My editor sent me a copy of this article by Alison Green, How to Respond to Questions About Your Salary History, and because this article is full of suggestions for job candidates to use to avoid providing this information, she suggested I write an article telling hiring managers just how to get this bit of information.
I can do that, and I will, but first, I'll state flat out that I agree 100 percent with Alison Green. (If you don't follow her blog, Ask A Manager, you should. In fact, it should be required reading for your management team.) She writes:
First, companies should be able to determine a candidate's value for themselves; they don't need to look to their competitors to tell them a candidate's worth. And second, if they're concerned that you'll be unhappy with the salary they're offering, they can solve that by posting their range up front or ask you about your salary expectations rather than salary history.
This is true. Why are you allowing other companies to determine what someone is worth to your company? Now, granted, when you're in the beginning of a startup, you may truly have no idea what kind of salary is required for a good administrative assistant, accounts payable person, or any job that you, yourself, have not done in the past. So, the logical thing is to ask your candidates how much their previous employers paid them, and (ta-da!) now you know.
Except that's a convoluted way to do business. Do your own research, and figure out what reasonable salaries are for your business. If you state a salary range right up front with the job description, you'll find out pretty rapidly if you've made a huge mistake. Put the salary too low, and you won't get candidates who can do the work you need. Put the salary too high, and you'll get inundated with résumés of people who are overqualified for the job.
It's not rocket science. And, in fact, demanding that information from candidates can be a huge turnoff. It always leaves the candidate wondering if you're trying to lowball the person. And, in fact, if you are, you may pay for it in not getting the loyalty you want. After all, if you have two people doing very similar jobs, but you give them wildly different salaries based on their history, someday they will find out, and boy, will you get resentment up one side and down the other. Additionally, what if these two people are different races, genders, or nationalities? Prepare yourself for a lawsuit. Even though it's perfectly legal to base salaries on people's histories, you'll find yourself having to pay a lawyer to prove that's why you're underpaying one of your employees.
But if you really, truly, are dead set against making a candidate an offer without knowing a job candidate's salary history, there's an easy way to do it:
1. Ask on the job application. Most people will fill it in without giving a second thought. This doesn't mean they are good or bad candidates; it's just not important to them to keep that bit of information secret.
2. Follow up with those candidates whom you are interested in, and explain that you need to know their salary history in order to consider them as candidates. If they try to evade you, just state flat out, "This is a requirement, and we won't go forward without this information."
3. Reject anyone who doesn't comply. Even if they are perfect in every way possible, except for this. Because having their salary history is just that important to you.
Problem solved. Except for the great candidates who, for whatever reason, don't want to share this bit of information with you. But that's OK, because you're doing what is best for your business, which is relying on another business that may or may not have any relationship to what you do to tell you how much to pay your employees.