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Dear Electra,

What am I supposed to do when a job ad or an employer asks for my salary history? My last job was with a small company and I left because the salary was too low compared with others I know working in the same field. If my new salary is based on my OLD salary I will always be underpaid!

Am I saddled with a "salary history" that will always put me on the losing end? How do I handle applying for jobs where they want my salary history "up front"? How do I get a new job on a better footing?

Underpaid & Unhappy

PS. If I DO have to include a salary history, do I put that information in my resume?

You're right! Unless you do something about the salary history request, odds are you will start your next job at the bottom of the range again. Electra does NOT think offering your salary history UP FRONT is a good move for the jobseeker. Read below and decide how you will handle such requests:

It is true--some employers WILL reject your resume/cover letter if you do not supply the requested information. Many many others will STILL consider you without it (by "consider" I mean, if you have what they want they will invite you to interview.) At the interview the trick is to delay discussing salary until you are BOTH interested!

(Remember too that the whole resume/cover letter business works this way: the employer has a pile of resumes. The first decision is who to REJECT. If YOUR resume & cover letter sizzle--that is, make the employer's mouth water because you have EXACTLY what they need and show how you can help them, then YOUR resume will survive this first hurdle. With or without salary info.)

If you give the salary history up front in your application:

1. You may be rejected because you may seem to be more expensive than they can afford.

2. You may be rejected because you are too cheap (which they read as "not up to our standards.")

3. Or, if it is low, they may want you because they think, "Great! We can pay this applicant less & save money."

Obviously NONE of these three are in YOUR best interest.

If you do NOT provide salary history in your initial contacts:

1. Some employers think: "No salary info. Reject this one. Take someone else with the same background & a known salary...."

2. Others will think: "Sounds good but we don't know if this person's expectations are in line with ours, let's schedule an interview so we can discuss it."

While you may not get interviews with salary history "hardliners," in the second case you have a chance to delay the salary issue until the employer has met with you. Depending on what you do for a living, it may be much better than 50-50 chance in YOUR favor. (Are they flooded with qualified candidates or do they have only a few to consider?)

If the strategy/thinking outlined above seems a bit risky to apply in your job search, you could try "almost" complying with the salary history request. Instead of providing history, include a line in your cover letter like this:

"My salary expectations are $35,000 - $45,000 depending on the responsibilities of the position."

This line, while not a history, may help you get an interview with employers who are nervous about whether they can afford you.

This approach can be risky too.

Make sure you've done your homework! Electra recently heard from two JobStar users who ran into trouble here. One was offered the low end of his own range by an employer who said, "But you said that you would take the job for $35,000." Another who declared his salary range early in the process discovered, after accepting the job, that the top of his range was the bottom of the employer's range for that position.

How to do your homework? Check JobStar's Profession Specific Salary Surveys and talk with others working in your industry and location.

For more ideas about handling salary histories, see Jack Chapman's book, Negotiating Your Salary, How to Make $1,000 a Minute, Jack Chapman, Ten Speed Press, 1996. $11.95. Libraries & bookstores have this book.

For two more perspectives, see:
Ask the Headhunter: FAQ Salary I , Nick Corcodilos. [Nick gives great counsel on how to avoid getting the request in the first place.]

"Salary History Can Be Catch 22 when Seeking a Job," Ilana Debare, San Francisco Chronicle, August 3, 1998. [More cautious advice for the more cautious among us.]

Salary History - Salary Requirement Letters
This guide offers links to other opinions and strategies for handling salary history requests as well as links to sample salary histories if that's what you've decided to provide.


Page last updated: 6:35 PM on 5/22/09