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Salary History Strategies for Applicants

“Include Salary History.” You see the instructions on employment ads or initial email feedback from the Human Resources department of the company to which you’ve applied. Sometimes the request is paired with a request to see your resume. At best, it’s an uncomfortable moment when you’re trying to find a job and you’re asked to reveal confidential information before you even speak to someone. Should you even reply?

There are several clear-cut answers. But the certain one is: never right away. If you’re seeking an entry-level position with an employer, you won’t have much of a history to report within the profession. You’d be stuck offering up summer jobs during college which paid low wages, or internships, which paid nothing. Or, you might be sending a prospective employer a wage history for jobs where your skills and responsibilities had little to do with your current aspirations.

More people than not would prefer to simply say, “What I make now and what I made at previous jobs is really none of your business!” Declarations like this may be apt, but you’d fear that such a firm position would take you right out of the running for a job you’d like to have. On the other hand, do you want a job from someone who really hopes to take all flexibility in negotiating your wage out of your hands?

Salary History Requests Are Part of the Screening Process
What if you don’t respond to the request? First let’s look at the absolute negative aspects of providing your salary history to prospective employers from the get-go. If the advertisement for the job opening says “send resume and salary history” what does that say about the employer or hiring process?

If an HR department wants both documents from the initial contact, it probably means there is little flexibility in salary, or at least a very narrow range. When you send a resume alone, the employers have to weigh your skill sets and direct experience. The resume will show a progression of employment along with increasing leadership or accomplishment, and milestones that reflect general salary growth in the profession.

However, if they want your salary history, it probably means they are not as interested in your unique accomplishments so much as seeking an individual who will agree to be paid what they’re offering. You may be weeded out immediately for reasons that are not really germane to your expertise. Perhaps that’s a good thing, because an inflexible employer is probably just looking for a body to put in a chair. And you don’t want to work for them, do you?

Negotiating a Salary versus Settling
There’s more than a raw wage involved anyway. If you have made initial contact with an HR representative, the following steps can include supplementary emails, a telephone interview for additional screening, or an entry interview at the company. Along the path, you may be asked more directly, “What are your salary expectations?”

An HR representative may ask for your “salary range”. That query is slightly more respectful of the candidate but is still being used as a screening tool. HR staffs want to know whether to spend time with you or cut you loose if you’re too expensive a candidate.

Your current salary is confidential. You’re not really interested in having it blow you out of the running if it’s higher than they want to pay, or lock you into a low wage if they expected to pay more. The question is how to respond with tact.

In this case, it pays to look at your progression of wages. Examine salaries for your level of expertise in the field. Salary.com has a web engine that compares wages by job title with specific zip codes to adjust for cost of living. Perhaps you’ve been underpaid in your current job. To report that wage as part of your salary history may jeopardize your chances of earning what you’re worth.

Today it’s customary to put off any discussion about salary until you’ve advanced past the initial interviews. Even then, you should determine what is involved beyond the basic wage: health benefits, retirement plans, investments, vacation, stock options, etc. Many candidates diplomatically tell HR representatives that they would be delighted to examine a range when they actually have a face-to-face with the hiring manager who would ultimately offer you the job if they pass muster.

There are the buzz words that show your HR representative you don’t want to talk wages without being rude about it. You might say you are “open to offers”, that you expect that your salary and benefits “will be negotiable”, or that you will “require competitive wages” for the level of skills you’re expected to deliver. Each message reveals a general level of flexibility or an insistence on a prevailing rate.

You Have Little Choice and You Want the Job
Now you’re in a fish or cut-bait position. You love what you’ve heard about the company, you’ve been impressed with the people you’ve met, and you want to work there, period. And now they absolutely demand a salary history.

If you’ve determined there’s a lot at stake here, your best step requires honesty. If your salary history shows wages decidedly lower than what they’re offering or what you’re seeking, you’ll need to impress hiring managers that your skills and talents have grown to the level at which they’re paying — not what you’ve been paid.

Since they’re likely to review your history previous employers, it’s essential that you are completely honest in your history. It’s beneficial to list the company name, the job title, a brief sentence listing accomplishments, and your starting wage, and your final wage.

Take your best shot. The rest is up to completely subjective reasoning.

Here’s an example of a salary history:

Hopeful Applicant, Salary History — Confidential
Junior Sales, Amalgamated Nuggets, 5/98 to 6/01
Successful campaigns increased sales by 6% across three Western states.
Beginning compensation: $26,000
Bonuses: 8% based on exceeding performance quota
Ending compensation: $38,900
Marketing Manager, MC Solutions — 6/01 to Present
Led web marketing effort for t-shirt manufacturer
Beginning compensation: $46,000
Current compensation: $55,600

Publish date: June 17, 2008