What Is Your Salary History? - Interview Question

What Is Your Salary History?

Update: As of 10/1/2017, New York City prohibits any company or recruiter from asking about an employee's salary history. More US states have agreed to ban the practice of requesting salary history. See if you are affected locally by these new laws. 

So, your interview is going smoothly and you feel like you're acing it.

But then you get asked, “What is your salary history?” 

At that point, you will have wished you read this article.

Most people dread discussing salary with friends and family. So much so, that it is considered rude to even bring up the discussion!

Unfortunately, this can be a fairly common question when an individual is on the job hunt.

That doesn't mean you have to get used to it though.

There are a few ways to effectively answer this question.

(That is, without yelling, “None of your business!”)

It starts with the application

Many applications used to include “salary history” or “desired salary” as one of the required fields.

Some companies expect to find out these salary details:

  1. Base salary
  2. Average bonus amount, if applicable
  3. 401K or stock option details
  4. Insurance premiums (medical, dental, etc.)
  5. Paid leave, if applicable 

Thankfully, this is no longer the case in nearly 20 states, but it might still be a common question in your state or locality.

We advise that you do not disclose these figures, at least not at this point in your job search.

The number you provide could actually hurt your chances of being called in for an interview, regardless of your experience.

If possible, use dashes (---) or asterisks (***) in place of a specific value in order to fill the required text and move on with the application.

The goal here is to make sure ...

  1. You are considered for your qualifications
  2. You are not rejected because of money

Now, this question will likely show up in the initial interview, but establishing a ground from which you can negotiate later will only benefit you.

You got a callback - what now?

If you have received a call for an interview, congratulations!

Now, many companies differ from each other in whether they ask you this interview question.

So, whether you have one or five interviews to go through, try to withhold a dollar figure as long as possible.

The company is not asking, "What is your salary history?" just for fun.

They will use this number to gauge your market value.

  • If you answer with a number that's too low, you might not get a sufficient increase compared to your current position.
  • If your price is too high, the company might just tell you they can't afford your request.

Keep this in mind as you are going into the interview:

If they don't disclose what they pay people in this position, why should you give away such information?

(For further preparation, check out our blog of 50 Top Interview Questions and Answers.)

Avoid giving a direct response

In short, you don't want to be the first one to put out a number.

When asked this question in an interview, keep in mind that the first person to disclose a figure loses.

You should be able to flip the question on them fairly easily.


By asking for their expectations for the position.

It can be as simple as stating something like this:

Employer: “What is your salary history?"

Applicant: "As this position is not exactly the same as the job I held previous, I would prefer to discuss what the expectations would be for this position. Then we could determine a fair salary for this job."

If they give you a certain range, you should use that figure as a starting point. 

Then, it's time for the negotiations to start.

And yes, it is a negotiation.

They are not going to throw out their top offer first; you have to work for it!

If you spilled the beans ...

Let's say you felt pressured or you assume that what you made previously aligns well with the future employer's expectations. 

That’s okay!

As long as you are not dismissed once you have disclosed a figure, it is not over.

But make sure that if you disclose your salary history, you tell the truth!

Hiring managers can potentially verify your pay range, so lying would not help your chances in this scenario.

Ideally, you have a realistic net worth in mind.

And hopefully, the employer is not trying to “low-ball” you in terms of their offer.

Remember to include bonuses and stock options if you choose to share your salary information.

This will ensure that you receive a higher starting salary with the new company than if you were to leave these items out of your salary history.

Three final tips 

If you do end up sharing your salary history during an interview, there is additional information you might want to divulge.

This will naturally depend on your particular circumstances.

1. If your salary recently decreased:

Life happens, right?

  • Perhaps you switched from full-time to part-time work to care for an ailing parent or a young child.
  • Maybe your salary was reduced, yet other benefits more than made up for this.

If either of these is the case, explain the details to the hiring manager when asked, "What is your salary history?"

2. If you are switching industries:

  • Perhaps you worked a relatively low-paying job while completing your degree.
  • Maybe you are seeking a job in marketing or statistics after a decade in a traditionally low-paying industry such as healthcare or social work.

In such situations, mention to the interviewer that a comparable salary would not be realistic since it's a different industry altogether.

3. If your salary increased during your previous position:

Often, a valued employee will receive a salary increase over time.

In addition, bonuses and other benefits might have increased.

Let the hiring manager know about these as it will demonstrate that you were a valuable member of the team.

If you have moved up to new positions in your previous vocation, this would also be important to mention because it would showcase your skills and experience.

Good luck on your next interview!

Do you need some extra help preparing? 

Find My Profession offers a professional career finder service.

Our goal is to help you land your dream job!

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