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How do I explain that I've never had a salary?
August 17, 2012 3:01 PM   Subscribe

My salary history is ridiculous and piecemeal, in part due to working abroad for much less money than I would have made in the U.S. and also just being generally underpaid. I am not opposed to disclosing it to employers when asked, but am afraid the complexity would be a turn-off. How do I signal to employers that I'm not trying to be coy but that I don't really have a salary history that is going to be useful for them in determining my potential salary?

Brief overview of my work history:
--AmeriCorps (made less than minimum wage doing "service")
--Outdoor Ed teacher (hourly pay during a school year contract)
--Volunteered for a year in developing country (lived on savings)
--Worked part-time in same developing country (when converting from local currency, would have been an annual salary of $1,560 which is just nonsensical out of context, but I still gained valuable admin. experience which I would like to include on resume)

So, how do I say: "Yeah, don't worry about it, I've never really had a salary but I do have a lot of experience. I'm sure what you're offering will be fine?"
posted by dahliachewswell to Work & Money (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
And just to be clear, I'm referring to situations when a salary history is specifically requested to apply for the position. Obviously, if not requested, I wouldn't worry about it.
posted by dahliachewswell at 3:03 PM on August 17, 2012


Maybe the path of least resistance is just to give it to them and mention something along the lines of "what you're offering will be fine" in your cover letter? I find it hard to imagine an outright refusal to provide the history they ask for not being quite possibly interpreted as coy or otherwise sketchy/bad.
posted by Rallon at 3:08 PM on August 17, 2012


Embrace it. Tell them what you actually earned at each job. They shouldn't be taken aback to learn that you weren't raking in the dough working for AmeriCorps and doing volunteer/service work in developing countries. Giving the salary info won't stop you from describing the experience on your resume. In fact, it could put your experience in a better light: you're so passionate about this kind of work that you've been willing to make real sacrifices to do it.
posted by John Cohen at 3:13 PM on August 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


The last thing I'd ever say when negotiating a salary is "I'm sure what you're offering will be fine".

The phrase "a fair total compensation package commensurate with the requirements of the job and my skill level" or something similar is what most people use.

Compensation package is salary and benefits, which includes obvious things like health insurance and vacation time but also not so obvious things, such as flex time, housing, free food, discounts, etc. You considered it worth it to work these jobs where the compensation wasn't just your pay check, you got other things out of these jobs. Now that if looks like you're getting a 9-5 working for the man, your compensation package will look different, more pay but less travel to interesting places, for example.

Employers don't automatically pay more for people who in the past made more. They have a general idea what they want to pay for a position. Finding a superstar who made three times as much with ten years of experience might not be a fit because that superstar is out of their budget. (And even if the superstar could really use the job right now, employers might consider the superstar overqualified which means they think the superstar will leave for a big salary the second something better comes along, leaving the employer in the lurch again.) A salary history is their way of seeing "hey, who can we get who is used to making the least amount of money that meets all our requirements". I'm firmly in the camp of not providing one until the employer wants to hire me and I let them name a number first.
posted by Brian Puccio at 3:28 PM on August 17, 2012 [7 favorites]


If I was you (and remember, you're not me):

"I love your company and I think this position is a great mutual fit where I can add a lot of value. Is $x in your acceptable range? (where X was researched and already known to be in the acceptable range)"

If they continued asking my response would vary fairly substantively depending on their tactics.
posted by grudgebgon at 3:31 PM on August 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


"I've been working in other countries, so the compensation schemes from those positions don't really offer a useful point of reference, but I'm excited to work here and the salary I would be looking for is..."
posted by anonymisc at 3:38 PM on August 17, 2012 [6 favorites]


Please ignore advice that tells you to duck the question or not provide the information. As someone who does quite a bit of hiring, if I spell out requirements in the job advertisement and you fail to provide some of what I ask, you're likely going to be out of the running immediately. In this job market, recruiters can afford to do that. Don't give them a reason to.

I'll echo the comment above that anyone who knows you were working for AmeriCorps knows you're making jack, and anyone who knows anything about foreign work experience knows the same. List what you made. Be clear and honest about it. It's not going to get you removed from the hiring process, it's not going to guarantee you a lowball salary, and it's not going to hurt your chances of getting the job.

Worry about salary negotiations when you have an offer in hand. Right now, you're just trying to get into the race.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 3:50 PM on August 17, 2012 [9 favorites]


"I've been working in other countries, so the compensation schemes from those positions don't really offer a useful point of reference, but I'm excited to work here and the salary I would be looking for is..."

They're going to know that's BS when they read the OP's resume and see that some of her jobs have been in the US.

NotMyselfRightNow is right: if you don't specify your salary history, you'll just show them you're unwilling or unable to follow an employer's instructions. That isn't a good idea.

Give the accurate information. Don't BS; the people reviewing your application probably have good BS detectors.
posted by John Cohen at 3:56 PM on August 17, 2012


You need to figure out what your total compensation package was and use that number.

If you spent time outside of work preparing for work or getting any training, put a value on that.

Then the answer becomes "my salary was x, but my total compensation was y"
posted by roboton666 at 4:54 PM on August 17, 2012


Any company that determines your compensation based on past compensation is not a company that you want to work for. Your salary is determined by your qualifications and the work done, not your past history. If they are basing their offer on past compensation, that is a flag that they will always be trying to keep your salary as low as possible rather than the salary that is appropriate for you and the position you are applying for.

In other words, feel free to provide the past salary history if they insist. It should not be helpful for them, as you should already know what you are worth. Present the amount of money you are worth, and start the negotiation from there.
posted by saeculorum at 5:11 PM on August 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


Okay, as other folks say an employer will expect AmeriCorps paid a pittance, and obviously the volunteer slot was volunteer and free. Perhaps for the others, tell your correct hourly pay rate, in the currency it was paid in (rupees, yen, whatever). You were paid hourly, not a yearly salary, so state it that way, and make sure they know it was part time not full time; but don't BS, don't lie.
posted by easily confused at 5:15 PM on August 17, 2012


Any company that determines your compensation based on past compensation is not a company that you want to work for. Your salary is determined by your qualifications and the work done, not your past history. If they are basing their offer on past compensation, that is a flag that they will always be trying to keep your salary as low as possible rather than the salary that is appropriate for you and the position you are applying for.

I agree. Sort of like a car salesman asking what you paid for your last car.

It is irrelevant and none of their business.

If you feel like you want to disclose it, go ahead. Just stick to your guns regarding the salary you hope to get. If they make you a low-ball offer and then say anything like "yeah, but it's 25% more than you were making at your last job!" stick firm with your original price. Or run away.
posted by gjc at 5:48 PM on August 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


I agree with Brian Puccio and others that you shouldn't name a number first. Yes, some recruiters think they are in the power seat right now -- so many to choose from, so they can really put the screws to people. (Go ahead and write their names and company names down, because you don't want to work for them. When the job market improves, it'll be interesting to see them turn on a dime in terms of what they must know in order to even think about you as a candidate.) But you don't win in that game, and your losses are substantial -- every pay increase based on the last, you lose big over the decades.

If pressed, you can easily claim that your previous jobs offered you intangible benefits that corporate jobs may not be able to offer. If further pressed so that the recruiter can put a dollar value on those intangible benefits, go ahead and list them: Bettering humankind, making a real difference in the lives of children, reaching out to help those in developing countries. Then, please ask them what they offer. What are they going to say? Short-term disability insurance that you can get for a low-low price? You were out making the world a better place, and further you got the satisfaction of knowing that was how you were spending your time -- they can't put a dollar amount on that.

There have been some studies that show that women are especially bad at pay negotiations. Maybe look up some books about this, because "I'm sure whatever you offer is fine" is not a good answer.
posted by Houstonian at 6:15 PM on August 17, 2012


Seconding gjc. Answer their questions honestly, then tell them what you want and stick to it. Your salary history has nothing to do with the amount someone with your skills in your area should get for doing job-X. If they want you, the fact that it would mean more than a 10% increase from your previous job has no relevance to the situation.

That said, if they offer you "enough", but less than what you should make on some BS excuse about HR policies, then you might consider switching the negotiation to non-monetary benefits, like more weeks of vacation.
posted by pla at 8:12 PM on August 17, 2012


I don't understand what's so "complex" about your salary history. Why not just disclose it? What bad thing do you think is going to happen?
posted by J. Wilson at 8:13 PM on August 17, 2012


you shouldn't name a number first

I learnt first hand the error of this rule that I had myself embraced wholeheartedly. I lost my job four years ago and was on the threshold of receiving an offer after being unemployed for half a year. I evaded the number question masterfully, l thought, as the recruiter tried every conceivable tactic to get me to say something. Well, they ended up offering me 15% less than I really wanted. I had to negotiate the number back up a little, settling on the lowest amount I was willing to accept.

In hindsight I know that they would have offered me what I wanted had I just given them the chance. We were too far along in the negotiations, and I was by far their ideal candidate. I was in a position of power but I didn't recognize that the rule should only be applied if it makes sense.

So then a few months ago I received an offer from another company. This time I knew they needed me and because I was still employed I knew I had nothing to lose. So I named my price. They tried offering me less in combination with stocks, but I stood my ground. They ended up giving me what I wanted.

Note that I was not unreasonable in my demand, just closer to the top of the market range for my profile.

If their budget is limited you can always negotiate an early performance review and raise. Or other perks like more vacation time.

Good luck.
posted by Dragonness at 8:28 PM on August 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


okay this might be a bit radical for you but might help others: you see employers have no way of verifying salary information. none at all. so if you're uncomfortable with the numbers--lie.
posted by lester at 8:31 PM on August 17, 2012


okay this might be a bit radical for you but might help others: you see employers have no way of verifying salary information. none at all. so if you're uncomfortable with the numbers--lie.

...except when they call the previous employer and ask for confirmation.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 8:00 AM on August 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


For the foreign experience can you ask your country's embassy to help you work out what an equivalent salary (in standard of living terms) would be in the city you are applying to? They must have ways of assessing the relativities between the two nations so their diplomats posted abroad don't take too much of a cut in their standard of living. Then you could write $x foreign currency, equivalent to $y local currency. If not gjc's approach is a good one.

In any case I feel for you - I had a tough time explaining my foreign salary and foreign work experience to employers back home and ended up rather undervalued as a result. Hope your negotiations go better than mine did!
posted by EatMyHat at 8:18 AM on August 18, 2012


...except when they call the previous employer and ask for confirmation.

every employer i've worked with regards salary as being confidential information. i'd really like to hear from some HR types to see if they are actually able to confirm someone's salary at a past or current job. that's why they ask you for the info.
posted by lester at 9:48 AM on August 18, 2012


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