Asking About Background and Compensation in the Interview – What You Need to Know

By: Seth Baldry

Employers must always concern themselves with keeping interviews legal. Questions about such things as age, marital status, and religious affiliation have long been off the table; however, new laws are going into effect concerning what information an employer can request about background and compensation, two things that have been crucial aspects of the interview process for many employers.

California is the latest in a growing number of cities and states to enact new privacy laws concerning employment. As a result, specific questions about background and salary are now prohibited in an interview or recruiting situation in many places. Changes in the laws affect potential employers of all sizes, from governments to businesses with more than five employees.

Criminal history Thanks to “ban the box” legislation, employers and recruiters are limited in the questions that they may ask about criminal history during the early stages of the candidate’s screening process. For example, employers may no longer ask candidates if they have been arrested, but not convicted, of a crime.

In some areas, candidates are not required to disclose any criminal history until a conditional job offer has been made. Once an offer is on the table, an employer is free to conduct a thorough background check on a candidate and may rescind an offer based on the results. The purpose of laws and policies like this is to encourage employers and recruiters to consider how all candidates meet the requirements for the job before looking into criminal history.

A candidate is also free to disclose their criminal history voluntarily but may be disqualified or fired if they misrepresent their information.


In the past, employers and recruiters could use an applicant’s salary history to determine starting salaries or to get a baseline for negotiation. In an effort to combat wage inequality, policy analysts and equal pay advocates have successfully pushed to prohibit questions about salary history, either directly from the candidate, or from a third-party, such as a recruiter. Questions about salary history are no longer allowed on job applications for employers in affected areas.

However, it is still acceptable to ask about salary expectations in the interview. A well-prepared candidate will be able to display their knowledge about trends in the industry and for their position when asked about salary expectations, which can also be a great starting point for salary negotiation.

It can be a challenge to keep up to date on what is legal to ask in an interview in your area, as privacy laws that affect hiring vary from state to state, and even between cities. The interview stage is definitely not the time for guesswork about fair questions to ask, or for leaving anything to chance. Give Grapevine Recruiting a call today at (952)856-2371 or visit the contact page on our website. We’ll set up a free consultation, with no obligation from you, to help get you the best, most qualified candidate for your positions.