If there is one thing you can expect in any job interview, it is to be asked your current salary. Even if your current job shares little in common with the one you’re pursuing, hiring managers want to get you pigeonhole yourself.
Most companies treat employee salaries as confidential information, so it’s unlikely what you say will be verified. Because of this some career coaches suggest outright lying. Ethics aside, if somehow your previous or current salary is verified after you win the new job, your employer has grounds for termination. Now that outright lying has been eliminated, there are two legitimate approaches remaining.
- Be up front and share the numbers.
- Evade the question.
Many people are tempted to evade the question. When asked for a current salary, a typical evasive answer might be, “My current responsibilities don’t translate exactly to this job position, but I’ve researched the market and $110,000 to $130,000 seems to be a reasonable range for base salary.” Another misdirection technique is to come up with a total compensation number that could be defended if necessary, but it would often be a stretch to defend when the interviewer is looking for just your salary.
Both sides of the table understand what’s going on. The hiring manager already has a salary range in mind before she sits down with you. In medium and large companies, the budget has most likely already been set. The hiring manager knows that the job seeker does not want to share their salary information, but they invariably ask anyway.
In some job interviews, recruiters ask questions not to hear the right answers but to learn more about the applicant. Perhaps they want to evaluate the thought process or reaction to a stressful situation. That’s not the case when it comes to the question about current or recent salary. Most experienced managers have heard all the creative ways to avoid the question, and it’s unlikely any sidestep will throw them off guard. If you do try to avoid the question, the interviewer will take away the idea that you may not be honest.
It’s probably better to be forthcoming with your salary rather than attempting a clever ruse to get out of the question. How have you or would you handle the salary question in an interview?
Published or updated September 23, 2010.