A reader writes:
How does a company go about verifying your self-reported salary history for a background check?
I have a first round interview with a large, well-known firm, and they sent me forms to consent to their background check. On it, there is a large portion dedicated to salary history. I have already resigned myself to volunteering this information (I did in the HR phone screen), but the fact that they will verify it has raised some questions for me.
On the form, where it asks for salary history, it also asks if they can contact the employer. I will be checking “no” for my current employer as I do not want them to know I’m looking for a new job. So how exactly are they going to verify my salary then? I intend to be completely honest but I don’t understand how they’ll confirm it if I tell them not to contact my employer. (Basically I’m afraid they’re going to contact my employer to verify it even if I tell them not to.)
My second problem is, I actually don’t remember exact salary information for my past positions. Do they expect me to call old employers to get this information? If it’s being verified I probably shouldn’t estimate it, but I feel like I could only guess at this point. Would it look shady if I wrote “approximately $50k”? Any thoughts you have would be appreciated.
Salary verification usually happens at the very end of the hiring process, if it happens at all. Usually the only salary verified is your most recent one, but it’s not inconceivable that they’d verify earlier ones too (just really stupid, for reasons we’ll get to in a minute).
As for how they verify, the reference-checker might call the employer or fax a request for information to them, or they might simply ask casually in a reference check. If you’ve asked them not to contact your current employer, they should respect that, but they might make you an offer contingent on being able to talk with them once they’ve made you an offer … or they might do the salary verification (without a reference check) once you’ve accepted the new job. (Inexplicably, many employers finish this stuff after an offer has been extended and accepted — which of course leaves room for you to resign your job and then have the offer pulled if they run into a problem in that post-offer check.)
Or, they might ask you to produce W2s to verify the numbers you reported. And yes, this last one is a huge invasion of privacy, but it happens.
It is indeed perfectly reasonable to write “approximately $50k” if you don’t remember the exact number. You can sometimes get the number by looking at old tax forms, but if you don’t have access it, put down your best guess and note that it’s approximate. You should not have to go calling all over town to track down old salary information that isn’t even relevant in the first place.
And while I realize that you’ve already resigned yourself to playing along, for the record, the process is unnecessary and an invasion of privacy. Your salary history is no one’s business, and employers are perfectly capable of figuring out what you’d bring to the job and what that work is worth to them without needing to know what you’ve been paid previously. They ask this question because they can, not because they need to. So boo to them and boo to this practice.