Back To Career News

Revealing Your Salary History Could Keep You Underpaid Forever

Topics: Career Advice
salary history
sturti/Getty Images

Nobody wants to come across as uncooperative at work, and that’s especially true during a job interview.

But if you’re in an interview and asked, “What was your salary at your last job?” there are thousands of reasons why you should decline to answer.

I’m talking about dollars.

By telling a hiring manager or interviewer what you’ve made in the past, you’re potentially giving them a convenient excuse to underpay you in the future; if you’ve been underpaid, it opens you up to the possibility of being underpaid at your next job. And if this happens enough throughout your career, you could potentially lose out on thousands – if not tens of thousands – of dollars over the course of your working life.

Do You Know What You're Worth?

How to Determine Your Value as an Employee

As we say in our report on the salary history question, Is Asking for Salary History … History?, “The market value of an employee is not based upon what he or she made at past jobs. Rather, it’s based upon what workers in the same job, who possess a similar skill set and experience level, are making in the same labor market (metro area, company size, industry, etc.)”

If you want to learn your professional value, as in what you should be getting paid, take PayScale’s free Salary Survey to find out what people like you are making in your area.

Come to your interview prepared with the information from this salary report. Then if the salary history question is asked, you can neatly deflect it and point to data showing what you would expect to make in your new role.

The Salary Conversation

For example, a conversation about salary with a hiring manager might go something like this:

Hiring Manager: “Your skills are a great fit. Do you mind if I ask you what you were making in your last job?”

Interviewee: “Actually, I have a salary report for the role here. It shows that the median salary for workers with my experience level and skill set in this area is $72,000 a year. I’d love to start there.”

Assuming the company pays its employees fairly, this answer should be all they need to make you a reasonable offer.

If the company insists on knowing what you were making, you are under no legal obligation to answer. Admittedly, if they insist and you refuse, you might hurt your chances of landing the job. But considering they don’t have to ask in order to know what they should be paying you, and considering pressuring you for that knowledge gives them an opportunity to underpay you should you be hired … is it really the kind of place you want to work?

If you know what you’re worth and have the data to prove it, there’s no reason you should settle for less.

Tell Us What You Think

Have you been asked the salary history question in a job interview? How did you answer? We want to hear from you. Tell us your experience in the comments or on Twitter.

Leave a Reply

2 Comment threads
0 Thread replies
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
2 Comment authors
VoltronDark Star Recent comment authors
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Dark Star
Dark Star

Last time a place told me they couldn’t hire me without a history, I made my apologies, thanked them for the time and left. By the time they contacted me to tell me they could meet my offer, I was already three weeks at a new employer,… and for more money and better fringe benefits. No regrets for me there.


Every company and recruitment agency in HK asks this question and you’re expected to say the truth as they will conduct background checks or ask for pay slips, so you have absolutely no negotiating room or an opportunity to dodge the question. As a result have been underpaid since a decade 🙁

What Am I Worth?

What your skills are worth in the job market is constantly changing.