Best of TLNT 2017: Here’s What to do When You Can’t Ask About Salary

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May 30, 2017

Editor’s Note: It’s an annual tradition for TLNT to count down the most popular posts of the previous 12 months. We’re reposting each of the top 30 articles through January 2nd. This is No. 3 of 2017. You can find the complete list here.


New employment laws in Massachusetts, New York City, Philadelphia and elsewhere will soon prohibit employers from asking job candidates for their past or current salary details.

That’s a big shift, and a rude awakening for recruiters who learned that you must always get a candidate’s salary history early in your relationship.

Without the benefit of a candidate’s salary history, how do you know their value to your client? Without their salary information, how do you know whether a candidate is senior enough, strategic enough or otherwise qualified for a position you’re working to fill?

First steps

Here’s how to evaluate a candidate when you don’t have and can’t get their salary history or current salary information.

Of course, you’ll start by reviewing the candidate’s resume and LinkedIn profile. In the absence of a candidate’s salary history, this initial step is more important than ever!

Look at the candidate’s career progression. Look at their description of each role they’ve held so far. Don’t focus on the job title — focus on the work they performed, and their accomplishments in the role (if they’ve included that information on their LinkedIn profile and/or their resume).

When you get on the phone with the candidate, you will have an idea of their capabilities — at least the ones they’ve used in their career thus far!

On the phone with the candidate, you’ll explain the role you’re working to fill. You’ll lay out the spec you’re working for. Then, you’ll ask the candidate to react to the spec you described. For starters, are they interested in the role? There’s no point wasting your time or theirs if they aren’t.

When they ask for the pay range

Most candidates will ask for the salary range for the open position. A lot of recruiters don’t want to give up that information because they’re afraid that when a candidate hears “The job pays between $70K and $90K” the candidate will immediately think “I’ll take the job for $90K!”

Don’t get ahead of yourself by worrying about an issue that you may never face — the task of explaining to a candidate that your client wants to hire them for $75K or whatever the appropriate number is.

You will handle that conversation brilliantly if it is necessary to have the conversation later on in the process. Fear of one conversation is no reason to stymie your recruiting process by refusing to share the salary range for a position when you’ve got a potential new hire on the line!

Ask the candidate for their target

You can also ask the candidate, “What is your target salary for this job search?”

Listen as your candidate shares their reactions to the role. One of the things you’re listening for is the degree to which the candidate understands the role and what your client is looking for. If you like what you hear, it’s time to ask the candidate questions about their experience and their job search goals.

You’re looking for a good fit between the candidate and the role.

Rather than ask non-contextual questions like, “How long have you been using XYZ software application?” or, “Would you say you’re competent in Power Point?” ask questions about the candidate’s triumphs and learning that relate to the job in question.

You are asking the candidate to tell you stories. Here’s how to do it:

You: So Joanne, you have a great LinkedIn profile! Well done.

Joanne, a candidate: Thanks! I spent a lot of time updating it a few weeks ago.

You: And you already know that I’ve got an opportunity for a Digital Marketing Specialist in the northern suburbs. Shall I tell you more about it?

Joanne: Yes, I’d love to hear the details.

You: It’s a manufacturing company that got into social media maybe five years ago and is moving fast into digital marketing. They had a person leading that charge but that person left and there’s no one internally with the right background. The job will oversee the company’s digital marketing and media efforts, working especially closely with their PR person and the rest of the marketing team but also with Sales, IT and Product Development. It’s a creative job with a lot of analytics in it as well.

Joanne: And the salary range is….?

You: Do you have a salary target for your job search? I realize there are other factors…

Joanne: Yes, I’m looking for jobs that pay at least $85K with reasonable benefits.

You: Okay, this job is going to be in that range. So, how does it sound so far?

Joanne: Honestly, it sounds perfect. I live in the northern suburbs, I love manufacturing companies because they are selling real things that people need and I love the idea of working on digital marketing projects in close coordination with Marketing, Sales and Product Development. I’ve learned a tremendous amount at my current job but I’m very isolated.

You: They are looking for extensive experience with Facebook campaigns and a track record building an online audience through Twitter and Instagram.

Joanne: That’s funny, I’ve been trying to get my company to get on Instagram but so far, no luck — but I have tons of experience building audience and doing Facebook campaigns. At the same time, I have a lot of other ideas – there are alternatives that might even work better for your client. I’d like to hear more, if it makes sense for them.


Losing the advantages that a candidate’s salary history used to provide requires everyone in a recruiting role to strengthen new muscles and gain a new sensitivity for a candidate’s non-quantitative accomplishments. It’s easy to price a candidate when you have their salary history in front of you.

It’s harder — but much more effective, human and impactful — to see the intersection between a candidate and a role when you get past the numbers and into the question, “What has this candidate left in their wake so far, and what are they capable of?”