Salary History: Is It Smart To Tell All?

By Robert Half February 23, 2017 at 2:00pm

When applying for that exciting new tech job, there comes a time in the interview process when you’re asked to provide a previous salary history. You’ve been hoping for a salary increase and, let’s be honest, it can be tempting to inflate your numbers slightly. But what’s the right move?

Is it wise to answer the salary question truthfully? If you do, are you impeding the opportunity to grow your salary with your new position?

If you’re specifically asked about your salary history by a potential employer, don’t inflate your previous salary. With such wide access to salary information, employers would know pretty quickly if a candidate wasn’t realistic about what they were being paid. Besides, inflating can backfire: Candidates can inflate themselves right out of a good job if their worth isn’t obvious.

What if you believe you were underpaid at your last position? “Provide at least an expected salary range,” advises Eric South, metro market manager at Robert Half Technology in Nashville. “Most employers want to provide a fair salary – they know they need to pay competitively to retain talent in today’s IT hiring market. They will most likely work to match your expectations if you can clearly demonstrate your qualifications.”

Previous salaries are not necessarily an indication of a candidate’s worth – they are an indication of the market at the time, and employers are well aware of this. There’s so much information available about current IT salaries; most employers have a good sense of realistic compensation levels based on tenure and skill sets in today’s market.

South offers three additional tips for responding to salary questions:

  1. Answer the question. If you leave a blank space on an application or fail to respond to the salary question, it may raise unnecessary questions. Candidates should reply if they are asked about salary. They may not necessarily be eliminated if they don’t, but it may raise a red flag for the employer and draw attention away from the candidate’s attributes.
  2. Do your research. If you aren’t currently earning your potential and choose to answer the question with an expected salary, make sure it’s realistic. Refer to our Salary Guide to determine starting salaries for more than 75 technology positions. Based on your experience, skills and even your location, it’s easy to determine a competitive salary range for the job you’re seeking. Candidates may have certain expectations about what they should be paid, but what really matters is what the market will bear at that time
  3. Provide a salary range, but keep it narrow. “Giving a five-to-ten thousand dollar range in your salary expectations is fine, but don’t make it wider than that,” says South.

By following these tips, you’re well on your way to having an honest and fair conversation about compensation, one of the most difficult subjects during the interview process.


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