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For Women, Salary History Questions Can Be a Trap

Topics: Negotiation
salary history
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Sharing salary history during negotiations benefits the employer, not the employee. However, it’s difficult to know how to avoid answering these types of questions — especially for women, who are sort of doomed either way.

You are under absolutely no legal obligation to share your salary history. And, revealing what you’ve earned before could stop you from getting the pay you really deserve in the future.

However, for women, not answering can also negatively impact earnings. When it comes to conversations about salary history, women are in a tough spot.

Sharing Salary History Can Anchor You to a Lower Number

It can be difficult to avoid providing salary information. This is especially true when you’re asked multiple times, maybe even by multiple people, during the interview process. But, it’s important to understand what commonly occurs when salary history is shared. It can anchor a job candidate to a lower pay then they really deserve.

The bottom line is this: hiring managers who ask for your past salary generally base their offer on that number. They’ll offer maybe 10 to 15 percent more than you are currently earning and be done with it. Why offer to pay you more than they need to? That’s the mentality.

Once you’ve given your history, it’s hard to regain the upper hand. But, there are some things you can do to attempt to recover after you’ve lowballed yourself. (You can try using new information that you’ve learned during the interview process to counter, for example.) However, the conventional wisdom states that it’s better to avoid this circumstance in the first place, if you can help it.

A Tale of Salary Sharing Gone Wrong:

A recent article in Forbes illustrates another problem with revealing salary history: it might give the hiring manager the wrong impression about your abilities.

Liz was contacted on LinkedIn by a recruiter. This person seemed excited to talk with her and recommend her for a position. That is, until she heard that she had been earning $61,000 a year. The recruiter promptly informed Liz that she no longer felt she was a good fit for the position. She stated that the company was looking for someone who had already been earning at least $80,000.

Women Are Stuck Between a Rock and a Hard Place

If you’ve ever been asked about your salary history during a job interview process, you know that it can be a pretty uncomfortable moment. It’s not easy to avoid answering a direct question. Women may feel extra pressure to reveal past pay.

Why? It’s not because women are bad negotiators. It’s our old enemy unconscious bias rearing its ugly head again. Just as women are judged more harshly by negotiating partners when they ask for more, women also suffer when they refuse to share salary information. In this case, the impact is a financial one.

According to PayScale’s research, when a man declines to reveal his salary history, he earns 1.2 percent more on average. But, when a woman does the same, she earns 1.8 percent less.

It’s a disturbing and unfair double standard, to be sure. The secret might be for women to focus the conversation on negotiating a fair rate for the role, steering the conversation away from salary history. This way, they’re answering the recruiter or hiring managers’ questions without getting anchored to a lower pay than they deserve.

There are some really tricky obstacles to navigate when it comes to answering salary history questions, especially for women. If you find yourself interviewing for a new job, being prepared to navigate this question is your best bet.

Take the time to research average pay rates for professionals like you. And, decide how you’ll handle salary history questions beforehand. Because even though women face additional and unfair challenges, questions about salary history should still not be taken, or answered, lightly.

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