One of the hardest parts of the job interview process is answering the question: “How much do you make?” The question typically comes up in the first screening call with a human resources recruiter. It is also asked on online job applications. 

Answering the question “how much do you make” or “how much do you want to make” can put you at a disadvantage as a job seeker. Sites like Glassdoor have shown us that there is a vast range of salaries offered for roles. Wages aren’t standardized across industries or even within companies. 

If your answer to this question is off by any amount at all, you can be eliminated from consideration. In other words, the company has a pay range in mind. If you don’t correctly guess a number in that range, you’re out. If you’re too low, they may consider you to be underqualified; too high and they’ll assume you’d say no to an offer. If you’re inside of the range, but on the low end, you likely will be paid on the low end if they hire you. 

If you ask a recruiter why they need to know this information, they’ll tell you they want to learn if you’re in the company’s budget. However, companies know their salary ranges, and they ought to share those numbers and allow the job seeker to determine if it’s a fit. 

The good news is that salary laws are evolving. In several states and cities, companies can no longer ask for salary history. In California, if you’re in a job interview and ask for the pay range, the employer must share it with you.

Beginning in October, Maryland is going to join this trend. The legislature passed HB123 that keeps employers from asking for your pay history – verbally, in writing or by any other means. Also, if the job applicant requests the pay range for the job, the employer must provide it. 

Knowing the pay rate for a position shouldn’t be a secret game that you need to know the rules of. Plus, as a job applicant, asking a company for this information shouldn’t be viewed negatively.

On top of that, I’ve found many companies aren’t aware of the rules. Even in states where the laws are apparent, the company still asks these questions. That puts the job seeker in a very awkward position. 

If you’re currently looking for a job, research the salary history rules in your area. No matter what they are, check out the company’s salary data on Glassdoor, Indeed and LinkedIn. This will help prepare you for anything. 

— Angela Copeland is a career expert and founder of Copeland Coaching. She can be reached at