How much can I fudge my salary history?
January 12, 2005 9:35 AM   Subscribe

Relating to yesterday's credit check question, how do you reply to a prospective employer who wants your salary history in a way that's fair to your value? So many IT/Web type jobs over the past few years have seen pay rates chopped down. If they ask, and A) I know my former employers don't give out salary information; and B) they don't require some sort of three year old pay stub - then why can't I just fluff it up to my true value again? I don't want to get in trouble, but I'm sick of getting low-balled. There's no way I can let them continue to get away with this! Do you just lie? What's the system?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (11 answers total)
I know this isn't what you want to hear, but your "true value" is based on what the market is paying and if your sector has taken a salary hit, that's just the way it is.

Further, there is more than one way to verify your income. More and more employers are using credit checks and a variety of other measures to determine the viability of possible employees.

Finally, if your prospective employer finds out that you lied they have grounds to terminate you for fraud.

It's tempting, but I wouldn't do it. I'd provide the correct information with a short statement about the compensation you expect for the position you are applying for and why you feel it is appropriate.
posted by FlamingBore at 9:52 AM on January 12, 2005

I haven't had serious conversations with a prospective employer where that question was asked. Usually it is framed in the "What salary do you expect if selected for this position?" style.

The question is asked to weed people out -- if you say you expect $100K for a job that is open for a $25K req they don't need to bother talking to you. And if it is the other way around is true as well. If they think they'll hire a guy for $100K and the guy is only asking for $25K then the guy is underqualified, doesn't know the value of his job, or isn't very bright.

But when asked, I would usually defend my desired salary with the amount I made at my last gig [with full markup for benefits and discounts on products/services/etc]. There's definitely some wiggle room. I wouldn't pad your past pay too much or you'll get busted.

It isn't a lie really, it is negociation. The person hiring you knows how much he/she is willing to pay you.

Good luck.
posted by birdherder at 10:09 AM on January 12, 2005

Inflating your old salary probably won't help anyway -- most employers don't base their offer on what you used to make (plus a little bit). They know about how much they want to pay, and they offer that. If it's not enough, you can counter-offer and ask for more, or you can turn 'em down (telling them why, if you care to). If you can't afford not to take the job, well, then, you're not in a very good bargaining position, are you?
You don't get paid based on what you can do or what somebody else used to pay you, you get paid based on the value of what the employer is hiring you to do. A rocket scientist who used to make big bucks isn't going to get paid extra if (for some reason) he takes a job at Starbuck's.
posted by spacewrench at 10:11 AM on January 12, 2005

Carol Kleiman of the Chicago Tribune always advocates not providing your salary history, and saying (if they ask) you'll be glad to discuss salary once you are offered. I've never had the guts to do this, but she does have a point that compensation should be based on what is fair for the job, not what you made in other jobs. (link goes to a bunch of her columns, I couldn't find the exact one where she stated that)
posted by SisterHavana at 10:18 AM on January 12, 2005

I'm sick of getting low-balled. There's no way I can let them continue to get away with this! Do you just lie? What's the system?

If a prospective employer is asking you what you were making at your last job (as opposed to a job application form) it has been my experience you should always provide a salary range - do not provide the actual salary.

If you made 45K, you could say, "I was making between 45K and 60K" (adjust the figure as appropriate - for example, maybe 45K and 55K).

It is important that you advocate for yourself during the salary negotiation process b/c it often sets the tone after you are hired. If you jump at the first offer and are hired, your boss may try and take advantage of you later on - he/she will have "sized you up" as passive.

There is more to it than an employer wanting to verify your actual salary history. Many times an employer learns a lot about a person during the salary negotiation phase - is this person (being interviewed) assertive? Is he/she savvy enough to ask for more money?

The negotiation game is a give-and-take process - it does get easier the more you do it.

It was my experience as a corporate librarian that the first offer is never the last (good article in todays WSJ - "Negotiation Know-How" if you have access to it). Many employers expect you to ask for more money.
posted by mlis at 10:42 AM on January 12, 2005

Obviously the key to any negotiation is information, so along the same lines of the original question what's the best resource for information relating to salaries for the position (or the field) which you are seeking?
posted by mhaw at 10:59 AM on January 12, 2005

I was once asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement for some contract work, which covered everything, including what I was being paid. And ever since then, whenever a prospective employer asked questions (not limited only to salary) about things I didn't feel like answering, I just told them I was under a NDA. :)

YMMV, of course, and, it's backfired once or thrice, so I wouldn't really recommend anyone else doing this ;-)
posted by yeoz at 11:34 AM on January 12, 2005

mhaw -

CareerJournal is excellent - click on the "Salary & Hiring Info" tab.

There are also and is mentioned in the above WSJ article.

I would also suggest networking (some peoples eyes glaze over when they hear "networking" but it is not that bad) by which I mean finding out from people about salaries.

Networking can be easy. I asked an older co-worker (choose wisely) at an internship if I could take him out to lunch. I said that I was interested in this field and would really appreciate hearing his perspective.

Over that summer I went out to lunch w/him a bunch of times and learned a lot about salaries and bonuses.
posted by mlis at 12:08 PM on January 12, 2005

I've always calculated base salary + incentive pay + perqs, and then provided a range around that figure ("approximately $xxx / year"). Incentive pay covers bonuses, 401(k) match, but generally does not cover health/dental/vision benefits if I expect the new job to have similar. However, when I transitioned from corporate to consulting, I made sure to factor in benefits that I was required to pay as a result of the transition.

The "incentive pay" would probably also include overtime if I were eligible and it were a significant amount.

Perqs include things like company-paid cell phone, internet access, etc -- things I'd have to shell out my own dollars for if the new company doesn't provide them.
posted by aberrant at 1:02 PM on January 12, 2005

I was honest and lucky with the outcome when I applied for my last job. I was in a crap job and didn't even think about fluffing up my current salary because whatever I came away with would be better. The company I now work for has a banding scale and I didn't even end up with the basic on that scale - it was way over. To be honest I think they felt sorry for how badly paid I previously was. Actually I know that's the reason because my boss is always telling me he couldn't believe how little I was paid and how I wasn't fufilling my potential in that previous role!

On other occasions I've told little white lies and added a grand on top and I've walked away with the same or a little over with the new job. From my experience I guess that it depends on a little luck and the faith in you of your future employer. Good luck.
posted by floanna at 4:41 PM on January 12, 2005

Yeah, don't confuse your personal worth with your market value. IT jobs haven't taken a drop in the past couple of years. They experienced a ridiculous spike a couple of years back. Now that everyone and their brother is taking courses to go into the field, supply is higher and growth in the industry has been checked.

If you want to get a higher salary, then you just need to make that a priority. Figure out what your walk-away point really is for a potential job, and if they won't offer you that much, then it's back to the pavement. A lot of companies will pretend that your salary is basically a policy matter, that they simply *can't* pay you more than 5% above what's in your salary history. But that's bull. At the base of it, this is a negotiation, and you do have the power to put pressure on that negotiation.

I've never known a prospective employer to ask for documentation of past salary. Since you sould a little uncertain about what to give them, I'm assuming they didn't ask specifically for a tax return or a pay stub. This means they're simply asking you what you made. You can lie if you wish, bearing in mind that it could come back to haunt you. But it seems to me that lying on the salary history isn't the way to get more money out of them. The way is to bargain as hard as you possibly can. Once you're in, you're in, so play hardball up front.
posted by scarabic at 8:26 AM on January 13, 2005

« Older What's the best way to store coffee grounds?   |   I washed my batteries! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.