Skip

Do I have to give a salary history?
May 5, 2010 10:40 AM   Subscribe

Interviews for a potential new job have gone well, but the process can't proceed unless I provide a salary history. I don't want to because I believe I'm underpaid and don't want that to affect the salary at a new job.

I've had several interviews for a web application developer position with a Bay Area software company. After the interviews went well they had me fill out an application, which asked for a salary history and requirements. I left that blank and wrote "see resume" for the work history.

Their HR director emailed me saying that they're "enthusiastic about [my] candidacy" but they're unable to progress without my salary history. Since I feel I'm underpaid (basics below) at my current position and moving from a public sector job to the private sector, I don't want to get a low offer based on my current salary. How do I respond?

I'm a web developer at one of the University of California campuses. I've been doing web work since 1995 and middleware/database-driven web application development for over eight years. My current salary's 77K (but lower now due to furloughs). The average salary at my UC campus for my position is 94,700. I've checked several salary survey websites and the midpoint for web application developers in the San Francisco Bay Area is about $95K. In my job search I've seen Bay Area developer positions in the $100-110 range.
posted by croatoan to Work & Money (29 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 
If they offer you less than you want, don't accept the job. Then they can offer you more or say "sorry, this is what the position pays." If they say the latter, you can ask for guaranteed raises if you meet performance marks or whatever. If they want you, they'll be flexible.

Once you're over about the $12/hr level, employers want more than finding the person they can pay the absolute minimum.
posted by oreofuchi at 10:43 AM on May 5, 2010


Tip from an HR buddy of mine: if they catch you lying you're out anyway. If they're asking for proof, I'd say give it to them or they'll basically either assume the worst or at best make an informed guess that you're on a low salary.

This doesn't preclude you from saying what salary you want. At the end of the day it's still a negotiation. Yes, they're stacking the deck in their favor, but if they want someone cheap they will eventually get someone cheap. Similarly if they want you, then a reasonable negotiation should get closer to your target salary.
posted by MuffinMan at 10:44 AM on May 5, 2010


Give them your history and your requirements. Make your requirements a number you can live with and a number under which you will not accept.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:45 AM on May 5, 2010


Research average salaries for the position you're interviewing for (maybe adjusted based on years of experience and location). There are quite a few sites out there that give average salary figures, and certain university career centers will also publish average salary of the graduating class based on industry (you might be able to discreetly check in with your UC career office, and then adjust for salary increases based on your years of experience).

Once you understand the salary the market bears for the position in your industry, set salary figures for your most desired outcome (the salary you want), the least acceptable alternative (the salary under which you will not accept, per JohnnyGunn), and the best alternative to a negotiated agreement (what else would you do and what salary would you get if you did not accept the terms set by the job you're interviewing for - it might be your current job, or another job who has provided you with an offer).

Provide your salary history to the software company, but also let them know your salary expectation based on the market research you did. This lets them know you're an informed player. From there, you'll be able to negotiate with them.

Salary negotiations are standard practice during the hiring process. If they want you, and they're not strapped for cash (which would tell you they might be in some trouble anyway), then they will pay what the market bears.
posted by cranberryskies at 11:09 AM on May 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


In order to inflate your previous salary history, factor in the cost of the "total salary package", such as benefits, holiday pay and sick pay, rather than just base pay. Do not deduct income because of furlough, etc. Figure out what you want to earn, make sure it is reasonable, and stick to it. If it gets to be too much of a pain in the ass dealing with these people, take the hint, and find a better job. Presumably there are at least two other companies out there who will pay you what you want.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:16 AM on May 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


In order to inflate your previous salary history, factor in the cost of the "total salary package", such as benefits, holiday pay and sick pay, rather than just base pay.

Keep in mind, however, that if you simply inflate your own salary without documenting how you came up with that number, you are lying on a job application.

I would instead list your salary and and write in benefits received. If they low-ball you, present your research and counter-offer; that is how salary negotiations are supposed to go. You should be prepared to walk away if their final offer is not a certain amount, in order to increase your bargaining power.
posted by Hiker at 11:27 AM on May 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


You could throw in the fact that you are not happy with your current salary, and state that better pay is one of the things you're looking for in your new job.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 11:30 AM on May 5, 2010


Keep in mind, however, that if you simply inflate your own salary without documenting how you came up with that number, you are lying on a job application.

Who cares? How would anyone ever find out? Who would tell them? As well, by making such a demand (what is your salary history?) the company is claiming an enormous negotiating advantage right from the very start. That's dirty pool.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:39 AM on May 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


I would tell them that I'd be happy to provide a salary history after an offer letter has been tendered.

Ask for what you want. There's a real lack of awesome programmers out there, and if they're going to jerk you around in the interviewing process then they're going to treat you way worse when you actually start working there.

On a complete side note, if you have any interest in working in NYC for a great consulting firm, MeMail me.
posted by ged at 11:39 AM on May 5, 2010


Another option is to ask them for a range of what they pay people in that position and pick a number that's firmly in the middle.

Tit for tat, baby.
posted by ged at 11:40 AM on May 5, 2010


Chiming in to confirm what others have said. There are all kinds of reasons why a potential employer would want to see and require that you provide your current salary and salary history and not all are to your disadvantage. This kind of information is easily verified to boot, so just state the facts. Also, employers understand that two primary reasons for seeking new employment are the desire to receive a salary that reflects industry standards (if you are currently underpaid) and/or the desire to receive a salary that reflects what you are capable of contributing (even if you are already paid an industry-standard salary but think you are capable of contributing something beyond what is standard). I wouldn't sweat it.
posted by beanie at 11:49 AM on May 5, 2010


Who cares? How would anyone ever find out? Who would tell them?

Well, for one thing, if you work for the public higher education system in California (and most other states), your salary is public record.
posted by beanie at 11:58 AM on May 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


You don't actually have to tell them. You can just say "I'd rather not say." Sometimes they'll be put off by that, but sometimes they will respect you as someone who has the self confidence to do that.

Or, as ged said, tell them you'll be happy to provide a salary history after an offer letter has been tendered. You don't want to be paid according to what you've been paid in the past; you want to be paid relevant to the job you'll be doing for them. Your previous experience is relevant, but what your previous employers could afford/were willing/could get away with paying you isn't.

Deepest sympathies, though. I've been in the same situation. It sucks.
posted by MexicanYenta at 12:26 PM on May 5, 2010


KokuRyu: "Who cares? How would anyone ever find out? Who would tell them? As well, by making such a demand (what is your salary history?) the company is claiming an enormous negotiating advantage right from the very start. That's dirty pool."

No, it's not. This is standard once you get past an entry-level salary. Don't let anyone convince you otherwise, croatoan. I don't blink when asked to provide past pay stubs to verify what I say I was being paid in a past role.

As to who would tell them: the past employer. I have had potential employers and recruiters both ask if they could contact my former HR manager and verify job description, dates of employment, terms of severance (to make sure I am not in violation of a non-compete), and past salary including bonuses and raises. When it's a good job and I want it, I give them permission happily.

ged: "I would tell them that I'd be happy to provide a salary history after an offer letter has been tendered.

...Another option is to ask them for a range of what they pay people in that position and pick a number that's firmly in the middle. Tit for tat, baby.
"

No offense intended to ged but these are two quick ways to get dropped like a hot potato. What you have been paid by past employers for similar work is a good metric for your true value in the market. Why would a prospective employer make you a written offer before you had fully participated in the salary negotation process, wherein you demonstrated that a third party (i.e. your current/past employer) actually agrees with your own assessment of your worth? For all they know, you could be pulling your salary requirement out of thin air, rather than basing it on a reasonable path of professional advancement comparable to your similarly-qualified peers.

"Tit for tat"? This is still a seller's market. Unless you've done something that sets you apart as one of the top 10 or 20 players in the world in your field, you don't get to make the rules in this economy. A candidate with a "tit for tat" attitude will be merely a candidate for a very long time.

I can walk into a job interview and SAY I'm worth $100K, and I can SAY that I've been paid that in the past... but if I expect to actually get that kind of number in an offer, I know I better be prepared to prove what I claim.

I second what MuffinMan and beanie said. Be honest about the past number, but also be upfront that you realize you are worth more in the private sector and therefore you are looking for something closer to $100-105.

I would also bear in mind the most important chip you have: the ability to walk away from the table. If you want 100 but you can't afford not to take the job at 80, they are going to win... simply because you don't have the ability to walk away. Anything you do between now and then is bluffing.

There are some great threads in AskMe about salary negotiation technique, and I have used them frequently, both in establishing my consulting rates and in securing competitive offers. I'm afraid that "don't give the prospective employer the information they are requesting!" is not very practical advice, though.
posted by pineapple at 12:31 PM on May 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


Listen to pineapple. Just give them your salary history. It doesn't mean you can't negotiate for a higher salary.
posted by desuetude at 1:02 PM on May 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also, speaking as someone that does a *lot* of hiring, you're under no obligation to tell them what you currently make. If they ask just reiterate that you took your current job for other reasons and that your requested salary is $X.
posted by ged at 1:19 PM on May 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


pineapple: I don't blink when asked to provide past pay stubs to verify what I say I was being paid in a past role.

Then you're a fool. You absolutely, positively don't need to do this.

This is still a seller's market.

No, it's not. There are a lot of people trying to hire programmers right now and there are not a lot of qualified candidates to go around.
posted by ged at 1:23 PM on May 5, 2010


To clarify: it's a buyer's market. The employers are buying your labor, and you are selling it.
posted by notswedish at 1:42 PM on May 5, 2010


A few jobs ago, I left a position where I was severely underpaid by industry standards and by the nature of the work I did. This was because the job was in a cost centre, for a company in an industry with low profit margins, in a depressed location, and paying enormous agency fees. When I left I determined that my next job would reflect the industry average for my skillset, my experience, and the significant additional qualifications I'd earned to boot.

A huge number of agents and recruiters demanded to know my most recent salary. Most accepted it when I said, "based on my skillset, experience, and qualifications, I believe the usual range in this city is X1 .. Xn". If they pressed me for my exact salary number I would reply that it was confidential. Which it was. It was none of their gorram business.

Most accepted that. A few badgered me. The reasons given: "We need to know how much responsibility you had." "We need to know it so we can work out how much you need to live on and add the cost of commuting to that [ignoring the massive additional responsibilities, esoteric skillset, and doubled working hours of course]." One, with almost charming frankness, said "We need to know your salary so we can tell how good you were." (My coworkers had previously been outsourced to two agencies, and when the second agency was abolished, they got a 33% pay increase. By this reasoning, the quality of their work must have instantaneously gotten 33% better.) It was obvious that the only possible reason for any of them to ask me this was in order to continue to underpay me. I stuck to my guns and never revealed it, even when one agent yelled at me that the only possible reason for keeping my rates confidential was that I must have been committing tax fraud.

Fast-forward a bit. It so happens that my last job paid significantly more than the standard, in a sector with transparent pay scales. This time, I decided to experiment and reveal this unusually high salary to all enquirers.

Strangely, not one of them inferred that I must have been extra-super-duper better than average to be earning so much. In fact, when I pointed out that they'd advertised a salary of £X, they explained that well yes but my skillset was a bit rubbish, and it was totally unrealistic considering that even their most elite candidates had only ever gotten £X*0.75.

In fact, come to think of it, all of the agents argued that I really should ask for less money this time. Isn't that odd, considering how important salary history had been to them before? I stuck to my guns, and I wasn't particularly surprised that none of them hired me.

It all turned out all right, my current job was a direct hire, and they gave me the highest possible offer according to their transparent pay scales, and they did so without my even having to ask. So that's one scenario where revealing my previous salary turned out well.

I wouldn't kid yourself that there's any more to it than that. They'll pay you as little as you will consent to live on, and if you reveal your previous salary, they will have proof that you have already consented to live on that amount, and they probably will refuse to hire you at the industry average rate.

tl;dr If I were you, I'd say "I'll reveal it after I have an offer," but I'd also be prepared to walk away because they're likely to turn you down.
posted by tel3path at 1:54 PM on May 5, 2010 [7 favorites]


ged: "Then you're a fool. You absolutely, positively don't need to do this."

Technically, you are correct. You only need to do this if they ask for it, and if you actually want the job.

ged, I have no idea who you work for or what entry-level college grads you are usually hiring but legitimate companies do make salary history a cut-and-dried requirement during the application process for professionals. I have also been on the teams that have specifically hired senior developers (lest anyone think this is a marketing/sales thing vs. a tech thing), and we absolutely expected to know what they were making before.

In fact, I worked for an org who made it a policy to ask for starting and ending salary as well if the candidate had been with the organization 2+ years... so we could see whether they were earning merit raises or just COLA.

Anyone who wouldn't share that info had something to hide, and there were too many other applications in the pile to waste time on someone who is being cagey about his past.

notswedish: " To clarify: it's a buyer's market. The employers are buying your labor, and you are selling it."

God, yes, thanks, I even thought through it twice before using the idiom (metaphor?) because I always say the opposite of what I mean; see also the "signal vs. noise" idea.

It's a BUYER'S MARKET, regardless of what ged says.

tel3path: "They'll pay you as little as you will consent to live on, and if you reveal your previous salary, they will have proof that you have already consented to live on that amount,"

I disagree with this for the obvious reason; if you were consenting to live on the previous lower number, you wouldn't be looking for a new job. "I'm looking for a new role with an organization that is better equipped to make use of my ever-expanding and extremely competitive skill set" is a more polite way to say it, but "the last outfit was paying me peanuts and the market says I'm worth more" is a completely valid reason to look for a new gig.
posted by pineapple at 2:14 PM on May 5, 2010


Except if the market said I were worth more, why was I working for TarPitCo for peanuts in the first place? If I were any good, I'd already have a better job, rather than asking these kind folks to take me in as a charity case.

It sounds like you are too rational to make that argument, but unfortunately all the other salary-busybodies did.
posted by tel3path at 2:33 PM on May 5, 2010


The person who is holding your applicaton for your salary info may simpmly be filling out a form and may need to check the number. If you are offered the position, you can negotiate and if you're not being offered what you want, you may decline. If you don't provide accurate information to the person in HR, you will not be offered the job. HR folk, whom I tend to despise, can prevent you from ever receiving an offer.
posted by WyoWhy at 3:51 PM on May 5, 2010


I can walk into a job interview and SAY I'm worth $100K, and I can SAY that I've been paid that in the past... but if I expect to actually get that kind of number in an offer, I know I better be prepared to prove what I claim.

There is a very easy and foolproof way for an employer to verify that you're worth $100K. They can hire you.

Sure, this could be an expensive lesson for them if you're not really worth $100K. For this reason, you provide references.
posted by kindall at 4:42 PM on May 5, 2010


I can't believe anybody would have the temerity to ask this. It is _unheard of_ in Australia. Sure, they'll ask you in an interview, but they would never dare ask for pay-stubbs, outrageous!

And when they _do_ ask you, what do you do? Lie. Everybody lies and knocks their salary up. FFS, employers hold all the cards here, and will pay you as little as possible. If you want to work for peanuts for the rest of your life, by all means tell the truth.

By the same token, pineapple et al's assertion that prospective employers would take the trouble to investigate what your salary is, is largely bunk - at least here in Oz (my partner is a recruiter). Interviewers just don't give that much of a shit; it's not their money they're losing, and - most crucially - if they really want you, they will always offer you the job. The offer might be too low, might be a long time in coming, whatever. But rest assured, you will always get an offer if they want you, regardless of what your salary request is. Recruiters don't make employment decisions around someone's salary, they make it around their skills, and only then does salary come into it.

Tldr; Refuse the request, lie about your salary, accept an offer if you really want the job and can't do better. Remember, the biggest salary increases you will ever get come between jobs, not in them. Don't stiff yourself if you think you're worth it. You can always lower your standards later.
posted by smoke at 5:01 PM on May 5, 2010


I went ahead and gave them my exact salary at my last three positions, with a cover email saying I don't feel my pay at a university is an adequate guide to what I want in a private-sector job, that the pay is a major reason I'm looking for something else, and mentioning the research I've done on comparable positions. That was a couple of hours ago and I haven't heard, so hopefully that's a good sign. They could've said no pretty easily by now.

Also, I gave them my exact and actual range, and if they counter I'll tell them they already have my range. I have some leverage due to other factors so hopefully with that plus my range being fair it'll work out OK.
posted by croatoan at 5:02 PM on May 5, 2010


I think the important factor here is knowing if you want this job or need this job. If you need it and they know it, then they have an advantage by asking your salary. If you want it and have a minimum in mind, then they are at the disadvantage if they want you. You will only come if you get what you want.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:18 PM on May 5, 2010


Good luck, croatoan! Let us know how it works out. Fingers crossed.

tel3path: "Except if the market said I were worth more, why was I working for TarPitCo for peanuts in the first place? If I were any good, I'd already have a better job, rather than asking these kind folks to take me in as a charity case."

Because the US economy is in the toilet, and unemployment has been at record highs over the last 12-18 months, and anyone who had a good job that was paying steadily has been told from all corners not to rock the boat? And even now, though the economy is turning back, employers are still not hiring at 2006-2007 levels because they have found ways to squeeze more productivity out of fewer people (to wit: OP's situation)?

smoke and tel3path do bring up a fair point, which is that hiring practices vary wildly from country to country.
posted by pineapple at 7:13 AM on May 6, 2010


Who asks this question? My answer would have been: I have never been asked for this info before and am uncomfortable giving it to you. Why don't you tell me how much a typical employee in my position makes. Answer their questions with questions.
posted by xammerboy at 7:38 AM on May 6, 2010


[few comments removed - take it to MeTa or email folks.]
posted by jessamyn at 11:11 AM on May 6, 2010


« Older What recipes are best suited f...   |  Help me better negotiate in th... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.


Post