when an employer asks for salary history in your cover letter

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A reader writes:

I am applying for a position with a nonprofit that has requested me to include my salary history along with my resume and cover letter (emailed to a “jobs@company.org” mailbox). While I am not a fan of providing that information, I am willing to do so but am unsure how to in my cover letter. It feels awkward to add “at my last position(s) I was making $XXX” and then add my closing contact me line.

Any suggestions on how to include this and how far back I need to go?

Grrrr.

This is so irritating. Your salary history is no one’s business but yours. It’s certainly legitimate for them to ask for your salary expectations — what you’re seeking to be paid if you come to work for them — but it’s both irrelevant and None of Their Business what you’ve earned in previous jobs. What matters is what you’d bring to them and what a fair salary for that would be.

Employers who do this generally claim that they need to know what you’ve earned in the past because it helps them figure out how much you should be earning with them, or so that they can screen out candidates who are earning way more than the position pays and presumably won’t want to take a pay cut. But neither of these reasons holds water. First, companies should be able to determine a candidate’s value for themselves; they don’t need to look to their competitors to tell them a candidate’s worth (and if they really do need to, their hiring process is pretty messed up). And second, if they’re concerned that you’ll be unhappy with the salary they’re offering, they can solve that by posting their range up-front or ask you about your salary expectations rather than salary history. So it’s BS, and it’s BS that’s designed to give them the upper hand in salary negotiations.

But that rant aside, the fact remains that they’re asking, and you need to decide how to respond to it. You have two options: give in and tell them, or decline to tell them. If you decline, you risk being rejected from the job for refusing to comply. So you need to decide whether that’s a risk you’re willing to take. If you’re in a situation where you have options, you might decide that you don’t care to lay bare your finances to strangers. (Hear that, employers who ask this question? Requiring this type of information is a good way to lose your best candidates, the ones who have options that allow them to say “no thanks.”) But if you don’t feel you have many options, then you might decide that — annoying as this is — you’re going to play along.

Whatever you do, though, I wouldn’t apply without addressing the request in some way, or you’ll look like you don’t notice or follow instructions.

Here are some options for what you could write in your cover letter to answer this request:

“My salary history falls under confidentiality agreements with past employers, but I’m seeking a salary in the range of $X.”

“I’m currently earning $75,000 and would be glad to discuss what I’m seeking in my next position after learning more about your opening.”

“I’m seeking a salary in the range of $X.”

You’ll notice that none of these answers are a list of various salaries that you’ve earned over the course of your career. At most, these options have you giving your most recent salary and nothing else. And that’s because (a) it’s ridiculous to expect people to provide a full salary history (at all, but especially in a cover letter), and (b) it’s highly, highly unlikely that you’re going to be screened out for not providing more than your most recent history, which frankly is what they care most about anyway.

Personally, I’d choose the last option: Say what you’re seeking, not what you’ve been making, since that’s the question that they should be asking if they’re going to ask about salary at all at this stage. It’s fairly unlikely that they’re going to discard your application simply for handling it that way (although you could always get some randomly crazy resume screener, so nothing is guaranteed).

And employers, it’s time to cut this crap out.

{ 101 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. jen

    I’ve always viewed companies asking salary history as a way to lowball you by giving you only 10% more than what you are making at your current job. Like, I make 40,000 now. So then future employer will pay you a max of 44,000, rather than what their supposed range is.

    Reply
    1. Sascha

      Me too. This is why I have been tempted to lie about my salary, but that is very bad idea.

      This is making me appreciate how upfront my current job was about salary. It’s a crappy salary and was non-negotiable (yay state funding!), but at least they listed it in the job description and didn’t ask for my history.

      Reply
    2. class factotum

      Which is dumb, because I’m not moving for only 10%. Sure, I would like to be paid more, but 10% more is not enough for me to give up these factors:

      1. I walk out of the office every day at 4:30. Every. Day.
      2. I like my boss and co-workers.
      3. I like my job.
      4. I can take the bus to work, so we didn’t have to buy a second car (a 10% increase would buy us 1/4 of a used car, maybe).
      5. The YMCA is across the street from my office and they have classes at lunch.

      Reply
      1. Sascha

        Those are some very, very nice benefits. I’m in my job for similar reasons. I get to telecommute most of the week, set my own schedule, and there is this one guy who brings in doughnut holes every week.

        Reply
      2. khilde

        I used to be an officer in the Air Force and when I separated and applied for my current position in state government, I knew what the pay was going to be….and it was drastically less than what I was making in the military. But I wanted the job, the location, the lifestyle, etc. So I was eager to take it. I remember when my now-boss interviewed me, she asked me a few times if I wasn’t interested in the HR Manager position they had open (the position I was applying for was Training & Development). I have a Master’s degree in HR and I think she was hung up on that. But I didn’t want the higher paying HR position cause I didn’t want the ass pain that went with it (sorry learned that one in the military. Forgive me).

        Six years later I still love all the things about it – and many of them are what you mentioned above. Great schedule, great boss, great coworkers, my life is really good. I just don’t make that much. And for me that’s an ok trade. I don’t often hear many people say something similar so it’s refreshing to hear you mention it here.

        Reply
        1. class factotum

          Khilde, when my dad retired from the AF, he tried to find work as an airline mechanic. He had been a maintenance control officer. He kept being turned down. One hiring manager said, “I don’t like to hire former officers because they can’t take orders.” (Ha! As if being an officer means you get to call all the shots!)

          My dad said he didn’t want the hassle of being the boss – that he just wanted to be outside and work on airplanes.

          Reply
          1. khilde

            So true!! And sometimes officers that were required to call the shots just want to have that responsibility lifted from their shoulders. I totally understand where your dad is coming from. Too bad those places turned him down – I bet he was a treasure that would have brought a wealth of knowledge combined with the desire to NOT call the shots at that point. Too bad some people don’t see when a person is willing to take a step down (so to speak) in pay, prestige, and power in order to just do solid work at a job.

            Reply
    3. Joey

      You know this is a rather common misperception. Sure there are some out there, but I don’t think most employers say to themselves “let’s ask for salary so we can pay as little as possible.”
      I think what more likely is they have no clue what the pay range should be so they essentially use a bidding process and find themselves trying to balance quality and salary expectations. The problem with that approach is the local market can fluctuate widely throughout the year, they’re comparing people with different skill sets, and getting such a small sample of data is unreliable. As a result they find themselves all over the map with salaries.

      Reply
  2. Hannah

    I recently saw a job posting that asked for salary history to be sent along with resume (and cover letter), and the listing even had this specific instruction:

    “Applications without salary histories will not be considered.”

    In a case like that, should you even bother using one of AAM’s suggested wording, or just decide whether you want to compromise or not (by not applying)?

    Reply
      1. De Minimis

        In my job search I saw several like that as well. Of course as a career change my salary history would not have provided much useful information anyway.

        Reply
    1. Esra

      Personally, I’d still just put my salary range and hope that was would be enough about money in the intial stage.

      Reply
    2. N.

      Alison, I hope you write a hard hitting exposé for your next article to US News and World Report decrying the practice Hannah mentions. Maybe if enough authority figures like you shame them good, companies will rethink this practice.
      Seems like another tool that only screens out stronger candidates who have more options!

      Makes me as queasy as all of those online applications that require a social security number to proceed. One job I applied for said to contact them for results if I did not hear by April. Called the number, it was disconnected, and I found out the company I applied for was using a third party application screener and had no record of any applications.

      The third party I found out, was a fly-by-night affair; the company just disappeared with all their documents.

      I think it should be illegal to demand this information until an offer is on the table, the burden shouldn’t be on me to have to check my credit history every other month for fraud because I wanted a %*&$# job! Why do they need this info if the aren’t going to hire you anyway!

      Same with this ridiculous demand, could sooo fall into the wrong hands, it really should be criminal to expose candidates to such liabilites. Besides, every job that has ever been interested in me and wanted to know these things found out in the predisclosed background check anyway! Not saying I wouldn’t provide information, I just want to make sure the fish is on the hook before reeling in, if they aren’t interested, then why do they need such details?

      They may not be up to no good, but they seem to treasure the option.

      Reply
    3. Gett

      No, if a company is like that you might want to think twice about working for them also. Afterall, you are a business in yourself and you have standards also.

      Reply
  3. EG

    I’ve always assumed that most of the time the request for salary history (as opposed to salary expectation) came from ignorance, rather than maliciousness. They want to know how much you’ll want, and figure that is the best way to get to the answer.

    One semi-related case, however, was with a government agency. They had to pay you on a certain pay scale. However, if you provided proof that you previously made more than the top of the pay scale, they were allowed to match your previous salary. So in that case, salary history was relevant. (Aren’t government regulations fun).

    Reply
  4. Meg Murry

    I might also add “I’m seeking a salary in the range of $X – Y, depending on the total benefits package.”

    Depending on the company, health insurance costs can make a huge difference in how good the offer is. I’ve worked at companies that had a lower salary, but offered health insurance for only $50/month with a $500 deductible, and other companies where health insurance cost $500/month with a $5000 deductible. Add in differences in 401k matching or not, employee paid life ensurance, and number of paid days off and two “equal” salary offers could actually be comparing apples and oranges. Another reason why salary history alone doesn’t mean anything.

    Reply
    1. AnotherAlison

      Totally not on topic, but my maiden name was Murry (with no “a”) so whenever I see you post here, I think I should say hello to my long lost cousin : )

      (if you aren’t using an assumed name, that is)

      Reply
      1. AL Lo

        Meg Murry has always been one of my favorite literary heroines. (It helps that she was created by my all-time favorite author.)

        Reply
        1. AnotherAlison

          Ha! I googled that. I never read that book. I tried to a couple times because a friend loved it, but it just was not my genre. If I had known it was about my relatives, perhaps I could have tried harder.

          Reply
          1. AL Lo

            The “Wrinkle in Time” series isn’t my all-time favorite by Madeleine L’Engle, but she wrote such a breadth of work — fiction and non-fiction, YA and adult, poetry and journals, and a lot of meditations on faith, theology, and art (which is one of my pet topics) — that she’s easily my favorite author for so many reasons.

            Reply
            1. KayDay

              Wow, this just brought me waaaay back. That was really a great book/series! I had totally forgotten about it…thanks for reminding me of it.

              Reply
            2. Meg Murry

              Meg is one of my favorite literary heroines too, ML’E my favorite author, which is why I’ve adopted Meg as my anonymous online persona. I think part of the reason I love her so much is because she is one of the few heroines I could relate to as someone who loves math and science but felt awkward with her peers because of it. I think its because most people who write books don’t generally love math/science, and people who love math/science are rarely excellent fiction writers – ML’E is one of the few who got it right.

              Reply
              1. AnotherAlison

                You guys have all made me think I should give Wrinkle another shot, perfect since I have a 3rd grader.

                I kind of went from a Judy Blume obsession in 3-5th grade to reading adult books (Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Mary Higgins Clark) to reading only the Literature required for Honors English class to only business & engineering nonfiction. My reading life is so boring!

                Reply
                1. Kelly O

                  You might want to even try another work – my personal favorite is A Swiftly Tilting Planet, and I also like Many Waters. They’re both set in the same “universe” but for me at least are better reads. Although I do still go back and read Wrinkle from time to time.

                2. AL Lo

                  A Ring of Endless Light is probably my favorite of her YA fiction books. Not the same universe as the Wrinkle books, but there are certain overlapping characters.

  5. VictoriaHR

    There’s another reason why a company asks that. Sometimes with job titles being so vague, they use salary history to show that someone has documented success at their previous jobs. So for example, I have done a bit of job hopping, but at each position I earned merit bonuses and raises, so my salary goes up each time I change jobs. That shows that I was a strong performer, even if my tenure at the company wasn’t very long.

    Reply
      1. Jamie

        Just because a company has a budget for that doesn’t mean everyone gets one – if they are merit based there is still a lot of work that went into earning them.

        Reply
        1. fposte

          I think Joey was pointing out the opposite–that the absence of raises can denote working for an organization that didn’t do them rather than not being good enough for one.

          Reply
          1. Jamie

            Oh absolutely. I would never assume that the absence of increases was indicative of performance – especially in this economy.

            Reply
      2. AnotherAlison

        I’ve seen some years where the range was 0% to 4% and other years where it was 0% to 8% at the same place, so I’d be pretty sad if a future employer inferred my performance from my raises. I have had the bad luck of being particularly awesome in the 4% year and working for someone who hated me in an 8% year.

        I’m also not important enough to single-handedly affect the economy, industry downturns, or my company’s profitability.

        Reply
    1. Jamie

      I disagree with giving the information – because I think they should pay based on the position and not what you made at a previous company – but if you have to give the information I would give more rather than less.

      Like Victoria – I have a strong trajectory salary wise and if I have to have my privacy invaded by providing the information it would be nice to use that to show that other employers rewarded with merit raises and bonuses.

      But as the only way I can think to do that would be an F-you for asking Excel chart I should probably stay gracious and skip the details.

      Reply
  6. AB

    “Personally, I’d choose the last option: Say what you’re seeking, not what you’ve been making, since that’s the question that they should be asking if they’re going to ask about salary at all at this stage.”

    Oh, that’s great to have AAM say precisely what I tell my mentees when they are put in the awkward position of being asked for their salary history.

    So far, it has worked. In my experience, hiring managers who get this type of response from applicants tend to quickly realize that’s the information they actually need (what range of salary the candidate is seeking).

    It’s completely irrelevant if the candidate’s last salary was double or half that salary — what the employer should care about is whether they are offering a reasonable salary for the level of responsibilities and skills required for the job, and whether the candidate will be happy with the salary they are offering (which the given range will tell).

    Even if an employer could get away with paying less than what the position is worth, based on the employee’s salary history, that’s a terrible hiring approach, because it only puts the organization at risk of losing the employee very soon to another company willing to pay market salaries.

    Both my husband and I have been lucky to work for organizations smart enough to know that fact. In the past we both were offered higher wages than what we asked for. The companies explained that it would be hard later to offer more than small pay increases (these are large companies with strict rules for promotions and raises), and they wanted to make sure we were placed in the right range so they didn’t have to worry about our salary not being competitive anymore after the first year.

    Reply
  7. Lily in NYC

    HR question – when a prospective employer calls your current place of business during their screening process, I always thought HR provided your dates of employment and salary. Is that not the case?

    Reply
    1. Joey

      Fewer and fewer employers verify salary. If they really want to verify salary and most don’t they’re more likely to ask for previous check stubs or W-2s.

      Reply
    2. PJ

      This is an interesting question. As an HR professional, when someone calls me for a reference on a former employee I will not release anything except dates of employment and salary without a signed release. When I want to do a reference check on a potential new hire I will have them sign a release. I will proivide a copy of that signed release if asked.

      Reply
        1. HR Gorilla

          Jamie–we do the same. Sometimes the VOE (Verification of Employment) requester will get a little bent out of shape that we ask for a signed release “just to verify their start and end dates,” but we have thousands of employees spread out over 30+ states–there’s just no way to protect our current/former employees’ privacy without asking for a signature.

          Reply
        2. Christine

          When would you normally sign a release form? I can’t remember if I’ve ever been asked to sign one for previous jobs…I don’t think I have.

          Reply
          1. Jamie

            How we do it is when someone calls asking for this info we tell them we need a signed release from the former employee. They let the former employee know and they call us for the form.

            When people leave they are told of this policy so its not a surprise. If they want to be prepared they can send HR a signed release whenever they go on an interview so there is no delay if they want.

            Reply
    3. AP

      I often give references for old employees and freelancers and no one ever asks me about pay rate. I doubt I would tell them anyway unless there was a good reason. I do give a pretty in-depth reference though so maybe they don’t get around to it!

      Reply
  8. HR Gorilla

    I agree with AAM and the commenters’ consensus that the employer *should* know what they’re willing to pay for a position before they hire to fill it.

    Here’s my question: my boss insists that asking candidates to provide their previous salary figures is good “intel” into what our competitors are willing to pay for the exact same position. His position is that sure, we can buy some salary surveys, but the most accurate, right-now info comes from candidates we’re in hiring negotiations with.

    He also likens hiring to real estate, in that buyers and sellers will often look up previous sales transactions on a property, to see what the market value was and then price accordingly. Therefore, to follow his analogy, he wants to see the previous market value(s) that a candidate had before we thought about hiring them.

    Would love AAM and others’ take on this?

    P.S.: Please forgive the wonky grammar on some of the above. Am quickly commenting before heading into next project. :)

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      I agree with your boss that that’s useful information — but I’d argue that it’s trumped by the value of not invading prospective employees’ privacy simply to satisfy your own curiosity.

      Reply
    2. AnotherAlison

      That logic (the boss’s) doesn’t make sense to me.

      Market value depends only on the current market. Skill sets’ values go up and down with demand.

      (Then again, this is probably more true in a boom/bust industry like mine than in general.)

      Reply
    3. Chinook

      That only works if your boss is willing to look at market conditions at the time of the salary as well. Taking the house example, some foolish person paid $150,000 for a 2 bedroom unit in my condo at the height of the market 2 years ago but there is no way I would pay that much for mine this year because a) the bathroom was original to the 1970′s and b)there are actually choices on the market now unlike then. I know they overpaid and never expect to make money like that on my place and knowing what some idiots are willing to do with their money doesn’t reflect my places real value today.

      Ditto for salary – you will never be able to judge apples to apples when it comes to salary.

      Reply
      1. Sunshine DC

        Wow, I can only dream of a $150,000 condo. In DC and New York, a 2 bedroom condo would be $500,000+ (and maybe not even in a nice neighborhood!)

        Reply
        1. Lulu

          I was just thinking the same thing – can’t get a $150k tool shed around here! (SoCal) If only… But that just adds to the point: cost of living & salary expectations vary by location as well, so what might be “reasonable” for one city would be ridiculous somewhere else with a different COL. Plus so many jobs are kind of apples & oranges now in terms of responsibilities. So many variables.

          Reply
        2. Chinook

          And yet I still can’t believe I paid that much for an unrenovated, 1970′s converted apartment in the “bad” part of town and everything else was at least $180,000. The $150,00 one was sold when there was 0% vacancy anywhere in town.

          Anything is better, though, than paying $800/month to rent a room in someone’s house (not an apartment – I shared a bathroom with another tenant and the kitchen with everyone there) plus utilities. It is weird in this part of Canada that it is way cheaper to buy than rent, if you can come up with the down payment.

          Reply
    4. Josh S

      It’s useful, but only to a point, because the ‘houses’ on the market change, the neighborhoods they’re in change, and the state of the market itself changes. Any or all of those can be in flux — in different directions — at any given time.

      You can look at all the previous sale prices for other homes — even ‘comps’ — and it would look radically different in 2006 (or even 2008) than it does in 2013.

      When you go to buy a house, you figure out what you can afford (your budget) and the characteristics features you need to have and want to have. And then you see what is on the market that fits, and make the best decision based on those factors.

      If you went to buy a place and asked each seller what they paid for the house (instead of what they’re trying to sell it for), they’d give you a weird look. Especially if you then said, “Well, I’m only willing to pay you the same as you paid for the house.” (Or 10% more or whatever.) Especially if the person bought the house at the bottom of the market and the neighborhood is now booming.

      You don’t do that, though (even though most houses’ selling history is publicly available at the county assessor/recorder of deeds office…fun to look up if you’re ever curious what your neighbors paid for their houses…). No, you look at their selling price and see if it’s in your range given the amenities of the house.

      It’s the same with hiring. You look at the candidate’s qualifications and whether it meets your needs/wants list for the position, and then see if you think that justifies the salary they’re asking for. The guy who is fluent in 4 languages (but didn’t use them in his last job at the local business association) might be worth WAY more to your internationally-focused foreign business promotion company.

      Reply
    5. Joey

      That’s great info to have, but I doubt he’s getting enough info to make an informed decision . He really needs a range of data from multiple competitors to establish a pay range that fits within the heirarchy of your organization and to properly determine a salary offer. And if he really wanted to keep up with the market he would adjust all salaries (not just new hires) as the market rate changes. That usually means cost of living increases annually.

      Reply
  9. AnotherAlison

    I had someone contact me once, and in the initial phone conversation, I was asked my current salary. (Like the unsuave dummy that I am, I gave the range to the $5K.) He said that sounded about like the going rate, from what he was hearing from other people he screened.

    Anyway, throughout the continuing conversation he proceeded to tell me how no one else qualified was really interested (many people with this particular skill set are consultants and make more; this was a no-travel, don’t have to kill-what-you-eat job) and others weren’t really qualified.

    This led me to conclude that my rate wasn’t really the going rate for his position, since evidently I was the purple squirrel.

    Based on this one data point ; ), I don’t think it’s particularly harmful to share. In that case, by me sharing, he also gave back some legitimate points that could have been used in negotiation for something higher if they were to offer a nominal bump to move. The problem would be with taking an offer you weren’t happy with and not trying to sell your added value.

    Reply
  10. PEBCAK

    What about something like “my total compensation package was approximately $XX”? As other commenters have mentioned, the amount you pay for benefits can WIDELY affect your take-home pay.

    At one point in my career, I worked for a place where I regularly got five-figure bonuses. The outside recruiter was like “oh, you can’t count that because bonuses aren’t guaranteed” and I was like “I’m not taking a new job that would mean I take home less”.

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      When people have said that to me (I don’t ask for it, but people sometimes bring it up during salary negotiations), I’ve responded by asking, “How much of that was salary?” (I figure if they’re going to bring it up, it’s fair game for me to ask.) I ask because I’ve seen some very creative calculations to get to that number, and it’s sometimes misleading.

      Reply
      1. Jamie

        When asked to give up salary info before I always included bonuses – but separate. I.e. well I made $X as my base salary but the bonus structure was $Y for a total of $Z gross (which would have been verified by my W2).

        Reply
      2. AnotherAlison

        Both places I’ve worked put together a “total compensation package” thing for everyone quarterly.

        It includes employer-paid TAXES! Yes, thank you employers for covering your half of the taxes that you’re legally obligated to pay.

        So, yes, I agree HMs need to ask what’s behind that number.

        (Conversely, a competitor in town pays with a bonus structure so that their annual pay is ~60% salary/40% year-end bonus to earn the equivalent of what the rest of the companies’ employees make in 100% salary. In that case, a candidate providing “total compensation” makes much more sense than straight salary. Of course, none of them leave anyway after March because they have to wait all year to get their bonus.)

        Reply
    2. Jamie

      Of the two kind of bonus structures I’ve worked under one was in writing – it was absolutely part of our comp package. If my metrics were X then I received 100% of $Bonus. If my metrics were 90% of X than I got 90%, etc.

      This was in writing and if you met the criteria and didn’t get the payout you should see a lawyer – because it was contractual.

      The other kind are discretionary and while I know they aren’t “guaranteed” and I personally don’t count on them because I’m a pessimist and refuse to believe something good will happen until it hits my account – but if you have a history of significant bonuses? Heck no you aren’t going to give a salary figure without mentioning those. Because even though they weren’t guaranteed they were income earned and of course it’s a factor when you evaluate other offers.

      Reply
      1. PEBCAK

        Right, this is what I had. It wasn’t called “bonus”, it was called “formula” payment. However, I’m pretty sure someone checking my reference would have gotten a number from HR that didn’t include that.

        Reply
  11. Josh S

    And as a freelance guy, I don’t have a good answer to the question of salary history anyway. My “last” job was a rush/urgent 3 week contract for ClientA that paid $X,000. (And my GOD did I put in the hours for that!) And then I had a month break with no project/work to do, because ClientB needed their project to start in the midst of my high-paying project for ClientA, and I missed out on it.

    I’ve had recruiters ask me for my salary history and I just laugh — it’s whatever I can negotiate with a specific client at a specific time. Sometimes hourly rate, sometimes weekly rate, sometimes a flat project fee.

    So they ask me what I put as income on my tax forms, and I just laugh again — my gross pay or my “company’s” net income after payroll taxes, business expenses, paying for my health insurance, etc?

    So they ask me what my monthly average pay is, and I laugh yet again–there is no such thing as average (or rather, most pay periods are outside of 2 standard deviations from the mean). My income comes in spurts as my invoices get paid. So I’ve collected $17k at once (for intermittent work on a single project over the course of 5 months), and I’ve gone 3 months without a paycheck too. Is my average monthly pay $17k/4 = $4,250? Nope, that’s still a ways from the mean.

    I make enough to live on with my work. And if I’m moving to a full time job, I know I need to make $XX,000 to maintain my lifestyle. And I fully believe that the value I bring is worth more than $XX,000. So ask me what I’m looking for (which is a question I can answer) rather than my salary history (which is a question with 30 different answers depending on the metric you’d like to use).

    Reply
    1. Sunshine DC

      Thanks so much for putting this out there! Once one gets to the level of expertise and reputation in certain fields that one can contract per their own preferences, you decide what, when and how much. Some jobs I will refuse unless the pay is $$$$, some I will almost donate my time to, because it contributes to something meaningful in society and I want to assist a non-profit. These “salary history” demands certainly will turn off many professionals who have worked hard to achieve a lifestyle where they get to pick and choose different kinds of work and pay in their field, based on (a) challenge, (b) interest, (c) humanitarian appeal, etc. Shouldn’t such people be the kind of successful, skilled experts a company should want to attract and not repel?

      Reply
    2. CatB (Europe)

      Same here, Josh S! In my (only) interview for a full-time position I laughed at the question. I replied with “My standard fee is X euros per training day(something like one-third the monthly salary), but it is irregular enough to be an unreliable term of comparison. Can we talk how much you would pay a good performer in this position and what it would take to be more than just “good”?”

      Reply
      1. Josh S

        I like that follow-on question too. Not just “What would you pay a good performer” but “My expectation is that I will perform above good, and I want to know what that looks like in this position.”

        Keeping that in the back pocket for a phone interview tomorrow. :)

        Reply
  12. AJ-in-Memphis

    Our application asks for salary expectations AND ten years of experience. And you can’t skip because it’ll throw out the application as incomplete. I don’t agree with it, but I can’t change it either.

    Reply
  13. Trix

    I am the OP and I took Alison’s advice and gave them the range I am looking for. The biggest problem for me, after the fact that my salary is none of their business, in giving out my salary history is that I have moved and my previous information is based on living in a different region (Midwest) than where I currently live (PNW). It’s not an apples to apple comparison.

    Shortly after I sent my application in I received an email back from them that the salary range they are offering is X, lower than what I stated, and was I still interested. If you know the range, why not just list it in the first place and you’ll eliminate the wasteful back and forth?!

    I am still interested because it is an organization I would like to work for and while it’s not what I want for salary it is in the range of what I’m willing to accept.

    Reply
  14. Jenny

    Amen. Prospective employers already have the upper hand in the hiring process – this kind of question/requirement just makes the job-seeker even more vulnerable. It’s lame.

    Reply
  15. anon in tejas

    another follow up question:

    is it important to include what benefits are included at your salary level? i.e. paid health insurance, dental, vision, paid parking, 401K match up to 2%, 2 weeks vacation or whatever.

    I would think that it is… $50000 with those benefits looks very different than $50000 without.

    Reply
  16. anonnymous

    Employers really SHOULD just stop playing games and list their ranges up front.

    I’ve been where I am for almost 12 years now. I make at least $15k/year more than most places are offering for the same job I am doing now. How will I ever find a new job, if I’m going to be passed over, because “I’m too expensive?” Never MIND that I’d happily take a pay cut to leave my current job, which I hate.

    Reply
    1. ExceptionToTheRule

      This is a great point.

      I just had a conversation about it with a co-worker this week. He’s hiring for an extremely specialized position & was getting a great applicant flow, but was very concerned he couldn’t afford them.

      I told him that decision is ultimately the employees – the pay range is X-Y, different people are in different situations and might jump at the job for reasons other than money.

      Reply
  17. Christine

    I’ve honestly never viewed asking for salary history to be wrong (I thought it was just a way to see if a candidate was growing in their career by making more money with each new job or internal promotion), but after reading this blog, I can see why many frown upon it.

    What about when you come in for an interview and are asked to fill out a job application? Many times those ask for salary info for each job (usually beginning and ending salaries).

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      I’d leave it blank. (Does anyone even remember all those numbers? I don’t, nor would I be interested in spending time tracking them down for an employer who felt this was necessary info.)

      Reply
      1. Lulu

        Thanks for this – I just gave up on one application partly because I couldn’t imagine digging through my files and trying to figure out that information. I was starting to wonder whether I was the only one who didn’t have some kind of 15-year-salary-tracking document. Of course this was an online application, so not sure if I could have just ignored it, but ultimately I was more irritated by the process than enthusiastic about the position, so… Next.

        Reply
        1. Gracie

          I’m glad I’m not the only one who feels that way, especially when the application wants me to list jobs going back to like, 1999…when I was in high school. Working part-time at a drugstore. You really think I remember those starting and ending figures? I feel like saying to whomever wrote the application, “hey, if you want to go look up the minimum wage rates for 1999 and then round up by about 50 cents, be my guest. I have Actual Work I could be doing.”

          Reply
  18. Marie

    I recently applied for a state job which required monthly salary on the online application for all past employers. The field was mandatory and only allowed a numerical value. I listed it, but any ideas on how to get around it? As a government job it did list what they were prepared to pay, but that had a $15k range!

    Reply
  19. TL

    Thanks for this advice, Alison! I see a lot of “salary history requested” ads, and tend to skip them, but a few times I’ve given my complete salary history, without any response. I may try some of these options in the future and see what happens.

    What gets me are the “references requested” ads – I’ve seen a slight uptick in those recently. No, I am *not* sending my references’ contact information to a company about which I know nothing!

    Reply
    1. Lulu

      I’ve been thinking the same thing re: references – absolutely loathe to give out information unless there is a legitimate potential offer. I’m not putting people on-call for the next 5 years! (Hopefully it won’t be THAT long, but given how long it’s been so far, I can’t imagine telling people in 2011 that they may or may not be contacted at any time in the future until I notify them I’ve secured another position.)

      Reply
  20. Dan

    I have a professional job, but my company is unique in that it pays our low and mid-level non-exempt employees by the hour. My base salary (figured on a 40 hour work week) puts me about $75k/year. I work extra hours frequently — my average week is something like 50 hours. At year end, I grossed just under six figures. I think I’ve clocked in these kinds of hours for my entire tenure at the company. I also get five weeks vacation.

    The compensation question is going to be quite interesting. Am I willing to leave for my base salary plus 10%? Absolutely not. An extra 20%? Nope. 30%? Possibly. But then I’d have to get into work-life discussions, because I’d make 30% more at my current job by working a 52 hour work week. If everybody at the new place clocks in 50 hour weeks, then I’m not really ahead. Then there’s still the matter of my five-weeks of vacation every year.

    The only way I can win this discussion is if I put down my overtime-inclusive pay, and be clear about it. I’m *not* using my base compensation as the opening argument, and would be clear about that on the opening phone call. If they push too much for my base salary, my response is going to be a blunt, “I assume you need the number for procedural purposes, and will happily provide it. However, you should be aware that given my total compensation and benefits package, my expected range is somewhere between $110k and $125k. Where I fall in that range depends on a number of factors related to quality of life and your benefits package.”

    Reply
  21. Soni

    While I agree whole-heartedly with Allison’s take on asking for salary history, one thing that stands out in OPs letter is the fact that this is a non-profit. Depending on the non-profit, it’s always remotely possible that they have grants or other mandates that require them to hire a certain percentage of “low income” or “at risk” people. Now, granted, if this is the case there are better ways to get that info/target that audience. But it could be a reasonable excuse for asking.

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      That wouldn’t get them that info though. Someone with a low salary could have a high household income via their spouse. If that’s what they’re looking for, it would make sense for them to spell it out in the ad and make special efforts to recruit that population.

      Reply
  22. g

    How about asking them what they think is a fair salary for the position?How about what the person made whose job you are interviewing for? What about saying you are willing to entertain an offer? Or that you are sure that you will be able to come to an agreement once a fit is determined? What are the rest of the benefits? What do those add up to?

    Reply
  23. glennis

    Playing devils advocate here, I much prefer having to answer that question in a cover letter where you can use a certain amount of nuance, to doing it in an online application where they ask you your salary “requirements” and you only have the option of inputting one figure.

    Reply
    1. Chris Hogg

      For an on-line application, you can fill the field with 0000′s or 9999′s. This will indicate you addressed the question, you do not reveal your past salary, and the application will let you continue.

      Reply
  24. Elizabeth West

    I agree. Time to cut this out. It sucks to go through an application and interview process, only to find out the salary is not even livable. I had to turn down an offer because of that. I really liked the people and it was a place I wanted to work, so it was very hard. But I’m glad I did now; I would not have even noticed NewJob, because I would have been so tired and stressed from trying (and failing) to make ends meet on that other salary.

    Reply
  25. Chris Hogg

    As a general rule, for the job seeker, it is always a bad idea to provide salary history (or expectations), and especially at the beginning like this, before one knows anything about the organization or the job. There is everything to lose, and nothing to gain.

    But it doesn’t hurt to acknowledge you’re aware of the request, perhaps with something like: “My salary expectations will be based on the requirements of this job and the value that I can bring to the organization.”

    If the organization is hiring based on capabilities, and you look like you have those capabilities, they will call you.

    If they are hiring on money as the main criteria, they may or may not call you (and if they don’t, you’re probably better off). If they call you, they’ll probably immediately ask what your last salary was, in which case you’ll need to be prepared with a response such as: “I find discussing salary at this stage is usually premature, but since the topic has come up, may I ask how much the position pays?” (for the more assertive among us) or “I find discussing salary at this stage is usually premature, but I am interested in this position; is there anything you’d like to know about me at this time?” (for the more nuanced among us).

    Reply
  26. Kristie

    A little late to the party, but I ask, because I’m hiring sales people, and I want to know their base salary/commission split, and I want to know what they would make at goal and how much they are making now. By far, this gives me the best information I’ve been able to get as I try to figure out how much of their pay has really been driven by performance, and whether they meet (or exceed or fail to meet) their goals.

    I don’t base what I pay on it, though, and I’m up-front about the range that we have, which is tied to experience.

    Also, I have always been asked what my current salary was; and I’ve always given my W2 income, or sometimes base/bonus. And then, if it’s less than what I want for the new job, I just say that I wouldn’t move for less than x, which in some cases has been FAR more than I’ve been making. And that has worked well for me, because I mean it, and because as part of my explanation for why I’m looking to leave the place, I talk about being substantially underpaid.

    Reply
  27. krzystoff

    I absolutely hate that kind of crap from potential employers! I would ordinarily avoid dishonesty (foremost because I am hopeless at lying), but if I was asked this at by an H.R. person prior to interview, I wouldn’t hesitate to give them a figure near what I expected for the new position (regardless of what I earned in the past). it seems in the US, there are ways for employers to verify that information, but in many other countries, privacy laws would forbid another company from giving out that information and you could never be compelled to show payslips to anyone other than your accountant, bank manager or taxation department. the only risk with not telling the whole truth in a job application, is when they get to the interview, they can easily repeat the question which may trip you up. of course, the whole intent of these questions may be to verify your honesty, rather than merely obtaining personal information that they could otherwise guess anyway.

    Reply
  28. Jimmy

    The person who wrote this article probably has never hired anyone or actively sought out candidates to any great length. Working as a recruiter for a company, I can tell you why that finding out people’s salary range is beneficial for both parties.

    First of all, knowing what your candidate was getting paid in their previous job lets the hiring manager know if this person is worth their time or not. If they were being paid way above the range that they are hiring at, there is almost no point in wasting time with these candidates. There’s a reason they were being paid that much and it is highly unlikely they will be willing to take a significant pay cut.

    Second, it helps the candidate out. There is no disadvantage in letting a potential employer know what you were making. You don’t all of a sudden jump up in value over night. Your employer will know what you’re worth just by looking at your resume so if you think you can just slide an extra 20k into your salary requirements, you’re due for a rude awakening. It can help the candidate know right off the bat if the employer is going to be working in this range or not and will let you know if this new company is worth your time.

    Bottom line: this question can be helpful to both interested parties and will weed out candidates faster than any qualification.

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      I’ve done a lot of hiring :)

      If an employer can know what someone is worth by looking at their resume, why would they even need/want a salary history? That doesn’t make sense.

      If the concern is that the candidate will want more than the employer plans to pay, why not ask the candidate to share their salary expectations?

      Reply
    2. RGG

      No, either of those situations can easily be resolved by simply disclosing the salary range for the position. You also seem to have zero respect for the candidate’s need to “weed out” unacceptable job openings so that they do not waste their own time.

      If the salary range is disclosed, then those people who “aren’t worth the manager’s time” will not bother to apply, since it will also not be worth their own time to apply. This actually means much less work for the recruiter and the hiring manager because it would result in fewer applications requiring review.

      Secondly, the employer should not be making their judgments on how much someone is worth by how much another employer was willing to pay them, for a job at a different company, with (most likely) different duties and requirements. The hiring manager should look at their own requirements, what they offer in terms of benefits, their own budgets for personnel, and then develop a salary range for the position and publish it with the job listing – if enough qualified applicants do not apply, then you aren’t willing to pay enough.

      And yes, I’ve done a lot of hiring as well.

      Reply
  29. eric

    Hi Guys
    Perm contract like a scam because banks always asked my previous income and bonus. is it legal please?
    They tried to figure out how much you could ask.

    Basically if you came from Spain, Portugal or France you could not ask more than uk income rate. Its non sense to ask my french or spanish income at all. Its not the same system then we ve got more tax. They convert LOL euros in pounds… so its less..

    Agreed with Jen
    I’ve always viewed companies asking salary history as a way to lowball you by giving you only 10% more than what you are making at your current job.

    Reply
  30. Viola

    I know this is an old post but I’ve been seeing something that I just don’t understand. These are ads where they state the salary upfront AND require/demand a salary history. What’s up with that?

    Reply
  31. eric

    The thing is if you didnt give your salary
    Your cv will be thrashed It is their way to control to control inflation of salary.

    No choice if you give your previous salary
    You Could négociate more than expected

    Reply

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