Undressing Your Compensation

By Hillary Black

You are moving confidently through an interview when all of the sudden the hiring manager asks, “Please walk me through your salary history, starting at the first place of employment.” Crap. How do you navigate this question without losing the opportunity or your temper? You’re irritated that they’re even asking, and you worry you won’t be paid enough based on your level, even though your expertise qualifies you to earn more. Suddenly, you feel yourself sweating from head to toe, and this one question will turn you into someone you are not -- defensive.

 

The PAY EQUITY LAW  

The Pay Equity Law will make it so that employers will have to wait until after they extend a formal offer, that includes compensation, to ask about a potential hire's salary history. The law, which is already in effect in some states, also allows workers to openly discuss their salaries without retaliation from their employer. Supporters of the law say that sharing one's salary requirements can sabotage the wage trajectory of women since they often earn less than men.
 

 

The Talent Manager/Recruiter/Headhunter Opinion

Talent manager/recruiters/headhunters have a tough time when talent doesn’t disclose their salary history. Although we, as recruiters, assume it’s more of a talent’s protection, we get apprehensive because we’re trying to partner with them to get as much compensation as they see worthy of their background. That being said, talent managers/recruiters/headhunters understand that candidates don’t want to disclose their salary to a future employer, as it may be used against them.

There are candidates who have done work that would qualify them for an increase, and then there are candidates only worthy of a lateral move based on the work they’ve accomplished.

Furthermore, some talent is leaving a job after only 6 months, while others received a raise moments before they interviewed for a new position. While all of these account for reasons a company may want to evaluate your salary history, we need to take other things into account: Did the raise come after years with no increase, was the original salary not in line with males in the same position, did you take less when you started because they didn’t have the money at the time of hire? Etc. That’s the perk of using a recruiter -- we get to be honest without any sweaty palms.

 

Business Owner or Hiring Manager’s Opinion

As a small business owner, I have a totally different point of view than recruiters. I want to know what the talent wants, what he/she made in the past, and how it affected him/her. I want to give people more if I can, and by knowing these facts I get a sense of what they deserve and how the market will view their worth. I’m also an employer who knows there’s a gap in pay across gender, so it’s something I remain conscious of. We keep our internal hire process completely transparent and genuine; potential Kay & Black hires walk away knowing that we’ll give them what we think is worthy and fair. If we don’t have the budget (I call these “luxury hires”) we let them know what we can afford, but we understand if they can’t take next steps.  

There should be a sincerity that feels both raw and human on both sides when negotiating a new job. If you sense that the person you’re negotiating with is combative, insensitive, or tough, then maybe that’s not where you want to work. You should focus on thinking, “who do I want to work WITH,” rather than “where do I want a job AT.” I think it’s fair for people to know what you’re making, but only if you feel protected and safe with the person who is making decisions that affect your future.

 

The Human Opinion

When I was first approached regarding whether the salary discrepancies among men and women is against the law, I thought for sure I would have a concrete answer. I worked through this over and over, and realized no matter what the case against it is, it doesn’t matter! Even if 90% of all companies were equal paying employers, the fact that a wage gap exists is enough to be respectful of the affected realities of women in the 10%.

Evidence time and again supports that the salary gap between men and women is real. Even though I can’t fathom that this could possibly be the case for companies all over the country, it is. Even in our largest, most liberal cities.  It’s reasonable for someone to expect to be taken advantage of when so much proof supports these issues. A potential employee’s put on the defense before they enter the interview because he/she knows there is a risk that he/she will be taken advantage of, and that makes for a lack of authenticity from day one.  Let’s say the majority of the world argued the gender wage gap doesn’t exist, but there’s enough corroborating information that it does, and that’s sufficient enough to protect people from having to undress their pocketbook in the marketplace. Employers should support the process regardless of what we think goes on in their companies. People must support one another and equality by any means necessary. By enforcing equality in your own firm you are setting an example for everyone else.

 

How To Manage The Situation

Let’s be real. Sharing or not sharing your salary makes you feel concerned. When someone asks you what you are making at a time when the law goes into effect, do what feels most comfortable, but the real truth lies not in what you think they should hear, but what you are confident in sharing and respectfully defending. Do your research. Ask as many people in the market that you trust about how much someone with your experience and your abilities is worth. Remember that just because you have three years under your belt does not mean your salary will necessarily be the same as everyone else with three years down -- maybe you are worth less, maybe you are worth more.

 

In Short:

  1. Find your confidence.
     
  2. Know your worth.
     
  3. Go get what you deserve, and what treats you fairly.
     
  4. Progress not perfection.  

Creative recruiting industry veteran, Hillary Black, brings nearly 20 years of experience to her role as partner in the boutique talent recruiting and representation firm Kay & Black, Talent Management. When not working to tirelessly to create the perfect match between candidates and organizations, Black stays busy keeping up with notable news, trends, personalities and happenings within the creative community. Black currently lives in New York City with her husband and children.


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Claire Wasserman