Interview Tips: The Best Way to Talk About Your Salary History

Women shaking hands at an interview

What happens if a potential employers asks about your salary history during an interview? How should you respon? Here are three interview tips to deal with that possibility.

1. Expect to asked about your salary history

One of the most important interview tips is to be prepared, and this is something that may come up. Employers will likely have a budget in mind, even before they start the hiring process, for the position they’re looking to staff. So, in theory, your salary history should not have an effect on the pay being offered. Nonetheless, you should be prepared to be asked what you made in your previous role, and don’t be surprised if the question comes up, even in the initial stages of the hiring process.

One big reason you may be asked about your salary history is that the hiring manager will want to know if you and the company have the same general range in mind. If your most recent salary was $60,000 but the company is willing or able to offer only $45,000, for instance, the employer will want to know on the front end.

Related interview tips? Keep in mind that there may be Employee Perks to Negotiate.

2. Have a salary range in mind

2017 Salary Guide coverTo avoid a potential mismatch between your salary history and the pay you'd be comfortable with, try to offer a compensation range, instead of stating your actual last salary. This requires doing some salary research.

Consult resources such as Robert Half's latest Salary Guide for Accounting and Finance. Plug your zip code and experience for the position you’re seeking into the Salary Calculator. Factor in your skills, knowledge and everything you bring to the table. Read the job description to see how well you stack up against the minimum qualifications without taking your salary history into account.

Pursue jobs in your desired salary range, of course, but be careful that you don’t rule out positions because the salaries listed in job ads don't match your salary history. There’s almost always room for negotiation, and some companies may post salaries that are on the lower end of the range they’re willing to pay to allow for some back and forth.

Visit the Salary Center, where you'll be able to adjust salaries for jobs in your city with the Salary Calculator, and get your own copy of the Salary Guide.

3. Hold steady in your negotiation, but be honest

If you’re asked about your salary history, try to first find out the range for the position you’re seeking so you don’t undersell yourself. Say something like, “Actually, I was wondering what this position pays. Do you have a range in mind?” Before you go to the interview, practice responses like this so you won’t be caught off guard. Rehearse in front of a mirror or with a friend.

If the interviewer continues to push, don’t panic. This is where your research comes in handy. Cite a range so you don’t lock yourself into a concrete figure. You want to leave some flexibility to negotiate if the employer’s offer is below your expectations.  

Of all the interview tips, this might be one of the best: If the hiring manager asks directly about your salary history, it’s best to be honest. There’s not much you can do to hide this information. It takes just one call to the human resources department at your previous company to uncover it.

But do note if you feel you were underpaid so it’s clear you are expecting a significant bump in compensation. After all, inadequate salary and benefits is the top reason good employees quit, according to a Robert Half survey. Be upfront in these situations.

Don't miss this: How to Negotiate Your Salary Without Alienating an Employer, with its suggestions to practice your pitch, let the employer go first, and be willing to compromise.

By focusing on your desired salary instead of your salary history — if at all possible — you keep the emphasis where it should be: on your next job, not on your last.

Read more interview tips about how you can work with Robert Half's recruiters to find a position matched to your unique skill set and requirements.  


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Editor's note: This post was published in 2014 and updated recently to reflect more current information.

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