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How to Give Your Salary History and Get More Money Anyway

Topics: Negotiation
salary negotiation stories

Hiring managers shouldn’t ask for salary history. In addition to possibly working against female candidates, who may have been underpaid in the past, it doesn’t make sense to price the person instead of the job. But as a job seeker, you have no control over prospective employers’ compensation strategy. Your goal is to get the job, and then get the best possible salary.

The challenge is how to do that, when many hiring managers still ask about past pay. The answer isn’t always to refuse. PayScale’s report, Is Asking for Salary History … History?, shows that women who refuse to disclose their salary history get paid 1.8 percent less than those who disclose it.

The opposite is true for men, who earn 1.2 percent more on average if they keep their salary history private. But even if you’re a man, you may run into situations where it feels uncomfortable to refuse.

Regardless of your gender, if you absolutely have to answer the salary history question, here’s what to do:

1. Get your facts straight.

What’s an appropriate salary for this particular job? If you’re like many people, you don’t really know. Your framework — like the hiring manager’s! — is based on what you earned before. Maybe you’ve also asked around and taken an informal poll of your peers.

The problem with going with guesswork and hearsay is that it won’t provide an answer based on facts. What you need is data. PayScale’s Salary Survey takes minutes and provides a free report with a range based on thousands of responses from others with your experience, education and job title. It’s a better way to figure out whether you’re currently being paid fairly … or how far you need to jump to get to an appropriate wage.

2. Bring the conversation back to the job under discussion.

Answer the salary history question or don’t, but don’t lose sight of the fact that your prior pay doesn’t really matter. When it comes to salary negotiation, the only job that matters is the one you’re interviewing for.

In PayScale’s Salary Negotiation Guide, Penelope Trunk offers a few scripts for negotiators who are confronted with this issue. One example:

“This position is not exactly the same as my last job. So let’s discuss what my responsibilities would be here and then determine a fair salary for this job.”

Do You Know What You're Worth?

3. Look for other ways to boost your bottom line.

If the hiring manager won’t budge on tying your pay to salary history — and you want the job anyway — look for ways to increase your take-home pay, today or over time. That might mean negotiating for benefits that will save you money or make you a more attractive candidate for the next job, or it might mean negotiating for an earlier review (and thus the opportunity to get a raise sooner).

But don’t assume that because there’s no more money on the table, negotiations are over. Salary is only one part of your total compensation.

Tell Us What You Think

Have you been forced to give your salary history? How did you handle negotiating salary? We want to hear from you. Tell us your story in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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