Ask The Headhunter: Never, Ever Disclose Your Salary to an Employer


Photo courtesy of Ojo Images.

Nick Corcodilos started headhunting in Silicon Valley in 1979, and has answered over 30,000 questions from the Ask The Headhunter community over the past decade.

In this special Making Sense edition of Ask The Headhunter, Nick shares insider advice and contrarian methods about winning and keeping the right job, on one condition: that you, dear Making Sense reader, send Nick your questions about your personal challenges with job hunting, interviewing, networking, resumes, job boards, or salary negotiations. No guarantees — just a promise to do his best to offer useful advice.

Question: I read your article titled “Keep Your Salary Under Wraps,” and I agree completely that there is no good reason (from the employee’s perspective) to disclose your current salary to a future employer. A competent business should be able to independently assess a prospective employee’s worth without being biased by another data point. Judging from your article, however, you may not be aware that employers require salary information.

For instance, online applications frequently make the “current salary” field mandatory. You cannot proceed without entering a numeric value. Human resources representatives almost always ask about current salary during the initial phone interview, and your refusal to follow protocol could end the interviewing.

How should applicants deal with questions that require an answer about current salary? I am confident that applicants who refuse to answer, no matter how professionally, will have little luck advancing in the application process.

Nick Corcodilos: Employers don’t really require your salary history to hire you. But many do like to bully you into disclosing private, confidential information that will give them an unfair negotiating position. So they call it “the policy.”

I would never, ever disclose my current salary or salary history to a prospective employer even if it means ending the interview process. That is my advice to job hunters.

Employers use online applications for two reasons. One is that they are expedient. Those poor HR staff have no way to process all the millions of inappropriate applications they solicit from people they don’t know. The other reason is that automated forms enable them to intimidate you into sharing information that is none of their business. When employers re-brand their rudeness as “policy,” many job applicants will go along. But not all.

Ask The Headhunter readers tell me they say no to the salary question without getting kicked out of the interview process. There are plenty of employers who will respect that position; the rest are playing games. What makes you think playing games will lead to a good job and a good salary with a good employer?

The article you refer to is actually a very abbreviated version of my PDF book, “Keep Your Salary Under Wraps.” Here are a few tips from the book about how to deal with inappropriate salary requests from employers. The basic idea is, either walk away entirely, or approach from a direction that avoids such silly obstacles.

  1. Don’t apply for jobs using online forms. Does that sound crazy? It’s not at all. Most jobs are found and filled through personal contacts. Eliminate that urge to take the easy way — avoid the forms. That’s how to avoid the salary field! Pick up the phone. Send an e-mail. Introduce yourself to someone who will refer you to the manager without salary being the first topic of conversation!
  2. Politely but firmly decline to disclose your salary history. Substitute this: “I’d be glad to help you assess what I’d be worth to your business by showing you what I can do for you but my salary is personal and confidential, just as the salaries of your own employees are.”
  3. Lead with your salary requirements. See “How to decide how much you want.” While employers have no business knowing your last salary, they have a right to know whether your desired salary fits the range they want to spend. Or…
  4. Ask the employer to tell you the range for the position, so that you both know you’re not wasting your time. Because a posted position has been defined, the salary should be no secret. (I prefer this approach to the previous one.)

You can take a strong position with any employer by putting it all on the line. Tell the employer, “Look, I won’t tell you my past salary because I’d like to have an honest, fair negotiation based on what I can do to make your business more successful. If I can’t demonstrate my value, then you should not make me an offer or hire me. We can part as friends. But I’d like to show you how I can contribute enough to your business that you’ll want to pay me well to do this job.” See “That’s why it’s called compensation.”

That’s a friendly, assertive way to continue the interview process. If an employer still demands your salary history, I’d walk away. Don’t participate in a one-sided negotiation that is not a win-win proposition.

Nick Corcodilos invites Making Sense readers to subscribe to his free weekly Ask The Headhunter© Newsletter. His in-depth “how to” PDF books are available on his website: “How to Work With Headhunters…and how to make headhunters work for you,” “How Can I Change Careers?” and “Keep Your Salary Under Wraps.”

Send your questions to Nick, and join him for discussion every week here on Making Sense. Thanks for participating!

Copyright © 2013 Nick Corcodilos. All rights reserved in all media. Ask the Headhunter® is a registered trademark.

This entry is cross-posted on the Making Sen$e page, where correspondent Paul Solman answers your economic and business questions