Most recruiters who looking for candidates try very quickly to figure out someone’s salary history to determine whether or not someone fits the company’s salary requirements.

They ask the “what are you currently making?” question to find out whether or not they can afford a particular candidate, or whether they think that candidate might be what recruiters call a “flight risk” if they took a salary cut to join the team, but continued looking for a higher paying job.

To be honest, that approach, although well-meaning, is both short-sighted and discriminatory, since it reinforces long-standing patterns of educational and career disparity, that just worsen with each career change someone makes. Someone who brings real value to the team shouldn’t be overlooked over a relatively small financial difference to a company.  However, internally to a company there is always this sense that recruiters have to pay acute awareness to making sure that all members of the team had the right salary (based on their history) as a motivator for their own particular circumstances.  But- what if people can be motivated AND paid equally for skills, with room for extra based on job performance?

Beginning in 2018, all of that changes in Massachusetts, which passed a law that you won’t have to share your current salary level with a new employer; you can’t prohibit employees from talking about salary with each other, and you can’t try to verify past salary history without written permission. (Here’s the actual law in case you want to check it out:

But as a job seeker in Massachusetts (or with a Massachusetts employer), how will you deal with the salary question if it comes up?

First:  Be prepared to talk about “desired salary” instead of “current salary.”

This requires some research on your part, but this line of questioning isn’t specifically illegal, the way the bill is written.  An employer will still be able to ask you what you’d LIKE to make.  Use research tools like your own network,, or to look into comparable positions.  Also, the employer should be proactively advertising a salary, so you’ll have some sense of what to ask for.

Second:  Be ready to redirect.

Some employers will still try to ask the question, and you don’t want to be the one to educate them that their behavior is illegal.  I’d just recommend a smile and a “well, my salary range is …” answer if you’re asked after the law is implemented.

Third:  Boost your skills.

Employers will need to justify any pay differentials based on a few categories (although they can not reduce a current employee’s salary, if you’re concerned about that):

– seniority at the company (without taking away time for pregnancy and/or sick leave)

– performance at the company  (merit or sales/production-related)

– job location and/or travel requirements

– and this final category: “education, training or experience to the extent such factors are reasonably related to the job in question.”

And here’s where you can start thinking NOW about the education, training and experience that will allow your employer to pay you more money.  Is there a gap that needs to be filled?  Or a new skill you can learn that will protect your pay?

This is great news for people who’ve been underemployed since the Recession, or who’ve taken time out of the workplace for caregiving or illness.  It’s also great news for salary transparency, and making salary less of a “game” that people play, which rewards people who negotiate well.