Update: After this story was published, a reader pointed out another, even better reason why companies should copy this question. Here's the explanation.

Imagine a job applicant who really wants to work at Salesforce. She applies and gets an interview. She's truly psyched. 

I'm pretty sure I can guarantee at least one question she'll be asked in the interview. And it's one that maybe your company should adopt, too.

It's a question designed to solve a specific problem -- one that Salesforce faces, sure, but one that, really, the entire workforce faces as well. Including your potential employee.

That question is: "What is the compensation you expect?"

Who sets the debate?

You might be scratching your head here. What's so unusual about that? 

Don't companies normally ask applicants what their salary expectations are?

Actually, no -- or at least not all of them do. And that's a problem, because the question many have been asking instead has been more along the lines of "What is your current salary?"

You can see the difference. It's more than nuance. 

Asking what an applicant expects to make puts the power in that applicant's hands. Maybe he or she would rather the company make an offer, true, but at least the question is out there, without strings.

Asking instead that an applicant reveal past salary information centers the new salary discussion on what they were making in a previous job -- even if they feel that they were being underpaid.

A compound effect

Stretch this out over time -- go from job to job, each new salary influenced by the fact that the employee was making less than he or she should have been previously -- and the results are compounded.

As an employer, there might be a temptation to say, well, that's a good thing, right? It means you can get a highly qualified employee at a lower salary than you'd otherwise pay.

Maybe that's true in the short term. But you should pay people what they're worth, if only for the pragmatic reason that if they're good employees, they'll be costly to replace.

Moreover, it's illegal to ask that "What do you make now?" question in at least 14 states, for exactly the reason we're discussing.

'Every aspect of the employee journey'

That's why Cindy Robbins, the chief people officer at Salesforce, who revealed the phrasing of Salesforce's compensation question in a blog post this week, timed it to coincide with Equal Pay Day.

Salesforce has had a focus on pay equality going back to at least 2015, when the company audited itself and determined that it should be paying an additional $3 million to close wage gaps among its employees.

This year, Robbins said, Salesforce spent another $1.6 million to increase employee pay after a similar audit -- the fourth annual one.

That, as Sarah Todd explained at Quartz, led to the discussion of what questions the company asks during interviews.

So, follow a good example. And good luck with your recruiting. Just ask the six-word question they use at Salesforce, instead of the other one that can get you in trouble.
 

Published on: Apr 6, 2019
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