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Reflections of an Executive Resume Writer
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Play Your Cards Close to the Vest When Employers Request Your Current Salary

There really is no good reason for prospective employers to insist you reveal your current salary (or past salaries) in order to be considered for hire. Any employer worth his/her salt knows that the salary offer should be based on a candidate’s value and reasonable market value of the position, completely independent of what their current or previous employers may have paid them.

Recruiting industry strategists such as Nick Corcodilos emphasize that “relying on some other employer’s judgment of a worker is both stupid and a revelation that a company has no competitive edge on judging value.” (We Need to Know Your Salary Because)

He says that you can “Just Say No” to demands for salary history information. As a matter of fact, recent court rulings in many states have made it illegal to ask a person’s last or current salary, primarily in an effort to combat gender discrimination through wage disparity. The question is currently banned in states including California, Oregon, Delaware, Massachusetts, New York City, Philadelphia and Puerto Rico, with others likely to follow. (See Salary Question is Being Ditched)

Employers may try to justify the request by saying such things as “It’s company policy,” “We need to know whether you’re in our salary range,” or “We cannot continue to process your application without it.” These of course are patently ridiculous and disingenuous excuses. The real reason is to be able to cap any job offer, even when they may have been budgeting a higher amount or know that the market rate is higher.

Nick advises that your best response is to politely but firmly decline to disclose salary information, saying that it is private and confidential. If you DO give up the information, you have just lost an edge in salary negotiations. Usually it is HR that is making this demand, and most HR departments will back off–but not all. It is possible the employer may terminate discussions with you if you refuse, but something worth considering is whether you really want to work for a company that is that unreasonable from the get-go.

Corcodilos also says, “I think good candidates must be contrary. They must stand out. Withholding salary history is not indicative of an uncooperative candidate. Demanding it reveals a company that’s not going to negotiate based on the candidate’s value.”  (Can You Afford to Say No To Salary History Requests?)

This advice may be a little harder to follow: “If an online application requires salary history, ignore the application. Find a better way in the door.” Many listings are blind with no reasonable way to determine direct contact information, and some companies’ web application forms make current and desired salary mandatory fields, with no opportunity to give a range either. In these cases, you may not have much of a choice if you want to apply online, but as Nick constantly points out, at executive level your best bet is to avoid these situations as much as possible by directly contacting hiring executives at companies of interest and working with recruiters who are savvy about holding cards in the salary negotiation process.

As one reader commented:
“The company has plenty of other applicants to move onto if you don’t provide the information they are seeking.” Corcodilos adds, “If you don’t cooperate, the company has plenty of other applicants who will do what they’re told, and destroy their ability to negotiate. Let the company have them. It wants cows, not people who think and act outside the box. Join a company like that, by playing along, and soon you’ll be looking for yet another job.

Something to think about.

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