What’s Your Salary History?

It can be hard to tell what a hiring manager is really asking when they go for a question that has such personal connotations. After all, it’s not like they’re asking what your other offers are, and you might have good reasons for not wanting to go too deeply into your salary history. On the other hand, though, this could be their way of ensuring that they are able to compete for you if you’re a solid candidate who might be in demand with other employers, so the choice between being guarded and being open can be difficult to navigate.

Points to Emphasize

The goal here is to convey your value, so keep these ideas in mind as you go.

  • Round numbers are easy to understand, and they do expect you to be estimating.

  • Discussing the way your performance was rewarded with salary growth helps to establish your expectations from an employer while showcasing the work you do.

  • Tie your growing skill set to the salary history if possible, so that they can see how you increased your worth to the company too.

  • If you ever accepted a pay reduction, discussing why you made that trade-off helps to establish your decision-making priorities.

Mistakes You Should Avoid

Talking about your money is difficult, and it’s easy to be misinterpreted. Here are some things that you want to stay away from if you’re going to make your best impression.

  • Don’t badmouth an employer’s pay practices under any circumstances.

  • Let your previous job moves speak for themselves. Highlighting when and how you choose to leave a position makes interviewers think you already have an exit plan from their company.

  • Never avoid talking about salary reductions. They always need some context, but it should be brief.

  • Your salary history is not a chance to make a salary request from your interviewer. They’ll be more explicit when that time comes.

Sample Answer

Your own response needs to be personal, but like this one, it shouldn’t be too personal.

Out of college, I found a pretty average entry-level job paying around $30,000 per year. It was managing a warehouse for a restaurant supply wholesaler, and I liked it. After a year or two, they asked me to take a pay cut because the business shrank, and I did it. After that, I had a series of opportunities that involved leaving to run a restaurant, and then regionally managing a chain of them, bringing my salary up to about $80,000 by the time the position matured.

Just remember, they don’t need a play-by-play. Give them the highlights.

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