I'm hoping to harness the collective wisdom of these boards for guidance. I recently applied online for a fairly senior position. All the company has is my resume. Today I received an email from the VP of HR saying:

Hi there,

Can you please provide me with a complete salary history as well as current compensation expectations?

I look forward to hearing from you.

[name redacted]

I'm cool with providing compensation expectations. But a complete salary history before I've even been invited to interview? It seems weird to me. Am I being unnecessarily squeamish?

And more important, can I respond providing one without the other? Any insight or advice welcome!!

HMac's picture

GREAT topic.

My two cents:

If you haven't done so already, quickly do your research on and other sites. Get a sense of what the pay range is likely to be.

My opinion: a "complete" salary history is a bit much, if your salary history goes back more than five years. But if your history is unusual - maybe it swings high because of commissions, or low because of a career change - I think it's fair to go farther back. So if I'm going to limit what I show to the most recent five - eight years, I do so with the implicit message that there isn't something I'm hiding further back.

If you think you have an idea what they're going to pay, then be honest about your expectations. If you shoot high because they're trying to underprice the market, I don't think you necessarily want to be there.

And lastly, I think if you're going to reply to one, you ought to include the other. I don't think you gain anything, and I do think you risk looking like you're not being cooperative.


misspan's picture

Great tips, Hugh, thank you!
My salary history is average, I would guess, in that it starts low and grows with each position. And I suppose because I don't have any anomalies there it struck me as odd they would ask for it before they even ask me to interview. But I see your point -- they're hoping to find those anomalies before they get too far down the road with a candidate. Maybe I was just thrown off by the brusque email!

HMac's picture

Don't second-guess yourself too much, though.

I suspect that sometimes companies - because they're at such an advantage with applicants - use these things as opportunities to fish for information. After all, through you they're getting insight into what your employers pay, and what people in your job make.

asteriskrntt1's picture

This is one of those "how smart is this person?" questions.

Are they going to hire you based on your salary history or your accomplishments?

Fictitious job description - We are currently looking to hire someone with the following salary history.... :wink:

I would just give them my expectations and a range of what I am currently earning (EG, with benefits and bonus, I am in the $150,000 range) or whatever.

Dani Martin's picture
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Hi Misspan! I'm sure I don't have as much experience with this topic from the applicant/interviewee side as others who have posted here. However, I can share my perspective with you from the other side of the desk.

If I requested specific information from a candidate and received a response that didn't provide that information, I would probably move that candidate to the bottom of the list. I would take it as an indication of how they would respond to requests and questions if I hired them....that they wouldn't answer them! I would especially be put off if they tried to hide not answering the question in come "clever" way. My thought would be "You're not answering the question AND you're insulting my intellingence by acting like you are answering the question." If I was feeling fiesty, I might even send back an email saying "That's nice, but you didn't answer my question." :twisted:

Disclaimer: I'm not particularly savvy with the whole "salary negotiation when interviewing" thing, so feel free to disregard. :D I just know that when I ask a candidate a question, it's because I want an answer to that question. I want to know what I want to know, not what the candidate thinks I should know. :)

Good luck!!

RichRuh's picture
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As a hiring manager, I agree with everything that Dani said.

Folks, if a recruiter asks you a direct question, they are looking for a direct answer. Ignore this at your own peril.


AManagerTool's picture

I don't think I could answer that question accuratly. I could only estimate what I made when I was a rookie controls systems engineer 15 years ago. I don't think that this is a standard question. Most employers want to know what you make NOW. That said, if asked, I would answer to the best of my ability....and keep looking. When a potential employer asks me a stupid question, I take note as well.....strike 1.

kklogic's picture

I'm going to go on a bit of a rant here.

This is precisely how women continue to be underpaid in the workplace. We have not been conditioned to negotiate as well, so we spend many years being underpaid. By the time you get to a point in your career where you are willing to ask for what you're worth, you have this "salary history" that enables the next company to underpay you.

I agree that you have no choice but to directly answer this question, but I hate the question itself. How is it relevant to the job you're applying for? Pay what it and the candidate is WORTH. Don't pay them as little as you think you can based on their history of getting underpaid.

asteriskrntt1's picture

....Looks way way up to see KK on the soapbox...

Yep, you have to question why someone even asks that question. Probably something someone taught them 30 years ago and now they ask it just because no one has taught them how useless a question it is.

When you talk to experienced sales people, they tell you that the customers who bargain with you on price as their primary screen are most often the worst customers. They take up more of your time, complain about things that are not significant and make outrageous demands.

I believe this trait is transferable to recruiting... they are looking to buy you for the cheapest price, not the best value.

It in no way adds to the bar being raised higher. And I disagree with answering ANY question a recruiter gives you. You have a choice. Yeah, it may disqualify you or it may be a smartness test.

So to follow on Rich's comment (nice blog post compliment, btw), ANSWER at your own peril. If this is one of those old-style questions that is there to see if you are dumb enough to answer, you disqualify yourself anyhow.


HMac's picture

But kat......
(hoping very much not to sound like I'm a patronizing jackass...because I'm not...I don't think....).

But it doesn't mean the candidate has to ACCEPT a low offer.

The beauty of the Internets is the ability to get information - and to get a better idea than ever before what an employer ought to be paying....And if the offer is considerably lower, that opens the opportunity for a pretty straightforward discussion.


RichRuh's picture
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I guess you have to judge for yourself which of the following is more likely:

1. They are asking a stupid question, trying to see if you're dumb enough to answer it.

2. They want to know if they can afford to hire you, and asked in a clumsy fashion.


asteriskrntt1's picture

Sometimes I am just too wordy.

Well said, Rich :D


AManagerTool's picture

Like I said....Strike 1.

Folks, interviewing is NOT a one way street. You should be looking to see if THEY are a good fit for you as well! I have turned down jobs for the following reasons:

1. Stupid questions on a phone screen like "Do you think it's OK to steal from your employer?", "How well do you take criticism?" I fantasised about answering that I usually will not steal from my employer but everyone else is fair game and that when criticised, I usually beat the critic with a red Swingline stapler.
2. Disorganization from HR all the way to the hiring manager. HR lost my resume and forgot I was going to be interviewed. When I showed up they rushed me to the hiring manager without having had his approval for the interview. The hiring managers office and workspace was a disaster and he was dressed like Mark Horstman at the airport.....FLIP FLOPS! I don't care that he was getting ready to go to the airport for a vacation. His staff looked at me and silently shook their heads behind his back while he was introducing me....."no".....LOL. I almost ran out of there. I actually stopped the interview and told him it was not a good fit and I didn't want to waste his time. He responded that he hadn't told me about the profit sharing plan yet....OMG....It was almost a Dilbert comic.
3. Another interviewer kept asking me how much money I make and telling me that they don't usually pay that high. They made an offer 3% higher. I assumed it was the last increase I would see...ever and turned it down. They then countered at a whopping 2% more.

[b]Takeaway message: Don't take abuse...especially on the first date.[/b]