How To Negotiate a Salary Without Disclosing Your Current Pay

Salary negotiation; one thing we all go through and never like to talk about. Why? Because it's personal, tedious, and sometimes downright uncomfortable!  When you're on the market for a new job and interviewing, how do you make sure you're positioning yourself for what you deserve?

Number one rule of thumb: You could set yourself back by thousands of dollars from the start if you disclose your current salary or salary history. Let me explain.

A common misconception about the interview process is that money doesn't enter the picture until you get to the offer stage. On the contrary, you have valuable skills that a business knows are worth money to them, so "price" is at the forefront of their candidate search. They are looking for the best candidate that will bring them the greatest value for their investment. Recruiters have a range of salary and bonus options they can use to cater an offer for their candidate of choice. If the role you are interviewing for has a range of $70k - $95k and you tell them you made $75k in your last job, you've potentially just closed yourself out of the high range of the salary options. Why would they offer you $95k when they now know they can offer you $85k and still give you a bump in salary? Would you offer $20k for a car when you know the salesman will accept an offer of $15k? Instead, be informed about the market value for the job, and be confident that your salary should be based on what your skills are worth to your next employer, not on what the last one thought about you.

Did you know?
You are not required to disclose your previous salary. That is, there is no law that says in a salary negotiation you must tell them what you've previously made. Recruiters hope you don't know this, because it is a great way to get your skills at the cheapest price. They slip it onto a job application like it's a requirement. Name, address, phone number, previous salary. Recruiters also want to avoid wasting time on a candidate that is expecting a salary above the range they have to work with (which is fair), so as long as you can give them the assurance that you are in the same range of expectation, you can usually avoid directly answering the question. Some companies might require the information as a part of their interview process (be wary of this and really consider the company's integrity if so), but even then you still have other options for how you answer the question.

Here are some recommendations for how to tactfully and honestly handle the dreaded question, "What was your last salary?":
  • On an application, you can leave dashes on the salary question, acknowledging the question but declining to answer (rather than leaving a blank). If you are one of many applicants, do know this might compromise your candidacy, so a safer option is to say something like "entry level" or "mid manager," or even "six figures" rather than no answer at all.
    • If you are required to complete an online application that will not allow you to submit the application with a blank, Jack Chapman suggests entering a number of a total expected salary with an asterisk, or a number you are sure is in range of what they are likely to offer but not outside of your current total compensation package. Then, at the beginning of your interview make sure you clarify your entry to avoid any misunderstandings about your honesty in answering the question. (His article also notates the risks of this approach).
  • In a live conversation, politely decline to share on grounds of confidentiality, but say you simply expect a salary that matches the value the company puts on the position. If they push, remain calm and confident, and turn the question around. Ask what the range for the salary is on their end so you can tell them if you are looking for a salary within that range.
    • If they ask for your range of expected pay, again, do what you can to not be the first to talk numbers. Say you are open hearing the range for the role first and that you are happy to share if that matches your range expectations as well. Stay positive and it will not become uncomfortably confrontational.
    • If these answers do not appease them and they say they cannot progress without a clear answer as to what you are hoping for in your salary, give them a range that puts your ideal pay around the middle (which should always be more than what you are currently making if the role is the next step up in your career). That way if they offer a lower amount you can try to negotiate up yet remain happy with the outcome, and if they overbid you know you are getting a generous offer. 
    • Remember, if you ask for a salary that is unreasonably high compared to the market value and the resources of the company, you may lose the opportunity (and others like it). Be firm in what you deserve, but not unrealistic. If you feel you aren't clear on the value of the position and what your experience deserves, you can always reach out to a head hunter and ask them to estimate what you should be able to expect based on your resume.
  • In either case, DO NOT LIE about what your previous salary was if you do end up disclosing the amount. If the company is adamant about finding out your last salary, they certainly have their ways to get the information. The last thing you want is to be caught lying - that's a sure fire way to NOT get the job. Speak generally/vaguely, but never untruthfully.
The other thing that can help you avoid the salary question too soon is by networking to get an initial interview rather than submitting an application and hoping for a call. Not only is networking KEY to the job search in general, but it is also a strong tool in getting the salary offer you deserve. As a referral you walk into an opportunity with a vote of confidence from someone they trust AND the ability to discuss your skills before numbers are on the table.

And last but not least, never just say yes to the first offer you receive. Even if you are thrilled with the offer they extend, always hesitate... say the alphabet in your head once before giving a reply. It will seem like an eternity, but that short breath of time will give the recruiter a moment to think about whether that offer really is the best they can give to make you to accept the role. Sometimes that hesitation will inspire their question of, "Is that what you were hoping to receive?" or even a, "This is still an open conversation if you were expecting a different outcome," which puts a powerful ball in your court to potentially up the ante. And if the offer is lower than expected, it gives you a chance to collect your thoughts and reply carefully. Articulate your gratitude for the offer and excitement about the possibility of working together, state specifically what you were hoping to make, and ask if there is room to discuss meeting your request. If you are a great candidate, they will usually try to make your (reasonable) request work or offer a middle ground option that meets your needs and their budget.

This article also has some great points that expand on the specifics I've listed here.  If you've had a salary negotiation experience that went well or was difficult, share your stories below so we can learn from each other!

Never give up on what you deserve!  ~ CNP

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