HR from potential (new) employer is asking for 1) references 2) salary history. This is post interview which took place nearly 2wks ago.
March 26, 2012 6:47 PM   Subscribe

HR from potential (new) employer is asking for 1) references 2) salary history. This is post interview which took place nearly 2wks ago.

I don't think this scenario is in the advice book...

HR from potential (new) employer is asking for 1) references 2) salary history. This is post interview which took place nearly 2wks ago. My experience is that refs are fine at this stage, I do ask "I understand that you are asking for references as you're prepared to make an offer correct?" and the answer is "yes." However, per 2) salary history. I am in the habit of not disclosing and since I've done hiring and had staff in the recent and distant past I've been asked, or told, words to the extent of "our payroll is not public information. Please don't disclose." Also, I've read many, many articles regarding the question of salary expectations and history. At this point I have successfully turned the question around numerous times acquiring a range for the employer's posted requisition. Also, I feel the question posed at initial phone calls is not in regards to a job but more HR research.

Anyhow, I'm half-hearted about this particular organization. I felt the discussion regarding the above was solicitous and aggressive (numerous attempts to get me to reveal salary _history_ from former employer). I defended my position with grace and with courtesy but was wondering if I'm irrationally sandbagging.

My question(s) then: 1) Am I being unreasonable? I really feel it's a disservice to former employers to reveal too many internal details 2) Should I just quote a range and say this is what I hope the offer defines? I feel the upstanding fine and professional organization should be the one to state the figure. This is also what all the seasoned job hunting advice notes.

Lastly, I suppose I'm not asking yes/no advice simply for this instance (which I may very well pass up). I'd like to know how those of you better with negotiation would deal with this.
posted by ezekieldas to Work & Money (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Did you tell the HR person that your past employers asked that employees not disclose compensation levels? Because I'd start with that. And then if they insist, quote a range.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:07 PM on March 26, 2012

Or could you tell them what your salary expectation is?
posted by lulu68 at 7:37 PM on March 26, 2012

I would not provide a salary history. Period. That doesn't benefit you, it only benefits them.
posted by LeanGreen at 7:41 PM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

did you ask them why they needed the history? if it's an HR person, maybe it's just some paperwork they need to fill out before passing on your paperwork to the next guy.

you: my past employers have asked me to keep that information confidential, i'm sure you understand how important it is to be careful with confidential business information. can i ask: why do you need to know my salary history? if this is about salary range, could you tell me what range you had in mind?

hr: we just need it for the paperwork.

you: like i said, exactly numbers were confidential, and honestly, i don't remember exact numbers off the top of my head. i could try to give you rough ranges, a best guess, though.

then you give them ranges so wide as to be about useless.

the good thing about confirming that it's not about salary negotiation is that once you start negotiating (you say their offer is a bit low, and you give a counter offer) and then they reference your salary history, you've caught them in a lie. you give the same explanation as above, and say those numbers don't reflect what you're actually worth since you never intended them to.

of course, that assumes you're negotiating from a strong position.
posted by cupcake1337 at 7:41 PM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Look it's a negotiation. The only reason they want your salary history is so that they can make an offer in line with it. One that is not bid too high and (as they see it overpay) or bid too low and insult you.

You don't have to tell them and they don't have to make an offer. If they really want you and you're not that pushed simply politely tell them you don't divulge that information. If you really need a job and they have other good candidates you might think differently about the situation. So there is no hard and fast rule - judge how strongly you feel your position is and make a decision to tell them or not. But be prepared to lose the chance of an offer if you don't tell them.

Like any price negotiation try not to name your price first.

If you do tell them, then don't lie, they will reasonably ask for a previous pay slip or similar for verification.
posted by Long Way To Go at 7:53 PM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Look, philosophical lines in the sand can be good things, and believe me I've stood and burned next to a few of my own, but is this a job you actually need or want? Because if so:

1. What is the worst of all bad possible outcome if you tell them your true salary history?

2. What is the worst of all bad possible outcomes if you refuse?

Pick the least-bad and move on.

And if your only real worry is that you may lowball yourself and end up being paid less than some theoretical other amount that they maybe might have paid you in an alternate reality... well, disguise your answers in the form of "my compensation was about $50,000/a, plus some nice benefits, a great office view and extra days off whenever I needed them."

In other words, jumble it up with things that are impossible to quantify or compare directly to the new position. Thereby justifying more money (or other perks) at the new position.

They want to hire you. Let them.
posted by rokusan at 8:14 PM on March 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

What industry is this? Government contractors are pretty much required to obtain (and verify) this information. If someone doesn't want to give it, that's fine, they just won't get the job.
posted by charmcityblues at 8:18 PM on March 26, 2012

I'd prefer not to share my salary history; can you tell me why you're requesting it? Asking for salary suggests they're getting ready to make an offer. You might want to add My research suggests that XXX,XXX - xx,xxx is the market range for the position, for someone with my qualifications. I'd be happy to discuss this with you. I can be reached at __
posted by theora55 at 8:22 PM on March 26, 2012

As a person who has hired in the past, I say:

1) Disclosing a past salary or wage does not provide an employer with an "easy-out" on competitive offers. If the employer can afford competitive pricing for labor, they will stay in the game through negotiations. There are myriad factors that affect your chances -- work from home? telecommute? 10 years experience in a field they work in? but only 2 years in a position they are hiring for? paid relocation? paid temporary housing? immediate retirement plan eligibility? immediate health plan eligibility? immediate vacation time? immediate family care time?

You can negotiate on so many levels, whatever the job, that base salary is the least of the problems unless absolutely nothing else is negotiable. There is a median wage for all industries (professional, vocational, or otherwise) and that is what you prospective employer will look at first. After that -- if you are a desirable candidate, you compete with the other prospects to determine who is the most affordable.

2) You have the ability to low-ball. I've done this. Others have done this. I worked in a field where the median worker made a salary of $50k, but I bid in at $35k -- because I needed the history on my resume. Does the job benefit you in terms beyond what the employer can pay? Are you more experienced after a year and so would be acceptable by a competitor? Or just in the industry as a whole?

If nothing else - low-ball and strike non-competition clauses. You get a salaried job, and an easy transfer to a like position if you keep your ear to the ground. Some money and experience today is worth more than lots of money today and no experience tomorrow (unless you're some high-rolling VP/exec, which you almost certainly are not).
posted by timfinnie at 9:08 PM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't disagree that being asked for salary history is annoying and that it shouldn't even be relevant in discussing what your new salary should be.

But. I really take exception to the concept that a company would dictate to employees that they cannot reveal *their own* salaries. That information doesn't "belong" to the company.
posted by parrot_person at 1:19 AM on March 27, 2012

You can always respond to the salary history with a range.


"OLDJOB- 2004-2008, $30,000 - $40,000
CURRENTJOB- 2008-2012 - $35,000 - $45,000"

That way, even if your salaries were $32k and $36k, you aren't lying. The HR people will obviously guess that too, but it gives them an impression of what your expectations were. Especially if your work is hourly or variable.

But the truth of the thing is what everyone else is saying: most jobs have pretty tight ranges for what the salary for someone with X years of experience is.

I prefer to negotiate under the "make your offer, and then we can discuss it" strategy. If they refuse, high-ball them. I did this with a recent car purchase. I was trading in a well-worn car that came up as being worth $1700 as a trade on Kelley Blue Book. I knew I wouldn't get that because I was buying an inexpensive new car with low margins. But they insisted upon me telling them what I wanted, so I showed them the printout. They didn't believe me, so we went to the website and filled in the numbers and there it was. All of a sudden, they are groveling at me about how great my car was and how I probably could get even more than that if I sold it myself. Ugh. If I wanted to do that, I wouldn't be here trying to sell you my car. "What's your number?" I asked. $600. I replied "if you give me the car at $200 over invoice I'll sign the papers right now." Deal done. And it could have been done a half hour earlier if they would have not played games. Did I get a better deal than if it had gone the other way? Probably not. But at least THEY were the ones trying to convince ME, instead of the other way around.

So the lesson is: know what you are objectively worth on the market, what the benefits generally are, and play it by ear. If they want a real salary number, give it to them. But with the caveat that you aren't going to change jobs to make functionally the same salary. Prepare yourself with information like how much health insurance costs, expected work hours, vacation and sick policy, what your yearly salary is in weekly terms, etc. That way, if you expect $40k + two weeks of vacation, you know that $38k + three weeks of vacation isn't (financially) a good deal. A week of work @ $40k is ~$800. If you expect 40 hours a week at $40k and they want 50 hours, then ask for > $50k. 10 extra hours a week is a lot, they will have to both compensate you for your extra time, but also a little more because you'll have less time for other stuff. You might have to pay for a laundry service instead of doing it yourself. Etc.
posted by gjc at 4:03 AM on March 27, 2012

I don't think this is the hill to die on.

"our payroll is not public information. Please don't disclose."

You're taking this out of context. The reason employers don't want you disclosing salary information is that they don't want that information to get back to other current employees, because that can cause all sorts of headaches and discontent. Revealing such information to the HR dept. of another prospective employer is not the sort of thing they're worried about.

I feel the upstanding fine and professional organization should be the one to state the figure. This is also what all the seasoned job hunting advice notes.

Cite please. Sure, the advice will tell you that it's better for you if they send up the first balloon but the 'upstanding fine and professional' part sounds like something you've tacked on. The HR person has to be able to justify the salary they're offering you. How can they best gauge your value, your likely future productivity? They know that your resume and references have been written/chosen to your own advantage. Salary history tells them how another company valued your services, and is a lot harder for you to manipulate. It's perfectly rational for them to want it.

How to handle this?

First, know enough about your own situation to distinguish an offer that would be good for you from one that would be bad for you. Research typical salaries. If you'll be moving, check out the relative cost of living in the prospective new location. Imagine how you'd be affected, in both the short and long terms, by various combinations of possible pay, perks, opportunities, responsibilities, annoyances and inconveniences.

Second, if you believe your salary history does not reflect your true value to this prospective employer then *be prepared to explain why.* They already want to hire you. They don't relish the thought of diving back into the stack of resumes and bobbing for another apple that may have a worm in it. Help that HR person to justify the salary you want.
posted by jon1270 at 4:38 AM on March 27, 2012

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