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Guest Comment: reveal your salary history or keep it a mystery?

You may be asked for your salary history at various stages of exploring a job opportunity and the perennial question is – should you tell?

The short answer is yes, and at the appropriate moment. In most cases, the most suitable time is AFTER you have wowed your interviewers and convinced them of your ability to positively impact their business.

If you are asked for your salary history early during the job search process, you may politely decline to reveal it and suggest that you would like to understand the job opportunity a little more.

Salary history can be helpful because good increments and bonuses suggest strong performance. But if your history is humdrum, your best compensation negotiation technique is to focus on the requirements of the potential job and emphasise how your past experience would enable you to contribute to the company in the shortest time possible.

The challenge lies in persuading prospective employers that they should pay you more than what your compensation track record suggests you are worth.

If you’re using a recruiter

Reveal your salary history and expectations to your recruiter, but don’t discuss compensation directly with the prospective employer – leave the headhunter to negotiate on your behalf. Recruiters are in a position to advise you because they have real-time market information on salaries of various positions, and in some cases, their client’s pay range for the actual job you are applying for.

If you’re going solo

Be aware of the different components that make up your current and prospective packages, and be prepared with a bottom-line. Always be honest and don’t exaggerate the numbers.

To negotiate for a higher salary, you may highlight the value you bring to the organisation and indicate that your current compensation is low compared with your peers.

But if you think your current salary is on the high side, you may let your prospective employer know that you are willing to negotiate for performance-based pay. This will ensure that your income is not compromised and will assure your employer that you are prepared to earn your salary.

Jared Ng, consulting director, PeopleSearch

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Comments (10)

  1. The first thing a bank ever asked me during first interview was my current salary. I let my shock show and teased “you mean I got the job already?”.

    After that, I politely declined to give and ended the interview. If salary is of the utmost importance when they hire, I dont think I want to be there.

  2. All recruiters want to know your salary….so they appear knowledgeable and can sell “market insight” to employers.

    All employers want to know your past salary so they don’t over pay you.

    If you have guts and skills in demand then you don’t have to play their game, just say none of your business.

  3. One bank, after asking the usual technical questions, asked about the expected pay. This was the first interview, and I was quite surprised remuneration is raised during the first interview, even before I knew if there was an offer.

    Like Steve, I asked if there is an offer on the table…. to which the interviewer said ‘ I don’t believe in being a sucker. We don’t want to overpay….’

    Thanks… but no thanks.

  4. I like the answer from Steve!!! good one. Recently i had a fairly bib named bank calling me to tell me im an exactly what they are looking for, plus they need to fill it urgently. the deciding factor was my salary. I didnt even ask for more- just the same as my cuirrent company and they still write me off. Too bad, they pay peanuts , they get monkeys.

  5. Be careful of headhunters or HR staff asking you about salaries. Years ago I was midway interviewing at one of the UK based banks, and the HR person asked me for my salary a part of the process only to be informed by the business guy a few hours later that I wasn’t going to get the job, It was clear that HR was just trying to get my salary information for its own sake – left a very bad impression.

  6. A good headhunter should be able to negotiate for you, and they should have also covered with the client. If you were not in the salary range, they should let you know straight away. The HH should have already covered with the client what their max would be for a AAA candidate.

    The difficult part is with direct employers. They should be upfront and say our range is from x – y, so that if they cant go beyond ‘y’, at least the candidate can think through if he is willing to go further for the sake of the opportunity, etc. Employers need to change they way they discuss salaries and have more respect for candidates/potential employees

  7. Sometimes headhunters insist on getting to know my current compensation, during the first conversation itself. My usual response is the classic one. Let me first understand the role and then we can talk of compensation. But this usually does not work and they will continue to ask. I guess headhunters have a form to fill and this is a key item. I need to come up with Plan B.

  8. Never tell anyone your salary history. When a company is asking for your salary history, they’re looking to make an easy decision based on the information, and it’s never to your advantage. Don’t feel guilty at declining a request for salary history. Reasons:

    * The value to the company of work to be done by you can’t be determined by what someone else paid you.

    * Previous salary is a terrible indicator of potential future value.

    * You could have been underpaid or overpaid at your last job.

    * Your reasons for wanting a change in pay are your own business.

    * Giving out salary history makes it tempting to lie to make some more money.

    There’s a simple way to avoid this mess. Tell anyone who asks, “I’m sorry, but that’s confidential.”

  9. I believe for most positions, if you reply to an, the 1st thing after been invited to an interview, you would require you to fill up an application form. You are expected to write down your salary information?

  10. I keep getting the same questions from the recruiters. How much are you earning at the moment. When I declined to tell, and asked for more details on the JD and hiring manager they just went MIA. Amazing! Although I do trust some of the better known firms. It is all about how well you are connected to the agent. The first impression they bring to you.So some I reveal, as apparently they need it so they can use that as a card to negotiation. Some dodgy ones I just play their games. Ball park number, what I’m expecting, if not you can just bugger off. :) Why are recruiters so unethical these days? I also believe some just want to get your salary details as part of their market study so they can publish some fancy market salary stats that they circulate or sell in the public when in fact there is no vacancies at all! HR from a big internal bank recently asked me about my salary. The nature of my job consists of different breakdowns which if I stopped travelling it will be reduced so I had to justity to her. Then again she kept mentioning you are on the high side.. etc etc.. Why don’t the HR and recruiters tell the expats they are on the high side too as I am partially an expat too.

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