When you’re applying for a job, do you have to give your salary history? How can you avoid providing it without taking yourself out of the running? More and more cities and states (NYC, California, Oregon, Delaware, etc.) have moved to target the gender pay gap by preventing employers from asking for salary history during screening and interviews, while Amazon and other companies are making the change on their own. (Note that, depending on the particular law, it’s still legal for companies to ask for your salary history post-offer.) So let’s talk about it today! What are your strategies for answering salary history questions on job applications and in interviews? What do you think about these new laws, and do you live in a city or state that has passed one?
We even got a question recently from Reader F, who had gotten burned by giving her salary history. As she explained:
I had 3 interviews with a large firm. I have 5 years experience in the exact field I was interviewing for. The firm has their 1st year associate salary posted online. At end of the 3rd interview they asked my current salary at my small firm. After pushing I gave it to them — it’s $40k less than their 1st year associate salary. Through the recruiter they then offered me my current salary, and then upped by $20k. I declined, citing their advertised first year being way more. Why would this happen?
That totally stinks, reader F, and this is exactly the kind of problem all of the new legislation is aiming to prevent. (In this exact situation it might have been because she was interviewing for a non-partner track position — without knowing more about the job as listed and negotiated it’s hard to say.)
The best defense is a good offense — and knowing how to respond to salary question. Here are a few recommendations from career experts on how to carefully navigate the salary question:
Alison Green (of Ask a Manager) recommends answering the question during an interview by simply giving the salary range you’re seeking. If you’re pressed to reveal more, Green advises giving a response like, “I keep that information confidential, but the range I’m looking for now is…” or “My previous employers have always considered that information confidential, but I’m seeking…” (Readers shared a lot of their own suggestions when Green asked for their advice recently.)
When asked for your salary history during an interview, inquire about the position’s salary range and/or say that you’re willing to accept a “competitive” offer.
Preempt the request for your salary history in an interview by finding out what’s a reasonable salary for the position and talking about your expectations for pay.
If you want to avoid answering the question because you were underpaid in a previous position(s), but the prospective employer keeps pushing for a direct answer, Lelia Gowland suggests saying, “My previous salary was below market value at [current salary], so based on my skill set, experience, and research about this position, I’m seeking [salary range].”
If you’re filling out an online form, try entering “n/a” or “negotiable.” If you’re required to enter a number, put in “$0 — or, if you have to use a number greater than 0, use something that’s obviously not your real salary, such as $1,000. Forbes contributor Liz Ryan recommends a more detailed strategy that involves entering your target salary whenever the online form asks for prior salary numbers, and using an unrelated section to explain your method.
That said, a survey by PayScale revealed this disturbing double standard about job candidates who don’t reveal their previous pay: “A woman who is asked about her salary history and declines to disclose earns 1.8 percent less than a woman who discloses. If a man declines to disclose, he gets paid 1.2 percent more on average.”
What do you think: Do you have to give your salary history to be a successful candidate? What do you usually do when you’re asked to provide your salary history in a cover letter, in an online form or on a paper application, or during a job interview? Have you been in situations where you couldn’t avoid revealing your salary history, and were you still able to negotiate the salary you wanted (or not)?