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Does Your Salary History Really Matter?

Topics: Negotiation
salary history

Some hiring managers push hard for salary history when interviewing job candidates. But just because it happens, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea — for you or for them. Here’s why:

Your salary history isn’t necessarily an indication of your value to an employer.

That’s not to say that hiring managers can’t learn anything from finding out how much previous employers paid you. For example, they might discover that:

1. You’re female.

OK, they probably guessed that before now. But if you’re a woman, you might find yourself at a disadvantage when it comes to salary negotiations, through no fault of your own.

PayScale’s report, Inside the Gender Pay Gap, finds that even when we compare only men and women in similar jobs, women earn 98 cents for every dollar earned by men. This controlled gender pay gap shows that, all else being equal, women earn less than men. In fact, even when women prioritize work over family life, their salary takes a hit if they marry and have children.

Why? Unconscious bias. Even negotiating won’t necessarily close the gap — studies show that both men and women penalize women who ask for more money. The end result is that women may be offered or forced to accept salaries that are lower than their male colleagues’. If you’re female, your salary history might reflect that.

Do You Know What You're Worth?

2. Your previous employer didn’t have a sound compensation plan.

PayScale’s 2017 Compensation Best Practices Report shows not every employer is intentional about using compensation to drive business results. For example, only 51 percent of organizations pay differently for competitive jobs; only 47 percent reference market data on compensation more than once a year.

Bottom line, your old company might not have been very good at compensation planning. If that’s the case, your salary history is an indication of the flaws in their process, not your worth on the job market.

3. You’re not a good negotiator.

Finally, we’re forced to admit that it’s possible — not certain, mind you, but possible — that your previously low salary is because you’re not a skilled negotiator. (At least, not yet. We have a free guide for that, if you’re concerned that you fit into this bucket.)

But even if this is the case, that doesn’t mean you deserve to be lowballed, especially if your job doesn’t typically involve negotiating. You could be the most skilled teacher or software engineer on the planet, and not negotiate well.

“OK, but they want my salary history anyway. What do I do?”

Give your salary history or don’t, depending on your situation. But keep in mind the most important thing about negotiating fair pay: the salary that counts is the one that’s appropriate for the role you’re considering. In the end, it doesn’t matter what you earned at your last job. Take PayScale’s free Salary Survey and go into your next job interview process prepared to negotiate the right way.

Want to know more about the role of salary history in your negotiations? Read PayScale’s report, Is Asking for Salary History … History?

Tell Us What You Think

Do you give your salary history in job interviews? We want to hear from you. Tell us why or why not in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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