Surely its a good sign in an interview when the HR manager asks about your current salary. If they werent seriously considering you, theyd have no reason to want to know.
But what if its a trap ‒ a cynical ploy to low-ball you when it comes to pay negotiations? Should you strike preemptively and bend the truth with an inflated figure? Or should you take the honest route, fearing your lies may later be found out? Its a tough one, but weve got the answers to handling the “current salary” interview question.
Avoid Putting the Number in a Form
You’re filling out the application for a job you really want and it’s asking for your current salary.
Muse Career Coach Emily Liou recommends putting “N/A” or “Flexible” in that field. If it forces you to enter a numeric value, she suggests writing “0” and finding an appropriate text field elsewhere on the application where you can add something like, “Note: I entered $0 on the salary question however I want to clarify I am flexible if we determine there is a mutual fit.”
Deflect or Reframe the Interview Question
Theoretically, you can simply tell an interviewer politely and respectfully that you’re not legally required to answer that question. “But that response is intimidating,” says Muse Career Coach Arik Orbach. “The important thing here is to not overreact or let your emotions get the best of you if you feel that you are being targeted.”
Liou adds that you can always deflect the question, and make sure you end on a positive note. “If asked, ‘What were you last making?’ a savvy candidate can answer with, ‘Before discussing any salary, I’d really like to learn more about what this role entails. I’ve done a lot of research on Company and I am certain if it’s the right fit, we’ll be able to agree on a number that’s fair and competitive to both parties,’” she says.
You can also answer a similar question instead of the one you’re being asked. Applicants “should not disclose their previous salary but instead reframe their answer to express their salary expectations or requirements for the job,” according to Hoy. In other words, tell them what you expect to make, not what you’re currently paid.
“Companies love data and the more you can come prepared with factual information and evidence, the more likely you are to convince an employer you deserve $X,” says Liou. (And this article can help you get as close as possible to a realistic figure.)
Give a “well-researched salary range with the lowest point of that range being a salary offer you’d still be willing to accept,” Orbach says. “A fun little tip is to provide an uneven range to demonstrate you’ve done your homework,” such as $47,000 to $51,000 rather than $45,000 to $50,000.
Research is crucial. But “it’s also important to back up your reasoning with your own personal qualifications, which include years of experience, certifications or degrees if applicable, or anything else that may separate you from other potential candidates,” Orbach says. “Know your worth before an interview.”
If you’ve already shared the number or feel you can’t get out of stating it, you can also be ready to explain why you feel it was low or below market rate for your position or experience, Hegewisch says.
How to recover if you shared your salary expectations and the offer meets or exceeds them
What if you already declared your salary expectations and they made an offer that meets or exceeds them, but you want to negotiate for something even higher. How do you do that?
Look for new information you can incorporate into your negotiation—ways in which your understanding of the position has changed since you declared your salary range. Here are two examples:
Once you identify one or more things, wait for them to make an offer, which will probably be either below or at the low end of the expected salary range you disclosed. Then you can negotiate by saying something like this:
It’s problematic to declare your salary expectations early in the interview process because you don’t know enough about the job, the company, and the available perks to pick a salary. But even if you already shared an expected salary, there are still ways to negotiate and improve your job offer.