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 “firstname.lastname@example.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?
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.