better offer if you need to pay your rent in a week.

    This is also the worst time to ask for any kind of history, if there ever was a good time. So many of us work remotely and so many of us move around. I’m currently making a salary based on where my job is located when I live in an area with a much higher COL, and I had my pay cut to boot. Anyway, I wish this LW much luck and fortitude!

  30. fluffycushion*

    It is true that this disproportionately harms women and people of color but bringing that up is too political for the workplace. I have those progressive politics myself, but I wouldn’t bring them up in a hiring process. Just stick to the logic that you should be paid what you’re worth to do the position.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      Nah, bring these things up during negotiations because this is something the company needs to be thinking about. If they get offended, they were clearly acting in bad faith, and that tells you something about them as an employer.

      1. fluffycushion*

        Accusing your prospective employer of being sexist and racist isn’t a great way to get hired. Maybe if you didn’t want the role you’d give them that feedback.

        I’d go for arguments that are a little more neutral.

        1. MayLou*

          You’re not accusing them of being sexist and racist, you’re giving them the opportunity to prove they’re not. It is proven fact that women and people of colour get paid less on average than white men. That is just true. Perhaps it can get into a political argument to debate why that is the case, or how it should be fixed, but simply stating the reality isn’t political and if the employer thinks it is, then that is a great sign that they’re not good people to work for.

        2. Diahann Carroll*

          You’re not accusing them of anything by saying something like, “In order to be equitable, which I’m sure you’re striving to be, I will not be providing you with my current salary because it has no bearing on the position I’m interviewing for. Can you please provide me with the range you have budgeted for this role?” If they say no, again, you know who you’re dealing with and can make the choice whether to continue or walk away.

          And just to note – people who automatically jump to offense and think someone is calling them a racist or sexist when no one said such a thing usually are what they think they’re being accused of. A hit dog will holler.

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        Yeah, that is a ridiculous take and I don’t believe that anyone suggesting that really has “progressive policies.”

  31. SheLooksFamiliar*

    Several years ago, my employer needed specialized talent for a new HR system. The candidate I found volunteered her salary, which was below our minimum for the salary band. She knew she was underpaid, but wouldn’t advocate for herself even though she was an absolute star. I forwarded her resume and my notes, with a recommended target salary at our midpoint; I did not include her current salary. The hiring manager and her team loved this person, and extended an offer at my recommended salary. She happily accepted.

    During the employment confirmation, her current salary came out and things exploded. The HRBP and my boss called me into a meeting: ‘We just gave someone a 25% increase, and we can’t do that!’ I played dumb and said, ‘Sure we can! She’s making the current market rate, here’s the report we pulled on salary data, and she’s happy to be here. The hiring manager loves her, and her experience is exactly what we need. Win-win, right?’ Wrong. I got roasted for about half an hour, and my boss insisted on reviewing my recommendations for a while. Current salary had to be included.

    6 years later, that employee is still there and is her boss’s right hand. Funny how that works.

      1. SheLooksFamiliar*

        It was tense for a while! But the hiring manager was so happy with her new hire – and was totally fine with paying the at-market salary – and my boss eventually admitted my tactic was the right one. The HRBP never forgave me, though.

        1. Diahann Carroll*

          Well, good for you for not screwing over that employee and providing the hiring manager what she wanted (which should have been all the HRBP should have been concerned with). You made someone feel valued, which means she was more likely to stick around for awhile. Had you lowballed her, she wouldn’t still be there, and you all would have had to go through that costly hiring process all over again.

        2. College Career Counselor*

          I understand the need to be fiscally responsible, but it sounds like the HRBP felt like you were taking money directly out of their pocket. (And maybe you were–question for HR compensation folks out there–are there incentives for HR to come in lower/save $ on salaries?)

          1. SheLooksFamiliar*

            The salary was charged to the hiring manager’s cost center solely, and we had no incentives to lowball candidates. Some hiring managers were stingy, others told us, ‘I’ll pay whatever it takes, I’ll get it approved.’ This HRBP simply didn’t like it when Global Recruiting made decisions she wouldn’t have. She also thought I lied by omission. Maybe so, but I still think it was the right call.

    1. Smithy*

      This really breaks my heart.

      When I was hiring for a position to report into me, my boss shared that since the way our organization has such tight restrictions on any pay increase (COL or merit) that she always offers the lowest amount on the salary band. That means if candidates negotiate, it’s easier to approve and if not – then it will take them longer to become disillusioned with the organizational pay structure.

      This was disappointing enough to learn about how my boss viewed me, but when my top candidate put in her desired salary in the online application as less than the role was budgeted for – HR made a big case that’s what she should be offered and not even the band minimum. I ultimately had to flag this as an ethics concern as it would put her wildly out of line on a pay equity perspective with others doing the same role. I could not believe the way I was treated for making “such a fuss”.

      1. RozGrunwald*

        Super problematic not to bring someone in at at least the band minimum, especially if there are peers in the same job with closely similar education and experience making higher salaries. Sounds like your HR folks need to get some professional continuing ed on pay equity.

  32. Greg*

    OP, this sucks that they’re doing this to you. However, it is very important to keep in mind that the period between when a company makes an offer and you decide to accept is the absolute apex of your leverage. They have put their cards on the table and announced they prefer you to everyone else they interviewed. Multiple people in the organization have signed off on bringing you aboard. There’s a good chance the hiring manager is itching to get this process wrapped up and get you in the role as soon as possible. You know all these things about them, but they don’t know nearly as much about you. They don’t know how much money it will take to get you to say yes. They don’t know what’s going on in your current role, or what other offers you may be exploring.

    The point is, this is the time to press your advantage. Don’t be a jerk about it, but also don’t be afraid to ask for what you think you’re worth. Figure out what compensation you would like to get (and as others have said, expand the discussion beyond base salary) and then figure out what number you would be willing to accept. Ask for the former and walk away if you can’t get the latter.

    Good luck! Can’t wait to read the update.

  33. Golden Lady*

    I wonder if AAM’s response regarding the reason why states are banning this practice would be different is OP was a white male. I am genuinely curious what other arguments can be used to resist in this instance if gender and race are not in your favor.

    1. fluffycushion*

      I think it is a bad idea to bring gender and race into this. It’s too political. It’s true, but I wouldn’t be basically accusing a prospective employer of being sexist and racist (even if they are being that way.) Not if you still want the job.

      The argument to me is that roles are independent of past work. Your salary isn’t a continuation that follows you through life, you should be paid what each individually priced role pays. Otherwise people who start off low are what, supposed to be ruined for life? That makes no sense.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        As stated above – there is nothing political about pay equity. That’s just common sense. You know what happens when companies lowball good candidates? They take the job for a year or two, and then they roll out to an even better paying position, making the company go through another costly hiring process. They actually end up losing money if that happens enough since the cost of recruitment for many companies is two to three times the employee’s salary* (*that figure came from my former HR department when I worked in insurance – it may not be true across industries).

      2. Greg*

        I hate that I agree with you, but I do. It’s not good to sound too political at this stage of the relationship. Also, there is the risk that the person you’re negotiating with could respond very negatively to any insinuation that they’re being racist/sexist, to the point of rescinding the offer. That’s totally not fair, and maybe you would conclude that if they do react that way, better to find out now and avoid working for them. But you should definitely be aware that it’s a possibility. Anyway, as you say, there are strong arguments to make that don’t tread on any political ground, and in general I would recommend sticking to those.

        By the way, while this may just be a dumb practice and not indicate any discriminatory intent by the employer, it might be worth figuring out what you can about this company’s hiring practices. If they have a senior leadership that’s predominately white and male, and if the women and minorities there are all in subservient roles like admins and entry-level hires, that’s a huge red flag that their hiring process, intentionally or not, is perpetuating discrimination. Even there, I’m not sure I would bring it up; it’s more something I would consider in deciding if I was even interested in working there.

        1. Diahann Carroll*

          Also, there is the risk that the person you’re negotiating with could respond very negatively to any insinuation that they’re being racist/sexist, to the point of rescinding the offer.

          Then they would be doing the candidate a favor. Anyone who jumps to that conclusion is usually guilty, and I shudder to think what other leaps of logic and poor treatment the employer would make/act on while you’re employed there.

        2. anon here*

          I guess I’d be worried about working at a company that, say, pulls their offer or gives me a hard time for saying, “This process has some problems” and immediately jumps to “don’t call me racist!” As Diahann notes, “a hit dog will holler”. If a company has a habit to leaping to the least flattering interpretation, then I’d fear that when I make a suggestion about improving the job process once hired they’d also react to that as a criticism, and you just can’t work well at a place like that.

          Conversely, I have worked mostly at places where leadership is white & male. I work in STEM and there aren’t a lot of choices. After all, my mom wouldn’t have been admitted to the STEM college I went to because of her gender, and she’s not even retirement age. Yeah there’s a lot of discrimination but I want to bring home money to pay the bills.

          For me, at this time, because I’m not near the C-suite, I look for offices and divisions that seem to be reasonable places to work as a woman in this technical field. The lack of women in the C-suite won’t lead me to decline a job, and the presence of equity in the hiring process is attractive to me. When I negotiated, I brought up some numbers and based on their internal data they offered me $16k more — I was switching industries though not fields, if that makes sense. This was obviously very attractive and they’re reaping the benefits because I’m staying despite a very competitive market right now (yes really).

    2. kt*

      I think a white guy could use the exact same language just fine. It’s not a bad look to be concerned about equity, and he’d still be defending himself against being lowballed on salary. What would be wrong with it?

    3. Gazebo Slayer*

      In addition to race and gender, there’s just general fairness. A white man who graduated during a recession is going to be behind comparable white men in salary for years (there have been studies on the long-term cost of graduating during a recession). Someone who went through a rough patch or had a job where they were underpaid shouldn’t be punished for that for the rest of their career, regardless of demographics.

    4. MCMonkeyBean*

      But the issues come from the fact that the practice overwhelmingly disadvantages minority groups on average, not on an individual basis. So the reason for it being bad practice is true regardless of the race or gender of the particular applicant.

  34. Ailsa McNonagon*

    It totally blows my mind that in the US employers routinely don’t tell you in the advert what you’re going to be paid! This does happen in the UK, but not as frequently (depending on industry), and most job adverts will have a salary range if not a specific figure.

    1. Greg*

      I think it is changing, ever so slightly. It’s easier to find out salaries these days via LinkedIn or Glassdoor, and as a result I’ve observed more companies listing this information directly in job descriptions. But you’re right that it’s still far from routine.

      Also, whether or not it’s listed in the advert, the fact that this company sprung the policy on the OP after making the offer is already a huge fail. They should have at least salary-screened her early on in the process, or been upfront about their process for determining what to offer (although I suppose if they told all first-round candidates “We’re going to base your offer off of what you’re making,” they’d probably have a lot of people drop out and learn their lesson pretty quickly).

    2. BelleMorte*

      I don’t get why people don’t just put a range in there. I have inquired about the range/benefits of a few jobs prior to applying and get the “commensurate with experience and will be market-compeititve” only to discover on offer that they are expecting to pay 30-40% lower than market value.

      Why waste my time? Why waste their time? just post the range!

      1. Anonymous Educator*

        And if they’re worried everyone will always want the top of the range, they should have clearly pre-defined parameters for what kinds of candidates (experience, degrees, etc.) get what parts of the range.

      2. Gazebo Slayer*

        Apparently they think no one will apply if they’re honest, and then they can pressure applicants into accepting something way below market.

        If I want a brand-new Jaguar but can only afford a used Honda Civic, I don’t go around demanding the Jaguar. So why do employers think they can get the best candidates when they pay crap?

    3. TeapotNinja*

      So true. It’s also a humongous waste of time for all concerned to review and interview people who aren’t even in the same ballpark.

      Long, long time ago when I was interviewing for a new job, I did about a dozen interviews for jobs that were pretty similar from required skills and experience. The range of the hourly rate on those jobs varied between $25 and $150 / hr. The lowest rate was also for a position that at least on paper had the highest requirements.

      I would never have bothered applying for the jobs at the lower end of the range had I known that rate in advance. They were so far below my current compensation at the time it made no sense to apply.

  35. Zach*

    I’d take this as a huge red flag. The company might be totally fine work-wise, but this is absolutely a sign that they’re always going to be insanely cheap. If they end up settling on a salary that is close to what you wanted, then there’s not really any harm in taking it, just know that the raises you get will probably be the bare minimum and if you ever get promoted, it’s all going to be anchored to the salary that you came in at. (Honestly, if you feel like you’re ready to be promoted at some point you should probably just start looking for a job somewhere else.)

    Regardless, good luck!

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      just know that the raises you get will probably be the bare minimum

      If there are any raises at all.

    2. Anonymous Educator*

      Yes, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if this were the sort of company that would be shady about what work-related expenses they’d reimburse, for example.

  36. Not A Manager*

    I’m not a fan of saying “One of the main reasons I’m looking is because my current salary is under-market, so it wouldn’t make sense to base an offer on that.” I think it opens the door for HR to wonder why she’s underpaid, or even whether she has an overblown sense of her own market worth.

    I suggest saying what she said in the letter: “This job would be a significant jump for me in terms of both seniority and responsibility, and comes with a great deal more risk. From my research, I find that the market range for this role is ___. Is that in line with what you’re offering?”

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      In this case, I agree with you. Since you don’t need to bring up being below market, since this job is a different tier than your previous one!

      Say, I’m hiring someone to do account management and they were previously a junior associate, their previous wage seriously doesn’t even matter.

      If it was a lateral move though, I’d say it’s fine to say that you’re below market value and just name your number. Worse case you don’t get a job that you were going to be woefully underpaid at.

  37. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    I’m in Massachusetts. Never been asked. I was asked “what I was looking for” but not “what I was making today.”

    Some years ago – the big companies used to trade salary info – no names attached, but they’d know – if you were a senior teapot maker at company A, every other company in town knew your range.

    Sometime in the late 1970s they stopped , under a legal agreement.

  38. BelleMorte*

    I find it hilarious that the companies who demand to know your previous salaries are usually the same ones who will try to fire you if you share your salary information with co-workers.

    Both steps being so woefully out of touch, yet so deliciously hypocritical.

    1. Gazebo Slayer*

      Haha, yes! Also, firing people for sharing salaries with coworkers is illegal under the NLRA, but since when have bad employers ever cared about legality? US labor law enforcement is a joke, so they don’t have to. :-(

  39. TeapotNinja*

    I wonder what they would do if you happened to arrange for a 50% salary increase effective only for the duration of salary verification.

    Obviously not an option for you, but if I were open about seeking new employment and friends with whoever pays my salary, this is what I would do.

  40. Mannheim Steamroller*

    While New York bans the question of salary history, I fall into two loopholes:

    (1) I work for a state agency, so my salary is public information and any prospective employer can easily look me up.

    (2) All employers, public and private, are allowed to use their own records for internal applicants.

  41. The Other Nigel*

    One strange memory sticks out for me. When I first started in management (turn of the millennium), I needed to hire a software engineer. Saw a lot of candidates, and we agreed that Serpentina was the best fit.
    So I spoke to her recruiter and said (there was more to the call, but this is the gist), “We want to hire her, and we’re offering $xx,000 as a salary”
    “Oh,” says the recruiter, “you don’t have to pay her that much — I’m pretty sure she would settle for (names a lower amount)”

    Not even my recruiter friends understood *that* call…

    1. College Career Counselor*

      My thoughts:
      1) Misogyny
      2) Getting repeat business by helping the client save $$
      3) MISOGYNY

  42. Mona Lisa*

    This makes me so angry on your behalf! In my previous position, I worked for a public entity and was severely underpaid. I was in the fortunate position to choose between two companies when I moved on, and what tipped the scales during negotiations was Company B’s hiring manager saying that she couldn’t get her HR to authorize a higher compensation because they’d looked up my current, publicly available salary and based the top number on that, which would have resulted in me being 15-20% underpaid for my new industry. Company A offered a market rate salary and made my decision that much easier.

    I agree with Alison that you should try pushing back on this requirement, and if they won’t budge and you have the option to wait, I would look for employment elsewhere. The department itself might be fine, especially if they take issue with the policy, but a unilateral decision against your best interest doesn’t bode as well for how the company treats its employees at large.

    1. CW*

      You were lucky to have two offers on the table. I had only one offer, and that company matched my pay at my previous TEMP job. It was extremely insulting and demoralizing – to be frank, I didn’t give a damn at that job, even when I tried to force it.

      Luckily it’s not where I am now. I am at a different company paying me my worth and coming up on my 1-year anniversary here. I couldn’t be happier.

  43. UrbanChic*

    I agree with Alison’s assessment, and absolutely agree you should push back. We only ask for salary expectations and hire within our organizational bands, which are based on market. However, something to consider is that the market is very difficult right now because of higher unemployment rates. If your prospective employer is quite committed to their current process – and there is a lot of demand for the position you may have to consider acquiescing. But hopefully not – good luck.

  44. employment lawyah*

    Unlike AAM, I do not think it is wise to talk about generalities. Maybe it will be illegal; maybe it should be illegal (or maybe not*) but that’s not a road you need to walk.

    If you wouldn’t take the job without at least a XX% increase over your current salary: You can always say so. I would use something more like this:

    “As you know, I’m very interested in this job. But I should be clear: the salary I am making now has nothing to do with to the minimum salary I would expect to be making in the new position. [tell them what it is, if you want; this company will obviously offer the minimum of any range you list, so don’t say a # you won’t take.]

    I like your company, and I would hate for this negotiation to get side-tracked or derailed by a number which is functionally irrelevant. With that said, I will certainly share my existing salary if you insist. But if you base your offer off of my existing salary, I suspect we will not come to agreement.”

    *Personally, I always like to know what people were making, because pay and performance are linked. And discussing wages is a good opportunity to be very clear that a change in wages also generally (n0t always) means a change in expectations. Jumping 20% in salary requires 20% more performance/skill, most of the time, and it’s helpful to be explicit about that when it applies. But then again, I’m not embarrassed or unwilling to discuss money, which many folks oddly are.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      I always like to know what people were making, because pay and performance are linked.

      This is the problem – it’s really not. I negotiated up from $59k/year base salary at my current employer to $70k/year before even setting foot in the door. If I started job searching now, a little over a year later, the only thing that number would tell a new employer is what my current employer was willing to pay me when I came onboard. And the large increase I was given was due to another company offering me around the higher number, so my current company decided to outbid them. That has nothing to do with my performance.

      Additionally, our raises this year were cancelled due to COVID. If I decided to job search at the end of the year or next year, is my lack of a raise an indicator of my performance level? Hells no – my manager told me I would have gotten a raise because I kicked ass in 2019, but my company is being conservative with the budget right now.

      No one should be asking for current salary from job candidates. Seriously. It tells you absolutely nothing of note about the candidate’s work ethic, and it has little to nothing to do with what their current role and responsibilities would be in their new position. Pay people based on the job you’re hiring for and the budget you have for said role and call it a day.

    2. Anonymous Educator*

      Personally, I always like to know what people were making, because pay and performance are linked.

      You believe that everyone is being paid based on how good their performance is? So if someone was being paid $90K as an org that has a ton of money but that person was terrible and someone else was doing an amazing job at a place that pays her only $65K, you’d just assume the $90K applicant was performing better? Nope.

    3. blaise zamboni*

      Your language feels…hostile, to me. I’m a big proponent for pay equity and labor rights, but if someone approached me about a job offer that way I’d probably revoke it because the candidate would sound. Uh. Disagreeable? “As you know” “but I should be clear” “functionally irrelevant” and “I suspect we will not come to agreement” are all kind of overblown ways of saying something pretty simple.

      I agree that OP should clearly state what she’s looking for, and I think AAM’s language encompasses that pretty well already. OP may or may not decide to include the part about legality. It’s not a necessary piece to advocate for herself, but since she’s already aware of the illegality in some areas (because she mentioned it), she might feel better bringing it up.

      Also, echoing Diahann, pay is absolutely not linked to performance for many, many, many people. If you get a significant pay boost, that probably signifies your increase in responsibility (but not necessarily). But a lack of a pay boost could mean you’ve plateaued, or could mean your company is just garbage and doesn’t reward performance. There are plenty of companies who view their employees as a line item that can be “reduced” to “save money” and those places are very resistant to paying their employees any kind of reasonable, competitive rate. I know the neolib argument here is that employees have choice and will leave if they’re being underpaid, but when the entire job market is clouded in wage obscurity it’s really difficult to determine if you’re making market value in the first place. That problem is exacerbated by companies that insist on employees naming their own salary range and axeing people who guess “wrong”, and even more so by companies who will only pay based on your last role. It’s a terrible practice that amplifies economic inequality in the US, and addressing it *should* be a major goal for any conscientious employer. If you want to learn about how someone’s responsibilities and performance have changed over their career, just ask them about their g-d responsibilities and how those have changed over their career. They will give you a better answer than any weird calculation based on their previous pay ever could.

    4. employment lawyah*

      I don’t understand how many people are claiming there is zero relation here. This makes no sense.

      Is it a 100% straight line? No, of course not. That is why I used words such as “generally”, “not always”, and “most of the time.”

      But it’s still useful information. Most people who are getting $30k are doing pretty different things from most people who are getting $55k. Every now and then you might find someone who is very overpaid and is worth less than they think, or someone who is underpaid and is worth more. But there is definitely a link between general salary range and the type of job load people are doing, especially at the same company.

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        “Most people who are getting $30k are doing pretty different things from most people who are getting $55k.”

        Sure, usually because the people getting $30k are being assigned different things with less responsibility. But that’s very different than suggesting if you give them more money they should… what, do the same things but 20% better?

  45. CW*

    I agree with Alison. Push back. Any reasonable employer will think twice. Otherwise, it just shows they are cheap. If the employer doesn’t back down, you are probably better off looking elsewhere. In the long run, it almost never works out. I also speak from experience, but my situation was horribly unique; I was underpaid by a whopping 63% based on the market rate and math. And as you may have guessed, it ended on a very bad note.

    So if they decide to continue to underpay you, you are better off with an employer that will pay you what you are worth. Otherwise, you will either find yourself jumping ship sooner than you think, or you will get fired. The former is common. The latter is not common, but unfortunately it happened to me and the job I referenced above.

    Good luck and please let us know how it goes.

  46. Anabel*

    I’m in the offer stage for a job right now and I had a recruiter ask my salary. I responded with something like “this new job is more difficult than my current role because it involves more leadership and growing a team and creating a discipline. Because of that I’m looking for $xx (number that was about a 10% increase on my current pay).” I don’t have an offer in hand yet but the recruiter didn’t object at all to my phrasing.

    Since this job is a bump for you maybe starting with something like “I’m excited about the fact that this new job is a significant increase in responsibility over my current position. Because of that I’m looking for $XX.” If they push on your current salary you can try pointing out that your current salary is for a more junior role with less responsibility and therefore not an accurate representation of the market rate for the new role.

  47. NaoNao*

    Back over 10 years ago, I was in my first professional (kind of a stretch, but let’s say non-retail non service job) job making just over minimum wage + commissions. I left that job and moved back with my mom to start fresh. I got to the offer stage with a company and they not only asked me for my current salary they required **written proof** of it.

    I had to scramble. I wrote a letter stating in very vague and flowery language that the job made x dollars with “earning potential and common wages up to XXX” that happened to be just below their offer. My very nice ex-boss signed it and I faxed it to HR.

    This company was known for lowballing people and the HR was in another country offshore but I’ll never forget the anger and panic I had after accepting a job offer and having to prove I was worth what they were offering me. Never.

    1. CW*

      Wow. That’s really unpleasant. This is going to be a stupid question, but did you really accept that job? If you did, my guess is you were probably unhappy there the whole time.

  48. Elizabeth West*

    I’ve noticed many companies asking for “desired salary.” I could be wrong, but I feel like this is a sneaky way to do the same low-balling thing, and of course someone who may be hesitant to price themselves out of the job will enter a number that’s too low. Or if they’ve been underpaid for a long time, they won’t realize what the market rate actually is.

    Since I don’t really know anything about a company at the application stage beyond what I can find on their website, I usually just put zeros and in any comment field, I write something like “I’d love to know your range for this position when we have a chance to discuss your compensation and benefits structure.” I’d rather they just list the pay, but most of them won’t do that unless they’re forced by law or whatever.

  49. MS*

    I was underpaid as an female engineer(govt contractor). Not when I first graduated, but when it came to performance increases and promotions over 10 years. Male coworkers, I later found out, making more because they either asked or negotiated more. I’m not saying they didn’t deserve it. But I didn’t speak up for myself. I felt, I will get the promotion or more when they feel I’m ready, when I deserve it. I never spoke up for myself.

    I left that job to work for the federal govt, thinking I’ll be treated fairly. They offered me base salary for the grade, which is what I was making 5 years out of college, I was 9 years out at this point. To justify giving me a higher salary, they required three pay stubs at current employer. I ended up only getting a 2% increase. But for me it was a foot in the door, I can do anything for a year and I was getting overtime now. A year later that jumped to 10% higher with a promotion.

    After I started working for the federal govt, I read in my file the letter HR justified giving me a higher salary. They said they did market research and that the salary they were offering was 10% less than what my experience level went for in the private sector. This was used to justify my “higher” salary, instead of base salary. They were getting a bargain….Our federal govt at work ladies and gents…

    I love my job, A bonus, especially in this current climate. I also like security(which was a reason for my earlier complacency as a contractor). Now I get paid what I deserve and I have learned to speak of for myself. But these hiring practices of asking for pay stubs needs to stop.

  50. Carry On*

    My previous state job did this but a converse of the letter writer. They would hire people at a lesser position and no experience in our work and offer a salary five per cent higher than what they were getting which was at times significantly higher than what we were getting. We were told the only way to get a raise was to show them an offer we recd from another employer showing a higher salary or quit get another job at even the same salary and then we could get a five per cent raise

  51. anniep*

    This is now banned in my state, but before it was and I was getting an offer for my last job, I just told them that my current company prohibited me from sharing salary info – they did not question it at all. This was a lie, but I did know that it WAS something that some companies prohibit employees from sharing, so I felt fine about it – I was switching career fields significantly so it didn’t really make sense to base my salary on the prior job anyway.

  52. Rika*

    I actually had no idea that this is a thing that happens in the US.
    I’m from The Netherlands and here it’s considered incredibly rude to ask about salary even in normal social situations, which is probably the reason that it’s very rare that interviewing companies ask for current or previous salaries.
    My ex-husband had it happen to him once. They asked him for a list of things to bring to the interview and one of them was a recent payslip. I told him he was probably fine if he just ignored that request. Putting it on a list over email was one thing, but I could barely imagine them having the gall to bring it up in the interview if he didn’t bring it with him. Unsurprisingly, the absent payslip wasn’t addressed.

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