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How To Dodge Questions About Your Salary History On Job Interviews

Source | FastCompany : By TED LEONHARDT

Last week, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signed into law an act barring the state’s employers from asking job candidates what they’ve earned in previous roles. It’s an unprecedented and important change. As a coach, I’ve always advised clients to avoid revealing this information if they’re pressed to—something that can still be awkward to do.

The Massachusetts law affirms what should always be true but too often isn’t: That compensation depends on a company’s assessment of a person’s skills and experience, not what their last employer paid them. And since women and people of color are disproportionately paid less than their counterparts for the same jobs, the new law will hopefully help narrow the wage gap—at least in Massachusetts.


The thing is, the measure won’t take effect until 2018, and while it’s possible other states (or, though less likely, the federal government) will follow Massachusetts’s lead between now and then, the vast majority of U.S. job seekers will remain open to this intrusive and pointless inquiry.

And it is pointless. Here’s how Nick Corcodilos of the popular Ask the Headhunter blog puts it:

When they’re trying to fill a position—and put a value on a job applicant—I believe employers just plain don’t know how the job contributes to profit. They have no idea how to judge your ability to do the job or how the work will contribute to profit. In other words, they have no idea what you are worth.

So they simply try to find out how the last company that employed you assessed your value. Admittedly, to think that employers are this clueless about their own operations and goals is kind of frightening, and it certainly isn’t the case with every company.

But it’s worth being prepared for the possibility that your prospective employer really might not know exactly how the position they’re filling contributes to its profits—or how to estimate what you might be worth to them if you’re in it. This isn’t an ideal predicament for you or your employer, but it does create some opportunity on your end. It gives you the chance to demonstrate your worth, rather than have a hiring manager try to guess at it.

Before your interview, put together some data on how your work has moved the needle for your previous employers. It’s simply about quantifying what’s already on your resume: Can you show how your product rebrand increased sales? Demonstrate an increase in new clients from your marketing efforts? Show an uptick in followers from when you took over social accounts? This can help create some transferrable metrics that a hiring manager can pin a salary to.


Here are two critical reminders for whenever you’re preparing for a job interview—regardless of which questions you’re ultimately asked:

  1. Know the market range for your experience and the position you’re applying for.
  2. Know what you’re willing to accept.

Before you go any further, pin those down first. That gives you a baseline understanding of your value, which you can use to counter questions about your earnings history by a hiring manager who’s still trying to suss it out. Then—and while it might feel awkward—practice a handful of ways you can communicate that in front of a mirror. Money in general and our market worth in particular aren’t things most of us are terribly used to or comfortable discussing. So brush up. Better yet, grab a friend and run through a handful of practice interviews together.

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