is it okay to lie about your salary history when applying for a new job?

A reader writes:

I’ve been wondering about whether or not it’s ever okay to exaggerate your past salary. I currently work for a nonprofit and I’d like to transition to the for-profit world. I’m worried that I will not get paid the for-profit market rate because future employers will see what I am currently paid. My current salary is significantly lower than what someone in a for-profit company would be making for the same responsibilities.

My friends in the past have bumped up their salaries to get a higher pay in their next job, and they are encouraging me to do the same. I would like to know if I could ever be caught lying about my salary thus jeopardize my potential offer or if this is something that a lot of people do. I am currently employed, so I would ask that hiring managers not reach out to my current employer since I don’t want to risk them finding out that I am job searching. So because of this, is it ok to say I make $5k-$10k more than what I make now to better position myself in my next job?

Nope. Don’t lie about your salary.

Some companies verify the salary information you give them, by asking to see a recent pay stub or a W-2, or by checking with the previous employer directly. And they often do this after you’ve already accepted a job offer as part of their new hire paperwork (don’t ask why; I’ve never understood that), which means that you risk them pulling the offer after you’ve already accepted it and resigned your current job.

In general, lying isn’t a good idea. And in this case it could bite you in the ass, hard.

You’re better off declining to discuss your previous salary altogether and/or pointing out that salaries in the nonprofit world often don’t translate to other sectors. Or you can point out that you were willing to take a lower salary in previous jobs because you were working for a cause you cared about, or whatever other reason you might have, but that part of the reason you’re switching to the for-profit sector is because you want to be paid a normal market rate. (In fact, read this post, which will give you close-to-the-exact wording that I once used to double my salary in a similar situation.)

And from there, keep the focus on what you want to earn now and why you think you’re worth that. But don’t lie.

{ 93 comments… read them below }

  1. A nony small furry animal*

    This past year I had a friend whose job offer was pulled because they found out during the background check that he had lied about his salary.

    1. unsan*

      Companies shouldn’t ask for a salary history anyway. They should be paying fair market value and not base their decision on what you were previously paid.

      1. ew0054*

        Agreed. It is none of their business how much you were making at a previous job. Since it is an entirely different situation, it should have no bearing on future prospects.

        When will companies stop trying to cheat their employees and pay them a fair living wage that the job calls for? This is the very reason for such high turnover you hear about every day.

        So it begins a vicious cycle. “If the company does not care about me, why should I care about the next company?” This is why people lie about salary, because they know that even they pad it up without ramifications, they will still be underpaid.

    2. Can Do*

      Well if we’re going with anecdotes here, I have two friends that lied about their salary and nothing bad happened.

      Now they’re making a lot more than their previous jobs and definitely wouldn’t have been paid as much if they didn’t lie.

      And this was 3 years ago.

      1. ew0054*

        I think it is like anything in life: the more reward you seek, the more risk you have to take. They took the increased risk of the employer not hiring them for lying, but it worked out for them.

        By telling the truth on the salary, you are at a level playing field with everyone else who tells the truth. So it all comes down to if you are a fit for the job, personality etc.

        If you lie, you have the potential to earn more, but at the risk of being weeded out of your job search for lying. Again, this only increases your risk AGAINST landing a job, but doesn’t eliminate you entirely overall.

        Let’s face it, companies have the money and lie to employees on a regular basis. I am sorry to sound bitter but I couldn’t count on two hands and feet the number of times I was promised a raise or promotion that never materialized.

        And before people jump on me to say “it must have been your fault; you weren’t doing your job well” think long and hard if you, or a family member or friend was at least once in the position I described.

        In closing, it’s your life. Take the risks that you feel you can, and take the rewards. Obviously, if you are about to be laid off, you want to minimize risk. Accepting $20k is better than $0, but once you’re in a stable place, you look around again, the n it doesn’t matter so much.

  2. Katherine*

    Hi! So, I just did a nonprofit to for-profit sector transition and got offered what I think I’m worth. When asked about salary I said early on “I made $x at my last job. However, for profit salaries are typically at least y% higher in my field, and I had z years of experience at my last job and my salary was never changed. Therefore I’m looking for ($number).” I think if they see the logic that goes into your number, they are pretty likely to give it. Although I would be curious to hear Allison’s take on this.

    1. fposte*

      This is exactly what I’m thinking of. Salary history doesn’t have to be the same thing as salary requirements.

      1. ew0054*

        It doesn’t and it shouldn’t. However, cheap employers use this as a ploy to goad you into thinking you’re being paid fairly.

        “After all, it’s $10K more than you were making…”

        When in fact it’s $20K under what the job is REALLY worth.

    1. Kelly O*

      I was just thinking that the post could have stopped at “is it okay to lie?” and the answer should be the same. No.

  3. Janet*

    How specific do you need to be?

    So let’s say I started a job making $45,000/year. After a year I was told I’m getting a 2% raise. I figure that into my salary. Another year and I’m making an additional 2% raise. Plus, let’s say you get an $800 annual bonus. So based on that you get a random number like $47,818 or something like that. And they do a corporate match for 401k and pay for 75% of health coverage which isn’t direct take-home salary but certainly helps your bottom line. So what if you just say “I make roughly $50,000” or if the online application system won’t let you put anything other than a number, just rounding up to 50,000. Would that be something that would cost you a job offer?

    How exactly exact do you need to be with your salary?

    And when it comes to a salary history where I’m expected to write the salary I left at for my past 5 jobs, I can’t remember exact numbers so I just do rough estimates. I’m not talking about fudging the numbers too much so that if you know in your head you were paid $35,000/year and you’re writing $45,000 on the applicaiton – but if you were making $38,890 a year and you just say $40,000.

    1. Bridgette*

      I’m curious about this as well. I don’t think I’ve ever put an exact number, I just put a round figure. Like in the application I submitted the other day – I make something like $35,240 now but I listed 35k. When I left my last job, it was a few hundred over 28k but I just listed 28k.

      1. Jamie*

        That’s fine. Rounding up or down to the nearest thousand is within the rules of convention. I’m probably one of the few freaks on the planet who knows what they make to the penny.

    2. Jamie*

      My take? Salary is your current salary (if employed) or last salary (if unemployed.) Health insurance and 401K matches are benefits and yes, affect your bottom line, but they aren’t salary. Neither are bonuses unless you have a contract stipulating differently.

      Now, if I had a made 35K and pulled in a 10K bonus for the last five years my salary is still 35K so that’s what I would put for last salary, but I would absolutely make sure to bring up the bonuses which is why I wouldn’t possibly consider leaving for less than 50K – or whatever.

      Now if you make 38,890 or some other weird number and you rounded up to 39K – that wouldn’t be a red flag. However, 40 skates the normal rules of rounding – so I wouldn’t do that.

      Most people should know what they make within 1K.

      I understand your logic but the problem is the convention is to check salary – so when they call and check they are going to be given your salary. If the numbers are off it looks like you’re lying and you risk them not caring enough to ask you to explain yourself – just pulling the offer.

      And benefits are also something that can be discussed in negotiations – as in, well I made X but due to excellent insurance premiums and their 401K match I’d need Y for it to be worth my while to leave …but that’s a conversation and not a number on a form.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        I don’t know what number I’d actually put on an application, but I slightly disagree.

        My benefits – no bonus – will equal around 20% of my salary this year. At my first job, at an entry-level salary, lower insurance costs, and at a company with 1/3 the 401K match that this one has, eh, a few thousand. . .no big deal. What I’m looking at in dollar value now is a big chunk of change. While I agree it’s not salary, if the point of listing your salary history is so they can see if both parties are in the same ballpark, they would be wrong if just looking at my single number. (For me this is just a theoretical discussion!)

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yep. This is one of the many reasons why it’s dumb for employers to ask this question on electronic application forms that don’t allow for explanations. (I’d also argue that they shouldn’t be asking at all, and should only be discussing what you want to earn now, but that’s a different topic.)

          1. Anon*

            Yea this is tough for me. My employer doesn’t match 401k contributions – they make their own separate 401k contributions. They add an additional 10% to my salary and put that directly into a 401k without me having to pay a penny.

            Officially my entry level salary is 31k but I get an additional 3.1k put into a retirement account for me.

            I don’t really know for sure whether to say 31k or 35k… this discrepancy would get larger the more I made.

        2. Jamie*

          Well, sure – I agree it would be wrong looking at a single number. I also think it’s none of their business and no one should be asking.

          I’m weird about money. My employer and husband know how much I make. That’s it. 7+ billion people and I’ve discussed it with fewer than I can count on one hand.

          My experience with salary checks is just that they are calling to verify salary it’s not the big picture, but the number you’d put down if you were financing a car, or home…what’s on your W2.

          I agree with you that it’s not accurate and it shouldn’t be asked.

          1. AnotherAlison*

            I’m not sure even my husband knows my real number.
            Not that it’s a secret, he just doesn’t pay attention to detail. He knows the ballpark, for sure.

            My W2 wage is pretty small since I shuffle a lot of pretax dollars to my HSA, FSA, and 401K. (Which is why it seems like I never have any money. . .)

        3. Jamie*

          “(For me this is just a theoretical discussion!)”

          Speaking of theoretical discussion, how would you include discretionary bonuses in salary, if you were to add them?

          Just for the previous year? Average of the last several?

          See my problem with including bonuses, if you’re not in a bonus plan spelled out with contract, is that it’s inherently not salary because the number vacillates (or could disappear) through no fault of your own.

          For my own mental health I don’t consider a bonus as part of my salary. I don’t count on it, I don’t plan uses for it…it’s a lovely and much appreciated gift. So maybe that’s coloring my view on this.

          1. AnotherAlison*

            This is the famous “it depends” scenario.

            For me, I don’t get one, so if some year I did get one it would be like a rare unicorn and I’d never count on getting one again. I wouldn’t include one on a history.

            However, at a competitor across town, bonuses are part of your normal pay. I’ll explain. Your salary is set up to get something like 60-80 percent weekly and then you get the 40-20 percent at the end of the year. That part is discretionary, but it would be silly for a $100K type position to say they had a salary of $60K. . .but saying $100K could look like a lie to a reference checker who saw that last year they only got $90K base+bonus. I think averaging would be the safe bet. (This is why I don’t work there. I can’t deal with that much potential variation.)

            My guess is for mid-to-upper level professional positions in my industry, there’s generally more discussion about this rather than you give a single number and that’s that. (I personally should really never be looking for a job where I didn’t get my foot in the door from networking. I shouldn’t be in the position to worry about an electronic app getting kicked out, but that’s another discussion. I say shouldn’t but I hate doing things the person-to-person way).

    3. ew0054*

      $1 over they call you a liar.
      $1 under they call you a sucker.

      I would include all expected bonuses: quarterly (whether received or not) and annual, value of health insurance plan, tuition reimbursement, company car if any.

      Pitch it to them as “the total value of the package would have to be around…” This is not to be overlooked. Suppose you earned $40K with $10K in bonuses. If you exclude the bonus, the new place will assume you’ll be happy with $45K. Who in their right mind would move for less?

      1. Greg*


        Always put it in terms of total comp package if you can (and as I said elsewhere in this thread, always talk about what you want rather than what you’re currently making). And don’t let them pin you down on exactly what breakdown you’re looking for. Obviously, there’s a huge difference between $95K base + $5K bonus and $60K + $40K.

        Again, the most you owe them is a general number to reassure them that you’re in the ballpark. Anything more, and they’re asking you to start negotiating. And if they want you to start negotiating, they should make you an offer.

    4. ew0054*

      I would combine everything into the “total compensation” and round up to the next thousand or so. If you get to $46,893 round up to $47K or you can even add more as long as you make it sound legit like “fifty-two-five.” Too generic, like $50k, 55K, etc will make it look like you are padding.

  4. Cruella DaBoss*

    When I find that a candidate has lied about something so basic (and easily verified I might add) then I wonder what else he may lie about.

    1. Can Do*

      And when I find an employer is simply looking at me as a resource and won’t even let me negotiate, then I wonder how bad it must be to work there.

  5. Anonymous*

    I’d be understand a question like, “What’s the best way to get a market-competitive salary when I’ve been working at an organization that pays below-market?”

    But asking if it’s okay to lie…this makes me sad. Everyone should know that it’s not okay to lie.

    1. EngineerGirl*

      And this:
      I would like to know if I could ever be caught lying
      with this:
      or if this is something that a lot of people do

      So it’s OK if everyone else is doing it, or if you don’t get caught? Is this what it has come to?

        1. EngineerGirl*

          Doesn’t that go along with resume inflation? Where a huge percentage of people inflate their resumes? I dunno. It bothers me that the question actually has to be asked.

    2. Anonymous*

      But asking if it’s okay to lie…this makes me sad. Everyone should know that it’s not okay to lie.

      This seems a bit priggish. Half the time we’re talking here about avoiding dinner at the boss’s by claiming we have other plans (or lunch plans like with that co-worker’s farewell), leaving jobs off our history if they didn’t end well, telling prospective employers we have other offers so could they give us a timeline for a decision…

      Lying isn’t okay as in “this is awesome and you’re making the world a better place,” but I think occasional strategic lying is okay if you’re not hurting anyone. Why make your life seven times more difficult just on principle?

      1. Anonymous*

        Then slap me sideways and call me a prig. That’s ok.

        There’s a difference between being political (telling your boss you have plans and can’t go to his dinner when ‘busy’ means watching TV) and not providing information that doesn’t help us and is not required, and out and out providing false information for financial gain.

        Lying like that last example, even when you won’t get caught, erodes your integrity. And now you know how much your integrity is worth, because you sold a piece of it for a higher salary.

        1. fposte*

          I don’t think anybody here is saying that lying in this case would have been okay. But I also think that the notion that honesty = never, ever deviating from the truth, which is being tossed around here as well, is false, and I actually think you and the person you’re responding to are in agreement on that. It can be tough to figure out when deviating from the literal truth is okay (as in the rounding of salary discussed above) or even important (“What did you think of my grandson’s concert?” requires a positive response, period).

        2. Can Do*

          No, there’s no difference. It’s all lying.

          Now we’re just deciding on which things you’re comfortable lying about and which things you’re not.

  6. Anonymous*

    Don’t lie about your past salaries! If your actual income ends up being a random number, I think it’s fine to round it up to a cleaner number. Your salary history is separate from your current salary requirements. It’s a matter of that’s what you used to earn versus what you want to earn right now.

    I was involved in the application review process at a previous job. As we were reviewing applications, we noticed that one applicant had applied for a similar position about 6 months ago. No change in the salary requirements, but her salary history for her past 4 jobs didn’t match what was listed on her previous application. On the new application, she had increased all her previous salaries by anywhere between $5,000 and $10,000. Interestingly enough, she listed her current job as $45,000 even though she was asking for $35,000 – $40,000 for the position we had open.

  7. DanInNYC*

    should you include over time in salary calculation? i make a base and then i make another 10% of that base in overtime. i alway say the base and say the additional OT money bc i think the base is really low and don’t want to be low balled.

  8. EngineerGirl*

    You know what Allison? It makes me sad that you have to use this argument:
    In general, lying isn’t a good idea. And in this case it could bite you in the ass, hard.

    I realize that is probably the argument that would work best with this person. But it really makes me sad, because the real reason is that lying is wrong.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      The thing is, though, there are lots of aspects of job searching where we do encourage people to shade the truth: Don’t say that you’re leaving your job because your boss hates you, even though that’s the reason. Don’t say that your biggest weakness is that you’re fatally disorganized, even though you are. Don’t answer yes to “have you have ever been fired?” even though you have, since your employer told you that they’ll officially call it a resignation. Etc, etc, etc.

      So I’m not terribly dismayed when I see questions like this — I think people get conflicting messages about job search stuff, in part due to employers penalizing people for telling the truth in some cases, and it leads to questions like this one.

    2. Joey*

      I bet you’re not always brutally honest all of the time. No one is.

      It is okay to lie sometimes just not this time. Reminds me of the movie Liar,liar.

        1. Sam*

          Call me crazy but this doesn’t sound like a merit. Any grownup will need to learn the soft skill of discretionary honesty. This being of course different from harmful lies. I know it is easy to have a rule a 5 year old can grasp (“lying is BAD”) but real life is complicated.

          If you want to know what “don’t lie” REALLY looks like, google “Radical Honesty” or look into AJ Jacobs article, “I Think You’re Fat.” The absurdity there is the exception proving the rule that no normal person is truthful all the time.

          1. EngineerGirl*

            Thats Not True. You don’t have to make the suckers choice of either/or. Instead you can choose option C – open dialogue.

            As I’ve told some of the kids, honesty without gentleness is cruelty. But refusing to back down when a dishonest manager wants you to cover up problems isn’t a bad thing.

            I’ve found thar people that do dishonest things often claim “oh, I know others do it too” as a means of trying to justtify their position. Truth is, NO – others aren’t doing it.

            I prefer honest discussion with others. The need for lying goes away.

            1. Sam*

              Not sure what you are addressing here…

              What’s not true? What choice of either/or?

              If you are referring to being truthful, or not being truthful, that is absolutely a binary decision. One or the other. “Open Dialogue” is not an answer to that moral dilemma posed by truthfulness. To say that honest discussion removes the need for lying is circular and nonsensical.

              1. EngineerGirl*

                No it is not binary. If you are trapped into an either/or situation then ask “why do you ask?” to start the dialogue. Then you can answer the real question as opposed to the binary one being asked.

                1. Sam*

                  If you are a convicted felon, and the hiring manager (or the ATS!) asks if you if you have been convicted of a felony, there is “open dialogue” that will get around that situation.

                  To be clear, I am not advocating that OP (or the felon) should or shouldn’t lie. Just that your view strikes me as highly impractical and naive.

                2. EngineerGirl*

                  I’ve been continuously employed for 32 years. My managers trust me because they know I’ll tell them the truth. I’m not saying that is hasn’t caused problem with some political types. But when all is said and done, it has benefited me more than harmed me.

                  As far as the felon example, your are framing it wrong. Its really hard, but the felon should have been working connections ahead of time so that the potential employer knew what they were getting (hence no need to lie). Hiding it will only ensure that the felon will be fired later, and instead of 1 strike to work against, the person will now have 2.

                3. Joey*

                  So you’ve never told someone you think they’ll do great when youre confident they really won’t? Or accepted some blame when it was wholly someone else’s fault? Or shared credit when you did it by yourself? Or confessed in an interview that you left a job because your boss was a complete idiot?


          2. fposte*

            Yes, it’s an interesting thing, I think. Ultimately, the point of creating a moral structure is to encourage people to be the way that contributes best to civilization and society, and while society needs to be able to rely on people’s being who they claim to be, it also needs people to get along together a lot more than it needs to know truthfully whether somebody’s butt looks big in a dress. Truth is a means to an end, not an end in itself, and I think if you make it the end instead, it’s actually a problem.

            But I still think the OP should be truthful. I also think that some of these salary requirement questions are stealth versions of the usual “How can I get what I want without asking for what I want?” question.

    3. Anonymous*

      Not everyone believes lying is wrong. Most people that I’ve met don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with lies, but rather that lying is a tool that can be used to do bad things. The amendment on free speech enshrined in the constitution a right to lie, among other things.

      I believe that it is wrong to harm other people for personal gain. When a lie falls into this category, then I believe the action of lying is wrong. The letter-writer is trying to lie for financial gain, which harms the company, and that is why I think it is wrong. Similarly, I think it’s wrong to stab someone with a knife unprovoked, but I own several knives and don’t think there’s anything wrong with using them to cut my steaks.

      1. Hari*

        The letter-writer is trying to lie for financial gain, which harms the company, and that is why I think it is wrong
        I have to disagree on this. A company isn’t going to agree to pay a salary which would threaten them with financial ruin or for that matter be out of the realm of what they were willing to pay in the first place. Only way I can see that they would was if there was a significant advantage/skill/clients that person brought with them where in the long run would pay off. Either way they would not agree to pay someone an amount they did not see worth it for the position or situation, especially in this economy. Of course companies want to cut costs whenever possible (if they could get away with free labor they would, in fact some do, see: sweatshops) so they wouldn’t want to pay a person more than they would have to. However they are in no way disadvantaged by agreeing to pay that extra amount.

  9. Jamie*

    Oh, and speaking as someone is the decidedly for profit sector – we know that the salary structure tends to be different between non-profits and for profits.

    Even in the commercial sector salaries can vary widely from company to company so Alison’s advice applies to us also.

    Quite frankly, there is a reason that even if for profit business were allowed to use volunteers we wouldn’t have a line around the block of people clamoring to get in and help us make widgets and wumputs for free. I love my job, but it isn’t a life long dream to help a company make this particular widget. Our “making the world a better place” tends to be less direct.

    I focus on efficiencies to run leaner which means more money for people who work really hard to get raises and the like. And helping a growing company means more people can be employed – which is cool. On the day to day thing it’s more just going to someone’s boss to tell them so and so is kicking seven kinds of ass and deserves an accolade, or adding someone to a team where they can expand their knowledge and get some ROR. Those are ways I like to think I’m making a difference, but it’s not saving the world through a jazzy new wumput.

    We have a billion librarians here…people visit their workplaces every day with delight. I could spend hours in a library and be the happiest person in the world. People rarely feel so warm inside when visiting a factory.

    1. Anonymous*

      It’s true that many people enjoy visiting my library, but it’s definitely different when you work there, you know? I’d do quite a bit of my job as a volunteer, but there are a few things they DEFINITELY have to pay me for because they are so unpleasant.

      1. Jamie*

        Oh, no question. I’ve been recently informed that no job is like working in a rainbow :). I just meant some places are inherently beneficial to society and will attract people and others…not so much.

        1. Bridgette*

          “I’ve been recently informed that no job is like working in a rainbow :)”

          Whaaaa???? It’s not??? You mean my magical rainbow dream job isn’t out there, waiting for me to land in its fluffy, cupcake-scented embrace? (as I imagine rainbows to smell like)

          1. Jamie*

            This may be the weirdest thing I’ve ever typed – but ever since I was little I’ve always assumed that rainbows smelled like vanilla cupcakes.

            This spooked me out a little bit – I had no idea there were others like me out there.

  10. Not So NewReader*

    I should think that one could say “I made $x per year, with $y in benefits and z days of vacation time.”

    I had an employer offer me a higher starting rate because I did not need company insurance. Good thing I spoke up, I was not asked. Once I mentioned not needing insurance the reply was “Oh, then we can start you at a higher rate.”

    I have a friend who had A LOT of vacation time each year. So for him that was an important talking point with a new employer.

    It pays to have your ducks in a row- know what you absolutely need and know what would be nice to have. (Two lists, not one.)

    1. EngineerGirl*

      It comes down to knowing the value of your total compensation. Performance bonuses, pension (yes, they are still out there), 401k matches, how much you have to pay into health insurance premiums, they all add up to a total value. I think it is really important to voice that in salary negotiations (broken out of course).

      Me? I would take a significant salary drop for a little more vacation and a lot more work life balance.

  11. SW Engineer*

    My company’s NDA explicitly states that we’re not allowed to disclose our salary, benefits, etc. to anyone outside the company – even my spouse!

    I just mention that I can’t disclose it because it’s part of my NDA, and that pretty much ends all salary discussion.

    1. Joey*

      Don’t you disclose if you have a joint checking account with your spouse or apply for any kind of loan? And exactly how are you supposed to select medical benefits and the like for your family.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I think the reasoning here is that obviously you disclose it when you have to (tax forms, loans, etc.), but that disclosing to a potential competitor, for instance, would be in a different category.

      2. SW Engineer*

        I only disclose it when it’s genuinely needed, like a loan application, etc.

        Otherwise, I just mention the NDA. No one has said a word.

        1. Katie*

          Well then here’s another question: could you lie and say you have an NDA to dodge the salary history question?

          1. Natalie*

            You probably shouldn’t claim you have a separate NDA, but it’s pretty common for employers to put something about salaries being confidential in their handbook. If you were more vague about the agreement you could easily say your salary is confidential.

  12. BW*

    If the company does a background check, they could catch you in the lie, and that could result in your offer being revoked. It’s a really really bad idea!

    When I was job hunting several years ago I was in a similar situation where the sector I was working in paid much less than what another paid. A recruiter wanted to fudge my salary, and not just by a little but by $20K. Can you imagine, an employer thinking your salary is one thing, and the background check comes back and you’re really making $20k less. It’s one thing to round off to the nearest thousand or take a close guestimate if you can’t recall exactly, but a discrepancy like that is just blatant lying.

    In my last 2 job moves since being at that very low paying job. The first move bumped me up $8K/year. The second move where I actually switched sides of the fence bumped me up another $20K +annual bonus on top of that. I believe when I was jumping sides, I explained that my pay was typical of what companies like my employer paid, and the in-company recruiters seemed unsurprised. They’d probably seen enough to have encountered this before. What you do have to be aware of is what the range the employer is looking for so when you discuss your salary requirements you don’t either low-ball yourself or go too high.

  13. Michael*

    This is a personal space issue to me. After politely stating I don’t discuss salary I’m willing to walk if an employer persists in wanting this info. Now, recently I took a position where I had to turn over W-2s for employment verification after salary was discussed so it wasn’t a big deal but I was still very leery until my first day.

  14. Sean*

    …..Never lie ever in anything to do with a job. Remember that everyone has a little dirty laundry, and no matter how long you think it’s disappeared, someone is always able to find it. :)

  15. Liz in the City*

    I was just about to write in with a similar question! But not in reference to lying. More along the lines of what do you say when your salary has been frozen for, oh, 4 years? I had exactly one raise before a company-wise salary freeze was enacted, so I could use that as a basis, but how does one explain that in a cover letter when it asks for a salary history?

    1. Anonymous*

      Your cover letter shouldn’t discuss this. Your cover letter should explain why you’re a good candidate for this job, why you want this job.

      Do not take up valuable space with explanations of why your current salary is low compared to what you think you should be paid.

      If you had to enter in a number on an online form, then you don’t get an opportunity to explain why this isn’t enough. This is something you could mention as a reason for leaving your old job, if you’re asked in an interview. You could bring it up in salary discussions as a counter-argument if they cite your old salary as a reason for giving you an offer you feel is too low (don’t bring it up yourself, though!).

      The fact is, nearly everyone has some similar grouse about their salary. If it’s not a pay freeze, then it’s a complaint about non-profit rates, or a comment about benefits, or a difference in regional cost of living, or even a difference in local tax rates. You are not special in this regard. Additionally, the company you are applying to probably doesn’t care about the “special circumstances” around your prior salary when they figure out your new salary.

    2. NicoleW*

      I think you can use a similar reasoning to AAM’s script in the link. I do wonder if it’s okay to say that you’ve been working below market rates because you haven’t had a raise in four years? Or does that lead the potential employer to offer only a small raise since they know the likelihood is minimal of you getting any more money in your current role.

  16. Greg*

    I agree with AAM that companies asking you to reveal your current salary is wrong (and also that it’s equally wrong for candidates to respond by inflating their numbers). With the exception of required fields on online forms, you should be able to dodge this question by focusing on what you would like to make, not what you are making. Then, you don’t have to worry about being tripped up by any discrepancies with bonuses, benefits, rounding, recently announced raises, etc. If you say you want to make $50K, then that’s what you want to make, and no one can accuse you of lying.

    The fact is, most companies ask about salary because they want to know if you’re in the same ballpark. Once you reassure them that you are, they probably won’t press too hard (and if they do, then they’re clearly trying to get you to negotiate against yourself, which should raise a red flag).

    Even on those required fields, I sometimes try to dodge them by simply entering “$0”, especially if it’s a situation where I already know I have an interview and am just filling out paperwork. I admit that can be riskier if you’re filling out a form as part of the initial application, since it may cause your app to get automatically tossed.

  17. Sam*

    Asking for previous salary is nothing beyond a transparent one-sided power play by the organization. It does not provide any information on quality of candidate it is information that will only be used to the candidate’s detriment in the negotiation process.

    If, as Greg suggests, it is asked to verify if both parties are “in the ballpark” that could much more efficiently be determined by providing the salary range to the employee.

    If a candidate demanded that a company disclose the salaries of the last 5 people to hold the position he/she was applying for, the company would find that absurd. This is no different.

    I personally decline to discuss it in the process. I have been fortunate not to run into this rut in an ATS system. I realize not everyone has this luxury. If an employer is discourteous enough to bully a candidate into providing a number, I find zero moral qualms with inflation.

    Whether one is likely to get caught, or it is a good idea, is obviously another matter.

      1. Sam*

        Agreed, but again I realize not everyone can pick and choose. I think the subtext here (as it is with many recruiting/job hunting matters), is to find a skill that is in high demand and do it well.

        A position of power in this regard will mitigate many of these problems. The company then has to decide if making you disclose your salary is worth enough to them to lose your candidacy. I would guess the hiring manager in most cases would think not if the position were critical and you were a great fit.

      2. ew0054*

        Agreed. I would prepare such a reponse as:

        “This is private information that I do not even discuss with my closest friends. If you seek to pressure me further, then I have no interest in working here.”

        And mean it.

  18. ew0054*

    Suppose you lie on salary, get the higher paying job, and then they find out about it and fire you later. Can you still collect unemployment?

  19. ew0054*

    Based on what I have read, I think a strategy would be to set up many job interviews over a short time frame – at least four.

    Strategy: Lie on the first two, then use their offers to negotiate up the next two. “Well I was making [honest number] but I have just been offered $x]” Now you’re not lying any more.

    Alternative A: You get the job offer for the higher amount based on telling them an honest figure. Nothing to worry about.

    Alternative B: You only land one of the jobs you lied for, so take the higher pay, but keep the job search going. Now you are “currently making y” so use this new number on interviews ad try to land something before they find out.

    A freind of mine did this very thing. He’s only 30 years old and making over $100k. He said you have to be very aggressive but it can work.

  20. Ernest*

    Why is there so much confusion on this topic? As someone who has been on both sides of the table, I would like to clear some things up and tell the masses what “they” don’t want you to know. Since attaining a management position, I have interviewed and hired people. You may not agree, but someone has to tell it like it is.

    1.) They want to hire you as low as possible but make you think you’re getting ahead. So if you say you’ve made $50k, they offer you $55k. If you say you made $100k, they offer you $105k. The less they pay you, the more the company keeps, and the better the hiring manager looks to his/her boss (and better chance of a raise or bonus).

    That is why they push you to divulge the number. What you have to do is refuse to disclose the number because it is “not relevant” and “none of their business.” If they say they cannot continue further, shake hands, thank them for their time, and walk out. Have guts, and you WILL hear from them again that week.

    2.) The longer you have been on unemployment, the less desirable of a candidate you appear. Regardless of your economical situation, people sucking off the government appear unmotivated, and beleived to have lost their skills. One or two months is acceptable. A year or more is a red flag.

    3.) Staying at one company for a long time looks good. Staying in one job position does not. Note the difference. Working your way up from stockperson to V.P. over 20 years within the organization is good. Remaining stockperson for 20 years makes me ask “what are you doing with your life?”

    So as to the issue of lying. No you should not lie. In fact, you should not tell them at all. Checking “no” under “may we contact your employer” has little consequence. Everyone in your industry at upper management/VP level knows each other and will talk. Legal or not, it happens. So lying is a sure way to exclude yourself from a list of possible candidiates.

  21. Chris*

    I have been in the corporate world for last 15 years…and I have always inflated my salary history…and never gotten into any problems so far. I believe a prospective employer will hire you only if he thinks are the best match for the job…and he will pay whatever $ they have in their company budget. Salary verification is really a very stupid thing…because your prospective employer is paying for the new job not for your last job…and both roles could be drastically different in terms of work and technicalities.

  22. paystub*

    I don’t think its a good idea, because employer can ask you for pay stub document and these days every employer does background check of employees salary history.

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