top of page

"What's your current salary?" - How to respond in an interview

When a potential employer asks an interviewee to disclose a previous salary, they’re basically putting that person between a rock and a hard place. Knowledge about the wages that a different employer paid for a different job benefits only the potential employer in the negotiation. If an interviewee is honest, they run the risk of getting lowballed. If an interviewee lies, then they run the risk of getting caught and potentially losing that job.  Every employer's circumstances, even within the same industry, are different— from profitability and budget to management and reputation. All these variables and more determine a company’s ability to pay its employees. Therefore, measuring your previous salary at one company to your potential salary at a different company is an apple to oranges comparison.  The good news is that several states, cities, and territories throughout the United States are making it illegal for a business to ask interviewees the dreaded question: “How much did you make at your last job?” Why Is This Question Being Banned? If you haven’t heard by now, it’s probably a good time to know that there exists a serious and widespread disparity in the way that men and women are compensated in this country. According to — a software and data company that helps employers manage employee compensation and employees understand their worth in the job market — as of 2019, women earned 79 cents for every dollar that men earned.  The salary question is believed to be one practice that perpetuates this problem. Decisions to ban employers from asking potential employees to share their previous wages are the result of efforts to close the gender wage gap.  States/Territories that Ban Employers from Asking (as of Jan 2020*)

Alabama California Connecticut Delaware Hawaii Illinois Maine Massachusetts Missouri (all employers with 6 or more employees) New Jersey New York Oregon  Puerto Rico Vermont Washington State *As laws are always subject to change, I strongly advise you to do your own research on whether this legislative trend applies where you live and how. For example, in the state of Pennsylvania, the law only applies to state government jobs, but in Pittsburgh, the law applies only to city government jobs. In Philadelphia, however, all employers are banned from asking the salary question. As you can see, it can get complicated.  How To Prepare Unfortunately, laws don’t always translate into people behaving appropriately, so if you happen to be confronted with this question, here are some useful tips on how to prepare and respond.  Is it Illegal Where I Live? First of all, do your homework, and determine whether employers can legally ask you this question. It’s worth reiterating that many places have specific laws that ban only some employers from asking the salary question. For instance, some cities may ban public employers like city government employers from asking this question, but not state government or private employers.  What Do People Who Have This Job Get Paid? Get on Glassdoor or LinkedIn and read up on the job’s market value. Based on open-source reporting, what is a fair range? The more prepared you are with factual information, the more likely you’ll be able to advocate for the salary you deserve.  Be Straightforward (But Respectful) Feel confident to politely and calmly respond that you are under no legal obligation to answer that question. This may not be a comfortable approach for everyone, but if you have the fortitude to say so, then you’re entitled to be direct.  As a softer alternative, you can always let them know that your current employer considers salary information to be confidential, and that access to this information is limited to your organization’s management.  If pressed, state that you are willing to confirm whether your current or previous salary is within or outside the range that your potential employer is willing to pay.  Reflect the Question Back to The Interviewer Ask the interviewer the amount that they’re willing to pay, and then you can let them know if that works for you. What If the Question is Posed in a Written or Online Form?  If the question comes up in an application, where you have to write-in a response, write “No,” “N/A,” or “flexible.” If you’re forced to put a numeric value, then write 0 and in another text field where it’s appropriate, say something to the effect of “Note: Though I stated $0 when responding to the salary question, I want to clarify that I am flexible, should you wish to move forward with a job offer.”  You can also input your targeted salary, but in that case, you should also include a note in an appropriate text field to say something to the effect of “target salary, not previous salary was provided” or “I provided my target salary when asked to provide my previous salary, and am prepared to discuss the target salary in the interview.” Deflect the Question  Pivot the conversation in a related, but different direction. For example, you can say, “I’d like to learn more about what the job entails before we discuss the salary.”   Share the Salary You Expect Rather than What You’re Currently Making Reframe your answer to express what you expect to make given the data you gathered doing your homework on what people with this job generally make. You can say something like:  I don't think that my current salary is relevant because there are so many unique variables to what I did at my previous jobs and what I’m hearing I will be responsible for here at your company.  However, I’ve done my research and I learned that $XX,XXX is the market rate for people with equivalent responsibilities.  The Case Where Sharing Your Previous Salary is Actually Beneficial If the salary range they are offering is significantly lower than your previous one, then it can be advantageous to share that information. Just because it might be illegal to ask doesn’t mean that you can’t volunteer the information if it works in your favor to share.   File a Report  If it is illegal in your state, city, or territory, but your potential employee asks you anyways, do your civic duty, and report the incident to your local authorities.  #interview #salary #salarynegotiation #mockinterview #interviewpractice

Recent Posts

See All

Job Search During COVID-19

As you’re probably aware, the coronavirus is making its way around the world. Schools are moving to online classes and organizations are trying to slow down the spread of the disease by cancelling lar

How to tailor your resume to each job

There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all resume. Every job is unique, so every resume you send out should mirror the distinct needs that each position demands. If you’re experiencing a slowdown i


bottom of page