interviewer wants to know my current salary (with an update already included!)

I sometimes answer letters privately that I don’t publish here (due to the volume of mail I receive), and I thought this exchange was worth sharing (with the writer’s permission). In September I received this letter:

I’ve interviewed with a great company that I am very interested in. I’m close to getting an offer. At my first phone interview, they told me the salary range — about 30%-50% above what I’m paid now. I knew my salary at my current company was low, and so I was very excited to talk to a company that wasn’t asking my current salary. The did ask what I was hoping to get, and I named a number about $5k over the top of their range, thinking we can negotiate.

They asked for references, and talked about putting together an offer letter. Today, they asked for my “current compensation and bonus payout history. Are you able to share last year’s W2?”

I haven’t had a new job in nearly two decades, but is asking for a W2 normal? How do I answer this without handicapping the offer they’ll make? I feel like I have everything working against me — I’ve been at my current job forever, I started in an entry-level, assistant type role and didn’t negotiate. My pay has gone up based on a percentage of my (low) salary, even as I’ve taken on more responsibility. Because I haven’t switched jobs, I’m way behind on what most people with my experience make. I was hoping this would get my earnings back on track and now I feel like they’re going to just offer me slightly more than I make now.

And I just found out that asking salary history will be illegal in my state (Illinois) on 9/29. But saying it’s illegal likely sets the wrong tone…

Any advice on how to word a response to this? I don’t want to sound whiny, but I also don’t want to give them my salary!

I wrote back and said, “Some companies do ask for W2s, yes. (It’s ridiculous.) But the new law, even though it’s not in effect yet, could really help you here. You could try saying, ‘There’s actually a new Illinois law taking effect this month that doesn’t let us talk about salary history, but I’d be glad to talk more with you about why I think $X is a fair salary for the role and answer any further questions you have about my experience!’ They may or may not go for it, but it’s a reasonable thing to say, especially if you say it warmly and cheerfully.”

This month, I received this update:

I wanted to send you an update on my job search. You gave me advice on how to avoid giving my current salary. I have always been terrible at that. I generally don’t like conflict and I expect people to be fair, and so I have always caved and given my salary before getting a range from a hiring manager or recruiter.

In this case, though, I had some great incentive. After my first response when I didn’t give them my W2, they started asking for things like profit-sharing and equity and I realized they were worried they couldn’t match my salary. I knew I was underpaid, and I didn’t want them to see my salary and think they had misjudged my qualifications. When I spoke with the HR rep on the phone and she said I could just send a screenshot, I just said, “I’m not comfortable with that. I’d like to discuss pay based on the role. I’ve done some research and I think $X is fair market value.” She said “okay” and moved on! I ended up getting an offer, and am now six weeks into my new role, making 50% more than my previous salary and at the top of the range they gave me! I couldn’t have done it without all the great advice from your site. Thank you!”

{ 72 comments… read them below }

  1. Fabulous*

    WOO!! I’m in the process (well, my boss is going to bat for me) of negotiating a 20-30% raise and this gives me hope :)

      1. Observer*

        True. But even companies that are careful with their employee’s information can sometimes be careless with applications. So it’s a good idea to wait till they actually NEED it and know that they have an obligation.

        1. Glitsy Gus*

          This has always been my feeling on it too. Until you give me the offer and need it for the background check, I’d rather not share any kind of government based information. I might be paranoid, but it just seems the better part of valor to not give that stuff out any more than absolutely necessary.

    1. JessaB*

      Any time I have to share such a document for some financial reason or other, I redact all that stuff. Unless having the SSN is vital to the process I’m going through I just mark through it.

  2. Enter_the_Dragonfly*

    I am so unbelievably happy for you, OP! It’s so hard to make yourself do that when you’re non-confrontational and just want to get along, but WOW, what a payoff!

  3. Important Moi*

    There is hope! Unfortunately I don’t live in a state where were asking about my current salary is illegal. I can only hope to encounter fair people in my job search .

  4. Sara M*

    Awesome! Wow, you must have been severely underpaid at the old place. I’m happy you’re getting what you deserve!

  5. SuperAnon*

    It can be so hard to learn that we don’t have to answer every question put to us! Or that we can say ‘no’ and still command respect.

    Well done!

  6. azvlr*

    I’m curious if asking for a W-2 for “employment verification” is a sneaky way companies use to try to get around this. My former company has a policy of not providing references, and their employment verification system would not mesh with my new employer’s process, so they asked for it. The contracting agencies I interviewed with also asked for W2s as their default.

    1. Bubbles*

      You could always do it and then redact the numbers. Interesting to see if they follow up on that.

    2. Natalie*

      Although it seems like a terrifically ineffective way to verify someone’s employment – the only thing that document tells you is that I worked at this company for some portion of that year. It’s not going to have job title or length of employment or even whether you’re currently employed.

      1. Evan Þ.*

        But that’s still valuable as a last resort when they can’t verify employment any other way. One summer during college, I worked at a startup that’d gone out of business before I graduated. My employer’s background-check contractor couldn’t get in touch with them at all, so they asked me for my W2.

    3. MsMaryMary*

      I started a new job in October. Because I had asked that my current employer not be contacted, during the background check they asked for a W-2 from my first year of employment there and a current pay stub. Obviously, it’s not a perfect check of my employment history but it’s hard to think of another method of verification. I was told I could blank out private information. I already had an offer letter by that point, and they had my address, SSN, etc to do the background check. I also know that they documents only went to the company doing the background check, not the recruiter or hiring manager.

      The real trick was finding a W-2 from seven years ago. I’d moved in the meantime and I nearly had a panic attack looking for my old tax returns.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        In the future, you should be able to request this information from your employer. People need that information to refinance things all the time, it’s rare that you’d think “She needs a W2?! Must be job searching…”

        I say this as someone who pulls random W2’s for people who are in the process of loan approvals!

        You can also get it from the IRS but that process is most likely slow AF, so doesn’t help if you’re looking to verify quickly.

        1. MsMaryMary*

          Asking payroll was my plan B, but we moved from one payroll system to another 4-5 years ago and I wasn’t confident they had quick access to old W-2s. I could access more recent ones myself.

  7. Goldfinch*

    What reason do jobs give for wanting an old W2? I mean, I know the real reason, but how do they pretend it’s relevant and necessary?

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Employment verification is what pops into my mind.

      But if that’s the case, they clearly shouldn’t care if you submit a redacted version *shines devil horns*

      1. voyager1*

        Yeah. But more then likely it is to determine your take home pay.

        I guess it could be a sneaky way to see if your in the USA legally/can work legally. Seems like a weird way of doing it though.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          The I-9 process is how you verify someone’s ability to work, so I don’t think you’d need to be that weirdly underhanded. You also save yourself from that if you do background checks and get those details sorted out before their first day.

      2. Staja*

        I needed them for employment verification and was asked to submit them with financial information redacted. When I needed to find documentation from 2007, back in 2018, I was able to get from the IRS with 24 hours. I had already shredded my copies.

    2. banzo_bean*

      sometimes the employers just say they’d like to see it to be able to make an offer. It’s a recent shift that employees shouldn’t have to provide this information to employers so some just aren’t on the up and up.

    3. Juli G.*

      Employment verification when there’s something shady on your resume vs. your LinkedIn/social media or if we can’t verify any employment history. My team is in charge of verification for new hires and we aren’t connected to what the offer is in any way nor do we give it to the hiring manager or recruiters.

  8. Dizzy*

    If the company is comfortable possibly breaking the law in asking me for my W2, they need to be comfortable with the aforementioned W2 having a couple of digits redone. Two can play at this game.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      When Connecticut enacted its salary-history privacy law it became only the 6th state to do so.
      I’d be extremely leery of altering a W2 — that’s an official IRS document. (Me no mess with IRS!)

    2. Tzeitel*

      I wouldn’t do that, I would just note that it would be against the law to supply it. Or redact your income information.

  9. Retro*

    Woohoo! I’m glad that the company was actually trying to make sure OP was not underpaid (or at least it seemed like it). Albeit it was the wrong way to go about it, but I’m glad OP schooled them and they were receptive to OP’s responses! It is good to know that there are companies out there looking to offer fair compensation.

    And woohoo to OP sticking to their guns and doing research on their salary range.

  10. Ted Mosby*

    Oooh as a Chicagoan I had no clue Illinois had passed that law already so that is some HANDY information

  11. Harley*

    Congratulations!!! I’m also just-go-with the-flow-person, so I get how this experience must have been nerve wracking. Well done.

  12. Never Been There, Never Done That*

    WOO HOO!!! It’s so nice to hear some happy stories. Good luck for you LW and thank you Allison. I am on the hunt and also conflict-averse so this is great to know that it CAN happen in the real world.

  13. Dagny*


    Also, thank you for this update, because it’s a fantastic reminder that sometimes, the issue is that they are worried about not being able to attract talent, rather than trying to underpay the talent they’ve attracted. (For me at least, this would make me more confident in negotiations.)

  14. SebbyGrrl*

    Way to go OP!!! (standing up clapping)!!!

    One of the nicer aspects of this space is we get to root for total strangers and learn something ourselves too!

  15. MassMatt*

    Great job, OP! I hope more states prohibit demanding salary info, it almost always seems to work against employees. if it’s “too high” they eliminate you from the candidate pool (especially when a lazy employer asks for it with an initial application) and if it’s lower than their range they look at it as a bargain.

    OP a I recommend you take this opportunity to save for retirement and other goals, along with improving your standard of living. With this kind of jump you won’t notice a big contribution to a 401k or IRA.

  16. RUKiddingMe*

    Yay OP! Don’t let “the man” push you around.

    As “the man” (in the colloquial sense…I’m actually a woman) who reads this blog I find myself more and more happy with my decision to contract with an HR/Accounting/Payroll company that takes care of the legal stuff for me. I can never remember minimum wage…other than it generally increases every January (and I pay well above minimum even at entry level, so I need to make sure we do that), and I didn’t know that the ban on asking salary history went into effect this past July in Washington. Left to my own (lazy? inert?) devices I’d probably be running all kinds of afoul of the law(s).

  17. e271828*

    I am very happy for you! You handled this in in an exemplarily professional way. Much success to you going forward!

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