Flat out lying about one's salary - that's cool, right?
April 13, 2015 3:03 PM   Subscribe

Are there risks associated with giving your own salary a "bump" when other companies or recruiters ask what you make?

My coworker said that when they are looking to change jobs and talking to different recruiters, they add at least 10% when asked about their current salary so when they make the jump, they definitely get a pay raise. This is how they say they have made almost all of their pay bumps, since in our industry, waiting for an internal raise/promotion is a rarity that often leads to frustration and disappointment.

I discussed this with my dad as I search for new gigs myself. He said that it's not an uncommon strategy, but you have to be careful because he's heard of companies - very rarely - asking for paystubs or tax returns to confirm your current salary, and you don't want to get caught lying. He also works in a sales setting, so I am guessing it might be more prevalent in a field where a candidate says they made 5 million in sales last year so the hiring manager wants to confirm and see commission figures (or...something?). I do not work in sales.

Anyway - do people do this? Are their risks? Most importantly, has anyone ever heard of a company asking to see previous paystubs, tax returns or get confirmation of your current salary?
posted by windbox to Work & Money (27 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
You can ask your own company (maybe confidentially, if it's big enough with its own HR department) if they do salary verification. Many do not.

Is your hiring in your industry a job-seeker's market? If so, the best way to get the leverage you want is to try to land two or more offers at once. Then, you can just play them off of each other. Of course, interviewing for that many jobs is stressful, but it does pay off.
posted by ignignokt at 3:16 PM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

It's hard to say how often this happens, but there are certainly risks. If I'm hiring for a position and find out someone has inflated their pay (I don't ask for pay stubs, but I have asked former bosses if I can contact them) I would not only not hire them, but I would relay the story to colleagues, decreasing the applicant's chances in the field. Additionally, in my field, lying flat-out about something like salary could put your license at risk if exposed.

That said, I think people can safely make the distinction between "salary" and "total compensation." I understand the former to be the amount of someone's paycheck, pre-tax. I understand the latter to be the total pre-tax amount someone is being compensated, including bonuses and benefits. Depending on the company, "total compensation" can be 125%+ of someone's "salary," and may provide a helpful hedge.
posted by craven_morhead at 3:16 PM on April 13, 2015

I've never had to give my current salary...I think that this is something you can possibly avoid. They should pay you based on what you're worth for the new job. If it did come up, I'd be more comfortable lying to say my employer doesn't let me discuss the terms of my employment than throwing out a false figure, personally. What if the hiring manager happens to be friends with someone at your current company who happens to know how much you make?
posted by three_red_balloons at 3:18 PM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Is it done? Absolutely. Are there risks? Christ, yes. IME if there is more than a 5k difference between the salary you give and the salary your company gives during a background check you get flagged. My current job asked for pay stubs, my past W2s, and other forms of verification before I could be hired. I have always been asked to provide my salary history and every company I've interviewed with has verified all of it.
posted by Hermione Granger at 3:19 PM on April 13, 2015

My company uses a service called The Work Number, which is a credit report-like service provided by (surprise!) Experian. One of the major credit bureaus.

I just pulled my own report and it has my work history including salary going back at least twenty years.

Call it evil, call it awful, but you can't avoid it. It exists.

I would advise not to lie about current and previous salary. Do the research and know what you are worth, and ask for that number up-front. If they can't/won't continue the conversation, think if you really want that job for the lower pay or if you should just move on.
posted by JoeZydeco at 3:20 PM on April 13, 2015 [12 favorites]

I have not done this. However, even though I have nothing to hide in this regard, there's no way I'd provide pay stubs or tax returns. It seems likely that at least in some cases a potential employer could determine marital status from a pay stub (i.e., do the withholding levels match the stated income by itself or do they imply that you file jointly with a spouse). Your tax returns would likely reveal your marital status and parental status, both federally protected classes in the US, and if you are married possibly your sexual orientation, a protected class in some states. Any potential employer asking for this information is exposing itself to liability. I've never been asked for any of these documents, but if I were, I think I'd have pretty solid grounds for refusing to turn them over.

(On preview: I also live in a state where it is illegal to require a credit check for most non-finance jobs.)
posted by enn at 3:25 PM on April 13, 2015

I wouldn't want to get off on the wrong foot with a potential new employer. Why not be honest and say "I'm currently making X, but thats a major factor in looking for a new job. I'm willing to be happy with Y". If the potential employer asks for pay stubs tell them to go fuck themselves.
posted by H. Roark at 3:34 PM on April 13, 2015 [11 favorites]

Do NOT lie. Yes, there are risks. The Work Number (mentioned above) is used by many employers and is regularly used to check previous compensation claims. I have been asked for proof of previous compensation in jobs I've applied to in the past, usually at the very end when dealing with HR.

If I ever found out someone was lying about their previous pay, I would immediately stop considering them. Be honest. Yes, employers use previous pay as one input to determine what to pay - no, that isn't fair, but if you think an offer is too low, then say so and come back with what you think is fair.
posted by pravit at 3:57 PM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

They want this information so they can give you the lowest possible offer based on it. Why give them that information, it's not their right to know it. I'd basically say it was a different role but for this particular position going forward with foo and blah expectations, you'd be looking at between x and x figure. If they keep pushing, just say you were paid in the upper end in with the tasks you were expected to do. It's basically a game of bluff.

I've used this tactic and it's worked, if they're interested they have salary peramaters they can work within and the recruiter is trying to get you at the lowest end, your last salary is a great way of figuring out the least amount you'll accept. Don't give it to them and tell them point blank the range you'll accept for this job.
posted by Jubey at 4:01 PM on April 13, 2015 [4 favorites]

Do not lie. Not only would I not hire someone if I found out before they started work, I would fire them for cause if I found out later.

I've heard "My company probably considers that to be private, and I signed an NDA", and didn't think twice about it.
posted by toxic at 4:04 PM on April 13, 2015 [3 favorites]

I just always say I'm looking for $X-$Y and that I cannot discuss my salary at my existing/former company, because I am under a non-disclosure agreement. I've had to sign NDAs everywhere I've worked and, in my opinion, salaries are part of that confidential information, especially in an industry where intellectual property and knowledge workers are the biggest assets.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 4:11 PM on April 13, 2015 [6 favorites]

Well, there's salary - and then there's bonus. You can say you make $(salary+bonus) annually without disclosing how it breaks down.
posted by Dragonness at 4:35 PM on April 13, 2015

Whenever I've felt that someone was stretching in a salary negotiation process, I've laid out our best offer and then asked for the W2's to back up their position if they are interested in proceeding. It's not something I've enjoyed doing because there is the risk precisely that the person isn't being truthful and thus someone I'm interested in and have invested time in isn't going to get the job.

When I ask candidates for their salary requirements I'm asking what they want to be paid in respect of their understanding of the position, something that is to me benefit to make sure they understand. We also pull salary data from agencies who collect and report on it as well as adjust this information for geo or emerging skills, but at the far end this is more art than science and never spot on.

My advice, from someone who hires 30 or so people a year and probably goes through at least one salary negotiation a week, is to be truthful and value yourself reasonably for the skill set and experience you're bringing to the role.
posted by iamabot at 4:46 PM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

I have lied and it's worked well for me, but ymmv. I tend to work for smaller companies that aren't big on checking that sort of thing.
posted by masquesoporfavor at 5:50 PM on April 13, 2015

Also, you instead of lying about a salary, I wonder if it would be less risky to lie about other offers. You just say, I have other offers I'm considering for $x. Then, it's not like that number is actually anywhere and you haven't accepted that other offer, so it seems harder to catch you in the lie.
posted by uncreative at 7:23 PM on April 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

So, my dad did this in the early 90s. Actually, he was headhunted and they asked him "how much it would take for him to leave his current job", and he doubled his current salary, not expecting them to say yes. So not even an actual lie, just a misleading.

They were really pissed off when they found out a few months later (his managers networked). Almost lost his job, put on probation instead, expected promotion cancelled. The only reason he wasn't sacked is that he was a superstar (hence why he was headhunted in the first place).

I'm not saying it's right (he didn't even actually lie!) but there are definitely risks.
posted by tinkletown at 7:48 PM on April 13, 2015

I have lied and it's worked well for me, but ymmv. I tend to work for smaller companies that aren't big on checking that sort of thing.

Same for my ex, same MO. IIRC, increased the offer by >10k every time (and his previous salary by much more). FYI though, to say my ex had (prob still has) an abundance of confidence would be an understatement. It was an embarrassment of riches. Still - hasn't been caught, as far as I'm aware, because he swaggered himself up to the level of no longer having to lie. Also, though, he was in a bubbly industry - the timing worked for him, too (or he worked it, whichever).
posted by cotton dress sock at 7:54 PM on April 13, 2015

Couple of things. First, the unfortunate reality is that providing any salary information (inflated or not) will keep your salary lower than it should be. Information like that will be used against you because they'll only pay you a small premium on your previous wage, not how much you're actually worth to them. Ask for a reasonable number based on the position---don't tell them what you currently make.

Second, while many people get away with inflating their numbers, in most U.S. States, misrepresenting your current salary is fraud. People rarely get sued over this --- but it has happened, so you should read up on the legality of this tactic.
posted by eisenkr at 10:02 PM on April 13, 2015

One of my friends just lied how her current salary and it worked out fine for her. I think it really is going to depend on the company and how rigorous their hiring procedures are.
posted by AppleTurnover at 10:14 PM on April 13, 2015

I don't understand, if prospective future employers supposedly have access to your work salary history, why would they bother to even ask you at all? FYI, I'm in Australia where if they do, I'm not aware of it and I've actually managed to double my income from one company to the next by not disclosing my previous salary. (I wasn't paid what I was worth there but I made sure I was for the next job!)
posted by Jubey at 10:20 PM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

You might be interested in a few posts on lying about salary at AskAManager:
* is it okay to lie about your salary history when applying for a new job?
* how do employers verify your previous salary?
* how to handle requests for salary history
* how to increase your pay when changing jobs (or how I doubled my salary in one career move)

Personally, I would not lie. Depending on where you're located, there may be formal ways to verify your salary history, like The Work Number. There are also less formal ways; the hiring manager might ask your references, or might happen to know someone you've worked with in the past. I've also been in situations where I told the hiring manager my desired salary, and days later a person from HR requested a pay stub. (I don't know where you're located, but I'm in the Netherlands, and I've had several different companies require proof of my most recent salary.)

So, it's hard to know what will happen during the hiring process, and there's a real risk you'll be caught out. Not to mention, being caught can still affect you after you are hired.
posted by neushoorn at 1:03 AM on April 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

In my country, they just ask "What kind of salary would you be looking for?", and you state a number. I think it's against the law for them to be able to delve into what you've been paid previously, here.

Given that, hell yeah, I'd add onto my previous salary to the "How much do you want?" question, ..... BUT... depending on circumstance, job market, etc. I'm currently earning about 30% less than my previous job. Yay capitalism.
posted by Diag at 3:34 AM on April 14, 2015

A friend of mine is like cotton dress sock's ex. He lies every time, and resents even being asked and thinks they're basically asking to get lied to(not my opinion/mindset, but hey). He's pulled this off mostly at startups, and is a software dev.

He lied his way right up to being in a "senior" title position at one of the biggest companies on the planet.

The one thing he told me is that he generally tries to redirect that question in to a "this is what i'd like to make/what i need to feel motivated to move on from my current position" kind of response, but if they push it then he just bullshits.

His answer to the "what if they check?" question was along the lines of who the hell cares, go apply somewhere else.

He's also pretty much the definition of Cocky Confident Swagger Man, though.
posted by emptythought at 4:34 AM on April 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

Anecdata: My husband (software dev, usually at startups) accepted a new job about a month ago, and the request for proof of salary didn't come up until the last moments as the contract was being written. If he had lied, he'd at least have wasted time, lost the opportunity, and damaged his reputation. He still got a nice salary bump because he's in reasonably high demand.

Another thing to consider is that unless the company is specifically after you and your unique talents, they might hire a candidate they believe to be equally competent but more affordable. Do you have enough potential offers that you could afford to lose some altogether?

Learn the going rate for the position/industry, ask for it, and convince them you're worth it.
posted by whoiam at 6:27 AM on April 14, 2015

I've been asked for pay stubs. It happens. I handed them over because I wanted the job, which was already on offer, and this was their process. (If I cared, I could easily have blacked out any sensitive info... but their payroll is going to get all that same info anyway.) The job also required a background check and ultimately a security clearance. I don't even want to imagine the anxiety I would have faced if I had been telling lies anywhere in the process.
posted by zennie at 7:46 AM on April 14, 2015

For me, I just mention "I won't bother switching for less than X" and it's worked well for me. I rarely give out my current salary. Asking for pay stubs just seems insulting to me, but I'm in an in-demand industry. So I'm in a position to refuse.
posted by hylaride at 11:24 AM on April 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yeah, don't lie, the downside is just too big.

Admittedly, I've mostly worked in employee's markets, but I generally treat this in a similar way to haggling with a car salesman: you decide upon the price of the car *first* before you begin talking about trade-ins or financing.

Basically, something like "We can come back to that later if you'd like, but I'd rather talk more about the opportunity first. Perhaps we can discuss whether we think we'd be a mutual good fit, and you can lay out the salary range you have in mind?"

As long as you've done your research to know what you're worth, regardless of your past salary, and you're willing to walk away if they insist upon you giving them your previous numbers as an initial anchor, you have nothing to lose going about it this way.
posted by jammer at 1:02 PM on April 14, 2015

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