When I get calls from recruiters about a specific role, I almost always am asked for my current compensation in addition to what my salary expectations are.

Can someone let me know why knowing my current salary is important/necessary for a future position? I somehow feel that they will use this as a baseline for the actual offer rather than what my salary expectations are and/or the actual market rate is.

TomW's picture
Training Badge

There's an assumption, fair or not, that your current salary says something about you, your level of resposibility, and your level of success. Maybe you're making $50K. That means that your company is comfortable paying you that, so you are worth at least that much to someone. If the role pays $20K, you probably won't take it because it's too little. If the role pays $150K, then it's more responsibility than anyone has ever trusted you with before and they will write you off for this role.

jrosenau's picture

Also - They are looking at what you made previously and look at what you are expecting to see what that gap is.  Is it a reasonable gap or are you expecting a 50% raise for the same responsibilities?


buhlerar's picture

I'd typed this up and had a busy day so forgot to post.  Tomw captured the gist, but I'll go ahead and post what I'd written.

They want to know the two numbers because they are both relevant.

First, in reality, most candidates WILL consider their current salary when making decisions about accepting offers. Not to say expectations aren't also a factor, but if the two numbers are far apart you'll need a good story most of the time. They want to be sure their offer is fair and likely to be accepted, and they know you'll probably compare it to what you're making now.

The other reason is that salary is sometimes a shorthand way for them to project your current level of responsibilities into their current organization. Every organization has different job titles, and although there are definitely some general bands (manager -> senior manager -> director -> VP, etc.) it doesn't always match from one organization to the next. Furthermore, the position has a range of salaries (often a wide range), so they need to gauge where you fit in that range (a new vs. experienced Director, etc.).

I'm not saying it's totally fair -- there are reasons why you might take a lower paying job but still feel like you're "worth" more. But it's a legitimate request. In fact, they may trust that more -- your expectations could be unreasonable, but your salary is a concrete reality. So expect it to factor in quite often. In fact, they may ask for your salary history, because it's easy for you to say that you produced superior results, but the fact that you doubled your salary in 4 years may be taken as an objective measure of how your old organization measured your performance.

To me, it's just like the first Career Tools cast on getting good grades. One number doesn't always tell the whole story, so maybe it's not completely "fair," but once you strip away all of the nuance, your value to a company is often going to boil down to what they pay you.

Coming from another angle, when I was looking for jobs I often wanted to know the salary range up-front. Not because I necessarily had just one number in mind, but I cared for the same reason they care. Often job postings are hard to interpret, and sometimes jobs paying $60K sound a lot like jobs paying $100K. I only consider the salary as one factor, but it's obviously reasonable to consider it.