A reader worries about my advice to not divulge salary history when applying for a job.

RE: Your comments on salary requirements in your article about divulging salary history.

You suggest writing “confidential” or crossing out “salary history” and writing “required salary.” This only works if you are manually filling out a job application. Jobs online will not allow such latitude. You MUST put in a dollar amount as it is a protected field.

No, you don’t need to fill in a field that puts you at a disadvantage. (If you provide your salary history, you will sacrifice your ability to negotiate salary later.) You can skip it, and you can skip the online application altogether. You are too worried about following instructions, and not concerned enough about where those instructions will lead you — into a holding pen with thousands of other unremarkable competitors. People who feel they must fill in a dollar amount also tend to feel they must answer the phone even when they are busy doing something else. Your action is up to you. Just say NO.

Instead of filling out a data field that puts you at a disadvantage, stop, figure out who is the manager involved, and get in touch directly. This takes work; much more than filling out a form. (If you aren’t willing to do this work, you don’t deserve the job. Why apply at all? Pick a company for which you are willing to do the hard work necessary to stand out from your competition.)

Job hunters want to know how they can distinguish themselves from their competition. To a manager who is tired of speculators who fill out those online forms, a diligent job hunter who actually finds the manager and calls… now, there’s distinction, and a reason for the manager to talk to you.

Don’t confuse filling out a form with pursuing a job. Don’t confuse applying for a job with showing a manager that you are worth talking to.

Just say NO to requests for salary history that will put you at a disadvantage in negotiations.

  1. There are ways around every form. If i have to put a number in a form, I put in a 1. It’s patently obvious that is not my salary, and I’m able to move past the form.

    The reality is, Nick, that even if I’m able to get to the hiring manager (and that’s always my strategy), HR being HR, they live and die by THE FORM and measure their value by whether or not THE FORM is filled out or not.

    I’ve had fantastic, worthwhile, prove I can do the job discussions with hiring managers … but in order to actually get hired it always seems to come back to HR and their dog and pony show, sadly.

  2. Nick your article echos what our coaches constantly tell our members – excellent advise!! The longer you keep the $$ out of it the better – after all, what you were paid in the past is/was for that job. Although the basics might be the same, the new position can be totally different and the pay should reflect the new job. A good company should pay for your value – and they can’t determine that until you talk face to face.

  3. I’ve rejected two potential employers in the past month, in large part because I was referred to the online employment system. One was an Oracle system so byzantine and cumbersome, I gave up in a hurry. The other had limited options for the “required” choices: very specific items for Engineering and HR support functions, but NOTHING for any other positions. The way it was structured made me look no more qualified than a 22-year-old new grad. I gave up.

    I rarely do things the conventional way, and my experiences with online employment/recruitment systems give me no incentive to start now.

  4. Another Steve: You raise a very interesting point that most personnel jockeys miss entirely. “I rarely do things the conventional way.” When employers use conventional recruiting methods, they get people who are on the fat part of the applicant curve — average, if that. By definition, they’re missing the people they CLAIM they seek — those out on the edge of the curve. The “out of the box” performers. Ah, why bother pointing this out to them? They’ll just run an online ad for out-of-the-box candidates that you won’t respond to. Keep on truckin’.

  5. KC – there are managers who will ignore HR. Trust me. Those are the companies that good headhunters work with. Because headhunters loathe dealing with HR.

  6. Absolutely, spot-on perfect advice!

    I found a job ad in the paper that exactly matched what I wanted. The problem? The closing date was the day before I found it.

    I did a little research and found the likely hiring manager. One phone call later and he agreed to meet me in the lobby. One meeting later and I’d been sent to HR to fill out the “you’re hired” paperwork.

    The last position I got in my current company, I got through the same aggression. My cover letter explained clearly why they needed me instead of everyone else. And the manager, a very bright cat, asked this as his first interview question, “So, you said you could prove we needed you, so prove it! Why do I need you?”

    I proceeded to lay out what I’d learned was likely to be his pain, then showed where my skills and experience fit the challenges he was likely to face. It too four more interviews, but now I’m very, very happy in a position that I know is the right fit for me.

    Aggression and confidence wins every time over passivity.

  7. Nick:

    This could be approached from another perspective if a firm but clear “I respect your right to ask, but I don’t disclose such things to anyone” is not respected.

    1. I am in witness protection. My salary history was erased.

    2. I need to know your salary because unless you earn enough to be my boss, I will have to reject you.

    3. What was the salary earned by the incumbent or predecessor to this job?

    4. If President Bush didn’t have to provide his previous salary, why should I? (Along those lines, notice how some candidates and their spouses disclose tax returns, while others adamantly refuse).

    5. LeBron James didn’t have a salary history, but he wasn’t paid the NBA league minimum, now was he?

  8. When you fill out an application write “will discuss” instead of putting a dollar amount in. When you are in the interview and they ask about salary, throw the ball back in their court and say “what is the salary range for this position?” At this time they have to tell you that range and then you can take it from there.

  9. I can provide direct perspective on this. In 2006 I was a contractor with a company and my contract was coming t o an end in about 5 months. So I needed to look for a job as I was going to be unemployed.

    A friend submitted me on a job as an internal referral. I didnt get the job and a few months later this company needed someone as a person quit. They liked me so I was offered the job.

    Anyway the hiring company INSISTED on 5 years worth of pay stubs. I said I didnt have any. Than they insisted on W2’s. I said NO. I had religiously followed Nicks books and they work. Against my better judgement I relented and gave it to them.

    Guess what they did? They literally offered me the same salary I made as a contractor. As they knew what I made for the last 5 years I had NO LEVERAGE.

    After I got here I found out that not only did they bring me in a level below what I should have come in as but I was also underpaid.

    The moral of the story is NEVER EVER tell them what you make. EVER. I wont make this mistake again.

  10. There is an old axiom, as Nick and others who have been around for a while know very well: “He who puts out the first number – loses.” I believe that and so obviously does Nick, and his counsel as usual is very sound.

    I think what makes this so hard for many of us is that it is easy to be “tough” when it’s not you are not the one involved. Under pressure, many of us end up doing things that we otherwise wouldn’t do or know is not in our best interest.

    When it comes to negotiations, I also think that many people look at it as a win-lose event even though most of the books on the subject talk about making it win-win.

    Approaching a salary negotiation with a win-lose mindset I think is a really bad idea for a number of reasons but primarily because when the negotiation is over, someone is going to be unhappy and that is not a great way to start what both parties wanted to be a long term and collaborative relationship.

    Said differently, any employer who takes advantage of someone and low balls them to the point where the package they “sell” to a candidate is not “fair” or competitive in the marketplace will soon be discovered by the new employee. Once that happens, they are already on their way out the door and any savings the company got up front will more than likely best lost several times over as they go to replace the position.

  11. As I mentioned above I have direct experience with giving away the farm.

    As a direct result of what I found out after I came here I am actively looking now. I had to put in my time for a year so my resume didnt look chopped up and that I job hop.

  12. A number of years ago I went with a job coach to check out a court position at a local civic center. The judge with whom we spoke sent me a cassette containing two court cases, and he wanted me to transcribe them and send in my work so that he could see it before hiring me. Along with this cassette came a note from the judge, in which he wrote out the instructions. But what he also did was ask what I wanted my starting salary to be. My mom and I were kind of confused by this, as I had never done stuff like this before. So what is a good starting salary for any paying job? Never was this discussed with me by any job coach and I’m rather curious should the question of salary come up again for me. I’ll ask around and see what friends and coworkers have to say on this matter too.

  13. Hello. My screen reader was playing tricks on me the last time I looked at this entry, and none of the comments showed up except for mine. That tells you something right there, doesn’t it? LOL just kidding! Anyway thanks for all your responses to this question. I now have at least somewhat of a better grasp of this whole salary issue. The situation which I described in my other two comments only happened once, but now I know what to do if it ever happens again. BTW, the poster who mentioned LeBron James I think just might’ve had a good point. I should show this to my youngest sister, as she idolizes the athlete!