Want to earn what you’re worth? Yes? Learn to say NO when employers demand your salary history.

Say what? You can’t say NO? They’ll rip up your application? The HR manager will laugh in your face and tell the world you are uncooperative and unworthy? Say what? Withholding salary information just isn’t done? Aw, don’t be a wuss.

I covered the importance of Keeping Your Salary Under Wraps back in May (Just say NO), but a reader’s pointed policy should be yours, too. She gets 10 Headhunter Points for integrity and street smarts. Can you afford to give it up when employers demand to see your pay stub?


Thank you, thank you, thank you!

I drove my stake in the ground earlier this year while unemployed. Divulging my salary was blowing up on me because I had either earned too much or not enough.

It isn’t always easy. An officious, as well as uppity, Sr. Human Resources Manager scoffed at me by saying it wasn’t true that my previous company wanted that information held private because other people from my previous company had shared their salary history with her. I delicately replied the behavior of other people did not mean the policy wasn’t in place and thanked her for acknowledging I was unique as a person who demonstrated integrity.

As a sales person, I have had success answering the salary history question with, “There are so many variables with sales positions such as inside vs. outside sales, travel requirements, ratio of base to commission, etc., that I have found it easier to discuss the parameters of and the value you have placed on the position you are offering.

As I was working with a recruiter who was insisting I share salary history and be prepared to show W-2s at the interview, I sent an email stating:

“Regarding sharing privileged salary information, I honor the commitments I make to my employers and do not share that information with anyone.  Even my parents and siblings have never known what I have earned. One of my litmus tests for how well a company’s management team makes decisions is how well they assess skill sets/experience in regard to the particular position and base compensation on those salient factors. If they believe W-2 information is a valid determination, that raises red flags for me. I want to work with a company that demonstrates sound, not specious, business decisions.”

Within five minutes, the recruiter’s manager called me to explain they were having trouble with the demands of that particular employer and he had a better position for me, one more closely in line with my passions and skill sets, with better compensation, and for which I wouldn’t have to divulge salary history.

There is a tremendous value to taking a stand. I will never divulge salary history again. I am spreading the word and encouraging my colleagues and business acquaintances to stop sharing as well.

Thanks again for supporting us as we have the courage to take the high road. Companies and employees alike will be better served when salary history is no longer a part of the discussion.


Kudos to Jesica for taking on the salary question with aplomb. When the going gets weird in a job interview and HR gets out of line, raise your standards. If the employer doesn’t know what that means, toss them a quarter and tell them to call you when they figure it out.

  1. I almost read this

    but the bold tags started to make me angry and confused :(

  2. +1. great article, but you over use the bold tag.

  3. BOLD, Steve,

    Sorry the bold bothers you. You’re the only guys to complain. If more do, I’ll stop bolding. I picked up the idea from computer columnist John Dvorak. I’m not stuck on it. (Bold tags confused you? Come on!)

  4. Be careful handing out salary information of previous positions. Many employers deem salary figures as confidential business information. Chances are, you had executed certain non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) upon being hired by those employers. While the documents may not necessarily enumerate salary info as being protected, the language in NDAs is typically designed to ensure very broad coverage, and could be construed by a court to include compensation. Further, NDAs generally do not expire once you leave the employer. They are designed to protect trade secrets in perpetuity.

    Now for the good news. This becomes a valid reason for you to not disclose salary history to a prospective employer. Politely tell the person, “I’m sorry, but that information is protected by non-disclosure agreements I signed with my former employers. I have an obligation to not give it out.”

    If the interviewer presses you, or tries to downplay those obligations, say something like “If I were to work for you, I would have the same duty to protect your company’s sensitive business information.” That puts the ball back in his/her court and makes your refusal more positive.

    Then carry the conversation back to the real issue: what your skills are worth to the interviewer’s company.

  5. Article is spot on Nick, never ever divulge anything of the sort and if an HR Director/ Manager come back with something off handed (they shouldn’t because it’s discrimination if they get into it with you) shoot them a thank you but no thank you response and ask for consideration. Also Nick, bolds are fine, just maybe a few less of them… but it certainly didn’t stop me from reading…that’s for sure.

  6. Nick, Thank you for covering this topic again. It always does my heart good to see that someone in this arena advises to go against the grain. You are always a reliable source of real-world info.

    Please count me among the ‘less bolding please’ group. When too many words have emphasis, none of them do.

  7. Great article. LOVE the bold tags.

  8. Nick –

    Very useful post, as always. It’d be useful to assemble a library of these responses to the salary question as – whilst one always endevours to think for oneself – this is *not* an area where individuality is needed, merely efficacy!

    (On the bold tagging: I agree that it’s slightly overused, but would work better if you were to use a larger, non-serif font. More Web2.0y, if you will … :-))

  9. Excellent article. It helped me convince my wife she wasn’t losing anything by keeping mum on previous compensation.
    Regarding the BOLD, it’s a lot like an employer evaluating a prospective employees contributions based on old W-2’s: Overlooking the substance in lieu of style. Do what you like.

  10. Nick,

    Here is a twist on this subject. In the engineering field, any competent HR manager would have a very good idea of what you are making just using published salary surveys. I get a lot of trade magazines and they all do a yearly salary survey. I’m always impressed as to thier accuracy. I’m sure there are more sophisiicated salary surveys available for a fee.
    I used this to my advantage the last time I negotiated a starting salary. When asked for my salary history, I said 75% percentile for my experience and threw out an approximate range that included my old salary. However, the salary range of my old company was lower than the range of the survey. So by transfering my position in the old structure to the survery results, I ended up with a 15% raise compared to the job I left. The hiring manager thought that he got me for my previous salary. Everyone was happy.

    John Z

  11. I, too, have used the “privileged salary information” response when asked about my current salary. However, the usual follow-up question by prospective employers and recruiters is something along the lines of, “OK. Then what salary range are you looking for?”

    Any suggestions on how to respond to this follow-up question without sacrificing my ability to negotiate salary later?

  12. Bold Is Fine With Me… Didn’t notice until I read these posts.

    Thanks for this useful discussion… I too have done the the “Salary History” tango… and have used your previous advice stating to hit ’em with “corporate privacy confidentiality blah blah blah.”

    I once submitted my resume – omitting my asked salary history – to a prospective employer and the recruiter called me and the first thing she said was “ah, you forgot to supply your current salary.” It was such a turnoff that I scratched that employer.

    Nevertheless, as Nick and others have said… stand your ground and place the ball back in their court!

  13. I believe a preemptive strike should be considered, by asking what the organization’s hiring range is. Then you can say “that’s ok with me”, or “mid to upper range would suffice”.

    also – unless numeric values are required, i always answer “open” to new salary.

  14. IMO the bold that aren’t confusing but the overuse (as in this article) does impair readability.

  15. Hello Nick,

    Written speech is notorious for not conveying emotion. The bold helps, in my opinion. I know you are passionate about these sort of things, so do what’s necessary to continue to communicate.

    Got a Podcast? :)

    Thankfully my present employer didn’t ask for a salary history when I was hired (they would not have received one anyway). They simply asked me what I wanted for a salary.

    When I told them, they came back and said that it was about 20% too high for my experience, education, etc. I then went to the trade publications that have salary history for my field (The SANS Institute in my case; I’m in computer security and they run an annual survey) and showed them that, based on my experience and education, my offer was about 20% lower than what I was worth.

    I got what I asked for.

    And yes, it is a good company; they were just doing their job of trying to keep the company as profitable as possible (although I suspect that they didn’t expect the kind of detailed, factual response I gave them).

    Don’t back down. Ever.

    Stay bold,

  16. Taking sides over an appropriate usage of BOLD TEXT seems to be the prevailing, single, most important comment, completely missing the point. DOH!

    The article is about salary negotiations and how one person was very successful.

    Good job Jesica! We could all learn something from her if we would only learn to see what really counts.

    Yeah…I, too, don’t disclose salary. How amazing things go when one learns by example.

  17. John Z: That was sleight of hand! I suppose you answered the question, but using ranges and percentiles threw off the manager. Hmmm. Just be careful with surveys in general. No survey describes your job, just jobs like it. There could be a lot of variance.

  18. Bob,
    When the employer asks what you’re looking for, that’s a legit question. You should have an answer, even if it’s couched as a range. This takes some thinking in advance. It also can require knowing more about the job at hand. You can try to defer an answer until you know what they need you to accomplish. But in my opinion, people should know what they’re looking for. Those who worry that putting a number on the table might cost them an unexpectedly-high offer are dreaming. Establishing a range up front can save time and build your credibility. Learn not to think in terms of windfalls, because they don’t happen often!

  19. Okay, I did use too much bold in this column. Urgh. My brain must’ve been fried… sorry! I’ll try to do it more selectively. It was an experiment – can I make it look like I sound when I talk? I get pretty animated. Less is more.

  20. i earn a wage. i specify an exact price and that exact price is my exact price. from there it’s up to the person who needs me to decide if i’m worth it. in reality my price is never more than $1/hr more than i was just making at the last job… so if anyone wants to argue that i’m not worth it, that’s their opinion, the next guy sees the value, goodbye.

    the place where it gets nasty is learning my bill rate. it’s the actual figure i cost my client, but learning that figure can be hard. one guy would not tell me even though i brought him into the role as agent, not the other way around. instead he sought to collude with the hiring manager against my interests. my cost is my business, so he’s fired now.

    think of bold has costing a nickel.

  21. First, thanks for the heads-up on the whole Ladders resume’ garb. I was just about to push the “confirm your purchase” button for their resume’ service when I Googled and found your link and comments. You saved me $695, awesome.

    Second, do you disclose past or current pay history to career coaches or headhunters?

    Thx, DWW

  22. Hi,

    Yes i too have just been through a ring of this nonsense which i refused to be part of. There were many companies like this today.

    The last time i went for an interview and took a job. Out of 5 interviews there was only 1 company that asked and i gave them an unopen pay slip which i normally didnt need to as i used my bank as an indicator if i was paid and not the slips. As in the earlier stages when i used to open them the multiple deductions and human errors just frastrated me till i decided lets just keep working till i needed more. What ever the more happened to be.

    This time round 10 years later almost everyone asked but only the HR. The hiring managers just couldnt be bothered. Especially since i said pay me what this job is worth if i fit your requirements with the relevant skills.

    But the HR people were adamant and i did not wish to back down as i felt that something was not right. My take on it was either they did not know how much they were willing to pay for the role. That told me the organisation wasnt one i wanted to work for. Or they were just being ready to shaft me as i am not one to bargain. I will accept what a reasonable offer and not discuss money. Reason? I just work for fair salary. But more so i work cos i like the job. If it starts to bore me or lose a challenge i just move on. And i have done so in the same companies and done very well in many roles contributing to the organisation and receiving awards and rewards that i did not start out to achieve. It was done as a surprise and i truly felt valued. That i did a job cos i thought it had to be done and did it in a manner that i thought was best to bring the company the best results.

    As such i chose to start my own business providing Serviced offices (with Virtual office offerings too).

    Has this become the norm? Pity those whom do not know any better or have no choice to have a stand.



    Btw great articles and discussions.

  23. Hi, I also find the over use of bold extremely irritating and only because I wanted the information contained within I kept reading.
    The good quality of your previous articles was also a factor.
    I find it disrespectful and condescending, just as much as car rental clerks reading the contract to me with a pen or a highlighter in hand explaining to me what I can clearly read. As a reader I will decide what words or points are salient and worth emphasizing or remembering.

    Please, if you must use confine it to something truly outstanding, a conclusion or
    a principle worth remembering.

    A colleague and I used to kid about people who read with a highlighter in one hand and highlight nearly every sentence. In that case nothing is more important than the rest, they might as well dip the entire book in a bucket of yellow ink.

    Thanks for the good articles and advice,


  24. RE disclosing salaries. As I become increasingly familiar with the postings at online search sites, I come across numerous opportunities for which the applicant’s salary history is requested or required as part of the application materials. I agree that this is personal information, even when one is employed by a public entity such as with state employment. But in the case of state employment, how do you recommend handling that question when such salaries are public record though not necessarily or easily made public?

    Usually, the company posting the position announcement has a range of pay in mind based on positional history and/or budget and cost of living in that location. That range should be posted for potential applicants to see right off. More than likely the company has a reasonable idea of what the job is worth and what it may take to bring onboard (or entice for relocating) a quality applicant. It also adds credibility to the employer, in my mind. When postings ask for an applicant’s salary history, I immediately become suspicious. Are they fishing for salary history because they are clueless and/or do not know they can research such information on their own? Is this a reputable and ethical company I want to be affiliated with? Are they so parochial that they do not know their local postings are all over the Internet? If they are so fly-by-night, rude, or presumptuous as to delve into personal information, I wonder just much of my after-work personal time they will feel obliged to monitor? We have become exceedingly lax in this country with sharing our personal information and I applaud those who side-stepped the question tactfully yet forcefully. It is good to set personal boundaries from the start of any relationship. Apparently, now we must do so before the working relationship even begins.

    RE to bold or not to bold: It’s your blog. Bold away if you like. And thanks for the blog site.

  25. RE: Disclosing salaries

    The last recruiter I spoke with wanted to know my salary history up until my very first job – she even ask me to give her my w2 amounts since there were bonus and awards involved.

    I completely agree that its private information but I also think I would want this information if I was in their shoes.

    What is the ethical standard for dealing with the salary disclosure dilemma?


  26. Spoke with a recruiter earlier this week about a position (they contacted me) – tried to dodge the salary question (what is your current salary) but ended up giving them a vague range. However, the recruiter then said (if I was the right fit) they could do what was the high-end of my range plus bonuses and equity. It seems that he misunderstood my range and thought my ‘high-end’ was my ‘low-end’ – meaning they think they told me the low-end of my range. One of the qualities they’re looking for is integrity. He also said that W-2s would be required. What do I do if I go all the way through? Refuse to give W-2s after accepting an offer and miss a great opportunity? Give W-2s and show that I’m currently making just over half of what they’re offering? Do I feel I’m currently underpaid and qualified for this position – yes. In the next interview he’s going to ask me about my bonuses, percentages, if i own my home, etc. He already asked what my spouse does for a living – since my answer helps me with my relocation question I didn’t mind answering.

    Thanks for any advice on what to do about how the salary conversation went down, the W2, and the barrage of personal questions (he calls it informational data) I’ll probably get the next time I talk to him.

  27. My main issue is that the prospect employer who asked for my salary slip is one of the top IT companies of the world! Although my current job pays me extremely well, I hate the small role I have here and I know eventually I will resent myself for staying here because professionally speaking I won’t be growing here. So when I got a chance to be interviewed by the prospect, I was delighted because the job over there has amazing potential.

    I had an almost hour long interview with the person who would be managing me if I get lucky to be hired. Later, they asked me to send some samples of my work along with the current salary I was making. I did that. After a few days, the prospect again contacted me for a payslip…does that mean that they are interested in hiring me?

    I have already sent the payslip. My company does not have confidentiality agreement that binds me from sharing my compensation. Besides, I’m so excited about the prospect I did not think twice about sending it. I want that job really badly, I know it sounds lame!

    So now it’s been two days, I have not heard back from the prospect. What does it really mean? Should i contact them and ask about my current application status?

  28. @Mrs. B: I don’t know any better than you do what it means. The ball is in play and it’s up to the employer to take the next step. Sometimes this takes a while, and it’s never clear what’s going on behind the veil.

  29. Thanks Nick for writing back. So I did receive an email from the prospect asking me to send two reference details for them to get in touch with and I was also told that they will be calling me today.

    So now I’m waiting for the call! The references I provided were 1. my ex boss who I worked for 6 years and I know he will put in a good word and the other one is the HR manager from my previous company, he will also put in a good word. I’m not worried about the feedback…

    So does this mean I got the job? I know I sound so petty dying over a job prospect but hey that’s me lately! lol