Ban the Box

Having spent more than 15 years as’s salary and negotiation expert, I have found the emerging developments in salary history prohibitions to be quite interesting. San Francisco was one of the latest cities to pass a law barring employers from asking job seekers about previous salaries before making a job offer, but it certainly won’t be the last. Barada recently published an article on the “pay history” ban movement. You can read more, here.

There are many reasons why cities and other government entities might outlaw prior salary inquiries, not the least of which is the ability to “low ball” prospects by offering only a slight salary increase over their previous position. Given the changing landscape around pay histories, it is safest for employers to focus on salary negotiation rather than attempting to extract salary histories early in the process. Job seekers should likewise be prepared to negotiate rather than assuming that a “pay history ban” will help ensure an equitable arrangement.

Salary Negotiation, or Something Else?

If a low salary offer is made, the first thing the job seeker should do is politely ask if the offer is negotiable. If it’s not, for whatever reason, the job seeker can simply decline the offer and continue his or her job search. Ordinarily, it makes no sense to switch jobs unless the new position involves a salary increase of 10 to 20 percent, provided that the job seeker’s qualifications for the job closely match the requirements of the job.

If the salary offer is negotiable, however, the job seeker should be prepared to counter with a salary that’s at least 10 percent more than he or she was making. The counter can be higher if the job requirements and qualifications for the job line up well. The job seeker should also be prepared to explain, specifically, how well his or her qualifications match the job’s requirements.

On the other hand, if the job seeker is currently unemployed, it might make sense to accept a lower salary offer than desired, as long as the offer will enable the individual to maintain a reasonable standard of living. If the salary offer will barely allow the job seeker to get by, then he or she might be able to negotiate a salary review after a certain period—six months is fairly common. That gets the candidate back into the ranks of the employed while giving him or her the chance to bring the salary up with hard work and dedication.

Author’s Note: Stay tuned for more information on salary determination and approaches from the employer’s perspective!