5 Ways to Avoid Answering the Worst Job Interview Question, ‘What’s Your Salary History?’

First things first: anyone who tells you that you can always dodge the salary history question is probably trying to sell you something. The reality of the situation is that sometimes, you just can’t wriggle out of answering this question – not if you want to stay a viable candidate for the job. But, that doesn’t mean that you should name your price right away. You might be able to get the hiring manager to focus on the future, not the past, and that’s what you’re hoping for.


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If you’ve ever participated in an interview process, you know why it’s a bad idea to name your salary history or potential salary range right off the bat. It hems you in, either pricing you out of contention or costing you money that you didn’t know you could get. Over time, these missteps can add up. If you miss out on $5,000 a year every time you negotiate salary, it could add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of a lifetime.

Here are a few ways to conduct your salary negotiation so that you avoid directly answering the salary history question.

1. Be willing to enter a blank.

You don’t even need to set foot in the interview room to confront the salary history question; many companies put it right up front, in their online application process. To get around this, leave the current salary/requirements box blank. If the field is mandatory, enter a dash or 0.

It’s a bit of a gamble, but a small one. If your qualifications are good, most recruiters will at least give you a phone call to determine if your expectations are in range with their budget. Then, even if you’re eventually forced to name your price, you’ll at least have a chance to find out more about the job first.

If not answering that question on an online form knocks you out of contention, you have to ask yourself if you’d really be happy working for a company that insists on putting you at such a disadvantage, without even giving you the chance to gather enough information to name a more appropriate salary range.

2. Turn the question back on the recruiter.

There’s a budget for the position for which you’re interviewing – count on it. If the hiring manager or recruiter asks you for your salary history, ask for their range instead.

In PayScale’s Salary Negotiation Guide, negotiation expert Katie Donovan suggests a potential script:

You may hear the classic, “Well, I don’t want to waste your time. Knowing your pay helps me determine if we are in the same compensation ballpark.” As I learned on day one while working at a staffing firm, no job is truly open without approval and a budget. Your response should be, “Oh, well I assume this job has been approved and budgeted. What’s the budget for the job and I can let you know if we are in the ballpark?” Many recruiters answer this question and you can more on to your qualifications for the job.

3. Come prepared with questions about the job description.

Even though you’re hoping not to blink first, you should come prepared with a salary range in mind – but more importantly, you should come with questions about the job and its duties.

Why? Because you can’t go by job title alone, or even necessarily the job description in the listing, to help you figure out what you’ll be doing all day if you get the job. Job titles vary considerably from company to company. One company’s social media guru is another’s marketing intern. To figure out an accurate range, you need to know what will be expected of you in the role.

4. Bring a range that focuses on the job, not on your history.

Once you know what the job entails, you’ll be able to include that information in your research, and come up with a more appropriate range. Remember: it doesn’t matter what you’ve earned in the past. It matters what you can do for this employer, and how much that’s worth now and in the future.

5. Reframe the question.

“The best thing you can do when an interviewer asks about your salary history is to reframe the question into what salary range you’re seeking,” writes Alison Green of Ask a Manager at U.S. News. “After all, this is the more pertinent question! For instance: “I’m looking for a range of $45,000 to $55,000.” In some cases, this answer will be accepted and the conversation will move on.”

If that doesn’t work, Green suggests saying that you keep that information confidential. One thing you should never do, she says, is lie. Hiring managers have only to ask for your W-2s to find out whether you’re telling the truth.

Tell Us What You Think

Do you avoid answering the salary history question, or do you feel that it comes with the territory? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.