Nobody wants to disclose their salary history to a prospective employer, but in this environment, it’s almost a requirement. While the first instinct may be to exaggerate your past salary out of fear of being lowballed, recruiters and career experts say honesty is the best policy.
“It’s always best to be honest regardless of when you reveal your salary,” says Tom Bolt, Chief Executive of Leute Management Services, the human resources consulting company. “If you lie about it, you can get caught in the lie.” According to Bolt, most companies go into the interview knowing what the average market value of the job is so if you say you’re making significantly higher most recruiters are savvy enough to know you are lying.
Not to mention that when you lie, you send off subconscious body languages that interviewers may be able to pick up. “It doesn’t take too much to find out your covering something up,” says Jack Chapman, a career coach and author of Negotiating Your Salary, How to Make $1000 a Minute. “You send non- verbal clues, like you don’t look them straight in the eye or you hesitate.”
How to tackle the salary history question
So if honesty is the best policy, how do you deal with the salary history question without fearing you will be under paid? According to Chapman, in the ideal situation, you’ll delay answering that question for as long as possible. He says to give your salary history up to and including the second to last job, but don’t provide your current salary if possible. Instead of saying what you are making now or in your last job, Chapman says, you can say something along the lines of you were paid the market value for whatever your position was or is. That way you aren’t ignoring the question, but you also aren’t showing all your cards. Still, Chapman acknowledges that even doing that is becoming increasingly hard because many people apply for jobs online and often times applications won’t go through without previous salary history. “Employers are much more interested in it,” says Chapman of salary histories.
Avoiding your salary history is indeed getting tough. Tom Gimbel, founder and Chief Executive of LaSalle Network, a staffing and recruiting company says most “good” recruiters want two to three years of salary history, tax returns, W2s or 1099s. He says the reason for the information is so the potential employer can match the job offer with what the person is worth. For instance, if you were making $50,000 to $70,000 for the past few years, the employer isn’t likely to offer you $100,000, even if it was willing to pay that much for the role. Gimbel says that while potential employees are always worried about being lowballed by the employer, the reality is people don’t pay top dollar for anything if it can be avoided. “If you have a painter paint your house, you don’t offer them the most amount of money,” says Gimbel. “You shouldn’t expect someone to do it for you.”
Set a range you’ll accept
Career experts say that instead of concerning yourself about how low of an offer you are going to get, you should consider the amount of money you are willing to accept. If you set a range in your mind before you get the offer you’ll be more prepared to accept or turn down the job. Bolt says that knowing the market value for your position will also enable you to try to negotiate the salary higher if it comes in low. He says to research the company you’re interviewing for by talking to current and previous employees and using the Internet, like Glassdoor’s salary database, to find out about salaries at the company.
Don’t get screened out
A tougher situation, one that is unfortunately common in the current market environment, is applying for a job that pays lower than your current salary. In that situation you may run the risk of getting screened out of the job if you disclose a salary that tops what the employer is willing to pay. Chapman had one client who faced that situation, but was still able to land the job.
The client managed a real estate office in California but moved to Chicago and was looking to become part of the administration for Chicago’s public school system which paid vastly less than what he was making in California. When he was asked how much he previously made, he simply said more than they can afford to pay, but that he wasn’t going for that job but this one. Chapman says that tactic may not work for everyone, but he does say letting the employer know you are interested in the job even if the salary is lower than what you are making upfront may prevent you from being automatically disqualified. “The biggest danger is being screened out before you get the chance to make your case,” says Chapman.