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About Dave Fecak

Dave Fecak
Dave Fecak has been recruiting software engineers for start-ups since 1998 and he has served as the founder and president of the Philadelphia Area Java Users’ Group since 2000. Dave is often cited and published on career topics for technology professionals, and he blogs at JobTipsForGeeks.com.

I Can’t Ask Your Salary History? Thanks!

The Mayor of Philadelphia recently signed a measure that would ban Philly employers from asking candidates about their salary history. The intent of the bill is to curb wage discrimination and close the wage gap.

The Chamber of Commerce and Comcast (one of the city’s largest employers) have threatened legal action, citing the First Amendment and concerns about Philly being able to compete with other markets. There are similar bills being considered across the US, and Philly’s bill was inspired by a similar one in Massachusetts last year.

I say, “Good”, for two reasons.

If removing the salary history requirement will help end gender wage disparities and discrimination, that is something we should all be on board with in our industry (and any other). The optics of gender in technology aren’t good, and whether the reality is better or worse is up for debate.

I’m also grateful for the new law in a more selfish manner.

Talking Money

As a recruiter, asking about salary history was often a point of contention when screening a candidate, and the first question that might start to break the trust between us. The reason I would ask history was driven by my clients (hiring companies), who would typically require me to provide salary history and expectations on all candidates submitted. When a candidate was submitted without history, it wasn’t uncommon to have the client respond with a request to go back and get that information.

I was trained to save any talk about salary history until late in a conversation, with the theory that if you have built some rapport with the candidate you are more likely to get honest answers. You can’t just call someone and say “Hey, how are you and how much do you make?” The conversation about their background and interests might be going great, and at some point you’ve got to segue into the money talk.

Usually I would make that segue after a question about job search criteria. I might ask “What are the top three things you are seeking in a new position?” If one of the answers was related to compensation, I’d transition into drilling down a bit on those details. If there was no mention of money, I would say something like, “Well nobody works for free. Let’s talk about salary for a minute.

At my first recruiting job, I was instructed to abruptly end conversations with anyone unwilling to answer the question (usually after being asked in a few different ways).

Trust

Taking the salary history question off the table may enable recruiters and their candidates to have a bit more of a trusting relationship. This bill doesn’t do much to alter any natural misalignment in incentives that exist between recruiters and job seekers, but it will at least prevent recruiters from having to ask (and candidates from having to answer) a question that they were probably not all that comfortable with from the start.

What’s Next?

I hope more bills like this pass elsewhere. I expect they will.

But even without a law in place, there is nothing preventing employers from instructing their recruiters (both internal and third-party agencies) to explicitly stop asking for salary history. Employers can work to solve this issue without legislation.

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