Do You Have to Give Your Salary History?

Do You Have to Give Your Salary History?When you’re applying for a job, do you have to give your salary history? How can you avoid providing it without taking yourself out of the running? More and more cities and states (NYC, California, Oregon, Delaware, etc.) have moved to target the gender pay gap by preventing employers from asking for salary history during screening and interviews, while Amazon and other companies are making the change on their own. (Note that, depending on the particular law, it’s still legal for companies to ask for your salary history post-offer.) So let’s talk about it today! What are your strategies for answering salary history questions on job applications and in interviews? What do you think about these new laws, and do you live in a city or state that has passed one?

We even got a question recently from Reader F, who had gotten burned by giving her salary history. As she explained:

I had 3 interviews with a large firm. I have 5 years experience in the exact field I was interviewing for. The firm has their 1st year associate salary posted online. At end of the 3rd interview they asked my current salary at my small firm. After pushing I gave it to them — it’s $40k less than their 1st year associate salary. Through the recruiter they then offered me my current salary, and then upped by $20k. I declined, citing their advertised first year being way more. Why would this happen?

That totally stinks, reader F, and this is exactly the kind of problem all of the new legislation is aiming to prevent. (In this exact situation it might have been because she was interviewing for a non-partner track position — without knowing more about the job as listed and negotiated it’s hard to say.)

The best defense is a good offense — and knowing how to respond to salary question. Here are a few recommendations from career experts on how to carefully navigate the salary question:

  • Alison Green (of Ask a Managerrecommends answering the question during an interview by simply giving the salary range you’re seeking. If you’re pressed to reveal more, Green advises giving a response like, “I keep that information confidential, but the range I’m looking for now is…” or “My previous employers have always considered that information confidential, but I’m seeking…” (Readers shared a lot of their own suggestions when Green asked for their advice recently.)
  • When asked for your salary history during an interview, inquire about the position’s salary range and/or say that you’re willing to accept a “competitive” offer. 
  • Preempt the request for your salary history in an interview by finding out what’s a reasonable salary for the position and talking about your expectations for pay.
  • If you want to avoid answering the question because you were underpaid in a previous position(s), but the prospective employer keeps pushing for a direct answer, Lelia Gowland suggests saying, “My previous salary was below market value at [current salary], so based on my skill set, experience, and research about this position, I’m seeking [salary range].”
  • If you’re filling out an online form, try entering “n/a” or “negotiable.” If you’re required to enter a number, put in “$0 — or, if you have to use a number greater than 0, use something that’s obviously not your real salary, such as $1,000. Forbes contributor Liz Ryan recommends a more detailed strategy that involves entering your target salary whenever the online form asks for prior salary numbers, and using an unrelated section to explain your method.

That said, a survey by PayScale revealed this disturbing double standard about job candidates who don’t reveal their previous pay: “A woman who is asked about her salary history and declines to disclose earns 1.8 percent less than a woman who discloses. If a man declines to disclose, he gets paid 1.2 percent more on average.”

What do you think: Do you have to give your salary history to be a successful candidate? What do you usually do when you’re asked to provide your salary history in a cover letter, in an online form or on a paper application, or during a job interview? Have you been in situations where you couldn’t avoid revealing your salary history, and were you still able to negotiate the salary you wanted (or not)? 

Psst: We’ve also talked about negotiating a salary and other benefits and asking for a raise, and readers discussed when taking a job with a lower salary is worth it and whether salary or title is more important.

Stock photo: Deposit Photos / you have to give your salary history? image of a woman counting money

When you're applying for a job, do you have to give your salary history? How can you avoid providing it without taking yourself out of the running? A lot of companies and states are changing the rules about compensation disclosure -- but what do you do if you're interviewing somewhere where they still ask? GREAT tips from the readers...



  1. This is timely information for me. On a related note, I’ve never had a job that paid relocation expenses. I may be relocating soon, and a few jobs have it listed as a perk. How does one negotiate that? Have you gotten a flat amount, or do they reimburse up to a certain amount? What’s included-U-haul, first/last apartment deposit, mileage, etc?

    • If you can, get them to pay the full relo and not give you a flat sum. The last time I did a relo, it was easily $10k+ to move me 1000 miles. If it’s a full relo you won’t do a U-Haul yourself, instead they will send movers to pack your items, load the truck, and then unload the truck into your new place when it arrives. You’ll have your car shipped unless you want to drive it yourself. You’ll usually be reimbursed for a trip up to find a place (flights + hotel), plus the fees to break your lease at your old place.

      If you take the lump sum, you’ll definitely have to do the move the cheap way and it’s not worth it. Also keep in mind that relo packages usually includes a clause agreeing to stay for a specific length of time, like a year or two.

      • Anonymous :

        I think this one differs by situation. In my last move from SF to LA, I was offered a flat rate ($10K) and it only cost me about $2K for professional movers to do the move. Much better than them covering the actual expenses. I submitted receipts for this, and got the remainder in cash. Downside is that the remainder was taxed.

        • Anonymous :

          Wow … that was a good deal. It has cost me almost that much to just move within the same city

    • My company required me to have two movers provide quotes and then they chose the one that they wanted (which weirdly was neither the cheaper one nor the one I preferred). These were movers that packed everything and moved it from one part of the country to another. I think the total was about $6,000 for a one bedroom +den.

    • Anonymous :

      I was offered a flat reimbursement of up to $3,000. My move ended up costing $4200 (Boston -> DC, 1-bedroom apartment), so I wasn’t too badly out of pocket, but if it had cost less than $3,000 I wouldn’t have been able to keep the difference.

  2. anon house buyer :

    Talk to me about buying an older (100 year) house. We have an offer out on one and the inspection has yielded several things that need to be fixed. Nothing about the foundation, wiring or asbestos which I think would have been dealbreakers, but are we crazy to consider a house that seemed very livable and is in a great location but has a lot of “stuff” to take care of (assume we have the money to fix it). Thanks!

    • BeenThatGuy :

      Some things to consider: The main water line. If it was installed 100 years ago, odds of leaks and cracks are high. This costs about 10K to replace. The oil tank. If it’s underground, have the soil tested. If it’s above ground, is it newer/damage free. If the oil tank has been removed, ask for all documents pertaining to the removal.

      Trust me, there is asbestos in the house. Maybe in tiles that are under other flooring. That being said, unless you plan on removing the tiles, and the tiles are in good shape/intact, there is little concern.

      • Anonymous :

        amperage and whether you want to upgrade later from 100 to 200 – depending on how many devices you plug in

    • Anonymous :

      We have a 100+ yo house, and we love it… but you will always have a ton of little things that need to be fixed/dealt with. There is likely knob-and-tube wiring lurking in your ceilings, even if the main electric has all been replaced. There is lead paint in the house, even if it’s been dealt with in some way (usually by painting over it). Asbestos is really not a big deal, though if you do a major renovation somewhere that has it you will need to pay extra for some additional precautions during the demolition phase.

    • Flats Only :

      Lots of things will be non-standard sizes. Cabinets, windows, etc. You will find that it’s necessary to measure things before you buy, and you may need custom window treatments, etc.

    • just got done buying a 95~ year old house and i think it’s all about what’s still good and what you’re willing to fix. provided the foundation, water, sewage, electrics, etc. are in good shape, you just have to commit to putting elbow grease into the little stuff a bit at a time. definitely measure everything – and invest in a good cordless drill with carbide drill bits if you’re going to be hanging anything on the walls. real plaster is tough as hell, and brick is even worse!

  3. I’m interviewing a lot right now, and every HR person I’ve spoken with has stopped asking salary, but does ask “What are your salary expectations”, which honestly creates a whole other set of issues. I’ve followed internet advice and done the research on similar positions salaries (mainly from Glassdoor). Beware of these! Last week, I was speaking to HR and named a salary $5K above the upper Glassdoor range and the HR rep told me that was actually $20K below their target for this position!! As a result, she started talking about how they were open to this role being a title lower than advertised, which fit more with my salary expectations. I tried to press her on how they determine that (since I meet the requirements of the original title per posting), but I bet I’ve sunk myself on this one. I’m still not sure what the best approach here is. Overshoot by a lot and then let them negotiate you down? I asked some of my male friends what they do in these situations and most of them say they flat out refuse to name a number. This feels so uncomfortable to me, but is something I might start trying.

    • Anonymous :

      I refuse flat out to name a number.

      • Anonymous :

        Can you share the exact words you use?

        • Anonymous :

          “I’m looking for a competitive salary.” “I’m happy to respond to an offer.” “No, im not going to bid against myself and name a number.”

          • Would “I’d prefer to discuss this detail in response to a specific offer.” work?

          • I would never say “no I’m not going to big against myself”, that seems unnecessarily hostile to me.

    • I’ve always just said that my expectation is to be compensated fairly based on my experience and the position. I refuse to name a number, but nicely.

      • I should add that the last time I did this, the offer that came back was $15k more than I would’ve asked for based on market research. I was so taken aback that I accepted without negotiating further, which is retrospect was a mistake. But I’m so glad I didn’t let them push me into naming a number.

  4. Hiking in Southern CA :

    We are planning a vacation in February and like to hike. Deciding between a beach resort in Carlsbad and a hotel in downtown San Diego. Which one is closer to the good hiking spots?

    • Where do you want to hike? If you are looking for hiking along the coast (rather than the mountains), then Torrey Pines is your best bet and it is almost exactly half-way between downtown and Carlsbad.

      Honestly I would suggest deciding which of those two very different locations appeals to you most and base your decision on that. Because Carlsbad is so far north, the drive to any of the inland hiking locations is about the same either way.

      • SD Newbie :

        Piggybacking — where are the good hikes other than Torrey Pines?
        New to the area, haven’t found good resources online & still need to meet people.

        • If you want to meet people (hiking) try the Sierra Club’s website!

          In addition to Torrey, the big ones are Cowles Mountain (my advice – this is a great time of year through Spring; skip once it gets hot); Iron Mountain Trail, Mount Woodson; lots of trails up in the Cuyamacas; and Mission Trails.

          I have not tried the meet-up groups but I have friends who love them.

  5. I have been ending converastions with recruiters if they push too hard on my salary or claim the company requires it. An interesting point as a follow up if you don’t provide you current salary (to avoid being low-balled), how do you negotiate being compensated for missed bonuses? Example: a company recruiting and wanting you to start before your bonus pays out or you’d have to re-pay back tuition reimbursement, but you don’t want to disclose your current salary? Just use a comp statement with those 2 figures and black out base information?

    • Mineallmine :

      I’ve negotiated coverage of lost bonus and LTI (shares) as well as relocation paybacks when I’ve left before the full vesting period. It’s a pretty straightforward conversation. Yes, I think I provided some redacted documentation when I had it, or estimates when I didn’t. I’ve jumped around different markets and countries, so my salaries and benefits haven’t always translated well to the new job, but it’s a matter of a conversation about expectations rather than direct equivalencies.

      Ugh, I’ve switched to a Samsung device, and the autocorrect is terrible!

  6. Anonymous :

    Salary history almost scr*wed me in the opposite way when I was looking to transition out of legal practice. I had to provide salary history from my last three jobs, all of which were at law firms in HCOL areas, and I made almost $300k at the last one as a senior associate. The job I was interviewing for was not in the legal field and was in a super LCOL area and was offering only slightly more than 1/6th of that. My boss called me and said something like “You were our top candidate, but we can’t offer anything like your previous salary so we’re going to move on.” I was able to convince him I would eagerly accept the job anyway, but if he hadn’t called me I would have missed out on a job I really wanted (and that has turned out to be a great fit for me). I am so against asking for salary info.

    • I agree. It is wierd, b/c when I was serveing supeenies, I was compensated on a per supeeenie basis. For each one I served, I got $50. Some days I got one served, some days 2 -5 but many days NONE. So I did NOT have a rate. I could only tell the manageing partner that I made $5300 the year before I started. Needless to say, he said I would be on hourly salary + bonus at his firm, which was NOT much as a first year associate. I think I made about $23,000, including bonus. But starting in the 2nd year, he made me eligible for incentives based on efficient billeing, and once I learned how to be efficient, I went up from $23,000 including bonus, to $95,000 + 25,000 bonus — my bonus alone was bigger then my salary. To make a long story short, I got better and more efficeint and the manageing partner and Frank now call me their “billeing machine” and I am well into the 6 figures now as a partner, with the goal of becomeing the manageing partner once the manageing partner retires to becomeing “of council”. Dad predict’s this happening in about 5 years when he is about 72 or so, tho I say he will stay longer b/c Margie is only 35 and they have a toddler! But the point of all this is that if your honest, and work hard, even if you start low, you can be sucessful by keeping at it, not letting people take advantage of you, and remembering that we all have the POWER of the HIVE behind us as we work every day! YAY for Kat and the HIVE for makeing this websight available to us! DOUBEL YAY!!!!!!

  7. If it’s a step up in responsibilities and hours, I say something about being paid $X for my previous role, expecting $Y in the new role, and (because I am blunt but people IRL don’t mind) basically say that I am hesitant to do the bigger role, longer hours, etc., at the pay rate of a smaller role with less stress and more manageable hours.

  8. My current boss told me he has told bald faced lies every single time he has been asked what his current salary is. My SO did the same thing when he took a new job recently and as a consequence the new job pays about 60% more than the old job.

    The lesson I take from this is: definitely, in the future, lie. How are they ever going to know?

    • Anonymous :

      They can ask your previous employer. Your employer might refuse to tell them but might not. Also state and federal government employee salaries are all publicly available. Lying seems risky to me unless you would only take the job if it pays $X.

      • Per Ask a Manager, companies can ask for pay stubs to verify this before finalizing the offer and it’s possible to have an offer revoked due to this.

        • Good to know. It worked out for SO but they didn’t ask for paystubs. In light of this I think refusing to name a number is the way to go.

      • Anonymous :

        Also, I think it is pretty common for salary to be part of the background check. My guess (given all the info out there) is that there are companies that track/guess this information and sell it.

      • NotALawyer :

        I just left my current employer (well-known Fortune 100 company in the financial sector) and upon leaving they stated they would provide salary history to a potential future employer if asked. So I know for a fact I can’t lie about it.

    • Lolana Sol :

      Have to say, I’ve lied quite a bit when this request has been made. “Around $125K” when it was $90k, etc. Why? Fudging in negotiation is part of the game, and our state bar allows us to do it for our clients when negotiating settlements, so….yea. I don’t think it is a fair question, given that there are various reasons why one may except a lower salary for a different position. Also, discretionary bonuses, which on average could compensate for a lower salary but aren’t stagnate (ok, maybe I’m just trying to lawyerly-justify the lying). In the private firm world, I don’t think it is very likely that your former firm would hand out salary information. And even when moving into the commercial (non-law firm) sector, no one asked my prior employer for my salary. Not once (hope I’m not tempting the devil here….). And I ended up getting $30k more in a LCOL area. So, yea, if it pretty much looks like they will never know, and it truthfully is not material to them hiring you, just white lie, unless it is a government job…which can carry penalties for false representations.

  9. Anonymous :

    I’ve always assumed this is part of a background check and as the earlier poster says, could be cause for pulling an offer.

  10. Samantha Gee :

    Most of my jobs have included a confidentiality agreement of some kind. When pressed on the salary thing, I point this out, and say something like “I respect the privacy my employer requires from me. You can expect me to treat your company with the same level of discretion and professionalism.”

  11. I’ve always wanted to respond by asking the employer how much they paid the previous people hired for this role.

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