Avoid the salary history trap

Salary negotiation  is the part of the interview process that many job seekers dread the most. Ask for too little, and you could wind up underpaid and resentful. Ask for too much, and you might wind up out of the running entirely.

Of course, doing salary research  ahead of time is the best way to set your salary request. But sometimes recruiters and hiring managers seem less interested in figuring out an appropriate range for the position in question, and more interested in getting you to tell them how much (or how little) you earned at your previous job.

Stay strong. Your salary history is your business, and no one else’s. To avoid being surprised into giving more information than you want to share, prepare for these three salary history traps:

1. The hiring manager asks you how much you make now
When you’re on the phone or in an interview with a hiring manager, they may come right out and ask you how much you’re making. Maybe they slide around the question a little bit, asking what you used to make so that they can see if you’re a “good fit” for the job.

How to deal with it:
First off, know what you’re worth and what the position should reasonably pay. You can always talk about your own employment history without discussing actual pay. Use PayScale’s Salary Survey to find out how much your skills and experience are worth on the job market. Then use our Salary Negotiation Guide  to find out the best ways to negotiate your way to a paycheck that reflects your worth.

Next, learn how to reframe the salary question. You can always talk about the range you’re expecting for the position. You’ll demonstrate that you know what the position entails and that you’re ready to get started.

2. The online application requires you to fill in salary
Everyone has experienced it: you’re filling out an online form at a company’s careers website, detailing your past employment history, qualifications, and so on, only to hit the dreaded “required information” of past salary details. While it’s not yet illegal (in most places) for a potential employer to ask this question, it does leave you in a tight spot, especially when you’re unable to throw your name in the ring without it.

How to deal with it:
It’s simple: Don’t fill out online applications that require salary history. Look, the world of job seeking is hard enough without having to battle the robots at the end of the internet. They’re keeping you away from what matters: the people doing the hiring. Job application systems just there to sort through a large stack of virtual resumes using keywords and algorithms. You might make the cut, but so will a lot of other people.

What’s better than the bots? Making human connections and networking your way to a great new job. Get some tips on great ways to network and skip those online forms.

3. The recruiter asks you to give your salary history … And won’t budge
Sometimes you might feel like you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. That hard place might be a recruiter. They have a job in mind for you, but the potential employer “needs” your salary history in order to make a decision. They’re asking you to spill the beans. Reasonably so, you’re worried that if you were underpaid in your past or current position, that same inequity might follow you into the new gig. And unfortunately, you’re right.

How to deal with it:
You’re well within your rights to not share your personal salary history. Talk to the recruiter about your qualifications, not your previous pay, and demonstrate that you’re worth your target salary. If they push and push for your history, which is a number that can only trap you in at best a slight increase off your old job, then you should drop that recruiter like a hot potato. Don’t waste time with those who can’t fight for what you’re worth.

Tell us what you think
How do you handle questions about your salary history? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

This post originally appeared on PayScale’s Career News blog.

PayScale offers modern compensation software and real-time, data driven insights for employees and employers alike. More than 6,000 customers, from small businesses to Fortune 500 companies, use PayScale to power pay decisions for more than 13 million employees. Find out what you should be getting paid, and what you should be paying, with PayScale. For more information, please visit payscale.com, check out  PayScale’s Salary History report or follow PayScale on Twitter.

Leave a Reply