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To Tell or Not to Tell: Salary History

Posted by Matt Nagler, Managing Partner  

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It turns out that one of the most stressful things for Americans to talk about isn’t politics or religion or even death – it’s personal finances. So when a prospective employer asks for a salary history, you may find your blood pressure rising.

 

If you are comfortable answering the question and are submitting it in writing, there are a few easy ways to do so. You could, next to your job title on your resume, give the range you’ve earned in that position.  Since your resume will likely be forwarded on, however, you might prefer having your salary history in a separate document.  That could be either your cover letter, which will remain relatively confidential. Or a standalone “Confidential Salary History” document.

 

Remember, like everything you are submitting to a potential employer, this is another chance to market yourself, so don’t simply submit a piece of paper with numbers on it. Your salary history document should have the bare minimum information you would have on a resume – company, position, dates – as well as a line or one or two bullet points about your top accomplishments in each job. Under that information, put in your salary line. Be sure to include not just the numbers, but anything else that was included in your salary package; stock options, bonuses, benefits, etc.

 

If you’re not comfortable answering the question, simply ignoring it is not your best option. After all, ignoring an employer’s request can mean not getting an interview. So what do you do?

 

One way to answer is to reframe the question. One of the reasons employers ask for a salary history is to make sure their leading candidates won’t be asking for more money than they have budgeted for a position. In order to still answer that question without divulging your salary history is to give the salary range you’re looking for. A few tips for this. One, make sure it’s clear that you’re giving a range and not a firm number. Salaries and packages are often negotiated, so giving the impression that you’re inflexible in your ask is unwise. Second, make sure your range is realistic - to the job you’re applying for as well as your own history. Remember that employers are likely to know the ranges that other companies in their area are paying for similar positions. That said, experience adds value. So it’s not unreasonable for your range to start with a number that’s higher than what you’re currently making.salary range and are still being pressed for a salary history you can say a few things if you choose not to give it. You can say that you keep that information confidential or that it’s confidential between you and your current employer. Or you might joke, “only me and my accountant know that.”  Remember that a graceful refusal is better than “I’m not going to say.”

 

No matter how you choose to address it, though, the one thing you should never do is lie. It’s easy to verify what you’ve said – and easy to be let go for being untruthful.