Should You Reveal Your Salary History to Employers?

equality-1245576_1280I’ve been completing a lot of job applications lately.  I am appalled whenever an employer asks for my salary history. I understand that the question is meant to weed out candidates who may be perceived as “too expensive” for the employer. But it seems that this outdated practice smacks of discrimination.

Attitudes appear to be changing, however. As many as eight states, jurisdictions and cities have banned questions about past salary from job applications, including the city of Chicago for its city employees, and more states and cities may follow suit. Many private-sector companies are doing it on their own without any legal mandate. The belief is that banning this question will help close the pay gap between men and women.

It’s a good move in a positive direction. Asking about salary history is meaningless in the current employment climate. There are too many career changers, too many stay-at-home moms trying to return to work, and too many professionals taking career breaks than ever before. How are these workers supposed to present their past salary when there are gaps in their work history? Does it really matter what a person earned in the past, and does that information have any bearing on their current or future employment? Maybe that worked in the past, but not anymore.

In a recent LA Times news article, employment attorney Jonathan Segal said older workers and those who have taken career breaks and are trying to re-enter the workforce at a lesser pay can benefit from the question’s ban because they are more likely to be subjected to bias. “Eliminating this question not only helps eliminate the pay gap for women but may help older employees who are being excluded because employers think they won’t be happy working for less,” he told the LA Times.

Other questions should also be eliminated from the hiring process, such as age, graduation dates, skills and experience. Hiring managers can still get a sense of candidates’ qualifications simply by asking performance-specific questions, says executive recruiter Lou Adler of The Adler Group. He says the banning the salary history question can open up the talent pool with candidates who would otherwise not have been considered for the job. Adler recommends that hiring managers ask candidates what they accomplished in their career that best matches the performance requirements of the job they are applying for. Their response often will reveal their level of experience, skill and knowledge without managers having to check off requirements from a skills list.

Think of this performance-based question as an essay question on an exam rather than multiple choice or true-false questions, which don’t always reveal how much a person knows about a subject. Adler adds that unqualified candidates will self-select out of the hiring process because they won’t be able to answer the performance-based question.

Age is another taboo question in the hiring process. I was surprised when a job application I completed recently did not ask my birth date. Only problem was they asked what year I graduated from college. It can be all too easy to calculate someone’s approximate age based on their graduation date.

So how should you handle these taboo questions during the hiring process? Employment experts suggest the following tactics:

1. On the application form, leave the salary history section blank or put in zeros.

2. Delay any discussions about salary until you’ve learned more about the job. Most likely that means waiting for the in-person interview. Example: “I prefer to table this discussion until I know more about this opportunity and determine if it’s right for me.”

3. Don’t ask about salary up front in initial conversations. Adler suggests candidates miss out on job prospects because they are so focused on salary that they disregard jobs that  don’t meet their own salary expectations. The best opportunity may offer less salary but also offer other perks such as education reimbursement, retirement savings plans or additional vacation time. When assessing a job opportunity, consider the entire package.

4. When asked about education, put only the school name and the degree received on your resume and application. Leave off the graduation date. If the online application form asks for a date, put in zeros. It’s far more important for employers to know that you did attend college and earn a degree, but they don’t need to know when you graduated.

Of course, there is always a chance that employers could disregard your application on the grounds that you are not revealing these details, but then you need to ask yourself if this is a company you’d want to work for anyway.

In today’s highly competitive job market, you want to create a level playing field. You don’t want to reveal more about yourself than employers need to know.

What Do Your Job Postings Say About Your Company?

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I’m always browsing job ads, but I apply to very few of them, usually because  they are so poorly written that’s it’s difficult to understand exactly what they are looking for in a candidate. And I ask myself, “Why do I want to work for this company?”

Job ads are supposed to help you find qualified candidates for your open positions, but if they aren’t written clearly and succinctly, they may not bring the best-qualified prospects to your door. As Alison Green of AskaManager.com wrote in Inc. magazine recently,  job ads are a form of marketing. And it’s up to you to market your job openings to attract – and keep — the best candidates.

Here are five problem areas I’ve noted in job ads and what they may say about your company:

Problem 1: The ad is too vague, too general or lacking adequate detail. They contain phrases like “communications manager oversees the operations of the communications department,” which really doesn’t say anything, and candidates are left wondering what is expected of them.

What this says about your company is that you didn’t take the time to think through your hiring needs before committing those ideas to paper. How will this person spend their day? Will they supervise anyone? When you don’t have a clear idea what this job is to begin with, it will be difficult to explain it to anyone else.

Problem 2. The ad is heavy on technical language or industry jargon. In fact, there is so much jargon that it is difficult to know what the new hire will be expected to do. You have to ask yourself if all this heavy language is covering up a job that is actually quite thin, and are you making the job sound bigger and more important than it really is? Or are you more concerned with making a certain impression on candidates than clearly communicating your hiring needs?

What this says about your company is that your workplace may be more formal and structured, even more than you intend. Appearance may matter more than substance. If this is not true for your workplace, then it’s time to reevaluate and rewrite your job postings so they accurately reflect your company.

Problem 3. The ad is too lengthy and wordy. If your ad is presented as one long paragraph that runs on and on, it can show a lack of focus and a certain carelessness in the way you present your company. Perhaps you were running on a deadline or had too much work to do that you didn’t take the time to format the ad cleanly.

What this says is that your company is operating from the hip, so to speak. It gives the impression of messy, disorganized thinking. People are busy and don’t have time to read the small, fine print in your ad, so it is helpful to break up the copy in smaller paragraphs and use bullet points for key responsibilities, which is much easier to read. Take the time to edit down the copy too so you focus on the most important elements of the job description.

Problem 4. Too much emphasis on perks like free pizza for lunch every Friday and a game room, and not enough information about how the new employee will spend their day at work. While the perks may attract candidates to your company, are they the right candidates for the position? Why do they want to work for you – for the perks you offer or for the opportunity to contribute to your organization? The truth is, you can offer free pizza every week, but good, quality employees may still leave your company because they don’t get along with their boss, don’t feel they are doing meaningful work or they found a better job offer elsewhere.

What this says about your company is that you want to create the impression of having a fun, sociable place to work. But focusing primarily on the perks sends one of several possible messages. Perhaps there isn’t enough substance to the job itself, or employees work long hours so you feel a need to “reimburse” them with free lunches. Focusing on the fun, sociable aspect of the company is important, but don’t gloss over the details of the job, leaving candidates to wonder what the job is really about.

Problem 5. The ad asks for a salary history. This is the 21st century, yet it is surprising that some companies still ask for a candidate’s salary history.  You have to wonder what kind of work environment they have. Comparing salary history in today’s job market is difficult, if not impossible, because candidates may be coming from different locations or industries where salary levels are determined differently. Candidates may not have the same job title as the one they are applying for, so looking at what they made in previous jobs doesn’t give you a direct comparison. Asking for a salary history is not only obsolete, it is a wasteful, meaningless exercise.

What this says is that your company may be out of touch with current hiring trends. If you are not current with hiring practices, what other business practices are outdated at your company? You may need to rethink your hiring strategy and get yourself up to date on the newest recruiting tools.

For the record, here’s an example of a clearly written job description for an office manager/executive assistant. There is no doubt what this person will be doing. It is written in a friendly, conversational tone too.

When writing a posting for your next job opening, use your imagination and be creative. If you don’t have the desire or time to rewrite job descriptions, hire a professional writer to help you prepare something that will grab a candidate’s attention and make them want to work for your company.