Interview Questions: Some Employers Can No Longer Ask You This

A job seeker (meets with employers, who are now barred from asking interview questions about salary in Massachusetts
A job seeker meets with employers, who are now barred from asking interview questions about salary in Massachusetts | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Going on a job interview is like traversing a mine field. Though you have an idea of what to expect, one wrong move can cause the whole thing to blow up in your face. Of course, it’s not a life or death situation by any means, but if you answer a question with a lack of confidence, slouch in your chair a bit too much, or simply do something to rub the interviewer the wrong way, you can miss your chance at a new opportunity. Interview questions of all shapes and forms are designed to act like land mines in these cases — they’re purposely designed to make you squirm, sweat, and question your every move.
Well, for job seekers in one state, things are getting a little bit easier thanks to state lawmakers — though, there may be some unintended consequences to deal with down the road.
Just recently, the state of Massachusetts passed a law making it illegal for employers to ask job candidates about their salary history. This is one of the more uncomfortable job interview questions people face during the job search process, and by banning it, Massachusetts policymakers are attempting to level the playing field for job seekers. Specifically, the law is meant to target the wage gap, or, how members of certain groups tend to earn more than others.

Massachusetts’ new law

A train in Boston, where new interview question laws are now in effect
A train in Boston, where new interview question laws are now in effect | Darren McCollester/Newsmakers

The law, which isn’t scheduled to go into effect until 2018, is intended to help break female job candidates out of a cycle of lower salaries. Typically, an interviewer might ask for a salary history — or what a candidate is making at their current job — to get an idea of what they could end up offering at the end of the interview cycle. Because women, on average, tend to earn less than men, this puts female candidates at a disadvantage since they’d likely end up receiving lower salary offers.
The law is designed to put a stop-gap in that cycle, and lend a helping hand to candidates who may be stuck with lower salaries. It doesn’t, however, mean you can’t voluntarily share your salary history, as that can be advantageous at times. It doesn’t mean that employers can’t try some coercive Jedi mind tricks to try and get it out of you, either.
The question going forward is whether the law will work as intended and if it will produce some unintended consequences down the line. It’s the only law of its kind in the country, as of right now, so there really isn’t anything out there to compare it to. The short and sweet of it is that we don’t know what will happen; it’s an experiment. Just like Seattle’s $15 minimum wage, we’ll have to wait and see if this law produces the intended results.

Facing tough interview questions

Two men during a job interview
Two men during a job interview | Source: iStock

While policymakers have thrown Massachusetts job seekers a proverbial bone (or so they think; we’ll have to wait and see), interviewers in the remaining 49 states are still up against the traditional slate of interview questions. Though the standard job interview probably hasn’t evolved much over the years, it’s still one of the most stressful parts of adult life.
The fact is, each and every interview is going to be different, even in the most subtle ways. You may be cruising right through, when all of a sudden you’re asked a completely crazy curveball question meant to derail you. Or, perhaps an employer would like to put you through a personality test, or a proficiency exam to make sure you can actually do what you say you can?
It can and will happen, and all you can do is be prepared.
The bet way to make sure you don’t end up in trouble during an interview? Stick to the truth, and keep your composure. Don’t have a bunch of fabrications plaguing your resume that you can’t back up or account for when asked, and don’t get flustered by tough questions. Employers and HR departments have spent years perfecting ways to get you out of your comfort zone, and if you can keep cool under pressure (even if you give a bad answer to a trick question), how you handle it will speak volumes.
For most of us, salary histories are still fair game for interviewers to ask about. But remember this: You don’t have to give them a direct answer.
Follow Sam on Facebook and Twitter @SliceOfGinger