None of Your Business? Revealing Your Salary History

We’ve heard a lot of buzz lately on the topic of whether to reveal your pay history – current pay or past – to a hiring manager or recruiter. The main concern is that revealing a pay rate that’s too low will encourage the new firm to make a lowball offer and thus perpetuate your being underpaid. This is a hot button especially for female candidates concerned about the gender gap in compensation.

So when the new company asks what you earn now, should you reveal it?

Our thoughts:

  • In general, if you’re working with a recruiting firm, we say yes. The recruiters are your advocates, doing their best to place you in the right role, with the best fit and best possible pay rate. To do that, they need the complete picture.
  • Once you’ve shared this information with the recruiter, the two of you can decide together your strategy for revealing the information – or not – to the hiring team. This is a separate discussion from the first part.
  • If you’re speaking directly with a hiring manager, it’s your call. You can say that the potential pay range of the new position is part of what attracted you to it, and that it fits with your future plans and goals. Consider this as part of the discussion: “I see the base pay range for this position is $60-75k, and I’m looking for something in the $70k-plus range, so we’re in the same neighborhood …”
  • Alternately, try this to re-frame the discussion: “I think my background, skills and past successes show that I’m an excellent fit. I’m looking for a base pay range between x and y, and a total earnings potential of z if I’m on target and meeting all expectations. I don’t think my current pay is relevant, as it is a different role at a smaller firm.”
  • If they press for an answer or insist on seeing a W-2 (yes, we’ve seen this happen), you’ll have to make a judgement call. But whatever you do, don’t inflate your numbers and put yourself in a position where you can be caught in a lie. Answer the question or don’t, but don’t risk being bounced and branded as dishonest when a reference check reveals the truth.

As with most things, the best advice is to be prepared: do your homework and understand your value to a potential employer, to yourself and to your family. Then be prepared to stand by your numbers.