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Here's How You Answer the Illegal "What's Your Current Salary" Question

What is your current salary?

Whenever that question comes up during a job search, you’re stuck wondering if you should answer honestly (which could result in an offer that’s lower than you want), lie (which feels shady and could easily backfire), or perform some interview gymnastics to get out of sharing it.

So you might’ve been relieved to learn that cities and states are starting to fight back against it (including California, Delaware, New York City, and more). No, it’s not just because it’s awkward, but because it might perpetuate pay gaps.

As Ariane Hegewisch, employment and earnings program director at the Institute for Women's Policy Research explains, it’s pretty typical for companies to hire somebody and give them a percentage increase from their previous salary, say 10% or 15%. Groups that face discrimination in the labor market are more likely to come in with a lower previous salary and therefore start their next job behind as well—to be repeated on and on throughout their careers with almost no hope of catching up.

“The wage gap between women and men in New York City is unacceptable, especially for women of color,” says Seth Hoy, spokesperson for the NYC Commission on Human Rights, which enforces the law in the city. The goal of the ban is “to break this cycle of pay inequity and ensure that people who have been systemically underpaid their entire lives are able to negotiate competitive salaries based on their actual skills and qualifications rather than their previous salaries.”

The good news is that the laws can give an advantage to anyone who feels they were paid unfairly in their previous role. But we all know that just because something’s illegal doesn’t mean it’ll never happen.

So what can you do if you get the question anyway?

1. Avoid Putting the Number in a Form

You’re filling out the application for a job you really want and it’s asking for your current salary.

Muse Career Coach Emily Liou recommends putting “N/A” or “Flexible” in that field. If it forces you to enter a numeric value, she suggests writing “0” and finding an appropriate text field elsewhere on the application where you can add something like, “Note: I entered $0 on the salary question however I want to clarify I am flexible if we determine there is a mutual fit.”

2. Deflect or Reframe the Interview Question

Theoretically, you can simply tell an interviewer politely and respectfully that you’re not legally required to answer that question. “But that response is intimidating,” says Muse Career Coach Arik Orbach. “The important thing here is to not overreact or let your emotions get the best of you if you feel that you are being targeted.”