Interviews and Salary

by Honolulu Mother

I found the responses, and comments on the responses, interesting for this Quora topic:

How should I respond when an interviewer asks what your current base salary is?

The five-point response from the recruiter I found especially disingenuous, explaining why everything is for the best in this best of all possible worlds and you should definitely give an interviewer your current salary when requested. Many commenters also took issue with his response.

Do you have a preferred way to approach this?


28 thoughts on “Interviews and Salary

  1. The question is usually what are you looking for in terms of salary. I usually respond – “I’m sure your offer will be competitive.”

  2. I work in state government. In my state (1) the mandatory application requires you to list every job you ever had back to the dawn of time with starting and ending salary and (2) my salary and job performance reviews are public information and anyone can get them upon request without a reason. A statewide publication requests salary information on every state employee about every 6 months and publishes it in a searchable format. Plus, jobs are posted with a classification and salary range. If the employer didn’t post the complete range for that classification, they could go up some, but usually the range they post is all that is in the budget.

    So, in my case, the interviewer knows before I walk in the door what my salary is and I know the band in which their offer must fall. This tend to shift the focus to how they reward performance – bonuses, raises, reclassifications, etc. – what it takes to get a reward, and how frequently that happens. In 30-ish year, I have had only 3 where I did not receive some type of monetary increase, though some of those included moving from one job to another.

  3. My recent experience has been to ask what the budgeted range for the position is. It’s always been enough for me to remain interested in talking with them. If it weren’t I would tell them how much I’m now making and what I expect to change employers.

  4. When I was moving jobs, my salary was generally known (you can find all the biglaw salaries on NALP). I would rather steer the question to total comp if asked in the future.

  5. I think one of the great secrets of adulthood is that you don’t have to answer everyone question someone asks you. In this scenario (and so many others!) I find a good response is: Why do you ask?

    You have to watch your tone, so that you don’t come across as defensive. But it gives the person asking the question the opportunity to table it or more fully explain themselves. And buys you time to think about whether the information they’re asking for is relevant.

  6. It is seriously annoying when applications say that if you don’t provide your salary history then you won’t be considered for the job. More common in government and nonprofits, I think.

  7. It will be illegal in my state to ask that question on Jan 1 — which is fantastic. I’ve always thought it was an excuse to add a token amount to the previous salary. I’ve only had one job where they required that information on the application and I am irritated with myself for providing it. However, that didn’t stop a negotiation, so all’s well that end’s well.

    This Ask a Manager blog has a view of the salary history question that’s more nuanced and sensitive to the applicant than the Quora one:

  8. Dh had a brief phone interview for a job in Boston last summer and the guy said, why don’t you tell me your current salary and then I’ll tell you where we are. Dh told him and the guy never told him the salary and just started saying things like “well you know, you’ve got to take into account the lifestyle benefits of living near your family and I’ll have to tell the legal team and see, etc.” Then DH never got a call back. I don’t know if they thought his salary would be lower because we’re down here but I think they were significantly far apart.

  9. I also noted in the OP a tone that I find HR and recruiters often using when they don’t really understand the job or the technical skills required. Since they don’t understand it they try to “add value” by implementing some of these arbitrary rules.

    Also, having been involved with staffing projects I’ve found an inverse correlation between how many arbitrary rules there are and the quality of the candidates.

  10. I agree with Rhett about arbitrary rules. Our HR wants the questions you are going to ask in advance, plus the answers and how you will score and weight those answers. They want you to score the answers and then the person with the highest score is offered the job. This approach has two flaws:
    1. It is hard to ask what would you do if… questions because HR makes you lay out all the possible answers. We have tried to explain that the best candidate would be the one with the answer we haven’t though of. Didn’t go well.
    2. If you have a good candidate who doesn’t fit well into the rubric, they don’t score at the top.

  11. Austin – it has many more many more than two flaws.

    What in the hell does HR want you to provide as the possible answer set to: “Tell me about yourself”?

  12. @Austin. That is insanity.

    If forced to answer (like in a web form), I don’t lie about current salary. It has always seemed like something that could backfire.

    I negotiated poorly when I last changed companies. I should have asked for more. An old boss since then told me to ask for as much as you can without laughing. After seeing many more negotiations due to my role, I agree.

  13. Austin,

    Is HR in the interview? If not then the solution is obviously to put down whatever it takes to get your preferred candidate hired.

  14. Austin, that sounds totally nuts.

    I agree with not answering the question. That first response from the recruiter who said “Nearly all candidates misunderstand why this question is being asked and will take bad advice to not answer it which impacts more than just their prospects of getting past the first interview.” was just nuts.

  15. In tech, there is a huge range of subsidy for family medical/disability insurance expenses, from $0 to ~$2000/month. One reason so many people at my site have a SAH spouse is the significant family medical insurance subsidy. Salary information isn’t sufficient to fully understand a high 5 figure/low 6 figure position. I expect it’s even more true when bonuses are a significant part of compensation.

  16. WCE’s and L’s points suggest a possible answer, along the lines of, “That really depends on the benefits (and possibly bonus) package.”

  17. Yes, it is nuts. No, HR is not in the room, but we have to provide scoring sheets and there is more than one person in the interview. HR’s goal is to keep the organization from being sued for treating applicants unfairly.

    Fred – That would not be an approved question. The questions have to all be tied to the necessary qualifications or experience.

    For example, Tell me about the experience you have following bureaucratic procedures related to X? They get 1 point for even knowing what it is, 2 points for having done it before at all or supervising someone who did it, and 3 points for doing it regularly. This makes it hard to deal with some one who says, I know what it is and I haven’t done that, but I have experience with Y and it is a similar process. If we didn’t put down experience with Y in the rubric, they would get zero points.

    I have learned that you have to give a lot of thought to the questions you ask and how you are scoring them to get a set that gives you a good outcome. You also have to argue with HR about why some questions they think are to vague or open are good questions and be creative in the scoring. For, example, if you gave them a scenario and asked what they would do, you have to create scoring along the lines of (1) was able to identify the problem – 1 point , (2) was able to identify factors to consider in finding a solution – 1 point, (3) was able to articulate a assumptions made- 1 point, and (4) was able to articulate a solution – 1 point.

  18. DH has routinely added 10% onto his current salary. No one is able to verify, and never in writing. Hasn’t backfired yet.

  19. I think it’s more than fair to say something along the lines of “I would need $x to consider leaving my current company” which can include your hoped-for increase. I also agree it is fine to be somewhat evasive because of disparities in benefits. The first time I was involved in a senior-level hire (which involved an executive search firm), we asked for and received written confirmation of the chosen candidate’s current compensation, including W-2 and the other company’s bonus-design document. I say all that because you need an exit ramp if someone wants to confirm current comp and you have inflated it during the conversations.

  20. I’ve written about this before. But I’m still bitter, so I’ll share it again. DH was approached by a very large firm for a mid-level manager position. He was working for a Nother industry giant at the time. He told them that my salary is currently x, I received a usual bonus of y and I have the following benefits that I value at z. I would need to make more than X plusY plus Z in order to leave my current employer. He did several layers of interviewing, including taking a day off work for a on-site interview. In the end, they came back with the offer of the position, and a salary of X +10%, below his current total compensation from a company that is well known to have a pretty poor benefits. It was really annoying because he best in a lot of time and effort into the interview process, I consider his vacation days worth more than gold.

  21. My understanding is that former employers can (and often do) limit the information they provide to confirming (1) that the person did work for them in what position(s) and the time period of employment, (2) the current (still employed) or ending salary (not sure if that is just salary or total compensation), and (3) whether the person is eligible for rehire. This is to keep people from listing companies they never worked for or fictious positions/salaries or for longer periods to cover gaps in employment.

  22. I’m skeptical that employers confirm salary for anyone but the highest level. Hell, they don’t even allow employees to discuss amongst themselves. Would be happy to hear counter examples, however.

  23. It is culture more than policy that prevents employees from discussing salaries at work, I think. Such discussion is protected under law, though enforcement ranks right up there with enforcement of discrimination law against renters with children.

    I’ve been having some interesting discussions about pay with a friend who is an engineering manager at a small company. Pay can range by 2x there, for no good reason. In contrast, at my Fortune 500 employers, salary bands are rigidly policed at +/-10%, the percentage of employees at each pay grade is rigidly controlled and forced ranking has been rigidly enforced over my career. Proposed raises have to pass a non-discrimination T-test at the ~100 person group level. Fortunately, raises have been so small for the past ~15 years that forced ranking hasn’t interfered too much with collegiality. My colleagues are too nice to backstab each other over 2.5% vs 1.9% raises.

  24. At my employer we have salary ranges that are stated if you are an internal candidate. If you move positions either up or lateral you do get a bump in salary. I did ask for more money when I moved positions, keeping in mind the ranges. At a certain point you become eligible for more bonus as a percentage of your salary, so that has to be kept in mind. As I mentioned you are responsible for your own career path which means very few people get promoted within departments, they just have to seek a higher paying position. If you are coming from the outside then there is definitely a bigger potential to negotiate salary.

  25. And as expected in my new position there is no training or even a simple word document with basic instructions. At my old position we had the basics documented so it was a good start. It really helps a new person get up and running very quickly if they get some instructions in the first few days. People have taken a month or more in the absence of instructions.

  26. I am looking to switch jobs this coming year. I recently had a discussion with a recruiter and ho had contacted me on LinkedIn and even though he agreed my current comp level is lower than industry he was very rudely and forcefully explaining to me that it is not my future employer’s job to compensate for my current “situation”. I am wondering if I should even disclose my current salary on future interviews.

  27. That’s not the recruiter for you. I would not disclose what you are making currently but focus more on the opportunities you are seeking and the skills you bring to a future employer. Comp packages vary widely and it is all tradeoffs. If you can be networking with the types of places where you would like the next opportunity, perhaps you can make your way in without a recruiter.

  28. Idk if anyone’s still reading this, but the last time I applied for a job, I was asked several times, once in the interview and a couple times in follow-up and discussion of another position they had open up, what my salary requirements were. I didn’t reply, because I thought that the norm for them was higher than what I had made before. Eventually they stopped asking. It’s been over a year. I recently saw the boss there. He asked me to email him because they had a couple small project I could work on. That was nearly two weeks ago. I emailed him that night and haven’t heard back.

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