You may be familiar with the new law passed in Massachusetts barring companies from asking about salary. This was done as a way to help bridge the wage gap and is a great first step towards wage equality. Only time will tell if this will become a trend and spread to other states, and whether it does or not, there are some things recruiters should be doing to pivot their salary talks, and things great recruiters have been doing all along.

Back when I first started recruiting (I learned how to recruit from Software Engineers, so a different experience than most), I never even thought to ask about what candidates were currently making, because to me and to my boss, it was irrelevant. We cared about what it would take to bring them into our team. We understood that it may be different than what they’re making now, and that cash compensation isn’t always what’s most important to people.

Fast forward a few years to when I started working at a recruiting agency and things changed drastically. All recruiters were instructed to ask both what candidates were currently making, and what they’re looking to make next. The emphasis was placed on the first question, and this was a conversation many of our (especially newer) recruiters struggled with. Recruiters were often reprimanded when they didn’t secure salary information and forced to try again which made a potentially uncomfortable exchange, worse.

So, having experienced the extremes of this, I thought I’d share my thoughts on the inevitable salary discussion:

Why even bring it up?

Every organization has it’s own system for how their compensation plans are structured, most do what they can to align with a certain percentile of industry standards, others set the bar much higher or lower and make up for it with equity and other factors. Especially in the VC-backed startup world, it’s not safe to assume that everyone is making the perceived market value, or even if people understand what “market value” truly is. You might also have a tight budget, and the superstar you fell in love with might easily break the bank and skew your internal leveling. This is why it’s vitally important to get salary information very early. I usually do during my initial recruiter screen.

How should you approach that conversation?

In addition to digging into a candidate’s skills and experience during an initial phone screen, I always try to find out more about what they’re looking for and are interested in next. As part of that discussion, it’s easy to ask something along the lines of “What are you hoping to make in your next role?” and candidates are usually very open and receptive. If you still get push back, I always ask for a general range and let them know that we’re just looking for a ball park to ensure our numbers aren’t so far off that we can’t find a happy medium later.

What if they flip the script?

Many candidates get the advice to ask what the role pays instead of disclosing salary. I’m not a fan of this, and encourage recruiters not to throw out a number. There are a variety of reasons for this including the candidate being more junior/senior than this role, or potentially being a better fit for another role later. Also, recruiters will generally have an approved range and it’s nearly impossible to tell where the candidate will fall within that range until later in the process when their skills are more thoroughly tested. Mentioning the pay early will become the number they’re looking for, which may hurt their chances and will definitely make the actual offer nearly impossible to negotiate.

Salary talk isn’t scary, but it should also be done the right way to ensure that there is a level playing field for all candidates and all potential new hires. Whether this new law will begin to spread to other states or not, it is probably a good best practice to start incorporating new approaches to this important discussion.

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