When a job interviewer asks about your current salary, it's natural to feel taken aback, but here's everything you need to know to deflect the question.

Interviewing for a job is an intimidating process for most people, especially when the interviewer throws you a curveball question like, “What's your current salary?” Not only is this an uncomfortable question, but it's also downright illegal for interviewers to ask in some states.

Even so, it's important to walk into an interview prepared for anything — you never know what might get thrown at you. So instead of breaking out in a hot sweat when you're asked about your current salary, here's what you need to know so you can stay totally poised.

Why is the salary history question illegal in some areas?

The salary history question carries a lot of controversy with it — and rightfully so. Not only does it feel invasive and uncomfortable, but it also puts women and BIPOC professionals, who are historically underpaid for their work compared to their white male peers, at a disadvantage when it comes to negotiating a fair salary.

Think about it: If you're paid less at the start of your career and your new salary is contingent on your past salary, then you'll be forever limited — it'll be impossible to catch up. That's why states, cities, and counties are banning this question in an effort to protect job seekers.

Is the salary history question banned in your state?

Before you start preparing for your job interview, it's important to figure out whether or not the salary history question is banned in your area. Armed with this information, you can better devise a response.

To gain some insight on this matter, head over to Salary.com. It compiles up-to-date information on this matter. As of August 2020, it reported 17 state-wide bans and 17 local bans (meaning a city- or county-level ban).

As of August 2020, the following states and territories have deemed the salary history question illegal, according to Salary.com:

  • Alabama

  • California

  • Connecticut

  • Delaware

  • Hawaii

  • Illinois

  • Maine

  • Massachusetts

  • Michigan

  • New Jersey

  • New York

  • North Carolina

  • Oregon

  • Puerto Rico

  • Pennsylvania

  • Vermont

  • Washington

Even if you don't see your state on the list, the city or county in which you're interviewing might have a ban, so be sure to check. For instance, Maryland doesn't have a state-wide ban on the salary history question, but Montgomery County has a local ban.

It's also worth noting some states have signed a ban, like Colorado, but the ban hasn't yet gone into effect. Again, keep tabs on the status of your area. The human resource website HRDrive is another great tool for finding news on this subject

How to answer the salary history question, if you're asked

Because the conversation around this interview question is still relatively new, there's no guarantee an interviewer won't ask you this question, regardless of whether or not it is banned. If you find yourself in this predicament, stay calm. It's best not to directly call them out for the question. Give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they aren't aware (or forgot) about the legality of it.

To handle this situation, you can deflect. Here are some examples of ways you could answer this question:

  • I'm happy to talk more about my desired salary once we get an offer in place.

  • My current employer considers employee salaries confidential, so I'm unable to answer your question. (Note: Make sure this is actually true. You don't want to lie.)

  • I'd be happy to share my desired salary with you, but I'd like to learn more about the position first.

  • From my initial research, it looks like the salary for this type of role ranges from $70,000 to $85,000. Would you say that's accurate?

You might also encounter some form of this question when you're filling out job applications. Sometimes employers will require you to fill in “current salary” before you submit. If this occurs, feel free to leave a brief note resembling one of the verbal responses above.

Ultimately, it's best to keep your answer short, sweet, and neutral. The interviewer should get the point and move on. If they don't and continue to press the question, then this might be an indication that the company isn't the right culture fit for you.

Also, remember that this question isn't the same as “What are your salary expectations?” Employers can ask that all day long, so don't forget to prepare an answer for that question as well!

Money-related questions can be tricky. If you want help crafting a response, link up with one of our TopInterview interview coaches who can walk you through the process.

This article was updated in August 2020. It was originally written by Natalia Autenrieth.

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