While the best salary negotiation advice is to base your ask on the job, not on your salary history, many hiring managers won’t play along. Some will even insist on learning what you made at your last job.
This is supremely frustrating to a job seeker. You could be forgiven for thinking that the best thing to do would be to stretch the numbers a bit, when you’re asked to name your most recent salary.
A reader wrote in to ask: “I have a friend who got a much higher paying job by lying about her salary history. How dangerous is that?”
The short answer? “Very.” Here’s why.
Reason No. 1: You’ll get caught.
“Another reader shared her story about this,” Corcodilos writes. “She fudged her past salary, got hired and started the job. Then they asked her for a pay stub from her last job. It didn’t match. They canned her on the spot for misrepresenting herself before she was hired.”
You might think that won’t happen to you … but you might be wrong. Although many companies maintain a policy of not giving out prior salary information, they’re at liberty to do so if they choose, which means that you, like that unfortunate reader above, might get busted for lying before you ever set foot in the door.
Even if you’re lucky enough not to get caught right away, you don’t want to spend the rest of your career worrying about the truth coming out. History is rife with stories of executives who told tiny fibs about their education or work history, only to get caught once they were successful enough to draw attention to their background. Don’t let this be you.
You might think that you won't get caught lying about your salary ... but you might be wrong.
Reason No. 2: It’s hard to keep track of a lie.
Remember when you were a kid, and you tried to tell a little white lie, only to forget about it later on? It turns out, adults aren’t much better fibbers than kids, and while most people are pretty bad at telling lies, they’re also good at smelling out an untruth. Don’t create a challenge for yourself by inventing an alternate reality that you’ll have to remember … and sell.
Reason No. 3: Negotiating salary is about the new role, not your old one.
The most important reason not to lie, in the end, is that you don’t have to. Your pay depends on many factors, and your work history should only be one of them. In the end, it’s about what’s reasonable for the job for which you’re interviewing, given your experience, skills, and abilities.
With this in mind, it’s a good idea to establish a salary range before you head into the interview, even if you’re hoping not to have to give a number. PayScale’s free Salary Survey can help you get started. When it comes to getting the salary you deserve, truth – in the form of cold, hard data – can truly set you free.
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This post was updated from an earlier version previously published on PayScale.