Should I worry about an explainable discrepancy in salary verification?
August 12, 2013 9:02 PM   Subscribe

My new employer might attempt to verify my previous salary. The number I told them I "make" during salary negotiations includes an annual bonus and is more than my base salary. Should I be worried they might find out my base salary was a bit less?

I recently obtained an offer of employment that I decided to accept. My new employer has sent me paperwork to fill out, which includes an 'employment verification authorization form'. Essentially it's a fax coversheet that they want me to sign that says that I authorize them to obtain the "requested information" from my previous employers. I don't know if this is normal, if they'll actually send it, or what information they might request. But there is one tiny thing that might lead to misunderstanding that concerns me.

During my salary negotiations with this company, I told them I make $X per year at my current job. That number is not inaccurate, but it includes more than just my salary. I included an annual bonus I get every year in that number. I did this because the new company does not give bonuses as far as I know, and I wanted to try to maintain my current income. If I were to show this company my W-2 form from last year, it would list $X as my gross pay, just as I said. But if my current employer were to tell my new employer what my salary is, they might say it is $Y, where $Y = $X - Bonus.

If that happens, might my new employer think I exaggerated my salary and withdrawl their offer? If they were to ask me about the discrepancy I could of course provide my W-2 from last year and explain that difference. My concern is that they seem like the sort of company to look for "gotchas", and I worry they might not give me a chance to explain if they think they found something.

I think I'm probably worrying about nothing, but because I can't afford to be unemployed I figured I'd ask and I'd hopefully hear some reassuring news.

So, basically what I'm asking is:
  • Will my new employer ask my old employer what my salary is?
  • If so, will my old employer tell them?
  • If so, will my new employer be likely to understand why that number is different than what I said I "made"?
  • If not, will they give me a chance to explain it?
  • Does any of this even matter at all, or am I just a worrywort?
Jurisdiction for the purposes of this question is Michigan, USA. Thanks everyone.

Anonymous for obvious reasons.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (12 answers total)
Will my new employer ask my old employer what my salary is?

Possibly, but you usually have to specifically authorize this information to be released. Generally it's just employment they are looking for.

If so, will my old employer tell them?

Generally speaking, all you have authorized them to tell and all that HR wants to share. So basically, employment dates and title as a base.

If so, will my new employer be likely to understand why that number is different than what I said I "made"?

That is on you to explain if your former employer sends over the data, and you should specifically request to see anything shared by your former employer. Compensation is not a base number. Having recently gone through this, I always work from the total compensation perspective. It's a pretty easy conversation.

If not, will they give me a chance to explain it?

If they want you or the job, yes. I have yet to encounter an employer or a compensation group unwilling to negotiate and talk through the financials.

Does any of this even matter at all, or am I just a worrywort?

Money absolutely matters. Frame the discussion from the perspective of total compensation. Go in prepared with data - base, variable, benefits, etc etc. The more data you have the stronger your case can be made for whatever you have communicated and what you need to do the job they are asking you to do.
posted by iamabot at 9:12 PM on August 12, 2013

Pretty positive you're a worrywort. :) Performance bonuses are incredibly common, and if they've made the decision to hire you they'd check on it rather than just go with candidate #2. It's an anomaly where peoples' default assumption, if they checked at all (they probably won't) will be to give you the benefit of the doubt that there's a reasonable explanation.
posted by Televangelist at 9:13 PM on August 12, 2013

""you should specifically request to see anything shared by your former employer.""

Disagree with iamabot on this point -- this makes you seem suspicious/neurotic. Basically, unless your prospective employer does something to initiate this conversation, there's no reason you should be bringing it up out of the blue.
posted by Televangelist at 9:14 PM on August 12, 2013 [5 favorites]

From my point of view, it's quite common for different companies to stack compensation differently (base plus variable compensation for personal, group, and company performance plus equity). Base is meaningless in a lot of jobs.

At this stage of the hiring process, they're probably just making sure you aren't a criminal or a con artist.
posted by grudgebgon at 9:24 PM on August 12, 2013

Whether you should worry depends on the employer. You made certain statements during the interview process that were "accurate enough." I don't think there's a problem there. However, for the purpose of the background check, include a note indicating the full disclosure of your salary: that it was based on a calculation of base salary + bonus, and include supporting documentation.
posted by bright colored sock puppet at 9:26 PM on August 12, 2013

p.s. if you want to know what your former company is willing to reveal, don't ask your prospective employer. get a business-owning friend to fax over a signed release and a request for your own data.

I'd be really, really nervous if a candidate asked me to tell them everything about their background check. I'd want to hear a ridiculously good reason for such a strange request, or I'd spike the offer altogether.
posted by grudgebgon at 9:28 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh gosh this is no problem. If you've obtained the offer, you're basically hired. You can settle any discrepancy if it comes up. Though you could certainly make a request at your old employers that they write salary and bonus. If you know the fax number where the request is being sent, you could politely check with whoever receives that fax.
posted by htid at 9:32 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

A lot of companies won't verify anything except the dates you worked there and if you are eligible for re-hire. I can't imagine them divulging what your salary was. I think this is just a standard "we want to double-check that you actually worked where you said you worked" form.
posted by radioamy at 9:37 PM on August 12, 2013

It's cool. Your new employer made an offer based on the value they feel you'll bring to the company. If they didn't think you were worth it, they wouldn't have coughed up the money.

Your answer was truthful -- you accounted for the total income package. To do anything less would be to shortchange yourself.

On the very slim chance it comes up, you can easily explain it.
posted by nacho fries at 9:51 PM on August 12, 2013 [6 favorites]

Second nacho fries - they have you nominate your income as another way of seeing if you fit the role. Too far over or under indicates a problem, but they've made an offer to you so apparently things lined up.

Most job hunters I know always reply with their total package - base + allowances + bonuses + superannuation as a final figure.
posted by analoguezen at 10:05 PM on August 12, 2013

Relax, you'll be fine. I have worked for nine different software companies over the course of my career, and based on that experience the answers to your questions would be: "no", "no", "yes", "yes", and "no". Quoting total compensation is common, even normal. They really don't care that much; they just want to make sure they aren't lowballing you too much, or too little. Some people blatantly lie, but pretty much everyone knows what industry salaries are like so it doesn't really matter that much. I've never heard of someone being offered a job and then having the offer retracted because they lied about previous salary - never. Not even as an urban legend. Maybe your industry is different, but that's what I've seen.
posted by Mars Saxman at 11:11 PM on August 12, 2013

Anytime I'e been subject to income verification (and its common in my field) they have asked me for my W2s. They have never asked the previous employer.
posted by COD at 5:22 AM on August 13, 2013

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