The Skinny on Salary Histories


Jase writes:
I am currently in the midst of a job search and I find myself responding to a number of opportunities requesting salary-history information. Statements like “Submit resume cover letter and salary history to…”. I have always read that “he who speaks first loses.” Well I don’t want to lose but I feel obligated to reply as requested.

How should I answer this request?


The Career Doctor responds:
When I used to search for new employees I often used salary histories as a screening device. As a job-seeker I disliked them. And now as a consultant I understand the reasons for asking for a salary history but I still try to discourage its use.

Employers ask for a salary history for two reasons one of which you have guessed but for a different reason. While it’s true that if an employer knows what you are making in your current position that the hiring organization tends to have the upper hand in salary negotiations another reason employers ask for a salary history is simply as a screening device to narrow the field of applicants. Job-seekers with salaries too high or too low are put in the “B” or “C” pile (read: possible rejects and rejects respectively) rather than the “A” pile.

You don’t have a whole lot of options here. Not including a salary history is often cause for rejection. Another option is to include your salary history but stress that salary is negotiable. You can gain an upper hand however if you can determine the pay range for the job. And you can often do so simply by contacting the human-resources office and asking for the salary range. If that is not possible try to figure it out by looking at comparable jobs with similar requirements.

For more information and resources about salary negotiation visit Quintessential Careers: Salary Negotiation. For more specific help with salary negotiation visit our Salary and Job Offer Negotiation Tutorial.