Interview Questions About Your Salary History

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Sometimes during an interview, the subject of salary history comes up. It’s a good idea to be prepared to discuss salary during any interview, and to be familiar with what compensation to expect for the position. Your salary history may be of interest to your potential employer, and you should make sure you can discuss it in the most flattering way.

Keep in mind that in some locations, but not all, employers are not supposed to ask job applicants their prior salary. Also, some employers have banned interview questions regarding salary history. If you're asked when you shouldn't be, you'll need to decide what you want to share and how you should respond.

The best place to start is by reviewing your salary history. Note any changes in your salary over the course of each job, including pay raises, bonuses, and other changes in your benefits. If you are unsure of the exact amount of your previous salaries, go back and check. Giving the wrong data to an interviewer can result in the job offer being revoked. If you have trouble remembering the exact numbers, write the information down, along with the dates for each pay change. You might even bring this sheet of paper to the interview for your reference.

You also need to research the salary range for your target position, especially if it warrants higher compensation than your past jobs. Questions about salary history can easily transition into a discussion of your salary expectations. Be prepared to address any differences in your target job that would justify a higher salary and be ready to indicate how you are prepared to meet those challenges.

How to Answer

Make sure that what you tell the interviewer matches what you listed on your job application. Don't exaggerate or inflate your earnings. Many employers will check references and confirm your salary history prior to making a job offer. A discrepancy between what you reported and what the employer says could knock you out of contention for the position. Spending a little extra time verifying the numbers and writing them down can help you avoid making a mistake that could inadvertently cost you the job.

Along with simply stating your starting and final salaries, it’s also a good idea to list any other benefits you received. These might include bonuses or other perks. Sharing these with the interviewer will demonstrate other ways your former employer recognized your worth.

You might also note any big changes in responsibility that matched up with increases in salary. This will show that your former boss respected your work, and that you earned new opportunities.

If you are moving from a traditionally lower paying industry like the non-profit sector to a higher paying corporate industry, be ready to point out the differences in pay for comparable functional areas.

Finally, explain any inconsistencies in your salary. For example, if your salary decreased for any reason, explain why. Perhaps you switched to part-time work while raising a family, or your salary decreased while other forms of compensation (insurance, other benefits, etc.) increased. Show the interviewer that you were still a valued employee and that your compensation properly reflected the work that you did.

Sample Answers

  • My initial salary was $X, and my final salary was $Y. However, this does not take into account the six bonuses I received while working there.
  • My initial salary was $X. Over the years, I took on more responsibilities, including managing my own team and running projects; these are the type of responsibilities I know you are hoping your ideal candidate can handle. Due to this increase in responsibility, my final salary was $Y.
  • When I began working at the company as a full-time grant writer, my salary was $X. Over time, that was increased to $Y, in large part due to my successful record of receiving grants. When I became a part-time employee, my salary became $Z. However, I continued to receive annual bonuses and other benefits for my exceptional work.
  • I was hired as the marketing director at Company A at the salary of $Y. When I first started working for Company A, I supervised the introduction of a new cleaning product. Sales for the product exceeded expectations during both the first and second year, and I was rewarded with a raise to $Z, promotion to executive director of marketing, and an annual 10% bonus. Shortly thereafter, I started a family with the adoption of my twins, and decided to downshift my career for 3 years. The company convinced me to stay on as a marketing analyst for 3 days a week for the reduced salary of $M.
  • I was making $L working as a communications director for my non-profit employer. I sacrificed pay because of my belief in the mission to support cancer research. In comparing communications director positions in the for profit sector in our region, I noticed that salaries were about 20% higher.