You’re ready for the job interview or the phone screening call. You’re excited to learn more about the job opportunity. Then the dreaded question comes down:
“What were you earning at your last job?”
You have to be ready to answer it!
I will give you a good answer to that question on one condition: you have to shift your view of the employer-job candidate relationship in order to use the answer I give you.
You have to step out of the standard Sheepie Job Seeker frame and realize that you are an equal partner in the hiring process. You are not a lowly ant who has to crawl over piles of broken glass to get a job.
Anybody who doesn’t get you doesn’t deserve you. As a job seeker with mojo, you are happy to spend a little time looking around for the people who get you. You could never grow your flame in a place where they didn’t!
You have to see the inappropriateness of the question “What was your last salary?” first, before you can use our high-mojo response to it.
It is none of an employer’s business what you were paid in any past job.
They will tell you that it is their business! They will tell you that you’re being difficult by refusing to hand over your pay stubs.
Unscrupulous recruiters will tell you that they MUST know your past salary, and that you’ll be dropped from the recruitment pipeline immediately if you don’t hand it over. They will huff and puff — read the comments after this story if you enjoy watching recruiters huffing and puffing!
Of course they say that they MUST have your salary details. They want to maintain the negotiating advantage over you. Leave them in the dust! Scummy recruiters like that cannot help you. Of course, they don’t need to know your past salary. All they need is your salary target, and you will give them that. The script below will show you how to share that information.
They will tell you that it’s an employer’s market. That is false! Google the term “talent shortage” and you’ll see over seven million search results. You have only as much power in the hiring equation as you believe you have.
Recruiters will tell you “I ask this question of people all day long. It’s a perfectly reasonable question.” They’re lying! They may ask the question, but it isn’t reasonable. It’s highly intrusive.
If a recruiter can’t value your skills without knowing what somebody else paid you, they’re a really bad recruiter!
When it hits you that people don’t get to ask one another about their bank accounts and their paychecks unless they are dear friends, family members or tax preparers, you will realize that you’ve been falling victim to the Sheepie Job Seeker mindset, possibly for years.
Then you can do something very important: without making the interviewer feel rude for having asked an intrusive question, you can reframe the salary history question as “What will it take to get you to work here, if we make an offer?” and answer that question, instead.
You want to be helpful and easy to deal with when you’re in a recruiting pipeline. At the same time, you can’t shoot yourself in the foot by naming a number, even if the number you name is exactly what the interviewer is expecting.
As soon as you give up a past salary figure, you lose all your negotiating leverage. Most employers will not hire you in at more than ten percent over your last salary, even if they love you. They feel that ten percent is enough of a pay bump to go from one job to another.
If you were selling a house and someone asked you “What other offers have you received for the house, and for how much?” you’d tell them to go pound sand. That’s your private information, and anyone who has that information has a negotiating advantage.
The employer is not going to tell you what they paid the last person in the job. That’s confidential information. So is your salary history!
Can you step into a new frame, stay pleasant and polite but also draw boundaries around what you’ll share and what you won’t? If you can, I guarantee you that hiring managers will value you more.
They will respect you more. Resist the urge to grovel and bow and scrape and contort yourself into pretzel shapes to please recruiters and hiring managers. It won’t make them love you more when you do that — just the opposite.
Face the fear of saying “Gee, as you can imagine, my salary history is personal information” and spit those words out. Here’s the full script:
INTERVIEWER: What were you earning at your last job, Derek?
YOU: In this job search, I’m focusing on jobs in the $50K range. Is that in the ballpark for this position?
INTERVIEWER: I think it is. I think that could work, but I’m not the manager, of course. I have to ask you what you earned at your last job.
YOU: I completely understand. I know you have questions you’re supposed to ask candidates. I think that the $50K salary target I mentioned is the right number to write down on your form, because that’s what I require in order to come and work here.
INTERVIEWER: Okay, but I’m supposed to find out what you earned at your last job, specifically.
YOU: My accountant would kill me if I shared my personal financial information — you can understand. Luckily if the job pays around fifty thousand it makes sense for us to keep talking.
INTERVIEWER: Okay, I’ll write that down.
The reason interviewers push for your salary history is that the number in the box on the data collection sheet or the web form makes it easy to screen people in or out. That’s all they’re looking to do in a first screening conversation.
They’re not going to delve deeply with you into the strategy of the company or the meaning of life. They’re just stepping through a rote business process. They want it to be easy, and so do you — so give them a number you can live with and move on!
Where will you get your salary target from? You’ll get it from Salary and Payscale, from asking recruiters what sorts of offers they are seeing for folks like you, and from sites like Simply Hired that let you search open positions by salary range.
Most trade magazines and websites also have an annual salary survey issue.
This technique, and all Human Workplace methodology, are not parlor tricks. The script is secondary to the mindset, or the feeling in your body, that you are worthy and whole and have no need to beg for a job.
You don’t have to apologize for not sharing your past salary, nor your credit card balance, your weight, or the details of your sex life. It is a horrendous violation of good manners to ask someone to tell you those things.
Just because we go to work doesn’t mean we’re not responsible for displaying the good manners our parents taught us.
Feeling a little stronger now? Your muscles will grow the same way trees and flowers grow, a little bit at a time.
Practice saying “I’m focusing on jobs in the $__K range” in front of your mirror and see how much taller you stand!
Author: Liz Ryan is the CEO and Founder of HumanWorkplace.