Personal Finance

Being Evasive About Your Salary Can Backfire

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Last updated on July 22, 2019 Comments: 14

If there is one thing you can expect in any job interview, it is to be asked your current salary. Even if your current job shares little in common with the one you’re pursuing, hiring managers want to get you pigeonhole yourself.

Most companies treat employee salaries as confidential information, so it’s unlikely what you say will be verified. Because of this some career coaches suggest outright lying. Ethics aside, if somehow your previous or current salary is verified after you win the new job, your employer has grounds for termination. Now that outright lying has been eliminated, there are two legitimate approaches remaining.

  1. Be up front and share the numbers.
  2. Evade the question.

Many people are tempted to evade the question. When asked for a current salary, a typical evasive answer might be, “My current responsibilities don’t translate exactly to this job position, but I’ve researched the market and $110,000 to $130,000 seems to be a reasonable range for base salary.” Another misdirection technique is to come up with a total compensation number that could be defended if necessary, but it would often be a stretch to defend when the interviewer is looking for just your salary.

Both sides of the table understand what’s going on. The hiring manager already has a salary range in mind before she sits down with you. In medium and large companies, the budget has most likely already been set. The hiring manager knows that the job seeker does not want to share their salary information, but they invariably ask anyway.

In some job interviews, recruiters ask questions not to hear the right answers but to learn more about the applicant. Perhaps they want to evaluate the thought process or reaction to a stressful situation. That’s not the case when it comes to the question about current or recent salary. Most experienced managers have heard all the creative ways to avoid the question, and it’s unlikely any sidestep will throw them off guard. If you do try to avoid the question, the interviewer will take away the idea that you may not be honest.

It’s probably better to be forthcoming with your salary rather than attempting a clever ruse to get out of the question. How have you or would you handle the salary question in an interview?

Article comments

Anonymous says:

I’ve caved a few times but it makes me feel awful afterwards. It’s tough when the hiring manager is adamant on finding out.

Anonymous says:

I have found that, like the first reply, that stating a number, any number means you’ve just lost the negotiation. Any company worth their salt will know this. I prefer “Mr. Flexo, you work for a company with a great reputation, and I’m sure you’ll be fair with me, commensurate with my skills and abilities.” It’s an indication that I’m not going to give you a number, and puts the ball squarely in their court.

Anonymous says:

I like the idea about putting it off until a decision has been made. I hate when they ask that question, because it really has nothing to do with the position. They already have in mind what they will pay, and if it’s a huge increase for me, so what!

Anonymous says:

I was pretty lucky at my current job. I told them I had another offer and they gave me the top of the range available. More important, I love the job and the people.

Anonymous says:

A recruiter contacted me offering a lot more than I was making (basically doubling my salary). We went through the standard small talk, what I was looking for, if I was happy, etc., when it came to money I wouldn’t give a number but agreed to the band he guessed I was in.

However, when I admitted that he then said I was expecting too much to go up! BUT HE OFFERED THAT HIGHER SALARY!

If I had lied who knows where I would be today. I should have lied lol.

Anonymous says:

“If you do try to avoid the question, the interviewer will take away the idea that you may not be honest.”

Huh? How is the interviewer coming to that conclusion? There doesn’t need to be a clever ruse, just stand your ground and do not give them a number, not any number. They already have a range budgeted for the position. You wait till they make you an offer (a number most likely at the bottom of their range) and then ask for more. How can you negotiate if you already told them how much you’d accept before learning where the range low-end is?

Luke Landes says:

To answer your question about how the interview comes to that conclusion: If someone asks you a question and you don’t answer that question, the person asking the question could immediately get the impression you aren’t straightforward or have something to hide. Experienced interviews see through the “delicately changing the subject to avoid the question” technique. An outright refusal could go even farther and turn an interviewer completely off. It may not matter to them, but if it does, you could be removing yourself from candidacy by not answering the question.

Anonymous says:

I see your points, Flexo. But I just think that’s ridiculous. The interviewer knows they’ll use the information against you, and since you’re the job seeker it’s not like you want to do anything to risk losing the position. Though I’m not sure I’d want to work for someone who would refuse to hire me because I won’t tell them my previous salary. I’ve learned that the interview process needs to be as much about the job seeker choosing the employer as it is the other way around. You can learn a lot about your future employer from the interview process.

Anonymous says:

I like Andrew’s and Maria’s suggestions. Also, what about just saying, “To be honest, I’m not comfortable sharing that information.” Then follow up with Maria’s suggestion. The confidentiality route seems good as well if your employer has such a policy (most do in my experience).

Anonymous says:

By not evading, but pointing out (nicely) that the question isn’t timed well, you place the onus back on the interviewer: “I would rather discuss compensation when we’ve determined that I’m a good fit for this position.”

Anonymous says:

So far they almost always get me with this. I don’t think very well on my feet :/ If I am filling out an application (and thus can consider my answers) I just leave that blank. If it’s online I’ve done things like put something obviously wrong like $1.
Most places, salary is supposedly confidential. My current employer didn’t even ask which was nice. In the future I will try to stick to “My employer considers that information confidential, sorry.”

Anonymous says:

Thanks for bringing this up. I am currently job hunting and have not interviewed in a LOONG time. I am thinking of:

Unemployment pays $xx,xxx/year. I am sure ABC Company can do better.

What does everyone think?

Anonymous says:

Holly, I hear two things in your answer: 1) I’m here only for the money and 2) I don’t really care if I work for you, the other guy, or at all. Neither of those are good messages (however true they may be) to send to a prospective employer.

My preferred answers to this question is to use the deflection technique listed in the original post. I try to be as forthright, without giving anything away. Something like “My current salary isn’t releveant here. For this position, I would expect the range to be between A and B.” And aim high.

Written down that looks a little harsh, but how you say it (tone, bondy language, etc) can soften it.

Anonymous says:

There is NO upside to telling them your salary history. It’s a negotiation and the first one to name a number “loses.” Best answer is WDYITO = What do you intend to offer? Most interviewers will just tell you at that point. There are numerous polite and professional ways to evade the question. The biggest problem with giving out a number is that if you’re too high (above their range,) often the interview’s over right then. If you’re too low, they are going to offer you the bottom of their range and you’ve left money on the table. Again, no upside to telling them a number first.