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Answering the $64,000 Question:  What is Your Current Salary?

        by Laura Gassner Otting, Consultant,


      Will you be underpaid in your next job?  If you can’t identify the exact point in your job search where you are going to lose every bit of your negotiating power, the chances are good.


      This tipping point comes when you hear the words, “So, what is your current salary?”  This pop quiz might come at any stage of the job search cycle.  You may be asked up front, as you start an informational call, or the subject might not arise until you get to the offer stage; it could be slipped in anywhere, so you need to be prepared to deal with it.  Mishandling this question will likely sound the death knell of your negotiating power.


Taking the Fifth


      As unfair as it sounds, employers start negotiating at your current salary, not at your value.  By revealing your salary too early, you are setting your price at what your current and past employers were willing to pay you, not by your experience and talent.  Once a hiring manager knows your current salary is $75,000, s/he will mistakenly assume that you probably are too junior for that six-figure job for which you might otherwise be interviewed.  


      Even if you appear to be perfectly qualified, who’d want to purchase a hammer for $100 when they could get it for $5.99?  Unless you are interviewing at the Pentagon, telling them your sales price is $75,000 when they are expecting to spend $100,000-$125,000 will get you $85,000 at best.  Why sell yourself short?


Know When to Say When


      The compensation negotiation is often seen as the last battle of a war, when if fact it is the homecoming dance of the courtship.  For the relationship to lead to a happy marriage, neither side should leave the table with their pride hurt or their feelings damaged.  It is fine to push back when questioned about your current compensation, but know when to give in; if not, you'll risk coming off as obnoxious.  Remember, the employer has yet to pop the question, and there are still plenty more fish in the sea.


      When you feel the time is right is disclose this information -- and it's usually fairly -- remember that compensation includes more than just salary.  A paycheck of $75,000 with benefits equaling $25,000 means that your next employer will need to compensate you in excess of $100,000.  If the benefits are not as good as you current employer, then the base salary should make up the difference.


You Cannot Tell a Lie


      At some point during the negotiation you may be tempted to enhance, exaggerate, expand, or as I like to call it, just plain lie.  Just say no.  We headhunters and human resources professionals are not as dumb as we look and when we catch you in your lie, which we always do, you will lose credibility, lose the job, and probably lose every chance to be considered for any jobs with which we are associated. 



Polite Ways of Skirting a Preliminary Salary Question:

1.        “I’d be happy to talk about that at the appropriate time.  Why don’t you tell me more about …?”

2.        “Before we get to that, let me make sure I’m even in your ballpark.  What is the salary range for this position?”

3.        “I’m not comfortable discussing salary at this stage.  Perhaps we can do so when we meet in person?”

4.        “My current employer does not allow me to discuss the terms of my employment.”

5.        “For a person with the skills and experience you want, I’d expect that this position would not pay less than ‘x.’  Correct?”


Be Prepared for These Pushy Responses (I Used Them All the Time!):

6.        “We don’t have a salary range and would like to survey talent like you before setting it.  What are you making now?”

7.        “I need to know because my boss/client will ask and they won’t consider anyone without a complete file.”

8.        “I’m afraid I cannot consider your application without your complete history.”

9.        “I understand that you may have taken a salary cut for this position, so give me your last few salaries as well.”

10.     “I’d hate to waste your time.  Let’s make sure we can afford you before we get too far down the road.”


If you are not certain of the best way to handle discussions of salary or other issues of skills and experience in your job search, contact one of our in-house headhunters for consulting on resumes, cover letters, interviewing tips and techniques. Resume Review & Career Counseling Services are available from our team of experienced nonprofit search consultants.