For the past several months, I have wondered why salary history is requested or required on applications for jobs. Have you ever had the same question?

Let’s say I’m 45 years old and I’ve had four jobs as an adult, all in the same organization. With each job, I’ve seen my salary increase, primarily because I have added responsibilities. So let’s say I’m now making $65,000 a year.

One day, I learn about a job that sounds very appealing to me. It would be a growth opportunity and allow me to use my experience, but also develop some new skills. I decide to apply. I have no idea what the salary for this position will be.

The online application is quite long and asks for many details. For each position I’ve held, I’m asked to indicate the salary I was making when I left that role. So I wonder why they need or want to know. First, it’s hard for me to remember how much I was making 20 years ago when I received my first promotion. But second, isn’t the position I’m applying for going to pay whatever it’s going to pay, regardless of what I’m currently earning?

In my role as a manager, I’ve hired a lot of faculty and staff. While the higher education institutions have applications that ask for salary history, one of the first things I say to a candidate when they’re asked to do a first-round interview is what our salary is. I want them to have the opportunity to walk away if they don’t want to work for the salary we are offering, should they become the preferred candidate. Let’s not waste the candidate’s—or anyone’s—time.

If the position is going to pay whatever it’s going to pay, why does it matter whether I’m already making at or above that salary? Isn’t that up to the candidate as to whether he is willing to work for that amount?

Or what if the new job will pay $75,000, but I currently make $30,000? If I have all of the credentials and experiences this new position is looking for, will I be excluded because I would get “too much of a raise” if offered the new job? That’s crazy. If the job’s worth $75,000 and I can do the job, why does it matter what my current salary is?

Many years ago, I had a conversation with my supervisor. As a dean, I recommended one of my faculty members for a position in my supervisor’s office. I recall her response. “Your faculty member already makes more money than this position would pay.” Her point was that since most people don’t want to take a pay cut for a growth opportunity, my faculty member wouldn’t be interested in the new opportunity. But I said we should ask the faculty member versus making assumptions. So we asked, and my supervisor was correct. The faculty member didn’t want to take a pay cut, even for a growth opportunity. But the difference between this situation and many others is we asked. We didn’t make any assumptions.

So I challenge you to think about why you’re asking for salary history, if you are. Do you need to? Or could you share with candidates, early in the process, the targeted salary and let them decided whether they’d like to stay in the search pool? Ostensibly, if they stay in and are not qualified for the new role, it won’t matter. But if they are qualified, does it really matter what they are currently earning? I think not.

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Lynne Richardson is the dean of the College of Business at the University of Mary Washington.

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