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If the compensation you are offered for a job is below what you expected, let the recruiter know that the terms they've suggested would not make it a smart move for you, says Nick Corcodilos. Photo by Image Source/Getty Images

Ask the Headhunter: I lied about my salary to get a job. What if my employer finds out?

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 Sen$e 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: What happens if you apply for a job, the employer asks for your current salary in the interview, and you give them a number that isn’t true? Then they make you an offer without bothering to check the number on an old pay stub or on your W-2. Then the employer sends you a job application to fill out, and it asks for your salary. Now what are you supposed to do? Go with your true salary or the number you told them in the interviews? It would be great if you can give me an answer quickly!

Nick Corcodilos: It’s not uncommon for an employer to conduct interviews, make a job offer and then ask you to fill out the job application form. Unfortunately, some people think that if they give salary information in a job interview — and it’s “not in writing” — they’re somehow not liable for telling a lie. This is a lesson about how the paperwork will catch up with you.

What do you think will happen if you lie on the application form to support your first lie and they catch you?

READ MORE: Ask the Headhunter: I’m waiting for a job offer… Now what?

If you get caught lying about your salary history, an employer is likely to drop you from consideration or fire you if they already hired you. You have caused yourself a real problem. My advice is to come clean. Tell the truth, and deal with the consequences.

Don’t do this again.

The only way to avoid this situation is to politely but firmly decline to tell your salary during the interview process. (See “Should I disclose my salary history?”)

I wish you the best. I’d love to know how this turns out. Sorry to hear you’re in so deep.

The Reader Follows Up: I didn’t lie. My current employer did offer me the salary I quoted to the new employer. It was for a promotion, but I didn’t take it, because I want to leave. I didn’t put anything in writing as of yet, but they are asking me to send over the paperwork now. The HR lady explained to me that they do not reach out to current employers. I’m thinking maybe I should put how much I make and say I was offered the other salary? What do you think?

Nick Corcodilos: Some people play another version of this “fudging my salary” game. They will quote their salary as salary plus the value of their benefits and bonuses and anything else they can throw into the figure. But that’s not their salary.

Likewise, it doesn’t matter what your current employer offered you if that’s not the number on your pay stub. Just because they don’t “reach out to current employers” doesn’t mean they won’t find out you lied. If they hire you and do an orientation, they will likely ask you for a pay stub at that point for their HR files. (This is very common.) In other words, you may have to turn it over as a condition of employment. I don’t think you want them to see a stub that’s different from the number you put on the application form or the number you stated in your interviews. That would probably be grounds for termination on your first day.

Just tell the whole truth.

Having said all that, I think your salary history is private and confidential. It’s not an employer’s business, and you should not disclose it. But that means do not disclose it during interviews, on forms or anywhere else. That’s different from lying about it. If you don’t disclose it, they hire you and then ask for your old pay stub, you’re covered because there’s no misrepresentation.

READ MORE: Ask the Headhunter: The huge mistake almost everyone makes when they ask for a higher job offer

Dear Readers: Have you ever lied about your salary and gotten caught? What happened? How would you advise this reader?

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,” “Keep Your Salary Under Wraps,” “How Can I Change Careers?” and “Fearless Job Hunting.”

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

Copyright © 2016 Nick Corcodilos. All rights reserved in all media. Ask the Headhunter® is a registered trademark.

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