Salary History Versus Salary Requirements
By James C. Gonyea
If you’ve been job hunting lately or are about to seek new employment, you will most likely have to address your salary history or salary requirement.
What They Mean
When employers ask for your salary history, they want to know the salary you earned for each employer listed on your resume, especially your last position.
When employers request your salary requirement, they want to know what salary you will accept if offered the job for which you’re applying.
For many job seekers, discussing salary history can be an uncomfortable part of the job-hunting process. But knowing the difference between these two concepts is critical to your job-hunting success.
There’s no danger in announcing your salary requirement. As a matter of fact, it’s necessary and commonly understood to be part of the negotiation process between potential employer and employee.
However, providing information about your salary history can harm your chances of employment or fair compensation for your talent. Once prospective employers know what you’ve earned in previous positions, some employers may offer you the same compensation level, slightly higher or even slightly less. Some employers may even remove you from further consideration, thinking they can’t afford you.
Once your previous salary level is known, it can be very difficult to negotiate a salary that truly reflects your talent and value. For example, what if your previous position was underpaid? With that salary level known, you could easily become underpaid in your new position.
Many consider their salary history to be private and confidential information. For years, it was considered rude or inappropriate to ask people about their salary -- it just wasn’t done. Besides, there are many factors (downsizing, budget cuts, recession, etc.) beyond the job seeker’s control that can negatively affect salary. Therefore, a salary level does not always truly reflect a person’s employment value.
However, some employers now request this information and will actually reject applicants that don’t respond positively. So what should you do: Compromise your values or chance losing the job?
- Know your position on revealing your salary history before you begin your job search. Do you consider it private and confidential? Are you willing to walk away from a job if the employer demands this information? What if the employer next wants information about your health history? Don’t compromise your values. You can always find work, but regaining your self worth is much more difficult to do.
- Never volunteer your salary history. To avoid the salary trap as illustrated above and to secure a fair wage for your talent, sell yourself on your work experience, accomplishments and merits -- not past salary. Accordingly, do not add your salary history to your resume or cover letters.
- Be prepared to indicate your salary requirement, but do not volunteer this information until asked or until an offer has been extended. Again, do not state it on your resume or cover letter, as what you believe you’re worth may be too low once you learn job details during the interview. Do some research to find out what you’re worth. When asked, indicate that you believe your talent is worth a range of salary from low (acceptable) to high (desired). By stating a range, you provide yourself and the employer with wiggle room for negotiation.
- If an employer presses you for information about your salary history, and if you feel that such information is private, don’t simply say, "That’s private information, and I won’t divulge it to you." That could be the kiss of death. It’s better to say something like, "I’ve always felt that one’s salary history is a private matter. However, considering my past work accomplishments and talents, I feel a compensation level of (state salary range) would be appropriate."
- If you do divulge information about your past salary history, never lie. Some employers may ask you to verify your salary history or request such information from past employers. If it’s found that you’ve lied, you could be fired.