From the May 24, 2002 print edition
Disclosing pay history
So many readers are job-hunting lately. My e-mail is flooded with questions like these:
Question: I recently re-entered the job market and found that several prospective employers state that you must include your "salary history" when responding to the advertisement. What is the best way to handle this request? I can understand that employers ask for this information as a way of weeding out people who are out of their ballpark, however, it seems a bit unfair that the job hunter has to disclose his or her requirements without knowing what the employer is willing to pay.
Answer: First let's talk about what employers actually mean by "salary history." Many people take that phrase literally and think they must go back in time and list what each job paid. Don't go there. All the employer really wants to know is if they can afford you. Your salary history gives them an idea of whether you are at the right level for their position.
I agree that it doesn't seem fair to state what you want before you even know what the position is worth. However, if you are a busy manager or HR interviewer who has a $35,000-a-year job to fill and you interview five people only to find out during the interview that four of them won't take the job because they are currently making over $45,000, you wasted time. The good news is that many employers will interview a candidate who looks good on paper, even if the person is asking for a little more than the position pays.
In any event, I recommend that you include salary information in your cover letter. Many interviewers separate applicants into two piles: those who gave their salary information and those who wrote "salary negotiable." Guess which pile gets interviewed first?
Question: Since I moved to an area with a higher cost of living and was underpaid at my last job, I was reluctant to share my salary history with a headhunter and I asked him if it was really necessary. His response was that companies use salary history as an indicator that the candidate is capable of doing the work expected. Do I break down and share my salary history? I am worried that being underpaid once will follow me the rest of my life.
Answer: Rather than tell the interviewer what you were making, state what you want to be paid, based on what you think the job is worth. In 1981 I was making $13,000 as a school counselor. I made a transition into the business world and discovered through networking that the jobs I was qualified for paid $25,000 to $35,000. When I was asked what salary I was looking for, I said, "In the 20's." My first offer was for $26,000 and I almost fainted.
Joan Lloyd, a Milwaukee-based speaker, trainer and consultant, can be reached at (800) 348-1944 or firstname.lastname@example.org