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3 Ways to Deal With Online Applications That Demand Salary History

When you’re making your way through the job search process, it’s normal to find yourself feeling both hopeful and a little fearful about the future. One aspect of the process that might inspire both excitement and dread is the salary negotiation process.
online application
Image Credit: Kevin Dooley/Flickr

Of course you’d like to take home a better salary after switching jobs, and the odds are that you will. (Be sure to do your homework regarding what you should be paid, and be ready to negotiate.) But, there is one action that could make a salary bump more unlikely – sharing your earnings history. As a general rule, this is something you should avoid. You know how to get around the question during a face-to-face interview, but what if you’re filling out an online application that asks you about your salary history? What then? Here are a few alternatives to consider.

  1. Set a salary target.

When a potential employer asks for your salary history, what they really want to know is, how much are you going to need to be paid in order to accept this position? So, tell them. Start by researching how much professionals like you, who live in your geographic region, make. Once you know your salary target, you could consider writing a number, or a salary range, in that space. Just be careful not to price yourself out of an opportunity, or sell yourself short and underbid. It also might make sense to identify somehow on the application that this number reflects your salary requirements.

  1. Leave the space blank, essentially.

Some online forms won’t allow you to leave the field that asks for your salary history totally blank, so instead, consider writing “0” or even “—“. The only trouble here is that you risk being viewed as uncommitted or even uninterested in the job, or your response (or, the lack thereof) could be misinterpreted as cheeky or dismissive.

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  1. Go around the online application process altogether.

Another way around answering a question about your salary history on an online application is simply to avoid applying for the job in this way in the first place. Liz Ryan recent wrote an article for Forbes which explored this option further. She suggests doing some research and then apply directly via email. You might get the hiring manager’s attention, and make a better impression, this way anyway.

“You won’t hire great people by searching their resumes for keywords,” Ryan wrote, “and every eyes-open manager knows it. That’s why hiring managers hate their employers’ recruiting systems nearly as much as job seekers do.”

Tell Us What You Think

Have you been pressured to share your salary history with a potential employer? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.


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