It’s not uncommon for a job application to ask for a desired salary. But what should you do if the application requests a salary history? This is a somewhat more involved task, and it may not be something you have to answer. Learn more about this common application question before you apply for your next job.
What is a Salary History?
Unlike a desired salary, which is the yearly or hourly wage you expect to earn at a new job, a salary history is a document that shows all of your past earnings over time. This may be requested in the application, or it could be prompted during a second interview. It includes the companies you’ve worked at and the compensation you’ve received at each.
Why Do Employers Ask for a Salary History?
There are a few reasons a potential employer may ask for a salary history. They include:
- They want to be sure you are not expecting too much or too little for the position. If a company has only budgeted a $75K annual salary for a role, and you’ve made over $100K for similar positions, they may assume you won’t be satisfied with the pay. It can help them rule out job applicants that will eventually turn down an offer that’s not in line with their expectations.
- It can be perceived to correlate to your value as an employee. A software engineer making $25K more each year than their peers is probably at the top of their game, out-performing their peers, and has more experience and skills. This can be a hint to the employer that they are getting someone that’s poised for a leadership role as well.
- It can tip them off to pay gaps. Perhaps the company hasn’t hired for this role in some time, or it’s a new role for them altogether. A salary history helps them gauge what the going rate is for a position and can guide a hiring company in putting together a compensation package that’s competitive with the market.
A salary history can be a form of “you show me first.” It can help the company pivot their expectations, pay ranges, or job descriptions based on trends they see within the applicant pool during the hiring process. This practice is in flux, and many companies don’t even ask. In some cities and states, asking for a salary history is not allowed anymore.
How to Handle a Request
As a candidate, it’s your choice whether or not to answer a request for a salary history. If you’re not comfortable answering, you’re within your rights to refrain from providing a specific answer or to simply say something like “my salary history is competitive based on my years of experience.” One way to avoid giving a complete salary history and yet seem cooperative with the application demands is to provide a salary range.
If you do provide a history, be honest about past earnings because they can usually verify this information quite easily. Reinforce that your salary requirements are flexible. This can assure a potential employer that you can work with compensation outside of your range if needed.
How to Provide a Salary History
There’s no single way to provide this information, and it may benefit you to choose the method that you’re most comfortable with and that positions your candidacy best. These methods include:
- Provide an exact salary, such as “I earned $82,500 at XYZ Company.”
- Provide a range, such as “I earned between $60,000 and $80,000 at my former engineer position.” This is useful when demonstrating upward movement in a company.
- Use general descriptions, such as “I made low six-figures” or “I currently earn around $50,000.”
Whatever method you choose, use that method consistently throughout your salary history. Pick the method that appears the strongest for making a basis for your expected salary. Always use your pre-tax amount and not what you take home on each paycheck.
What Should Be Included in a Salary History?
If asked to provide salary history in written communication, it may be easiest to use a template to provide this information. Some applications provide one for you, so you can easily fill it in. If one isn’t provided, you could use the following template, which documents a specific salary:
Confidential Job Salary History
- Salary earned at the beginning of the job
- Salary earned at the end of the job
- Additional compensation details (commissions, bonuses, or perks—such as car allowance)
Continue listing out each of the jobs you worked that you would like to include. If you don’t want to list one, due to it being a short work opportunity or lower-than-average pay, you can choose to leave it out. Note that if you listed a company on your application, CV, or resume, you may be asked to provide salary information for that position.
If you’re not comfortable sharing an exact salary, you can also provide a range, using this template:
Confidential Job Salary History
- Salary earned at the end of the job, rounded to the nearest five or ten thousand dollars, and shown as a range (example: $55,000 – $65,000 per year)
If you have a large difference between your starting point and your earnings when you left a job, feel free to list just the amount you want to be considered in your job offer.
Is It Legal for Employers to Ask for a Salary History?
It’s not always legal for a future employer to make a salary history request. Those who can do so legally are still not able to use it in a discriminatory way of hiring. If you are unsure if you have to give this information or you have concerns that this question may be used for discriminatory hiring practices, see your state or municipal labor office for details of what’s allowed under the law.
Should You Always Share Previous Salaries with Employers?
No matter the legality, don’t voluntarily provide this information if you’d rather not. If you are asked about it and wish to decline, politely give your reasons. Indicating that you’d like to get further in the interview process to speak with someone directly about the role before replying is an appropriate response.
It’s important to remember that you aren’t defined by your past salary, which is just one way a potential employer may choose to evaluate you. Many people move to new positions in search of more opportunities, and this includes higher salaries. If you’re looking to make more, be upfront in your interview, and don’t let your salary history limit your options for moving up.
Salary information is just one factor in determining if a candidate is a right pick. Learn more about how Comeet can help you find the best hires for your company with a smart, automated process.