Dealing With The Interview Question – “What is Your Salary”

When it comes to a job, should your current or past salary be the reason a company does or does not hire you? Or the reason they pay you less than you deserve? First, it’s illegal yet many companies ask it.

I recently posted a link on LinkedIn to an article relating that in late 2021 New York City, and other cities and states, passed a ban on asking salary history questions of applicants. These cities and states are all hopeful this will help break the cycle of pay inequity. These new laws were also set up to allow interviewees the ability to negotiate salaries based upon their professional skills and qualifications rather than salary history.

Although I’ve been in HR and hiring for 25+ years, I’ve never quite understood why asking an applicant what their current salary is should not only be necessary but supposedly helps a company determine whether a particular individual is the best candidate for the job based upon their salary. Or why the question is helpful in determining whether they can even perform the job.

Either an individual is qualified and has the skills to perform the job or they don’t. What does salary have to do with it?

Here’s what I believe is the answer or at least a partial answer:

Companies believe an individual must be good at their job since they’re paid well. That said, we have no idea why an individual is paid well unless they share that specific info; and most won’t or don’t. Depending on the job title we can guess individuals on specific levels are paid according to the responsibilities of the job, number of people supervised, financial control for example. On the other hand – some companies require hiring pros to hire those with low salaries in order to save money and stay on budget.

Ariane Hegewisch, employment and earnings program director at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research tells us “It’s pretty typical for companies to hire someone and give them a percentage increase from their previous salary, say 10% or 15%. Groups that face discrimination in the labor market are more likely to come in with a lower previous salary and therefore start their next job behind as well—to be repeated on and on throughout their careers with almost no hope of catching up”.

“The wage gap between women and men in New York City is unacceptable, especially for women of color,” says Seth Hoy, spokesperson for the New York City Commission on Human Rights, which enforces this new law in the city. The goal of the ban is “to break this cycle of pay inequity and ensure that people who have been systemically underpaid their entire lives are able to negotiate competitive salaries based on their actual skills and qualifications rather than  previous salaries.”

3 Tips for dealing with this illegal ‘What’s your salary?’ question:

1) If asked straightforwardly ‘what is your salary’, reframe the question. Or simply say you aren’t legally required to answer that question. Never allow anger to rise or respond in a snarky tone of voice. Or you could state – ‘Before a salary discussion I’d like to hear more about the position.

2) Use a Salary Calculator to determine what the current salary is for the job you’re interviewing for. While no calculator is spot on, you can expect to get close enough to head into an interview with a salary amount which is, at least, in the ballpark. Matt Mickiewicz, Co-founder and Chief Product Officer for Hired says, “If you go in knowing what someone in your role should be making, you’ll know if you’re being low-balled, and you’ll have the facts handy to back up why you should make more.”

3) Know your worth. While research is important, facts re your experience, skills,
achievements, and certifications, for example, are invaluable. Just certifications, alone, can put you ahead of the pack and push you into a higher salary range. If you’ve already stated what your salary is, be prepared to state why your expertise – for example – is well worth being paid a higher salary.

Answering – ‘What are your salary expectations?’

It’s happened to most, at one time or another – in the middle of a job interview you’re asked ‘What are your salary expectations?’ It can all but induce a panic.

If you’ve interviewed a few times you know from experience answer with too high a salary requirement and you can price yourself out of a job. On the other hand, offer a salary too low and you could end up making even less than you were currently making. It’s a conundrum to say the least.

Hiring pros usually explain the reason this question is asked is ‘budget’. That said, hiring you may be impossible since your salary requirements exceed their budget. In essence, you are disqualifying yourself. And, bottom line, the salary they are offering may barely cover your mortgage/rent and normal expenses as well as expenses for caring for your family.

Start your salary research by checking free resources such as,, or the Department of Labor. Check by job title, location, experience, and skills. For a small fee, will create a 25-page report regarding salaries and related info for job candidates as well as women and minorities to help them prepare for salary negotiations. This personalized report provides you with feedback, tactical advice, and market data from professionals, hiring managers and recruiters specializing in your field. You’ll head into an interview, or salary negotiation, armed with facts. And hiring pros love facts!

Finally, if necessary, if a hiring pro oversteps their boundaries, report the incident to the proper authorities in your state.

For a list of states currently utilizing this new law check this link: Does Your State Prohibit Asking Salary History? | Nilan Johnson Lewis PA – JDSupra


Jean L. Serio
Jean L. Serio
JEAN is a certified Human Resources professional with more than twenty-five years of experience in recruitment, interviewing, job training and development, resume, and LinkedIn Profile writing and review. The last 5 as a Certified Interview Success Coach, CEIC. With a passion for training, she guides others in first understanding their skills and strengths and how to best present themselves during an interview to help them secure the job. Her skills and expertise are also utilized to optimally prepare clients for confidently engaging with HR, hiring pros and decision-makers, and guiding them in how to enthusiastically and professionally respond during an interview rather than fearing the process. Her solid experience, coupled with expertise in the unspoken workings of the interview and hiring process, helps individuals prepare to present their achievements, skills, and expertise not only in a professional but compelling, way using stories of achievements which help the interviewee engage the interviewer or hiring a pro to effectively respond to questions to help raise their get-hired opportunities. Jean has been featured in Forbes;; BLR-Daily HR Advisor; ERE’s Daily HR Advisor; Next Ave. division of PBS; Medium; Entrepreneur HQ Magazine; Self Growth; beBee International, CBS, and NBC online and more. Her past has also included workshop trainings for HR, hosting hiring forums, speaking at job conferences for both job seekers and hiring pros, and more.

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