December 12, 2016

3 Big Reasons to Stop Asking for Salary Histories

Last week, I saw a posting for a high level job that, along with other things, asked applicants to include their salary history. I know that this is a common practice in both the for-profit and nonprofit sectors, but it’s a bad practice. It’s a bad practice for a lot of reasons, but here are three big ones.

First, It Takes Agency Away from the Applicant

Salary histories are used for many reasons, and one reason is to weed out applicants who might be too expensive. But it’s a weird way to figure out if an applicant actually would be too expensive to hire. After all, an applicant who is thinking about leaving a high paid position might be happy to take a pay cut in a position for a cause she’s more passionate about. Alternatively, she might be willing to take the pay cut in exchange for additional vacation time. By using a history of high salaries to eliminate potential candidates, an organization might be missing an opportunity.

The point is, the decision of whether a candidate can be happy with what an organization is offering should involve the candidate.

Second, It Ensures That Historically Underpaid People Remain Underpaid

It’s no secret that some groups – racial and ethnic minorities, women, etc. – are paid less than their white or male (or white male) counterparts. Basing a new position’s salary on the candidate’s salary history only continues the practice. A woman who is paid 23% less than her male colleagues, for example, will only continue to be paid 23% less as long as each new salary is based on the previous salary.

Using salary histories only serves to perpetuate injustice and inequality.

Third, You Already Know What You’re Willing to Pay

The fact is, when an organization posts a position, it knows what it’s willing to pay. If a salary history puts a candidate too low, it’s (hopefully) unlikely to lower the salary range to fit. If a salary history puts a candidate too high, it’s (almost certainly) not going to increase the salary range. Instead, the organization will see where in the range each candidate might fit. Since asking for the history doesn’t – or, at least, shouldn’t – change anything on the organization’s end, asking for the history is unnecessary.

This, by the way, also applies to the terrible practice of asking candidates what salary they feel is appropriate without telling them what salary the organization thinks is appropriate. We can be more transparent than that.

Conclusion: Post the Salary Range in the Job Description

So, how can your organization make sure that it’s not making decisions for candidates, that it’s not perpetuating low salaries for historically underpaid groups, and that it’s being honest about what it’s willing to pay? Post the salary range in the job description.

When the salary range is in the job description, the candidate can decide if she’s happy with the range. A candidate who applies for the job is telling the organization that she’s okay with the potential salary.

When the salary range is in the job description, the candidate doesn’t have to worry about being paid less because she’s been paid less throughout her career. She knows that the range has nothing to do with her history.

When the salary range is in the job description, it tells the candidate what the organization thinks the work is worth. And that tells the candidate a lot about the organization.

So don’t ask for salary histories. Just post the salary range in the job description.

Monday, December 12, 2016


I’m a pastor, an author, and a nonprofit development and communications professional. My passion, my mission, and my calling is bringing people together to do good, with a particular focus on serving people who are experiencing poverty and other forms of marginalization.

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