Do You Really Have To Tell Employers What You’re Making?

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A recurring question for many jobs seekers is whether they need to tell interviewers or recruiters exactly how much their current or previous jobs have paid them—including bonuses or other bells and whistles.

In the current pay and jobs environment, some financial services careerists are reluctant to confess to past salaries that may be higher—or lower—than what prospective jobs managers are willing to offer right now.

Much depends on whether you are face-to-face with your potential employer— a situation which may provide some leeway, recruiter Richard Lipstein, a managing director at Gilbert Tweed International, tells eFinancialCareers.

Sometimes it's better to be vague

Lipstein says that in an interview setting, it’s okay and maybe even strategically smart to be a bit vague about your pay history if you can manage it. You might, for instance, tell your interviewer: “I prefer not to be specific about that just yet. When we get to the point when we feel this is an opportunity that makes sense for the both of us, I’ll be glad to discuss it in detail.”

Keep in mind that employers will often understand that times have changed and compensation is not what it once was, says Lipstein.

Let interviewer bring it up

“Remember to only discuss salary after the interviewers bring it up,” said Bruce Sandy, a principal with Pathfinder Coaching and Consulting of Toronto. “Instead of giving your current salary you can often give a range of salary that you are interested in receiving," he added.

“Do your research on the pay scale for the positions and companies that you are applying for," Sandy said. "You can indicate that you are aware that salaries are lower in the non-profit sector, and that your desire is to be paid at an appropriate rate for private-sector companies.”

Never Lie

Most important: Do not lie or refuse to answer the question or interviewers will think you’re hiding something.

There are situations in which you will have to bite the bullet and tell employers what they want to know. “You can’t deny them the information if a recruiter is asking for salary history on behalf of the employer,” says Lipstein. Also, if you try and postpone answering salary questions and you get asked about it a second time, it’s counterproductive to try and give another non-answer, says Lipstein.

Recruiter Janice Detta Colli, managing director with Boyden in Toronto, believes questions about salary history must absolutely be answered in detail once recruiter asks, and job seekers should keep in mind that “The recruiter normally has an idea already of what you’re making within a fairly tight range.”

Refusing to answer may come across as being obstinate

Those refusing to answer questions about salary may come across as obstinate, says Detta Colli, causing employers to look more favorably on other candidates. “I think you have to get comfortable with your current compensation level and also look comfortable answering questions about it,” she says. Keep in mind it’s an employers’ market these days.

In Canada, at least, not answering or fudging questions about salary can knock you out of the contention whereas the right answer may continue to ensure your spot, says the recruiter, especially if the employer is trying to learn early in the process “what they need to land you.”

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