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That salary history question.

February 20, 2014

As I did my daily trawl for job postings to post to Archives Gig, I came across this ad from Chapman University in Orange, CA.  (And yes, I will post this job on AG.  Because however much something like this ticks me off, it’s still information that falls within my posting guidelines.) It’s a 1-year term position at the California Gold Archive, which sounds kind of like a cool collection.  Temporary job aside, what really burns my toast about this announcement is this: Chapman requires a salary history from its applicants.  If you don’t include it with your application, you will not be considered for the job.  Let’s take a look at the announcement, shall we (all emphasis theirs):

2/19/2014        28-14   Asst. Librarian-California Gold Archive-Archivist                Admin             Full-Time             Accepting Applications


Please submit a resume with Job No. 28-14 and salary history, and/or application. APPLICANTS MUST SUBMIT SALARY HISTORY IN ORDER TO BE CONSIDERED FOR THE POSITION.

This is a Regular Limited Term, benefit based assignment for one year, however the duration of this assignment can be lengthened or shortened at the discretion of the University.

Maintain physical and intellectual control of the California’s Gold Archive (CGA) through arrangement, description and the creation of finding aids; promotion and public outreach to raise awareness of the CGA by creating and maintaining scholarly and community relationships. The CGA Archivist will plan digital content building utilizing social media outlets and digital preservation. The position will also manage the CGA Reading Room as well as volunteers, students and special hires in processing and digitization projects. The position reports to the Coordinator of Special Collections and Archives. Other duties as assigned.


Required: Formal coursework or training in archival management and theory. Knowledge of the access tools for special collections and archival material. Working knowledge of the standards and procedures for preservation and conservation of paper, audio/visual media and artifacts. Demonstrated experience developing processing plans and creating finding aids in accordance with national standards. Knowledge of and ability to maintain awareness of developments in archival processing, digital information technologies, and their uses in special collections and archives. Excellent analytical, organizational, and time management skills. Oral, written, and interpersonal communication skills to promote and present the archive to multiple audiences.

Desired: Minimum 1-3 years of demonstrated experience working with books, manuscripts, photographs, recordings, and other material in a special collections & archives environment. Demonstrated experience working in archives in an academic or institutional setting and providing reference services in a reading room environment. Prior experience with project management.

Notice to Applicants:

This position will be posted for a minimum of 5 business days and may close at any time after that without prior notice.
Successful completion of a criminal background check required for final candidate.

Chapman University is an Equal Opportunity Employer, committed to providing career opportunities to
all people, without regard to race, color, religion, sex, age, national origin, sexual orientation,
disability, or veteran status.
Chapman University, One University Drive, Orange, CA 92866 Human Resources Department

Now, I suppose that this university has encountered opposition to the salary history question from its applicants, which is why their note about it is in ALLCAPS at the top of the posting.  It’s the first thing the job seeker sees.  Why on earth do they need to know this information?  I expect that an employer would be able to look at their own budget, what they want the worker to do, and figure out how much they’re willing to pay that worker to do the work (in this case, over the period of just 12 months).  How difficult is it to list a salary range for a temporary position?

Why should my last paycheck determine how you, a completely different employer, pay me?  It’s completely irrelevant, and it undermines trust in the potential employer immediately.  Even if they’re just requiring this number for the sake of being nosy, I have to think that the employer is using that number to decide how little of a salary they can get away with compensating me.  After looking at Chapman’s employment page, it seems that requiring a salary history is a blanket policy for this institution’s positions.  I cannot fathom why they need to know, for any job.

Let’s take me as an example of a prospective applicant for this job.  By the time I had graduated from UW-Madison SLIS, I had well over two years’ worth of paraprofessional academic and institutional archives experience under my belt, which would put me in their “preferred applicant” category for this job.  When I graduated, I was making about $1000 per month in my hourly student jobs.  Even my best paid jobs up to that point didn’t break $15/hour.  My job before that, I was living on the poverty line as an AmeriCorps*VISTA.   I lived (and still live) in the Midwest, presumably with a different cost of living than Orange, California.  What exactly is Chapman going to do with that salary history information?  They are advertising an entry-level job with a high educational requirement and a specialized skill set – they’re going to get applicants who are just out of grad school.

That fact that this job term can be “lengthened or shortened at the discretion of the University” is even more galling.  So, I’m supposed to provide this not-even-remotely-your-business information for a job that could pretty much end at any time.  That just made me more angry.

So, employers, hear my plea: Just list a range, already.  Then I, the prospective employee, will know if it’s a salary I can live with.  You, the employer, know it’s a salary you can pay.  And then we are simpatico, and we don’t have to waste each other’s time, and we don’t have get into the particulars of how much I got paid at my work/study job while I was between classes in grad school.

Unfortunately, Chapman is one in a string of employers who ask for this sort of thing from their applicants.  If salary history (and the related question, salary requirement) has been a component of your salary negotiations with an employer, I invite you to comment here.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. February 20, 2014 5:24 pm

    I’m with you: surely it’s their tactic for low-balling the opening salary negotiations. Also of note is the fact that the OC is an incredibly expensive place to live. As for the lengthening/shortening thing, in my experience temporary employees rarely if ever have any sort of security of appointment, so this may be Chapman’s [obnoxious] way of being totally transparent about that.

  2. Archivista permalink
    February 20, 2014 6:09 pm

    I applied for a job that I would classify as mid-career. Without giving me a salary range, they required (and this was an online application that wouldn’t let me move forward without providing this) a minimum *and* maximum salary range. I think asking applicants to show their hand first is appalling, but asking me for my maximum salary range? What should I put, $1million? This was at a private university. They know what band they can hire this position into, so post it already, OK? Save us all the aggravation of wasting time applying.

  3. February 21, 2014 2:08 pm

    I have never understood the rational behind requiring a salary history or not putting a pay range in the posting. Why waste my time and the prospective employer’s time screening and interviewing me only to find out that the salary is so low that I could not accept the position if offered. If you are transitioning from a different field then the salary information may not even be relevant (which has been the case for me before).

    In some cases where no salary information has been provided I have mentioned what my minimum salary requirement was in my cover letter or elsewhere in the application. I did not want to be considered for a position if they could not meet that requirement. It was when I was putting my husband through school and I had to make a certain amount to pay the bills. My current employer made it very easy thank goodness. The job posting stated that the position would not pay less than x amount and that the salary would be commensurate with experience. I think every job posting should at the very least list the base number.

  4. February 23, 2014 2:23 pm

    Basically, that detail says “we don’t know or care how much your skills are worth professionally, we just want to pay the least amount possible and find the most desperate candidate.”

  5. February 26, 2014 6:03 pm

    I have been looking for archives work non-stop for the past 6 months (although I am currently working full-time as an archivist, making a well-below-median salary for NYC)… anyway, I see this all the time. Most posting don’t give a salary range. For positions at an academic library that state the rank or “classification” somewhere, you can usually figure out the salary range by looking at their HR info. The salary history part, though!!! I really don’t get it. I just went through a series of interviews with a very reputable big name art museum here, and was actually told outright by HR that they couldn’t hire me for the position if the gap between my current salary and their advertised salary was too big! What does that even mean? What if I am being terribly underpaid at my current job? What if I am already OVER-qualified for the job I’m interviewing for? Have you seen the economy out there? How is ANY OF THAT relevant to a) my ability to fulfill the job requirements or b) the importance of said job to your institution. It’s not quite the same issue as what commenters above pointed out (low-balling, trying to take advantage of the desperate). I think it’s almost more insidious. It’s like enforcing some kind of caste system where you’re not allowed to move up in status too quickly or something? Does anyone know why or how or if it legal for employers to request a salary history?

    • October 1, 2014 9:24 pm

      Yes, it’s legal for employers to ask for a salary history. I think it’s a ridiculous policy, but it’s not against the law.

  6. February 28, 2014 5:17 pm

    It’s legal because no government has made a law against it. Most things about employment that strike one as shady are legal, because legislating against every one of these annoyances is not really a good way to make laws. Making a law that specifically disallowed asking job applicants for their salary history would not be a good use of government resources.

    That being said, what you’re experiencing is indeed ridiculous. Asking job candidates their salary history is not wise in the first place, as this post points out, and in particular telling candidates that you won’t pay them any more than a certain amount based on that is absurd. As you rightly point out, the value they place on the position should have nothing to do with what you’re making now. Unfortunately, I’m afraid a lot of employers probably think this way, even if they’re not as explicit with their job candidates about it as this museum was with you.

    • October 1, 2014 9:22 pm

      Forgive this very late reply! Yes, in the USA it’s absolutely legal for employers to ask for a salary history. My argument isn’t that it’s illegal (I never mention that it’s not). My argument is that it’s unnecessary.


  1. Salary negotiations, or, Please Just Give Me as Much Money as You Can and Don’t Make Me Ask. | MM Champagne

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