There are few situations in the job search that cause as much frustration as the question: “What is your current salary” or “please provide a salary history”. Most of the time, it seems there is no choice except to give what is requested and when you do provide it, you seldom hear back from that company. It appears the question is primarily used as a screening aid to eliminate candidates making more than a positions projected salary. This is bad for the candidate and bad for the company because they’re missing out on excellent candidates who are likely to be flexible on a salary offer.
So, how do you respond when this situation arises? Let’s put things into perspective and take a look at the purpose of this request for information. It is in fact a part of a company screening process and it does help eliminate candidates with a history of high earnings. Historically, a person hired for a job well below their previous salary will only stay with the job until a better offer comes along. This is a waste of time and money for the hiring company and they tend to protect themselves by gathering the salary information up front. However, there are candidates who have earned high salaries in the past but are now looking for a career change and salary is’nt the primary concern. A company will also use your salary history to negotiate an offer from a position of strength and knowledge. When was the last time a company told you the position you’ve applied for pays $xxx and then asks for your salary history? The word “never” comes to mind! They don’t want you to know what it pays because you’ll have valuable information to use in negotiating an offer and they don’t want that to happen.
Since the hiring person is vague about their information, it is perfectly okay for you to be vague with your information. Make it a give and take situation, only giving back to the company the amount of information they’re willing to share with you. Here’s an example of what can be offered when asked for salary information. You’ve applied for a job and get an e-mail or phone call from the company asking for salary background. They haven’t offered to schedule an interview and are fishing for information. This is extremely vague and you need be aggressive and ask an informational question in return, such as “I’ll be glad to provide you that information but I’d like to know the salary range of the position first”. This will throw the other person a curve they don’t expect. The best scenario is they'll provide you with the salary range, which gives you an idea of how to respond. Worse scenario is they tell you it’s their company policy to gather the information and they aren’t allowed to give out salary ranges. Okay, fight vagueness with vagueness. I would respond with this: “My previous salary history is a composite of various positions I’ve earned over the years and based on the benefits I’ve provided to those employers. I’d expect a future employer to provide a salary based on the value I’ll bring to them as an employee.”
Is that vague enough to make them try a different approach? More than likely you’ll get a request for specific dollar figures and the standard line “it’s our company policy to get this”. I’d be willing to bet money that their company policy manual has no such listing or requirement as it would open up several legal and discrimination issues. But, you want to be considered for the job and don’t want to be seen as adversarial. The next step is to offer an actual dollar figure as requested but still keep it vague. My response would be “my previous salary was a total package of $xxx, which included salary, bonuses, benefits and expenses.” Now the figure you give them might actually be your previous salary but they don’t need to know the specifics. Let them figure how much is actual salary and how much is bonus and benefits. By doing this, you’re giving them the information requested but also protecting yourself. You’ll still be in the running for the job and be able to negotiate better when an offer is made.
There will be situations where a company is insistent on specific figures and you’ll need to make a decision at that time to give in or hold out. If you aren’t ready to knuckle under yet, I suggest you tell them you’ll be happy to discuss your salary history in person during the interview process. If they buy off on your bluff, you get an interview scheduled. If they don’t, then give them what they want or even “low ball” the amount you give them. Verbal information isn’t “official” and at this point you’re negotiating to get an interview. When you actually fill out an application and sign your name, then it becomes an official document and must be factual (usually completed the day of the interview).
You don’t want to appear as uncooperative or secretive to a potential employer so it’s a fine line to walk. As long as you’re offering them information incrementally and expanding on what you offer as the negotiation progresses, you’ll be fine. Refusing to provide the requested information will only make the other person suspicious or angry and won’t help your mission to get a job. The key point here is that you don’t have to immediately provide salary figures and the more you negotiate, the better position you’ll be in when an actual job offer comes your way.
Good luck and success in your job search!