What’s your salary requirement? Job seekers, recruiters rethink pay talk

When she began her career in tech over a decade ago, Shanae Chapman quickly became comfortable answering traditional interview questions: greatest strengths (time management, attention to detail), weaknesses. (prioritization). “Tell me about yourself” was tricky at first. No one in his family had ever held a position in a company before. What exactly did the interviewer want to know? She figured it out pretty quickly.

Yet one question kept derailing his job search: what are you doing now? Chapman was earning about $ 25,000 a year holding a clerical position at a Boston University while continuing his graduate studies. She hoped to double that number by entering a new industry. But when she told recruiters her salary, they told her that was also the amount they were offering.

“Why would I want to change jobs and earn the same salary? Said Chapman, senior user experience researcher and designer in St. Louis. She stopped answering the question, instead telling recruiters her target salary. The strategy worked. She landed a job at IBM that paid $ 50,000 to $ 60,000.

Looking for a new job last year in a booming job market, now with years of experience at large companies like IBM and Boeing and startups, Chapman had a very different experience. Now the employers are not asking for his current salary. They ask for it salary requirements: What does she want to do?

“And honestly, if they didn’t ask, I would ask them,” Chapman said. If they don’t respond, she sees it as a red flag.

Enter the “salary requirement”

The issue of salary has emerged as the thorniest part of the hiring process, according to job seekers, recruiters and negotiating experts. The question itself is viewed by some as progress – it’s better to ask for a requirement than to ask for salary history, and 16 states, including Massachusetts, New York, and California, have banned asking candidates for their job altogether. compensation history – but it’s still fraught with pitfalls.

Asking for salary demands sets off a back and forth that for job seekers is rife with confusion and occasional bouts of shame and regret. Even though employers are struggling to fill positions and employees in all sectors clamor for more power, the high stakes of this issue can turn the process upside down.

Candidates try not to reveal their number, fearing they will leave money on the table. But recruiters often refuse to move forward without one. The common advice is to turn the question around and ask recruiters what their range is for the job. In some states, employers are now required to notify you.

Job seekers may say something like, “It’s early in the interview process, and I’m still getting to know the role and doing my research, but if you’re trying to fit into a certain range, it would help to know, ”said Jordan Sale, founder of 81cents, a pay equity startup she launched in 2018.

In the past, employers typically asked applicants for their current salary and based a new job offer on the number provided, perhaps offering a small percentage more. Academics and gender equality advocates argue that this strategy perpetuates wage inequality. If a woman was paid unfairly to an employer, she would be tied to that lower pay throughout her career.

Forbid the question on salary history

Banning the issue, they argued, would help close the gender pay gap. On average, women earn 83 cents for every dollar earned by a man, according to 2020 census data. The gap is greater for black and Hispanic women.

The argument has resonated, and over the past five years, in addition to states that have passed historic wage bans, a handful of cities and counties have also banned the practice. Rhode Island and Nevada passed bans in 2021 that also require employers to disclose salary ranges to applicants. (Colorado and Connecticut recently passed laws requiring companies to disclose salary ranges for positions.)

The bans are still so new that it is difficult to judge how much they have changed. Massachusetts’ law, the country’s first, came into effect in 2018. Preliminary research shows that the wages of women changing jobs have increased slightly in banned states. But other research shows less promising results.

“Before these laws were passed, women were under-represented in well-paying jobs. That hasn’t changed, ”said Ethan Rouen, a professor at Harvard Business School, who looked at data from a state that passed a ban and ended up not publishing its research because it didn’t. seen no significant change.

What is clear: The bans have changed the culture of wage bargaining, along with a growing willingness of Gen Z and Millennials to talk more directly about money and demand better working conditions, and a labor market where work finally has an advantage. In addition, there is a growing awareness, especially among women, that negotiating wages is crucial.

Joel Greenberg, a software engineer, has just started a new job at a startup after interviewing around 20 companies. He recently returned to the Denver area to care for his mother after living in Boston.

About half of the interviewers asked for Greenberg’s current salary. He answered the question: approximately $ 250,000 per year, including a base salary of $ 155,000 plus equity and other perks. In other cases, he was asked for requirements and offered a similar number.

“I prefer to be straightforward about what I do,” said Greenberg, acknowledging that being a man probably made it easier. “It is part of the privilege of straight white men that you can answer this directly. In the end, he got six offers and accepted one that was in his range, although not the highest, as it suited him.

According to Sale, the consultant, the kind of privilege Greenberg acknowledges goes beyond the confidence required to answer a salary question directly. It extends to who you know and who you can ask for advice.

Women will seek advice from their close networks, which can often include many women who are, on average, underpaid, she said.

Don’t forget to talk about fairness

Devon Meyer, hiring manager at a mental health startup, asks candidates about their salary requirements. He said about 20% would not respond.

“They say, ‘I’m still calibrating’ or ‘I’d rather not share’,” he said.

He understands. He also thinks they usually fail to ask a bigger question: What about fairness?

Meyer started his career at the tech company formerly known as Square and now called Block. He said the job taught him a lesson about pay. Specifically, the stock can be more important than the salary.

“Fairness can be life changing,” said Meyer, who had shares in Square when they went public. “I have a level of security that I certainly would not have imagined having at this age. ”

Meyer and others have said the candidates aren’t focusing on their fairness as narrowly as their base salary. A recent analysis commissioned by the Wall Street Journal found that 24% of male employees had company stock compared to 17% of women. And women generally own fewer stocks even when they own stocks.

“The real gender difference is now in stock,” said Niya Dragova, co-founder of Candor, a startup that helps tech employees manage their equity, but has started helping candidates negotiate salaries. wider.

What looks like a small inventory gap will only get bigger. “What might seem like a difference of $ 10,000 could run into millions over the course of someone’s career,” Dragova said.

Dragova is also the author of “The 10 Commandments of Salary Bargaining”.

# 4: Don’t give in to the pressure.

Negotiate for better results

It’s the one Chapman, the user experience designer in St. Louis, seems to have followed. She declined to move forward in interviews with at least 28 employers, she said. (She kept a record in a note file on her laptop.) She was looking to move on from a position where she was earning $ 155,000 because she felt she had stagnated in the company and wanted to take a position of. direction.

Chapman did market research, using salary surveys, to find out what companies were paying in his field. She spoke to people in her professional network. She learned negotiation strategy from the National Society of Black Engineers and, very early on, from the American Association of University Women, which offers a free negotiation workshop. A big lesson: there is nothing wrong with talking about money.

His target range was $ 160,000 to $ 170,000.

Some companies tried to get her to accept wages that she deemed too low because she was working remotely from the Midwest. But it wasn’t just about the money. In fact, she turned down a $ 170,000 job offer because she didn’t feel respected in the final interview. The interviewers were late, arrogant – lots of big client names – and in the interview they admitted they weren’t really ready to talk to him.

In December, she landed a job offer in her target range, in a place where she felt respected and valued a commitment to inclusion and diversity. She will also get a stock package – around $ 200,000 acquired over four years. It starts this month.

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