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Ask Brian- What To Do When Asked For Salary History Or Salary Requirements

April 9th, 2008 · 3 Comments

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Reader Molly asks:

I am a college senior looking for an entry-level position in New York and some of the listings ask for salary requirements or salary history. My job experience consists of on campus work, unpaid internships (or stipends) and a paying job on the side in summers. In short, no annual salary. I know advice says don’t give a number up front because you will either screw yourself out of possible higher pay or set the bar so high they don’t bother reading your app. What do I do in this situation? Intuition says to ignore it all together but I do not want to imply I can’t follow directions! Your answer would be greatly appreciated.

Brian answers after the jump:

Brian Sayz:

You’ve got it exactly right. You don’t want to state a salary.

Most open positions… they have a specific budget for the position. If you’re dumb enough to volunteer a lower salary… well then, congratulations, you’ve just given them a bargain and screwed yourself out of what you probably could have gotten.

Conversely, if you’re competing with 200 other applicants, a quick way for the employer to weed you out of consideration is if you show yourself to be too expensive.

The common rule of thumb is to avoid being the first one to suggest a salary at all costs.

If they demand a salary history, that’s one thing. Go ahead and give it to them. Your resume probably shows very clearly that you’re a young professional, and, until recently, a student. So, list your piddly little minimum wage jobs.

They’ll understand.

Or, use the phrase: “Previous work experience limited to part time positions to finance my education.”

If they demand salary requirements, that’s something else entirely.

Let me introduce you to two magical phrases:

“My salary requirements are fully negotiable.”


“Salary is negotiable, dependent upon the responsibilities of the position.”

These are your best answers on a resume and in a job interview.

You haven’t ducked the question at all, and you’ve thrown the ball back in their court. The onus is on them now to bring in some solid numbers.

Remember what I’ve said many times about interviews: it’s a negotiation. You’re offering your labor or services to them. You are a free agent. It’s perfectly reasonable to expect THEM to name the price they’re willing to pay for your efforts.

Finally, there’s one other avenue you might take: do some research.

If you can get a general idea of what the position pays normally… or, even better… if you can get an idea of what this company has generally paid for this position, then propose a number right in the ballpark of past history.

Don’t try to lowball or highball… just suggest a salary right in line of what you believe is traditional. You can always negotiate from there.

Obviously, this strategy works best if you’re confident of in your information.

Related posts:

  1. Ask Brian- Staying In One Job Too Long?
  2. Ask Brian- Taking A Step “Backward” And How To Address This In My Resume
  3. Ask Brian- Politics on My Resume
  4. Ask Brian Followup – Still Waiting; Now Confused.
  5. Ask Brian- How Do I Know If I Aced the Interview?
  6. Ask Brian – How Long Should I Wait To Hear Back? – Some Rules

Tags: Ask Brian · Interviewing · Resumes · Young Professionals

  • Dee

    This is an area that makes me nervous since, in journalism, it’s really difficult to pin down specific salary figures. I will be using the phrases you mentioned.

  • Scott

    You can respond “I’m sure that your salary compensation is in line with industry standards.”

  • Rick

    Money talks, and loudly at that, especially in a good blog post. You’re indeed right, Brian, in that you don’t want to be the first to “blink” when the talk turns to desired salary. You can say that you can address the question if the employer is serious about your candidacy and intends to extend an offer. But if the employer persists in finding out, try this: “I can tell you what I’m earning now and what I expect to be paid in this position as long as you tell me what the salary range for the position is.” Another idea is to state the other factors that are important – or more important – to you if you were to take the position, such as work-life balance, company culture and direction, and growth opportunities. Click on the following for more advice: