How to answer “What’s your current salary?” as an applicant

Jul 2, 2018

In the job application process, you may get asked your salary for the position you currently work in. This could come from a recruiter or a hiring manager. Knowing how to answer the what is your current salary interview question can greatly work to your advantage in negotiating a job offer that may come later on. It also might be asked on the job application itself. Some job ads even list this as a requirement, such as in these examples:

Why employers ask you this

Similar to employers asking about your salary expectations for a job, the reasons for asking about your salary history are usually detrimental to you as the applicant. Recruiters may tell you that they “don’t want to waste your time” if your current salary is significantly higher than what they’re able to offer. They might tell you it’s merely a piece of data they gather, or make an uninterpretable statement like “It’s for classification purposes only.” Whatever that means.

The truth is that employers don’t want to offer you a higher salary than they absolutely need to in order for you to accept a position. Anything at least equal to their current salary is often sufficient for many applicants (assuming there’s another reason they’re looking to leave their existing job).

Sharing your current salary is unlikely to help you, and highly likely to work against you when it comes to negotiating a job offer.

Putting an end to this senseless hiring trend

Lest you think I’m making more of a big deal about a simple question that is necessary, consider this. There are actually some states and localities that have recently made it illegal to ask this very question, or that have legislation in the works:

There’s a growing list of other states and cities that are considering similar laws. Some places, such as New Orleans, have enacted rules that pertain to only city or state employees.

The main driver of these rulings appears to be an effort close the gender pay gap. However, both men and woman can benefit from this when applying for a job in one of these locations

To date, there are only a handful of states and cities with this law in effect. Many others have a proposal for a similar law. But, for now, you could very well continue to be asked about your salary history if you’re applying to jobs in any other location. You may even get asked even in a place where the question is illegal – either out of ignorance or spite on the part of the employer.

So what can you do to defend yourself when asked about your current compensation?

“What is your current salary?” interview question responses

Responding to this question with “I’d rather not say,” might raise an eyebrow or two. The employer may assume that you’re trying to hide something from them (which, truthfully, you are..) and become even more interested in getting their question answered. Or, they might assume that your current salary is either very low or quite high.

You’ve got several options for how to effectively respond.

1. Call them out on their illegal question

Do your homework before getting on the phone with an interviewer. Find out if this question is legal in your area. If it’s not, you can respond by telling them this. Do it nicely, of course.

My understanding is that question can’t legally be asked of applicants here in California.

Your interviewer may potentially be slightly embarrassed and try to defend himself, though he’s unlikely to argue. It’s also improbable that your response will be damaging to your application. After all, the hiring manager isn’t going to tell the team that an applicant is out of the running because of their response when asked an illegal question.

2. Tell them that salary is just a small piece of what matters to you

For a case in which it’s legal for the employer to ask or you’re uncomfortable challenging the interviewer, there are other options. You can tell them that salary is only a portion of what is important to you in a compensation package. Benefits, schedule, time off, company culture, and other factors can play a big role in your decision to accept a job.

By making a statement along these lines, you’re indicating that you don’t want your current salary to impact whether the employer makes you an offer or how much that offer is for. They may push, and then you have the option of continuing to push back or not.

3. Indicate that it’s a tough question to answer

Along those same lines, you can tell the interviewer why this is a challenging question to answer. Many physicians don’t have a simple salary that accurately reflects how much they actually make. You may have performance-based incentives, bonuses, stock, or other forms of payment that are added to your base salary.

Another situation common among doctors is having multiple sources of income. If you have contracted work on the side or take on additional shifts here and there, your true income can be quite different from the salary in your employment contract. You may be unsure if the new job would allow you continue with your side gigs, so it might be unclear to what extent this income should weigh into your deliberation about a new salary.

Finally, the responsibilities for your current position may be very different from those of the position to which you’re applying. In that case, evaluating the two salaries head to head is really an apples to oranges comparison. For example, the role you’re applying for could involve:

  • Managing a larger team of employees
  • Overseeing a much a bigger budget
  • Handling sales or customers in a larger region
  • Performing higher risk work

It’s reasonable to point out these big differences to an interviewer.

4. Be straightforward and divulge your salary

None of this article is meant to dissuade you for providing your salary history, if you want to do so. You may be applying for a position for which you already know the pay range. If your current salary aligns with this, the risk of sharing that information is minimal.

Alternatively, you may be planning to turn down a job offer if the salary is less than a certain number. You can share your current salary as a way to let a recruiter know the ballpark of what your expectations are. That way, there are less likely to be surprises on either end when an offer is made.

How have you addressed requests to provide your salary history? Comment below!

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