The Interview Chronicles, Part 1: Never Provide Your Salary History. NEVER.

Author’s note:  While this advice is mainly for those individuals undergoing the tech interview process for a programming or systems position, the advice within certainly applies to other positions as well.

Negotiating a salary with a company can be difficult.  Once you’ve gotten to this point in the interview process, an interesting social dance happens, whereby you, as the job candidate, decide how you’re deciding to sell 40+ hours of your week for without seeming greedy.  Congrats on getting this far!  There’s a ton of great guides out there on how to handle this part of the interview process…

…except you’ve probably already handicapped yourself, and you did it way, way earlier in the job search/interview process by disclosing what you currently make or previously have made.

NEVER PROVIDE YOUR SALARY HISTORY.

NEVER.

There is absolutely nothing good that can happen by disclosing your salary history to a prospective employer or a recruiter.  Zero.  Zip.  Zilch.  Nada.

Disclosing your salary history will only do one of two things — if you’re making an above market salary, it may scare off potential employers that you’re willing to take a pay cut or end a conversation before you have the opportunity to convince the company you’re worth the salary you’re commanding.  If you’re making a below-market salary, it allows the interviewing company to use that as a basis for (at best) a percentage raise over that, which will still likely leave you earning a below market rate while the company can push back against further demands by pointing at that reasonable-looking percentage raise.

In fact, because of that second point, Massachusetts is making the practice of requiring salary history illegal.

For those of us in the other parts of the country or world where it is legal to request or require a salary history as part of the interview process, however, there is a pretty darn good strategy to employ.

When asked for your salary history, simply reply that you’re looking to receive a market rate or a percentile salary (like top 10%) salary.  Most recruiters at this point will push back — you’ll get a story about how they just want to make sure that if you’re the right candidate, they can give you can offer you’ll accept.  What they’re doing here is making you negotiate against yourself, and no disclosure you can give here will help you.

Your job is to make sure that you get some information out of the recruiter at this point.  Is this due to the company being cheap/small?  Is the company impressed by your resume/any conversations up to this point and therefore is worried they can’t give you what they think you’re worth?

If a company or org is worried they can’t afford you, and you really want to work there anyway because it’s something you’re passionate about, reassure the recruiter that you can be flexible on base salary, and use this opportunity to get a fancier title, more time off, a (larger) piece of equity, flexible working hours, or some other arrangement that doesn’t cost the company cash directly out of pocket.  If it’s a larger company and there’s noises made about how they don’t do one-offs like that, they’re simply cheap.  If you don’t need the job, this is the time to bail out and thank your lucky stars you didn’t get trapped in corporate hell.

However, if the company is highly valuing your experience and/or the interview feedback they’ve received, this is the time to negotiate from power.  Ask for a little more than you want, and let yourself be talked back a bit to the number you’ll be satisfied with.  That leaves the employer feeling like they negotiated themselves a deal and starts a rock-solid relationship.

If you’ve let them know your salary history at any point before this, you’ve given away information for free and established a starting number for any salary negotiations going forward.

Never disclose your salary history.

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