Job hunting? They will pay you what YOU think you are worth!

If you are job hunting and unsure of whether to disclose your salary history on the application, read this.

Filling out a job application can feel a little like this

My contract got cancelled.

It happens.  Well, it happened to me, and a bunch of other people I work with.  Everyone is now scrambling to update our resumes, or CVs as I prefer to call them (curriculum vitae – roughly Latin for “the course of my life“), and secure new jobs within the company, or elsewhere.

I have another friend who is losing her job halfway across the country in a completely unrelated incident.

The thing that happens when there is all this job shuffling, and anxiety, and worry, is that people start to think about money even more than they did before.  If you are an optimist, you may be thinking of getting a better job, a higher pay and new work opportunities. A pessimist?  You are hoping to not go backwards in salary.

All of this concern about what money you will make suddenly takes a back-seat when you start applying for jobs.  There.  Right there.  On the job application form.  They want your salary history.

Your potential employer wants to know how much you currently make.  Particularly nosy employers want to know how much you made when you started at each job, and how much you made when you ended your job.  This very personal information, and gives them a massive upper hand in salary negotiations if you relinquish the info.

Knowledge is power, and many just type those salary numbers right in.  You almost can’t blame the employer for asking since so people many give it up so easily.

So what?

Glad you asked!  I’ve reviewed thousands of CVs and interviewed hundreds of candidates in my working life.  I’ve never rejected an accompanying application that had the words “confidential” or “private” in the salary history fields, or the word “negotiable” in the salary requirements field.

However, I have screened applications from people who wrote in a number that was out of range, either too big or too small in either field.  It’s all about fit.  Let’s talk about the salary requirements first – this is what you are telling the company you would like to be paid for the job you are going to do.

Asking for way more money than the position pays?

You are probably going to be screened.  You won’t be happy here if we can’t pay you close to your requirements and at what the position is valued.  Taking you through the interview process would be a waste of time for both of us.

Asking for far less than the position pays?

You are probably going to be screened.  You either don’t know what the job pays (roughly), and therefore haven’t done your research, or don’t believe you are capable of performing it fully so you are offering yourself at a discount.

If you, through knowledge or guessery (it’s a word, right?), put in a number that is close to the range paid for the position, you won’t get screened out because of it.  In short, there are lots of ways to lose by writing in anything that is a number in that field, and few ways to win.

Put in something else besides a number until you can talk to someone about what you can do before you get to the negotiation of salary requirements.

You can grow your salary over time, or make money when you get the new job

Now, salary history.

Sometimes, the salary history field isn’t optional, such as in an online application form (as opposed to paper applications, where you can avoid putting in anything).  Those online applications make you sign your name next to scary jargon words at the end that sound like an affidavit, where you are swearing to God and everyone that everything you wrote is the truth.  You don’t want to lie about your past pay ranges, but you don’t want to give up valuable negotiating power.

I recommend reading this brief post by Nick Corcodilos called “Never, Ever Disclose Your Salary to an Employer“.  He means future, potential employer, of course.  Applying for jobs as an internal candidate is a whole different thing, and a blog post for another day.

Nick recommends not filling out the salary history field with a number, if possible.  Or putting in something besides a number that basically says “let’s talk”.  I filled out an application once that let me type in the word “Confidential” in the salary field, and the system accepted it.

Crucially, Nick recommends, and I agree, that if you can’t fill out the form successfully that way, hold fast.  Don’t give up.  Don’t give out that info.

Here’s an example of why:

You apply for a job that has a salary range of $45k-$60k.  There are people in the company in that same position that are more senior, some less senior. There is a wide range of pay.

You apply because you know you can do the job, a job which you already do at another company, but you only make $40k right now.  If you put in the salary history field that you make $40k, ace the interview and get an offer, what do you think your salary offer is going to be?

You are right! Your offer is coming in low.  You might be able to negotiate it up, but not much.  You may have tried telling them your salary requirements are $55k, but they already know what your requirements really are.

They know $45k is better than $40k.  They know you are going to take the raise.  They got a huge discount on you because you gave them your salary history.

It is bad for both you and your employer

(Wherein I argue entering the negotiation process with a known salary history is terrible for both parties)

Perception is a heck of a drug.  How you perceive yourself, the work you do, and the pay you receive is an incredibly important part of your working life.  For many people, how much money they make is something that comes up mentally every day, as money worries are at the top of most people’s minds anyway.

In the example above, wherein you disclosed your salary history to your potential employer and got a low-ball salary offer, you would still probably take the job, all things being equal.  But you have been insulted by your new company.  They didn’t take your salary requirements seriously.  They didn’t take you seriously.

You may have gotten a raise, but each day you go to work, you will know your new employer took advantage of you.  You were not judged on your worth relative to the position.

You were judged on your worth based on a past salary.  In effect, the employer looked past you and decided your worth based on what your last boss decided you were worth.

That perception alone can kill your enthusiasm for your new job.  Only the strongest of mind can get past that, and happily clock in for their shift each day for the next five years.  Most people will hold onto that sense of judgement, and it will create resentment.

It would affect your performance without you realizing it.  Your loyalty to your work will be lower than it could have been.  You’ll be on the job hunt sooner than you anticipated, even if you don’t realize why.

The new job did not start from a place of mutual respect.  It hurt both the employer and you, especially if you understand the true costs of employee turnover.

Let’s flip the script

Take the same job example, but in this case you did not disclose your salary history, only your salary requirements.  You get the same low-ball offer of $45k, but you know the offer was not based on your past salary.

This means that your abilities and capabilities were being evaluated more fairly.  You might not like that you didn’t get what you asked for ($55k), but you still got a raise and a new job based on your merits.  You happily take the job (or negotiate for more in the second round, advanced move!).

If you found out later that you are at the bottom of the salary range, it would not upset you.  You would realize there is room to grow, and can begin a conversation with your manager, from a place of mutual respect, about how to get to the high end of the salary range based on your performance and growth.

The takeaway

Don’t give up your salary history.  Read the linked article above for more reasons why.  Start your new job right.  Tell your employer why you are more than your salary history in the interview process, and don’t let them judge you on your past.  Encourage them to judge you on your ability to perform today.

Don’t give up your salary requirements to a piece of paper or an electronic form.  Make your new employer take you seriously.  Have salary discussions with a person, not an application form.  You are there to perform a two-way interview – at the end, the company must want you and you must want to work for the company if both parties are to be successful.

Leave the salary requirements for negotiation time.  Doing the above is a great start.  There are many other steps to learn about negotiations.  If you have done the above, you are ahead of the game.

One last tip – living within your means is key to any negotiating position – for a job, making a purchase, or making decisions with your life.  If you want to negotiate from a stronger position, make sure you are living within your means and only buying things you can really afford.

Agree?  Disagree? Feel free to share your experiences in the comments below.  Just change the names to protect the innocent, please.


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