How To: Answering Salary History QuestionsSalary History

The hardest questions for applicants are around salary history and expectations.   More often, this question is coming up early in the screening process.  At this point in the process, recruiters are checking that your expectations are within the range that they’re able to pay.  Give a number too high, and you disqualify yourself, but give a number too low, and you lack experience for the position.

The Argument against Salary History

Several states and cities have passed legislation to improve pay equity and eliminate bias.  New York City passed an ordinance preventing employers from asking salary history.  In Washington, a similar bill went into effect that states previous wage history is not a defense against pay discrimination, and employers are actively discouraged from asking wage history information.  There’s a lot of concern that asking applicants these types of questions can have a disparate impact and further propagate the wage gap for women and minority candidates.  One of the biggest arguments that supporters of these bills make is that an individual’s past salary shouldn’t have any bearing on what a new company offers.

Salary History versus Salary Expectations

If given a choice between these two, you always want to provide your salary expectations instead of your salary history.  There are a lot of reasons why you might not want to provide your current salary.  Providing salary expectations is more forward thinking and doesn’t take into account any previous biases that may have played into your comp structure.  Alternatively, if you’ve moved from a city with a high cost of living like Manhattan to somewhere much less expensive, you don’t want to be above the range simply because the cost of living is different.

Be Prepared

Most importantly, don’t let this question surprise you.  Expect this question and be ready.  Chances are you’re applying for similar types of positions across multiple companies in your area.  As soon as you apply to a new job, have an idea of what you’d like to be paid.  Use sites like Glassdoor and Payscale to research for your local market, company size and experience level.Salary History

Once you have an idea of what is fair, establish a range.  The bottom of the range should be the minimum that you’d be willing to accept the position.  The top of the range should be around 10 to 15 percent or thousand dollars higher than the minimum, provided it’s still within a reasonable range.  Remember not every company can pay market-leading wages like Amazon or Facebook. Keep the company size and industry in mind when setting your range and take into account your experience as well.

Offer Salary Expectations 

You’re in the middle of the day, and your phone rings out of the blue.  Surprise, it’s a recruiter for the job you applied for last week.  He wants to talk to you about the job, and one of the first questions he asks out of the blue is what you’re currently making.  Don’t let this catch you off guard.  Instead of giving them your current or most recent salary, respond with something along the lines of: “For this position, I’d like to make somewhere between XX and YY.”  This is a nice way of sidestepping the question while still helping the recruiter understand what you’re looking to make.

Don’t Lie

Ultimately if you can’t avoid the question, or it’s a mandatory part of a job application, be honest.  It is always a bad idea to inflate your salary history.  Lying on a job application is grounds for termination in most organizations. Some companies check salary history as part of the background screening process and having a significant difference can lead them to pull a job offer.  If you’re providing your salary to a recruiter, be sure to include bonuses and other perks in the conversation.

Stick to the Range

Once you make it to the salary negotiation phase after the job interview, stick to the range that you provided.  Few things are more frustrating to a hiring manager or recruiter than a candidate who changes their expectations in the middle of the process.  They’ll be making a good faith effort to meet your range, and it will reflect poorly on you as a candidate to change midway through.   Beyond salary, there are other things that you can negotiate like vacation or time off, schedule preferences and other perks.

 Enlist Help

If you’re still unsure how to approach a salary negotiation, you can always ask for help.  It’s better to be proactive and know your general approach before the negotiations even begin.  If you’re job searching and looking for general guidance, interview practice, or help to work through the hiring and onboarding process, we can assist.  Visit our services page to learn more or contact us at



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