How To Answer 'What Was Your Most Recent Salary?'
Liz Ryan 767 Times 510 People

The lack of skilled IT workers is hurting the deployment of emerging technology, according to a new survey from Gartner. In areas from cloud to cybersecurity, this crisis is expected to last for years to come.

It’s horribly intrusive for anyone to ask you about your salary history. If you think about it, the company isn’t about to tell you what they paid the last person in the job. They would never do that. They would say “That’s confidential” — so why isn’t your personal salary information confidential, too?

The reason they ask you for your salary history is that they don’t want to pay you a penny more than they have to. If they have a budget of $50,000 for a certain job opening but you were only earning $43,000, they’re going to make you a job offer for $44,500 or $45,000.

They figure you’ll be happy with a slight salary increase.

Recruiters hate it when I share the advice to keep your salary information to yourself. When you turn over your current salary information or your salary history, you lose every bit of negotiating leverage.

Recruiters say “I have to have that information!” but that is nonsense, obviously. All they need to know is your salary requirement.

Recruiters say “But you might say you’re worth fifty thousand when you’re really only worth forty thousand. I have to know what your last employer paid you!” Think about the logic behind that argument.

The recruiter is saying that he or she is so inept that the only way they can evaluate your worth is by learning what a completely different company paid you. That’s pathetic. If I talk to you on the phone for twenty minutes I will tell you what I think your resume is worth in your marketplace.

I don’t care what anyone one else paid you. They may have underpaid you or overpaid you. Any recruiter worth his or her salt should be able to do the same thing.

Here’s how to answer the insulting question “What was your most recent salary?” without giving away private financial information.


You (answering your phone): Amy Madison!

Recruiter: Hi Amy, this is John Cena from Superstar Search. I saw your resume come in and I wanted to talk with you. Do you have a second?

You: Sure!

Recruiter: I have an opening with a client of mine that might be a perfect fit.  I see that you worked at TNA Wireless. What did they pay you over there?

You: In this search I’m focusing on jobs in the fifty-kay range, John. Will that work for your client?

Recruiter: It might. Is that what you were getting paid at TNA Wireless?

You: That’s my salary target in this search, so if that number is in the ballpark, it makes sense for us to keep talking.

Recruiter: I need to know what you were earning, Amy.

You (resisting the urge to say ‘Yo, people in Hell need ice water!’): I can understand why you ask that question, but I don’t imagine that your client is going to share the details of what they paid the last person in this job. That information is undoubtedly private, and my salary history is private, too. If you can please find out whether they’re ready to pay their new hire about $50,000, that would be a good next step.

Recruiter: Well, this might be a short conversation if you won’t give me your salary details.

You: Yes, that may be the case.


Recruiter: Let me get back to you.

It’s a new day in the talent market. Don’t believe anybody who tells you that employers are overrun with applications from talented people — it isn’t true! They are scrambling to fill job openings.

Talent is in the driver’s seat now, but only for people who know their power in the hiring equation and who are willing to use it!

Remember: only the people who get you, deserve you!


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