The Salary Ban: Job Seeker Strategies for Fair Pay

No one likes to be asked about compensation during a job interview —and now that question is legally off the table in more than a dozen states and local communities that enacted salary bans. At the same time, no one wants to make a prospective employer feel stonewalled or uncomfortable.

You can voluntarily disclose your compensation history, and organizations can legally collect W-2 forms and confirm compensation history via a background check in certain states. If you choose not to reveal anything, how else can you communicate your expectations and desire for fair compensation?

The truth is that your value with your new employer is not going to be based — and should not be based —on how you are compensated today. The salary ban was designed in an effort to tackle the gender (and race) pay gap, and many new hires are experiencing significant salary increases because employers can no longer base offers on previous pay.

What it means

Salary bans increasingly are being adopted by states and local governments, with more expected to follow. Under the law, employers cannot ask during the hiring and negotiation process about any form of previous compensation — including salary, bonus, and equity. Employers also cannot suggest that your past or current salary is important to their decision-making about whether to hire you.

Each state has slightly different guidelines, however, so be sure to educate yourself on the specifics of the ban in your location. In California, for instance, the law requires employers to give applicants pay scale information if they request it. In Delaware, employers may confirm salary history information after an offer is extended. And in Hawaii, the law does not apply to internal candidates.

Negotiation options

While you can skirt the specific question of compensation history, it’s always important to be direct and honest and to make your goals clear. Never, ever lie. As previously mentioned, depending on the location, employers may still collect W-2 forms at the offer stage or during background checks.

Instead, here are some options to consider:

· “I’m interested in this position for X, Y, and Z reasons, and I feel at the moment that I am not being compensated fairly based on conversations with peers.”

· “Fair pay is a factor in my decision-making, and I’m exploring other opportunities in the X to Y dollar range.”

· “I’m in the low six figures, and I’m exploring opportunities in the $120,000-$130,000 range.”

· “I feel like I should be closer to $110,000 today.”

Do your homework

Some employers who are not allowed to ask about pay history may try to lowball you and gauge your reaction. That’s one reason why it’s important to get a sense of competitive compensation before you walk into the interview.

Helpful resources range from payscale.com and glassdoor.com to salary.com. Executive recruiters also can help you figure out where you should aim in terms of compensation given your specific background and industry.

Be honest about your history and goals so your recruiter can go to bat for you. Armed with up-to-date data, we can tell a prospective employer that you feel under compensated and make the case that you are at one level —about $80,000, for example — and need to be closer to a higher range such as $110,000.

We’ve been transparent with hiring teams in this way and we have even seen some individuals double their compensation with one move because they are under compensated for the market. For example, we’ve told hiring managers, “She is earning $90K, and her peers are well above six figures. She’s interviewing at these three companies, in addition to yours, and she’s hearing from HR and hiring managers that they are looking at her for a range between $120K – $130K.”

If you’re your expectations are in line with the market and you show your value — anything is possible.

Ask for help

Even if you are not working with a particular executive recruiter, it’s okay to ask one familiar with your field for some quick advice.

A polite introductory request sounds like this: “I don’t want to take too much of your time —5 minutes is fine. I’m reflecting on my career and at a point where I need to figure out the right compensation. Your insight would be greatly appreciated.”

Most experienced executive recruiters are looking to expand their networks and are happy to help respectful professionals understand their personal career map and plot a successful future.

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