Laterals: Should You Give Your Salary History?

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on March 25, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

If you're contacted by a recruiter, or out searching for jobs on your own, at some point you will probably be asked about your salary history. If you've been raking it in -- well, horray! Whipping out your big paycheck can let potential employers know that you're worth it, at least in the minds of past bosses.

But if you're not making much, or feel like you're underpaid, revealing your salary history can put you at a significant disadvantage when it comes time to negotiate compensation later.

What's a lateral to do?

Why You Shouldn't Share Your Salary History

Many recruiters or potential employers will ask to know applicants' past salaries. If questioned, they often argue that such information is essential to know what an appropriate offer would be. It's not. An offer should be based on the value of the services you provide, not what you charged for them in the past.

That, at least, is the argument Liz Ryan, CEO of Human Workplace, makes. Ryan argues that candidates shouldn't give employers extra leverage in the negotiating process and should refuse to provide past salaries. If the recruiter won't take no for an answer, simply tell them they'd be better served looking at other candidates.

Particularly for workers who are underpaid, providing salary information may make a recruiter interested, but it can also trap candidates in a cycle of receiving less than market rate offers.

Why You Should

Then again, not everyone has the privilege of shutting the door on potential new opportunities. Job seekers who are looking to start out or desperate to make a change might be less inclined to just refuse a request for salary history. If it's necessary to be considered for a position, providing salary info might just be worth it.

Even underpaid workers can use their salary history to their benefit. Aside from potentially undercutting the competition, candidates should include the full spectrum of their salary, listing both starting and ending wages. A sizable increase in pay over time can provide evidence of a candidate's worth.

Similarly, salary history should not be the end of the discussion. One can simply say that, while they have made a current wage in the past, they would require a specific increase in order to consider a new position. If your former positions provided non-salary compensation, such as a better work life balance, this can also factor in to negotiations.

Finally, all job searchers, attorneys and non-attorneys alike should beware fudging the numbers on their salary histories. While there are no laws prohibiting such misrepresentations, according to The New York Times, lying on a resume or job application can lead to termination and even being sued for fraud.

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