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Should recruiters ask candidates about current salary?

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Written by John Berry on 18th November 2021. Revised 21st November 2021.

2 min read

Thumbs Up docusign-BbSBf5uv50A-unsplashNo. Never.

Let’s explain.

Today, Thursday 18th November, is Equal Pay Day. Whatever you think about days for this and days for that, it’s actually a good time to reflect.

There’s a phrase bandied around in the labour market – and in fact from ‘Past and Present’ by Thomas Carlyle, subsequently discussed by Frederick Engels in 1881 in an article of the same name.

The phrase is ‘a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work’.

It applied in Carlyle and Engels' day, and it applies now.

In reaching a decision about whether to hire a person, the employer views that the fair day’s work that the employee will do for the firm justifies the fair day’s pay. It’s absolute. It’s in the context of the firm. The deal is done without reference to any other context, like where the candidate was previously employed.

So, it’s not necessary to know anything about the past. All that matters is prediction that the candidate will do well at the work. And that’s a judgement made by using an objective assessment. We’ve blogged copiously on how this should be done.

By reaching a bargain between work and pay, the parties enter an agreement.

Of course, the bargain struck this week with a woman must use the same criteria as the bargain struck next week with a man. That’s the law today. The manager must behave equitably. If the work done is equitable, the pay must be likewise – regardless of who does it.

The key in this is the definition of the work.

If the work changes, the bargain changes and equity is maintained.

So, a word for all recruiters and hiring managers. In determining pay, all that matters is what the work is worth to the firm.

Of course, as hiring manager, you could ask, ‘how much are you looking for’. That’s you starting the bargaining. And if the bargain can’t be struck, you and candidate will part. But never ask anything about history. As soon as you do, you’re wide open to bias.