​Should I Ask Applicants About Their Previous Salary?

2022-01-26 by Jeff Pierce

​Should I Ask Applicants About Their Previous Salary?

​Should I Ask Applicants About Their Previous Salary?

Should you ask job applicants to reveal their salary history?

It’s a complicated question, and there are pros and cons to consider. 

It’s worth noting that in many states, this is no longer a question. SHB (Salary History Ban) legislation has gathered momentum, and as of July 2021, twenty-one states in the U.S. had bans in place preventing businesses from seeking the information during the hiring process. 

For those of you still weighing this aspect of your hiring process, here is a summary of the pros and cons and some resources to explore. 

The Potential Benefits of Requesting Salary History

Most hiring managers see these as the primary reasons for requesting the information.

  • I want to avoid wasting time with applicants whose salary expectations don’t match with what we can offer. 
  • The salary they’ve commanded in the past can be a key metric in evaluating the quality of a candidate. Their salary history reveals something about their career progress and drive.
  • We need this information to help position our salary offer. 

The practical advantages seem very clear up front, but there are other issues to consider. 

The Potential Drawbacks of Asking Candidates About Their Salary History

As noted above, salary history bans have gathered momentum for a reason. 

  • More and more candidates view this request as an invasion of privacy, and you could risk alienating a great candidate. 
  • The information can also be misleading. A candidate may have been underpaid and undervalued in a previous workplace. There’s a great deal of history beyond the number which you don’t understand.

There’s an excellent breakdown of the arguments for and against in this article by The Balance Careers blog.

The Most Powerful Argument Against Asking for Salary History

A persuasive moral argument was made against this practice in this article from The Harvard Business Review

The main rationale for abandoning this practice is because asking about salary history can perpetuate cycles of pay disparity for women and minorities. In spite of any well-intentioned efforts you make to avoid bias in the hiring process, this one practice alone may undercut your efforts. 

The reason is simple and understandable. If a candidate has been underpaid in the past, and you base their next salary on their history, the cycle continues. 

This isn’t just optimism or theoretical thinking. In Harvard Business Review’s study associated with the article, they learned that SHB legislation has generated substantial pay increases for both Black (+13%) and female (+8%) candidates.

They also present evidence that the assumed benefits of the practice of requesting a salary history are not as potent as once believed.

Like many aspects of the hiring process, salary histories are a complicated issue.

It’s not easy to reexamine commonplace practices like salary histories in the hiring process, and questions like this aren’t always simple to resolve.


Our team at eHire is always here to do more than connect your business with the right talent. We equip your team with the latest information on best practices in hiring and help you resolve concerns like this. 

Reach out to us anytime to refine your hiring practices and find the key players needed to grow your company.