Client emails me and says “Hey, I want to offer the job to Kathy, but I only have her salary on her past two jobs, can you get her salary from the company before that? That would be helpful to arrive at a fair compensation package for both her and us.”

Sounds pretty reasonable, right?

Except it’s not the right way to set salary.

If my client wants to retain Kathy, her past salary is irrelevant — the only factor that matters is market rate. And in this search, all the other qualified candidates were within 5% of each other in total compensation–that’s market rate. (Here is more information about how to calculate it).

If you want to attract and retain good people, take your nose out of the salary surveys, ignore individual salary histories, don’t go into an excel-spreadsheet-trance with your budget, and pay at least fair market rate. Because what Kathy earned in 2005 will not help you retain her when your competitors come calling.

Related Resources

We have updated salary guidance in light of trends toward salary transparency in 2023. Please see: