how do I negotiate salary when I’m overpaid?

A reader writes:

I’m nearing the final rounds of interviews for a few opportunities that I’m really excited about. In each of these conversations at varying times the recruiter or hiring manager has asked something like, “I just want to make sure we’re not wasting anyone’s time, can you share your current salary so we can make sure it’s in range?” The problem is that I am quite overpaid for my current role (think at least $5k base salary above the top end of the range that many people in my industry with similar skills and experience make) but I’m also quite unhappy for a variety of reasons.

I usually say something like, “I’ll start by letting you know that I’m very interested in this opportunity because of x, y and z. I’m hesitant to share my current salary because I think it’s above average for this role, but I’m looking for something close to $X (my current salary). If that’s not within your range, please know that I’m very interested in this opportunity and I’m not tied to a specific number.”

But is that right? Obviously if I could find something that’s a better opportunity AND continue making my same salary, that would be great so I don’t want to talk myself (or potential employers) out of paying me more if they’re willing and able. I also don’t want to scare off potentially great opportunities just because of a salary number that I’m ultimately flexible on, within reason.

I’ve already had one hiring manager let me know that they couldn’t meet that and they were concerned I would be unhappy with a pay cut, despite me letting them know that I was excited and interested and more than willing to continue talking. They declined and went forward with other applicants.

Try two things, in this order:

First, try to avoid giving a number at all and instead ask about their range. If they just want to make sure you’re not wasting each other’s time, they can do that by sharing the range they plan to pay. This won’t always work — some employers are committed to not disclosing their range and instead getting a number from you — but it works enough of the time that it’s worth trying first. To do this, you’d say something like, “I appreciate that! Can I ask what your range is for the role?”

Even though this is ignoring their direct question, you’re still allowed to do it. Candidates do it all the time. If they want to hold firm on you giving them a number, they’ll tell you that. But a lot of them will answer with their range, at which point you can say, “That’s in line with what I’m looking for as well” (assuming it is).

But if they push back and say they need a number from you in order to proceed — which some employers will do, even though it’s increasingly perceived as outdated and obnoxious — then go ahead and give the range you’re looking for, not your current salary. Even if they’ve explicitly asked for your current salary, a huge portion of the time you can get away with responding as if they’ve asked for the salary you’re seeking, which is more relevant anyway. For example: “I’m looking for something around $X — is that in line with your range?”

I wouldn’t use your language about not being tied to a specific number, at least not right off the bat. If you’ve done the research to feel reasonably confident about what the job should pay, you don’t want to undercut yourself by implying you’ll take less. I see your argument for doing it — you really might be willing to go lower — but at least wait and see how they respond before you take it in that direction.

If you encounter someone who, after this, still insists on knowing exactly what you’re earning now, here’s some advice for handling … but the above will work a surprising amount of the time.

how to avoid giving employers your salary history

company said they’d base my job offer on my current salary

how to refuse to share your salary history

(Of course, this all assumes you’re not in one of the growing number of states that have banned asking about salary history altogether.)

{ 94 comments… read them below }

  1. PinnyNinny*

    This is sooooo timely for me!!! I am overpaid for my position because my current company wanted to retain me, but I’m itching to get out and am really trying to get clear on whether I am willing to take a pay cut. I’ll be watching the commentariat for additional advice/lived experiences.

    1. KRM*

      I’m taking a salary cut to go to my next job. Moving from biotech to big company, so the salary is a little less out of control, and TBH the benefits value more than makes up for it (big 401K match, cheaper insurance, better vacation and sick time policies). It’s the right move for me at this time, so I was definitely willing to make it work!

      1. Londonbookworm*

        Maybe OP can take this as a suggestion to add to Alison’s words around range .. I’m looking for $xxx but am also interested in other benefits you offer. Might take the focus off the actual number?

        1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

          That’s what did it for me when I took a pay cut to come to my current position. My old job was at a small enough company that they only paid wages — no company provided benefits — so on quick glance it looked like I was well-compensated for my job, but out-of-pocket expenses, being responsible for researching and implementing my own insurance needs, and no retirement program at all, made me feel like I was heading for a cliff in the future. There were other, mostly psychological, benefits to working for a larger, more stable company too. Maybe others would be much more proactive about investing and maximizing their cash wages so that company provided benefits wouldn’t be so important, but I didn’t want to make that my second job. So the cut in wages I took was far made up for by the benefits package — especially matching contributions in retirement — and over time, my salary has remained…eh median…with others in my profession. But I don’t have the impending over-a-cliff at any moment feeling.

          1. LinuxSystemsGuy*

            I feel this. I had a 1099 job making *stupid* money, but I had to handle everything. Travel, insurance, retirement. It was a whole other job to be my own HR. I was able to get the best of both worlds by getting a full time job with benefits, and stay on part time with the 1099, making a just less than half what I was. I can’t keep it up forever, but it’s nice right now.

        2. JSPA*

          I can go as low as $XXX for the right job. My priorities are work-life balance / sense of ownership of projects / clear timelines for deliverables / no saturday hours / WFH two days a week / a window office / indoor bike parking and showers / whatever; is that something you can accommodate?

          Making an active ask, if it’s something that they can do, gives them the sense that yes, they DO have a way to please you and keep you!

          Someone who’s going to be gone in 6 months is less likely to have those asks.

          People looking to move on in 6 months are not going to ask about

    2. tamarack & fireweed*

      I’ve taken salary cuts (from tech industry to academic staff in a different country, then further down to grad student / research assistant, and I’m now back about where I was in the tech industry 10 years ago, lower than what I would earn now in this country).

      Sometimes it’s ok to to communicate “I’m enthusiastic about this role – I am looking to make a change – I understand that it might mean a salary step-down, but if everything else is right I’m willing to do that.” People who take career turns do this quite often. (Not to mention people who slow down at the end of a highly-paid career and are happy to be paid a lower wage for a quiet job.)

      Do not say you’re overpaid! Especially if your job comes with inconveniences that makes you unhappy you’re probably not! You’re looking for the right opportunity and you’re ok with the market salary range for that opportunity, even if it’s less than what you’re paid now.

    3. MigraineMonth*

      I worked a great-paying job that I hated and was really affecting my health. After I decided I needed to quit, I worked with a 3rd-party recruiter for my job hunt. She kept asking for my current salary even when I told her the desired range. So finally I told her my current salary.

      There was an awkward pause where she realized that there was no other employer in my city who could match that, followed by, “What was that range again?”

    4. Lizy*

      I took about a 20% paycut from OldJob to CurrentJob (and wow didn’t realize it was that much lol). In the initial HR phone interview, they were worried and asked how much I was making. I flat out said I knew I was going from a high cost-of-living area to a low COL area, and so we couldn’t really compare my previous salary. (Like, I think I said almost those exact words.) I flipped it and asked their range, and when they gave it, I was happy to let them know it was right in line with what I expected. Been there for 2 years now.

  2. Xavier Desmond*

    Why are employers so secretive about the salary range for jobs they’re advertising? It drives me up the wall.

      1. This is not my first time.*

        Colorado has passed a law that you must include salary requirements in all job listings. I love it!

        1. Kimmy Schmidt*

          Apparently, a lot of Colorado companies get around this law by listing ridiculous ranges like “30K – 250K”.

          1. Stitching Away*

            And now a ton of companies are listing remote positions, open to candidates in any state except CO, so as to avoid posting any salary info, which is so obnoxious.

            For reference, there is not a single reason to avoid listing a salary in a job post that is not to the advantage of the employer. Any employer or representative of one that tells you otherwise is lying, plain and simple.

            1. Mid*

              I’ll be honest, I haven’t seen “a ton” of companies doing that, most of them just blatantly ignore the law. I’ve seen a few postings exempting CO, but not many. I’m sure it will increase if CO actually starts enforcing the law though. Which honestly should be a red flag that the employer isn’t a good one.

          2. Audiophile*

            It’s not just CO companies.

            I encountered something like this recently; I’m not in CO, and neither was this job/employer, but they had a wide range listed in their ad. I think it was something like $30k-$100k.

            So, I applied; and was contacted about my application and asked to provide a range.

            I go back to the job posting and pick a range that falls within their listed range, only for the company to come back and say they budgeted $50k-$60k for this role.

            Would have saved us all time if they just supplied that number in the job posting.

          3. Mid*

            They actually can’t do that. Part of the law requires employers list a reasonable pay range that it believes in good faith it might pay for a job. No job reasonably would have a pay range like that, since $30k is roughly CO minimum wage, and $250k is director level pay, so they’re violating Colorado’s EPEW Act.

      1. Maybe Relevant*

        In my case, we have no idea what it would take to get what we want. The market has sent salaries skyrocketing in a short period, and we are looking for someone with unicorn combination of skills…. Sigh.

        1. Eden*

          Post what you’re willing to pay. If it’s not enough, post a higher number or remove requirements. Your situation isn’t unique; every cagey job posting because they’re unsure the lowest a candidate will take.

          Or at the very least, if you’re not posting it online, have a number and share it with every candidate you speak with before interviewing. I’m job searching now and while no posting lists a salary, almost every recruiter has given me some info when I asked.

        2. Fikly*

          So what? You will have a max you can pay, that’s how budgets work. That will either get you what you need, or it will get you less than what you need.

          By not posting pay info, you are forcing applicants to spend effort, often quite a bit, applying when quite likely you cannot afford them, which is not only a waste of their time, but once they have that sunk cost, it puts them in a mindset where they are more likely to continue on in the process because they have already put in that time and effort, which hurts them.

          And if that doesn’t convince you, here’s the selfish reason – if you are truly looking for a rare combination of skills, not seeing pay info angers people, and people who have the option to be picky simply will not apply.

          1. Mid*

            This. They probably won’t be willing to pay $500k. They have a max that works with their budget. They know a reasonable minimum wage. List that as the range. It’s not that hard, honestly. If your listed pay range doesn’t attract the candidates you need, then reevaluate.

      2. Xavier Desmond*

        I accept all your reasons are correct as to why to why employers do this but I maintain it is a ridiculous practice. It makes applicants play a stupid guessing game with the salary instead of just being honest and open.

        1. Ally McBeal*

          This! And titles vary SO MUCH even within an industry (my job duties really didn’t change when I was promoted from manager to associate director, for example) that it’s impossible to guess what a company might pay for a role.

    1. anonymous73*

      I agree, it’s BS (and I read the link Alison provided below and I still think it’s BS). If you provide a range, you’re going to weed out anyone who is way out of the ballpark and unwilling to accept that low of a salary, regardless of other benefits. If you beat around the bush asking for a candidate’s current salary, there’s no way of knowing that they would automatically say no if offered a lower salary. They may want to get their foot in the door, or remove themselves from a toxic environment. All they’re doing is wasting everyone’s time playing games.

    2. AdequateAdmin*

      I’m part of a professional group on FB targeted at my specific job niche and we get postings all the time of “Here’s the project, here’s what we’re doing, and here’s the dates” and leave off pay. Sometimes they’ll respond in the comments, but we’ve had several try to play coy with “it depends on experience” and refuse to even give a range. There’s one person in the group who will get pretty snarky with the companies that decline to share pay and they’re kind of my hero.

    3. Tabby Baltimore*

      I suspect that it could also have to do with an employer’s belief that equates providing a salary range with giving its competition information about the health of the employer’s business. I’m not saying a competitor could reverse-engineer anything from that single data point, mind you, I’m just offering this as a potential reason.

    4. MissDisplaced*

      Why are employers so insistent on wanting to know your salary?
      Truly this is not any of their business how much you make currently. All they need is whether or not you’d be happy with what they’re willing to pay.

  3. Momma Bear*

    I know a number of people who took a pay cut to get into federal service, with the thought that there were standard raises and steady employment thereafter. I think it depends on why you’re willing to do it and how far you want to go before you ramp up again.

    I like the idea of giving the range you are looking for vs your actual salary, or if they press hard, your salary and maybe something like “I’m expecting this role to be in the x to y range/I’m looking for x to y.” And honestly, even if you are “overpaid” why not shoot high? For my current role, I calculated a raise for myself, and the company made me an even more generous offer. You may not need to take that much of a hit, depending on the role/company/your experience.

  4. Silver*

    This just happened to me. Recruiter for a FAANG demanded a range from me and wouldn’t give me their range. Then told me my range was too high- bizarrely- and recommended I look on Glassdoor in the future. Which I had done. Extensively. She also assured me my apparently too high range wouldn’t be used against me.

    1. awesome3*

      If she thinks your range is too high, clearly there’s a budget in mind, so she should just tell you what it is instead of making you guess at it. So frustrating.

    2. MigraineMonth*

      Wow, that’s really… special. What was the point of asking you?

      When I interviewed with a FAANG they were really upfront about the salary and benefits I could expect. It was very high for my (non-silicon-valley) area, so it was to their advantage to not be coy.

    3. alpine_buttscootch* is also really helpful for tech, especially FAANG – on top of Glassdoor. But also lol @ that recruiter, especially right now. It’s ridiculous out there!

  5. Anonymous Koala*

    I believe you when you say you’re overpaid, but I would encourage you not to assume that employers won’t be able to meet your current salary. Employers often have way more flexibility on salary than they initially disclose. Unless you’re changing fields or making another big career shift, I think a lot of employers will at least consider matching your current salary.

    Somebody gave you your high salary because they thought you were worth the money. Don’t discount that.

  6. Michelle Smith*

    I’m so glad that question is illegal where I live.

    And I would push back on the idea that you’re “overpaid.” Your industry may routinely pay less than what people in your position deserve, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t being paid in line with what your work is worth. Maybe if you reframe it in your head that you are in fact compensated appropriately, you will feel less apologetic in your salary negotiations.

    1. Sloanicota*

      It’s amusing to me that this advice is the exact same if you’re underpaid! Decline to give your current salary and just ask for the range you want. If they are really demanding about the precise number you make now, they’re being jerks.

      1. ThatGirl*

        My state has outlawed asking for current salary, thankfully, but when I was interviewing for my current job they asked what I was looking for — much better way to do it! I do still kinda wish I’d asked for *their* range, because I suspect I undersold myself a little, but I ended up with a $10k raise over my last job so I’m not complaining.

    2. Old cynic*

      One company I worked at was hiring for a managerial position and their range for the job was 40-50k (when it should have been 50-60).

      They weren’t getting the quality of candidates they wanted because recruiters were sending people that fit the range rather then the experience. Finally one of the recruiters sent a high level candidate that they hired at 72k.

      He wasn’t overpaid, even though he was paid higher than most. He was worth every buck.

      1. irene adler*

        That’s interesting!
        So was the expected salary for the “high level candidate” told to the company PRIOR to their interviewing him? And why did they not reject him at that time? Or did they realize ‘you get what you pay for’?

        See, I’m wondering what it takes to get beyond the initial “pass on that candidate-they are asking above our hiring salary range” mindset that is often used to cut the initial candidate list down to size.

  7. Loulou*

    I was expecting a way bigger gap than $5K when OP said they were “quite overpaid.” 5K is a lot to me as an individual, but for an employer paying a salary I don’t think it’s a huge amount. You might be pleasantly surprised by how this goes, OP!

    1. Spencer Hastings*

      I was thinking more along these lines: normal compensation for a teapot groomer with 5 years of experience ranges between 60k at the lowest to 72k at the highest, and the LW is making 77k. So I think that from her perspective, it’s not “I am 5k overpaid” but “I’m so overpaid that my salary is 5k more than what’s usually thought of as the max.”

    2. OP*

      OP here! I’m $5k above the top end of the bell curve for my years of experience, skills, etc as a base salary with a substantial yearly bonus (like 20% if everything goes according to plan). I’m also early to mid level in my career but I’ve been able to advance more quickly than I even expected, which probably skews my vision and makes it harder to determine “what I’m worth”, if that makes sense.

      1. Toads, Beetles, Bats*

        I take you at your word that you’re overpaid for your position/experience, but $5,000 isn’t exactly the moon. Maybe you advanced quickly because you’re TOTALLY WORTH that $5,000. And should therefore feel confident about asking your next employer to value you similarly.

      2. MansplainerHater*

        I left a company that paid me extremely well (above industry-standard) and gave a big bonus (20-50%) of base pay because it got to the point where no $ could make me feel not-dead-inside. I negotiated a new salary above my base pay but the new place doesn’t have bonuses. I had multiple people, including a therapist, say that I was crazy to leave that kind of total compensation behind.

        I feel like I got my physical and mental health back, so for that alone I am winning.

        BUT ALSO: I was kind of worried that by asking for even the increase in base salary at New Company would set me up for failure because I would fall short of my rockstar salary. Not true. I am kicking ass at the New Company.

      3. Smithy*

        Without making you divulge a lot more about your industry, experience and ambitions – I recommend looking for positions with the level of seniority and duties that speak most strongly to you and doing your best to avoid naming a desired salary range.

        Not that you should be eager for a salary cut, but rather my advice comes from this experience. I used to have a boss who had what I’d call a “golden handcuff” salary. For the level of responsibility he had, he made around $30-40k more than the upper end of his role. On top of that, I would argue that it was a position that wasn’t exactly growing his skills or resume in a way to well position him for jobs the next step up in our industry (that would only begin to come close to matching his salary). And where even parallel jobs (that paid less) would be difficult for him.

        I don’t know if any of that resonates with why you’re job hunting – but if it is, I do encourage doing your best to focus on the jobs, teams, manager and workplaces that appeal most for what you want professionally. In the case of my old boss, life moved on where he got married/had kids and making those kinds of pay cuts began to look more and more painful.

        OP – some commenters may be right, and you don’t need to sell yourself short. But if your research really does show you’re at the outer limits and its prohibiting you from accessing the most exciting jobs that you want right now – you may still be making the absolutely right call to take a pay cut.

        1. OP*

          Thanks for this reply! I totally resonate with your boss’ experience and I can see myself (if I weren’t leaving…) headed toward that same future.

          Oddly enough, I ended up doing exactly what you suggested! My new opportunity (that I’ll start in a few weeks) is an incredible opportunity for growth that also came at a bit of a pay cut. I ultimately made the decision that I’m happy with the near term cut in pay for the long term gain in education, experience and growth (and probably salary to match)

          1. Smithy*

            Fantastic that this is working out for you!

            In absolutely no way do I want to ever be seen as blindly advocating for someone to take a pay cut unnecessarily. But! I had a unique glimpse of seeing someone who’s career managed to atrophy at a far younger age than it should have and when he was unlikely to keep that job until retirement (which was decades away). Sometimes making that kind of strategic move really can be far savvier long term and also shows that you really do understand your industry or professional ambitions.

      4. HereKittyKitty*

        Sort of same here- I’m early to mid-level (think 4 years of workforce experience outside of grad school) and from my starting salary at my first company to now in my third company it’s a 135% increase not including the 20% bonus program I’m now benefiting from. If I were to leave tomorrow, the only companies that MAY be able to offer me a matching salary or more would likely be tech companies or silicon valley companies. Do I think I’m worth what I’m getting now? Heck yes, and more. Are people in my field with 4 years of experience typically paid this much in my local area? Absolutely not.

    3. Dust Bunny*

      Wouldn’t this depend on the industry/position? $5k over the high end would be hugely overpaid for what I do.

  8. 2 cents of grump*

    At this point I’ve started to assume that a company is planning to lowball when they start asking for current salary. Because as Allison points out the company knows what they are willing to pay and would save us all time and angst by being upfront about it. Being secretive and squirrelly just reinforces that they’re trying to oh the absolute least they can and while it might be great for the corporate bottom line it’s the pits for employees

  9. Maybe Relevant*

    Funnily enough, I’m sitting on both sides of this conversation right now.

    1) As a candidate, I’m highly compensated for my niche career, but I’m looking to switch out of my niche for burnout reasons and am willing to take a pay cut but not any bigger than I have to.

    2) We are looking to hire a 2nd senior niche person. My niche is very rare so we probably won’t find another exact match, and for the exact match the number is big. But the reality, the number is about 2/3 of that. Neither an exact match or a partial match are on Glassdoor for us to build an exact range.

  10. Essentially Cheesy*

    This is interesting. I am at the top of my payscale at my current job and have run into similar issues when I’ve done even phone interviews because I’ve had my position for over 15 years. Like they knew my pay would be too high and talks ceased immediately. I’ve wondered how to deal with that.

    1. OP*

      That’s exactly what’s happened to me! I started out just giving an answer like “I am looking to meet or exceed $x, but I’m open to hearing about the entire package and the role before landing on a solid number, even if it’s lower than that.”, with $x being my current salary, which made it so more than one recruiter called me back with an answer like “there’s just no way we could make this salary work so we’ll keep you in mind for future roles.” They all assumed I wouldn’t be happy with a pay cut, even though I had opened the conversation with a willingness to negotiate.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        I think “I am looking to meet or exceed $x” is not the phrase to lead with. I’d go with “I’m looking in the range of (75% of $X) to (X +25%),” and then continue with what you said about the entire package and the role. If you’re truly willing to go down, don’t start by saying you aren’t.

      2. Vanilla Bean*

        My dad took a pay cut years ago while changing jobs. He made the money conversation work in part by explaining the life changes that were happening at the same time. He was looking to leave a role with 75% travel and stop traveling for work, and the life benefits of being home were worth the pay cut to him. Also, he had an almost-empty nest with one college kid left who had full ride scholarships, so his income needs had changed considerably in recent years and he could comfortably afford the pay cut. Telling the whole story and demonstrating he’d thought it through helped.

        1. Dragon*

          I applied unsuccessfully for a job that included about a 10% pay cut. But the salary was tops for the area, and the firm was equally solid with an easier commute and a lower-stress environment.

          They covered medical 100% for their employee (but not dependents), which for single me probably made up the 10% right there.

          I would have been going to a small firm after 20 years in big firms. I worked in small firms before that, and haven’t forgotten how to DIY. If they had reservations about whether I really could make this transition, I wish they had asked me.

  11. CBB*

    It can feel dishonest to be less than completely forthcoming, but it’s not. You’re allowed to pivot away from questions you don’t want to answer.

  12. Don’t Pay Me Less Because of Body Parts*

    I’m neck-deep in job searching and interviews right now. When a recruiter asks my range, I don’t tell them and ask them their range instead. 95% of the time they fold immediately and give me the info. This has been absolutely vital for me learning market rate for my skills, refusing to be on the back heel because of my gender and positioning myself for negotiation when I get an offer. Take advantage of this seeker-friendly market – most of them aren’t willing to lose a good candidate over refusal to name first number. It’s been night and day difference for me from previous job searches.

    1. OP*

      1st of all, I love your name and I think that plays a HUGE role in why I’m feeling self conscious about all of this. 2nd, I have actually ended up doing this in several instances and been pleasantly surprised! Since one of the things I’m leaving my current job over is a lack of transparency and communication, I figure the salary conversation is a good testing ground for overall culture.

      1. Don’t Pay Me Less Because of Body Parts*

        Ha – if I wasn’t afraid of mods I’d have a much more crude version of my username. Everyone is free to use their imagination. :)

        Literally WHILE I was typing this response, a recruiter reached out to me on LinkedIn with a potential job. I asked the salary range and she replied “As for salary, I typically do not give a salary range to anyone. I prefer to go with what the candidate is looking for. I can tell you if you would be over what I think they would be able to pay.”

        I hated that answer! Here’s how I replied (removed some fluff about other questions):
        “As far as salary, my target range is quite wide and has a lot of factors in it. I’m aware of my value, but know that each position and company has different expectations, perks and structure – including flexible/hybrid/remote work, scope of role, supervision and advancement opportunities, other metrics for success, and benefits – lots of factors that are typically discussed later in the process. In this field and this market, I’m not comfortable sharing my (very wide) range since it’s easy to under/over estimate based only on a JD and I’m well aware of the unconscious bias that can be amplified in salary negotiations when a candidate names the first number. I completely understand if this is different than how you operate or how your company chooses to hire.

        Knowing all that, if it makes sense to chat on the phone, I’d be happy to set something up. If anything here is a sticking point for you, I understand and wish you the best of luck in your search.”

        The absolute GLEE I felt typing for once to someone else “best of luck in your search” is actually indescribable.

        Anyway, so now we’re talking on Thursday. We’ll see if she folds, but I absolutely will not.

        1. OP*

          OMG. I don’t know you, but I’m so proud of you. I’m taking “best of luck in your search” energy into literally everything I do today.

        2. Smithy*

          This is AMAZING, and I also think so true!

          My industry is notorious for basically having 1 description for jobs that hit a wide range of seniority. If you take away years of experience and management, you can a job posted for someone with 2-3 years experience and for someone with 10-15 years experience and they can read almost identically. And it’s only after far more discussion/interview to actually get a sense of the actual responsibility, expectations and demands of the job.

        3. A Wall*

          Oh I love this. My last few conversations when the recruiter asked me what I was looking for, I gave a simpler version of this, which was “That depends on the structure of the job and the benefits package. What is your budgeted range?” On principle I avoid giving any more explanation than the necessary minimum (WWAMWMD) but the temptation to add a best of luck is gonna be strong in the future now.

  13. Nesprin*

    I’m baffled by this idea of “overpaid”. OP has no interest in staying, which to me suggests that her company is not compensating her enough.

    When I was much younger I did once quote a company a range of 50k to 150k depending on position, benefits, opportunities for growth and training. They were nonplussed, but still managed to offer me the position and figure out a salary that we all agreed was fair.

    I’d suggest changing the framing to “the salary my current employer pays isn’t relevant because they do not offer me X, and I’m willing to take lower compensation in exchange for Y”

    1. OP*

      The hard part is what comes after “i’m willing to take lower compensation” thought. How much less? and for what? and how low is too low? That’s the part I’m getting after. I could give a number based on my personal needs and budget, but that’s not doing me (or in a larger sense, really anyone) any good.

      1. Nesprin*

        I think that you may need to do a good glassdoor type survey (or ping your network) of what similar positions are paid and then think about what value you offer an employer that others do not. You know your absolute minimum required costs of living, but your worth to an employer is greater than “I like to eat and pay rent”. I suspect you may also need to think about what you offer to an employer that is valuable, and asking your manager/coworkers what you do particularly well may help with external validation (scratch that if manager is a weenie). It’s really scary to have to say “I’m worth X” to an employer and doing so triggers all the impostor syndrome instincts that I (still) struggle with. At the end of the day, they wouldn’t be paying you what they’re paying you out of the goodness of their hearts.

        Once you’ve anchored what you’re worth, its then worth thinking about that other intangibles they can offer you. In my past there were times where I’d have taken a lower salary to have health insurance kick in immediately, or to not be bored at work, or to have a better commute, or to know that my job was stable long term, or to get away from a godawful coworker. But at the end of the day, it is important to not sell yourself short.

        1. OP*

          I agree! There’s so much that goes into a decision like this. Glassdoor is kind of helpful in my industry, but it’s so varied and broad, add in remote work so no geographical basis, and it’s kind of impossible! Your advice to reach out to my network is great, and I’m lucky enough to have a few mentors who also helped me level-set my expectations and weigh the pros and cons of everything.

          Through trial and error (and saying goodbye to some opportunities after stating a salary that I was told was way too high), I ended up taking a bit of a pay cut for many of the reasons you stated. The salary is still average, I’m excited about the work, health benefits are good, and the future trajectory is fantastic. Here’s hoping it all works out!

  14. Lucious*

    A couple of thoughts.

    One- “overpaid” needs to be scaled to local cost of living. Making $100k a year as an entry level teapot analyst in Smallville is overpaid. Earning the same paycheck for the same job in downtown Metropolis? Not so much. Keep that in mind if you’re looking for roles in different geographical regions.

    Two- pay and compensation are a good litmus test on whether an organization backs its principles with action. If a firm openly negotiates in good faith with applicants, it’s a good sign for how they’ll approach other interactions. If a firm is evasive about compensation , or the management resorts to verbal judo when asked professional questions about salary and benefits…look out. It’s not a 100% certain sign one should abandon all hope , but if a company is not candid about your compensation it’s a warning sign of trouble ahead.

    1. OP*

      Number 1 is spot on. Almost all of the companies I’ve explored are either hybrid or fully remote and based in a much higher COL city than I live. It’s hard to get a feel for what I should expect, particularly with fully remote companies. My hope is that the push for remote work also forces companies to give more transparency about what goes into their decisions about how much to pay someone because just saying it’s based on how much it costs to hire someone with similar skills in a similar area doesn’t really work anymore, particularly in my industry.

  15. OP*

    Commenters – thank you for being so kind! I had fully expected a collective eye-roll but you’ve all been so thoughtful and kind in your responses.

    First, some context. As I alluded to in my letter, although I’m very happy with the compensation at this job, I found out almost immediately after starting six months ago that everything from the environment, to the work, to the state of the company, to the future of my role is almost 180 degrees different from what I had originally agreed to (and I made SURE I knew what I was agreeing to!) After several very candid conversations and much troubleshooting, I made the decision to take advantage of the hot market. I’m ultimately very glad I did!

    In the time since I wrote this and it was published, I’ve been through the interview/offer process with at least 3 companies (it’s been an insane month or so…) and landed on one that I’ll start soon. As I anticipated, even after big increase due to negotiations, I will have to take a pay cut in the near term. I’ll still be making close to the average for my title, years of experience, etc. but I’ll hopefully have a much improved quality of life and this new role is exciting to me with room for growth and advancement that I’ve learned aren’t available at my current company.

    So, lessons learned:
    – I practiced my response to this question with my spouse, with friends, etc until it felt natural to me to redirect. I landed on something similar to what Alison suggested with a nod to the variability in my industry. I usually said something like “I would love to learn more about the role and responsibilities before landing on a number on my end. As you know, {insert role} is incredibly varied. Do you have a budget in mind that might give us more clarity?” Everyone I spoke to was very receptive!

    – I was feeling like the number I said at the beginning was the end all be all, but I’m happy to say that that wasn’t the case. In one negotiation I was told one range by a recruiter and then the hiring manager, after learning about my skills and background, was willing to make the position a higher title with higher compensation to match.

    – Candidates really do have the power in this market. I was ruled out for a few roles because the salary I stated was too high for their range. While I was disappointed at the time, I ultimately found other roles that met my needs (and some even better!)

    Thanks again for all of your comments!

    1. Jennifer @unchartedworlds*

      Tipping the hat in respect to “Do you have a budget in mind that might give us more clarity?” Lovely phrasing!

  16. Be kind, rewind*

    I cam confirm from recent phone screens that I have had success with Alison’s suggestion! They did ask me first for salary expectations, and I replied by asking for their range. Each time, the recruiter gave it right up without hesitation.

    One of those times, I was really glad I asked, because the range was $15,000-$25,000 more than I was making at the time at a higher level! So I almost certainly would have short changed myself. My jaw dropped and it was all I could do to stammer over the phone that it was acceptable (don’t even remember the exact words I used!).

  17. Magda*

    I work for the government and glad I don’t have to play this game. When position is posted, everything is outlined and described in the job posting including pay. Pay increases are managed and negotiated by the union. I know how much all of my coworkers make. It’s public information. You can take it or leave it, no room for negotiation.

  18. Never Boring*

    This is yet another reason that I am SO glad that it’s now illegal to ask for salary history in my state.

  19. Formerly Frustrated Optimist*

    I, too, was somewhat overpaid in my previous position – maybe by $5 – $7K.

    In the job I’m currently in, I had to disclose my salary on the online application, so they knew how much I was making, even though I was prepared to (and did) take a salary cut.

    I know some people have suggested that if you encounter that question on an application, just to type “0,” with the implication being that of course you’re getting paid; you’re just not disclosing the number. I could never make myself do that, though – I was afraid it would rule out my application altogether or something. And trust me, I was good and desperate at the time – I did not have the “luxury” of saying, “Well, forget them!”

    When I went to my initial interview, it was intimated that their salary might not match mine. When I went for my second interview, the hiring manager told me honestly what they could pay, and I said that depending on benefits, it could still work for me. I got the job, and have been able to live with the salary cut.

  20. Luthage*

    The state of Washington bans prospective employers from asking what your current salary is and requires them to give a range when requested. More states should really do this.

  21. cncx*

    I actually just did this- i was coming from a city and a sector that had higher salaries than the sector and city for the job i was interviewing, and i just told them straight up “my current salary isn’t relevant due to the field and the location. Given your sector and area i’m looking for a salary in the range of X, is that within your range?” That said, i knew the area and the market well so i know i wasn’t lowballing myself and also that my current salary would have priced me out of the job.

  22. J*

    I had to do this for my current job (shifting from consultancy to a non-profit), and I basically just said “I’m aware that you’re unlikely to be able to match my current salary and that’s fine with me, I’m interested in the role because of x and y”. It’s the one time I’ve ever actually appreciated being asked about salary expectations in a job interview, as it allowed me to assuage the concerns that I suspect they had about me wanting a salary that was unrealistic for them to pay.

  23. agnes*

    I have a real problem with employers asking about current salary. My current salary is irrelevant. What’s relevant is what you want to pay for the job you are interviewing me for and what my desired salary is to do the job you are interviewing me for. Period.

  24. MichaelM*

    I may try that first tip about asking about their range next time and see if that gets me farther along. One interview that I still remember was the interviewer asking for a salary number. I gave him the number and his next sentence was “Well, that’s on the high end of our range.” I didn’t get a second interview.

  25. Lee*

    Salary history really hurt me until I got smart. Coming off nearly a decade of overseas military contracting, I knew my salary history was way out of alignment. It was impossible for me to be taken seriously asking for an industry standard range when I had a history of four to six times that amount. Once someone took the time to explain, I would simply say to salary history questions I was paid by the military and wasn’t free to give the details. Seemed to help. Got me a job Stateside, which has benefits far outweighting higher pay.

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