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The Salary Script
Unfortunately, the answer to this question cannot be, “None of your damn business.”
Using my advice, I know you crafted the perfect resume; asked thoughtful follow-up questions that impress; avoided these landmine statements; followed up on the interview like a boss; and gotten the job when you didn’t have the necessary requirements. (Whew, that’s a lot!) And I definitely know you’ve answered the (second) hardest interview question: “What are your salary requirements?”
But I haven’t covered the toughest interview question you’re going to face — one that is illegal in 2 states (and plain unethical in all 50): “What’s your current salary?” Picture the biggest thorn you’ve ever seen, like javelin-sized. Now picture it in my side.
Like the “salary requirements” questions, the “current salary” question is used by recruiters to save the potential company some serious cash, and get you for as cheap as possible. That’s literally the only reason they could possibly have for asking a question that has nothing to do with your experience, skills, or potential. This question can cripple you, derail you, and leave you feeling extremely deflated and panicked. Don’t fall for it.
The average pay increase you’d receive for switching jobs is 10 percent. But if this new position pays $70k and you’re currently at $50k — and if you tell them that — suddenly, conveniently it only pays $55k. You just lost $15k you didn’t even know could’ve been yours!
Here’s how to handle an infuriating question with grace (and without burning any bridges.)
It is very important to be firm in your answers, even if you feel super awkward: if you look or sound uncomfortable, the company won’t have second thoughts about pushing you for an answer. Be firm, direct, and confident. End your sentences with a period, no trailing off or question marks allowed.
1. “My employer restricts me from discussing my current salary for privacy reasons.”
If this is actually true, awesome! We don’t want you violating your contract. If it’s not, your potential company will never know (and you’re doing your current company a favor keeping their privacy.) It’s an easy escape that protects your cards, and one that feels non-confrontational and inarguable.
2. “That’s not something I’m comfortable discussing, but I’d be happy to discuss the skills and experience I would bring to this position!”
The polite way of saying “get out of face, meanie.” By framing it as something you’re uncomfortable with, you’re calling them on the serious ethical flaws of the question while remaining reserved. Redirecting to talking about your experience is a perfect loop back to why you’re there in the first place: to discuss why your skills are perfect for the job.
3. “Based on my skills, experience, and market research; my market value is $__.”
Chances are —if you’re switching jobs — you’re currently underpaid. You want to start salary negotiations from your actual worth, not what your current company is paying you. I hate giving a number until you absolutely have to, so use this only when the other ones didn’t work. Make sure you give the market value for the job you’re currently in, not the job you want.
Some online applications require you to enter a number before the page will let you proceed. Putting ZERO DOLLARS is a great way to say, “this is a stupid question that I’m not going to dignify with a response, but check out my resume for my actual value!” Never ever put your actual number — if you’re not gelling with filling in “$0”, put your market rate.
Answering this question wrong can have serious consequences — lowering the amount of money you’ll make for the rest of your life. Instead, use a polite maneuver to respect your value!
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