While the best salary negotiation advice is to base your ask on the job, not on your salary history, many hiring managers won’t play along. Some will even insist on learning what you made at your last job.
This is supremely frustrating to a job seeker. You could be forgiven for thinking that the best thing to do would be to stretch the numbers a bit, when you’re asked to name your most recent salary.
Nick Corcodilos of Ask the Headhunter recently tackled this issue in his column for PBS.
A reader wrote in to ask: “I have a friend who got a much higher paying job by lying about her salary history. How dangerous is that?”
The short answer? “Very.” Here’s why.
Reason No. 1: You’ll get caught.
“Another reader shared her story about this,” Corcodilos writes. “She fudged her past salary, got hired and started the job. Then they asked her for a pay stub from her last job. It didn’t match. They canned her on the spot for misrepresenting herself before she was hired.”
You might think that won’t happen to you … but you might be wrong. Although many companies maintain a policy of not giving out prior salary information, they’re at liberty to do so if they choose, which means that you, like that unfortunate reader above, might get busted for lying before you ever set foot in the door.
Even if you’re lucky enough not to get caught right away, you don’t want to spend the rest of your career worrying about the truth coming out. History is rife with stories of executives who told tiny fibs about their education or work history, only to get caught once they were successful enough to draw attention to their background. Don’t let this be you.
You might think that you won't get caught lying about your salary ... but you might be wrong.
Reason No. 2: It’s hard to keep track of a lie.
Remember when you were a kid, and you tried to tell a little white lie, only to forget about it later on? It turns out, adults aren’t much better fibbers than kids, and while most people are pretty bad at telling lies, they’re also good at smelling out an untruth. Don’t create a challenge for yourself by inventing an alternate reality that you’ll have to remember … and sell.
Reason No. 3: Negotiating salary is about the new role, not your old one.
The most important reason not to lie, in the end, is that you don’t have to. Your pay depends on many factors, and your work history should only be one of them. In the end, it’s about what’s reasonable for the job for which you’re interviewing, given your experience, skills, and abilities.
With this in mind, it’s a good idea to establish a salary range before you head into the interview, even if you’re hoping not to have to give a number. PayScale’s free Salary Survey can help you get started. When it comes to getting the salary you deserve, truth – in the form of cold, hard data – can truly set you free.
Tell Us What You Think
Have you ever lied about your salary? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.
This post was updated from an earlier version previously published on PayScale.
I have been an HR professional for over 15 years and companies should not be asking for your paystubs from your previous employer. I have NEVER heard of that tactic and would never accommodate a request like that. There is nothing wrong with inflating your salary information “if” you decide to divulge that information to the company interviewing you. They will not find out and unless they dig deep and your previous employer should “Not” be providing your previous salary… Read more »
I have a lot of experience with employers asking for current salaries and pay slips..I have also spoken to HR professionals and recruiters who have politely given me some info on the matter – Most of the top tier ones wont do without pay slips..In many cases if you dont give them your current salary and pay slip they will ditch you and move on to the next candidate – unfair and ridiculous? of course it is…Why should they know?… Read more »
I recently got hired for a new job. My hiring manager tried to get a number out of me but I demurred and then his boss, when making the actual offer, simply gave me what they were willing to pay (and I negotiated it up a bit). However, I had the following logic prepared: As a hiring manager, what’s the upside to getting someone to reveal their salary or expectations? If it’s lower than you are prepared to offer, then… Read more »
Human Resources are credit controlling pieces of shit that are to be lied to at all times. LinkedIn is eliminating them very fast as they are a classic example of middle men wasting resources and driving the cost of shit up as they have to be paid also.
Terrible, terrible advice. A candidate should always feel free to answer however they want regarding their past salaries if asked. If being honest is very important to you, as it is Ed, that is totally fine. But, conversely, if you’re looking to maximize your salary, which is key in your ability to take care of yourself and your family, you should feel no compunctions about tweaking the numbers to improve your negotiating position. You are probably already doing this when… Read more »
This writer is clueless …. LIE! … come up with a number and LIE! … it’s not illegal, or unlawful …. companies LIE to their employess ALL THE TIME, and infact are not legally obligated to be truthful (as long as it doesn’t infringe any contractual agreements). The only reason a company wants your salary history is to figure out how far they can low-ball you (unfortunately, it’s still a buyers market -even at 4.7% employment rate, and most employers… Read more »
What do you do if the actual online application requires current salary?
I’m underpaid and I believe my salary is viewed as not capable of the job.
Honesty should always be a policy, but you show me a former employer who disclosed the salary of a former employee, I’ll show you an employer who is going to get sued and will probably end up paying out close to 7 figures. There is a reason why companies only state that an individual was employed with them, and the time frame with no other information and that is because saying almost anything else will get you sued. Talk to… Read more »
When I was shopping around for a new car, I got a quote from one dealer. I walked in to another dealer for the same car. I gave the quote figure truthfully. The next dealer offered to match, but not go lower. If you’re switching jobs, what if you’re offered the same wage because you quote truthfully. Isn’t the point of a new job to earn more?
Honesty is always the best policy for the employee, what about the employer? The Corp will lie to you in a heartbeat…but THAT’s called ‘Risk Management’.
There are career scenarios where a current or former job may pay less because it is convenient for a certain time, say caring for elderly parents; or maybe the job just has better benefits, et al. This can be part of the interview conversation about ‘that was then, this is now’.
There’s actually a way around it. Even if they state explicitly they won’t accept an application without giving past salary, you can put 0 (or 1 if it won’t allow it) in the box. You also can get friends as contacts to say that they are your managers (and brief them on what they need to say), and give out cell numbers instead of company numbers. Also, if the companies you worked for are closed, there is literally no way… Read more »
You can use this as a test of the type of managers you’re going to be working for at the job… If they ask you what your previous salary was, and then ask you for a pay stub, that shows that they are probably micromanaging, “us vs. them” types that will make your work environment especially stressful. As Ed posted, such a request should immediately increase the amount of money required to compensate for the high-stress environment. After all, the… Read more »
But what about when you are completely honest about what you were earning and the potential new employers baulk at it?
I was laid off, and every place I end my resume to goes into a dead faint about paying me. It isn’t as if I was overpaid…I have 30 years of experience. I am what they call a “full stack employee”. You could place me into a job that three others would occupy normally.
Couldn’t agree more with what Ed said above. Personally I don’t know of a single person that has given an exact salary to a potential employer. If one ever asked me for a pay stub I would also politely refuse. As a candidate there’s more information on a pay stub than I personally would ever give out to anyone if I wasn’t required to by law.
Salary is confidential. I will better reject an offer where I have to provide payslips from previous employers.
I don’t want to work in a Gulag system.
Bad advice! This is one reason why women continue to earn less than men. If you have to answer on an e-application form, round up 5-10k.
This advice may allow you to take the moral high ground, but it will cost your household A LOT OF MONEY. Especially in a hot market (think tech in Vancouver right now) your annual raise won’t keep up with wage inflation in the sector. That sounds contradictory but it’s because the inflation comes entirely through turnover meaning this initial negotiation of starting salary is your ONE CHANCE to get whatever you can. My wife has been in HR for 10… Read more »
Any employer who puts so little trust in their people as to ask for a paystub to verify salary history is a bag of s**t that nobody should work for in the first place.
Reason number 3 is the most important point. Don’t give them that information. If they ask, tell them you can’t disclose that. Collusion prevents that disclosure and the mix of benefits clouds the salary total anyway.
But… if you DO end up telling them, this article is valid. Any lie is a lie and it exposes you to risk.
Here is my response to that ridiculous request: If you want me to provide you with pay stubs, then I request a $90,000 per year salary. Or you can agree to pay me $70,000 per year without the pay stubs. Either/or–no negotiation.
This is a terrible advice. Yes, it’s unfair and dishonest but since when are companies being fair and honest when it comes to budget? The company’s purpose is to hire you at the lowest salary possible. Telling them your previously low salary is just giving them the ammunition they need to make that happen. It’s also making you seem much less desirable since psychologically, the moment the company hears that your salary used to be low, they’re viewing you as… Read more »
Do not be foolish. My understanding is a lot of the offshore companies are demanding after interview and to complete offers; pay stubs, contracts, W2 are required to complete the on boarding process. So you have a choice to either give out the information or move on. My advice is to really negotiate well in case you are in this crunch. My reasoning is if I am looking for another position it is to advance my career based upon learned… Read more »
Really bad advice. You don’t have to lie about your previous salary history because there is no reason a potential employer needs to know what it was. The only person/people that should be asking you about salary is HR/Hiring Manager and they have NO reason to ask what you made at any previous position. They are also NOT entitled to pay stubs from a previous employer or are you obligated to tell them how much you made before. It’s irrelevant… Read more »
Worst piece of advice . This writer should be punished for posting such BS as an advice on a website like payscale.
It’s true — lying is just going to get you in trouble; you will get caught, eventually. But the article seems a bit out of touch with reality by not acknowledging that employers force candidates into a weak bargaining position from the very start of the application process. Most employers use online databases for job openings, and most of them require current salary to be entered as a mandatory field in the application, without which the application cannot proceed. Online… Read more »
For all the reason above, I never give out my current salary. But salary information can also be considered proprietary information in my industry. I have also never been asked for a paystub from a new employer.
Jen, when you bought your car (or house, or something else of sizable value), did you share with them how much money you could possibly pull together before you agreed to a price for the transaction? Of course not. That would be foolish. Information disparity is the foundation of negotiation. Your article is irresponsible assumes that the hiring company is acting honestly. Newsflash – they will screw you before you know what happened. You are condoning that people should willingly… Read more »
When I’m asked for my salary history, to be HONEST, I don’t remember what I made at a job 10 years or more ago. I never wrote down beginning and ending salaries. And, to be honest, that question doesn’t come up often. I’m asked what I made at my last job, usually ending salary, and that I can remember. I don’t lie…I just say I don’t remember. If they want to go further with it, let them.
Being HONEST is best policy , and i do believe in it . As the article tell you if you get caught , it is not only bad impression but also very bad reference . if you get fired on that reason i don’t think its a good thing to carry out to another employer and to hide that if you keep lying again , its gonna mentally disturb that person mind and reduce efficiency or enthusiasm resulting in doing… Read more »
Siding with Ed, Hukk, Chris etal. Sure there must be cases where that lie catches up with you, but those are rare and isolated cases.
Sorry, but I respectfully disagree. While I am not a fan of lying and don’t condone actively lying about past or current salary, the reality is that employers still seem to have a very limited view of what an acceptable increase is when transferring positions and at least the last two major software companies I have joined for have “lied” about the annual review and merit/cost of living increase process during the interview cycle.. Specifically, I’ve been told on hiring… Read more »
Fluff to generate clicks as is usual of Payscale. Where are the references and facts to back any of this up? An employer can’t ask for a pay stub from a former employer, and if they do, they’ll be opening themselves up to a lawsuit. It comes off like you’re making it up as you go based only on opinion. “You don’t want to spend the rest of your career worrying about the truth coming out”. Why would you worry… Read more »
I like every word that Ed wrote and posted about this article and this topic. If I knew Ed personally, the first round would always be on me.
Few day before i gave 2-3 interviews and one day before i join company but also today i got call from onther company they offer me more than current orgnaization ..
I want to join that company ,so how to mail what is best resone for leave cureent company ..
Help me !!
Wow. So much animosity here. Employers aren’t all crooks trying to take advantage of you. We have a very fair system of entering new staff where we think they fit, and offering increases based on merit, personal performance, and company performance. We work as a team, and have open conversations about this with applicants. Sometimes small companies inquire about compensation to get a better idea of what the area industry and competition is paying, and it’s a honest question that… Read more »
Question; I believe my previous boss is sending bad reports of me to potential future employers. My hard work and intelligent insults him and his nephew, the nephew holds the same position I do, But doesn’t do or know what I do and know but get the same or more credit.