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Salary Information & Interviews

by Douglas E. Welch

November 19, 1999

© 1999, Douglas E. Welch

Are you willing to tell an interviewer how much money you are making in your current job? Do you disclose your salary history as a normal part of your resume? There has been quite a bit of discussion about this topic both here in ComputorEdge and in many other publications. While this information was once considered commonplace, today's job market requires a re-thinking of what information you are willing to disclose to a potential employer and when.

The times they are a-changin'

In the past, companies held all the cards in the hiring process. Candidates were expected to be overjoyed that they even got the interview and absolutely ecstatic when they received a job offer. There was no negotiation involved. Companies made an offer and the candidate accepted or rejected it. Period.

As you all know, today the hiring process is a whole new world. Never before have high-tech workers found such a plethora of opportunities of all shapes and sizes. The talk today is about balancing work and home life, finding the perfect job and doing what you really want to do. Unfortunately, some companies have failed to feel the wind changing and they are still using hiring practices from a bygone era.

Its all about power

In today's marketplace the hiring process has moved from the "take-it-or-leave-it" of the past to one of negotiation. In negotiations power comes from information. Initially, you want to have more information about the company than they have about you. Divulging your complete salary history or your current rate of pay is giving that power away. This is exactly why companies want the information and why they rail against anyone who tries to withhold it. It alters the power structure in your favor. In some cases it can cause the interviewer to become angry with you.

"In today's marketplace the hiring process has moved from the 'take-it-or-leave-it' of the past to one of negotiation."

The first problem is that disclosing your salary allows an interviewer to easily disclude you from a position because you don't fit the salary range. You don't want to give anyone the ability to dismiss you out-of-hand before you have had a chance to demonstrate your capabilities. This practice totally disregards the current state of affairs where workers will take lower salaries in exchange for a better job, better benefits or future opportunities.

Second, once the interviewer knows your current salary and your salary history they will automatically offer you the lowest salary possible within the salary range set by the human resources department. While certainly it is part of their job to save the company money, it is your job to make the best deal possible for yourself. Unless you are in an industry with a collective bargaining agreement, you are the only one looking out for your best interests. You must learn to keep as much power in an interview to insure that you get the best job offer possible.

What & When

In a previous column about resumes, (Resumes, February 1999, I discussed some information that should be left off your resume. This included salary history and also employment dates. At the time I received some letters against my opinion. Despite that, in the intervening months I have come to believe in this tactic even more. The main reason for this is the responses I have seen from interviewers and recruiters. Whether they mean to or not they usually reinforce my arguments.

They are usually defensive about not being able to quickly classify candidates. They want a simple metric to disclude candidates, but it is certainly not in your interest to provide that. There is also a certain undercurrent of "who do these people think they are?" Too many interviewers are still caught up in the old hiring model where candidates should be grateful, forthcoming and obedient.

While I don't consider my salary history entirely private, it certainly wouldn't be one of the first things I revealed about myself. I want the interviewer to hear about my experience, my skills and my successes. These should be the main issues for them, not money. Eventually, you can reveal the information as negotiations continue, but your goal should be to keep the power in your court.

Douglas E. Welch is a freelance writer and computer consultant in Van Nuys, California. Readers can discuss career issues with other readers by joining the Career Opportunities Discussion on Douglas' web page at:

He can reached via email at

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