“What are your salary expectations?”

If you’ve ever applied for a job, you’ve probably been asked this question. As a consultancy striving to help organisations build a culture of trust through pay transparency, it’s one we don’t like hearing!

There are usually two main reasons for asking this question:

  1. Hiring managers want to get away with offering the lowest salary they can
  2. Recruiters want to get a sense of the ‘worth’ of the candidate’s skills in the market

Let’s look at both reasons separately.

Hiring managers

If the hiring manager insists on asking you for your current salary so they can save money rather than offering the salary that the role deserves, ask yourself: is this really the type of organisation and manager you want to work for?

If you want to be treated fairly in the workplace, the best time to establish this is during the recruitment process. Get the salary you deserve based on what the company is willing to offer. At 3R Strategy, our focus lies in pay transparency. We help companies to build a culture of trust through honest communication surrounding pay. Starting from the very beginning is key.


Why do recruiters ask this question? They have hundreds – even thousands – of CVs to go through and on the surface, it seems like a quick way to establish whether the candidate has the skills and experience needed for the role. After all, if their current organisation pays them a much lower salary, there must be a reason for this – right?

Wrong. It’s a vicious circle. When managers push salaries down to maximise their budgets based on a candidate’s current salary – or in some cases, pay more than they should – we simply reinforce these practices in our recruitment process.

In reality, all we’re doing is transferring inequities from one organisation to another. Women, people of colour, and people with disabilities may face pay discrimination their entire careers. When we ask about current salaries, that discrimination simply follows them into the next job.

How can you respond?

Many states in the US have banned this question. Until we can get it banned in the UK, here’s how you can respond:

Hiring manager: “What are your salary expectations?”

Candidate: “I don’t have a number in mind but my expectation is to be treated fairly and equitably based on [company name]’s pay range for this role.”

When it comes to pay, some organisations choose to pay at the market median. Others may choose to pay at the upper quartile, while some may only be able to afford to pay below the market.

That is entirely their choice. But whatever they choose, it has nothing to do with your expectations or current salary. The company should settle their market positioning in advance and post the pay range along with the job ad. The candidate can then decide whether they want to apply for the job based on the range and wider package offered.

It’s time to stop asking – and disclosing

A survey by the Fawcett Society found that questions about salary history tarnished organisations’ reputations. 54% of men and 57% of women said that it made them feel less positive about their potential employer.

If you’re an employer or recruiter who wants to build long-term, ethical relationships and tackle pay gaps, then we need to stop asking this question.

If you’re a candidate, you may find that the first response isn’t enough. If they probe further to ask for your current salary, here is your follow-up response:

“I know I am underpaid in my current role; this is part of the reason I am looking to leave. I don’t want my current unfair salary to influence how I am paid in the future, so I would prefer not to disclose it.”

Written by Rameez Kaleem


3R Strategy is an independent reward consultancy helping organisations to build a culture of trust through pay transparency. Book a free discovery call with us today.