Nancy, a financial technology sales professional, took an 8-1/2 year career break to parent her two children and was preparing to relaunch in the same industry. She was excited about a job posting for an ideal position at a major media firm that would allow her to use her stellar sales skills and develop expertise in new areas. When filling out the online application, though, she hit a brick wall: Salary History. Concerned that her dated salary would automatically deflate any possible future one, Nancy tried to bypass the Salary History questions. However, the online application system would not allow her to do so. She then tried to insert “Willing to Negotiate,” but the system would not accept the text. Frustrated and angry, Nancy abandoned the application and continued her search elsewhere.
Requests for salary history have been the subject of much recent debate. Last fall, a bill was introduced before Congress that would prohibit employers from asking prospective hires about past wages and salaries. While the future of federal legislation is far from certain, the City of Philadelphia and State of Massachusetts have enacted similar laws, and other states and municipalities appear to be following the trend. The rationale for such laws is to prevent those historically disadvantaged by wage gaps (including women) from being shackled by lower wages and salaries.
Relaunchers are particularly vulnerable in responding to salary history requests. They often have extended career breaks, dated salaries, and/or low hourly rates from consulting or project gigs with which they filled their employment gaps. But if they decline to share salary history, they may fear that employers will “lowball” them. This may leave relaunchers feeling confused and conflicted about responding to salary history requests. Below are five tips to help navigate this tricky terrain:
- You may not even be free to share your last salary.
Your past employers may have had policies or agreements whereby you are not allowed to share salary information with third parties. A prospective employer requesting your salary history may even have such policies in effect for its own employees! If you were subject to confidentiality restrictions at your last employment venue, you may want to decline to provide the info, or, depending on the circumstances, state that you’d be willing to share it once the position has been negotiated, an offer has been made and salary is being discussed.
- Make informed decisions based on your own good judgment and unique circumstances.
While providing salary history is often not advantageous for relaunchers, some circumstances will warrant providing it. Perhaps declining to provide the info will risk an opportunity that you’re unwilling to lose. Maybe the prospective employer has a set amount that he/she will pay (regardless of your salary history), and you’re willing to accept it for a chance to relaunch. Or it could be that you feel so confident that you’ll be able to effectively convince the employer of the value of your current skills that minimal significance will be placed on your salary history. Either way, thoroughly assess the risks and your negotiating power in the situation.
- Prepare your approach.
Don’t wait until the salary history request is made – and you’re in panic mode – to decide how to respond. Consider some options in different contexts:
• If the request is made in person, state your salary history accurately or request to postpone such discussion until later in the screening process or decline responding either due to confidentiality or because you believe your past salary is not a relevant basis upon which you should be valued for the current role.
• In an online application, state your salary history accurately or insert characters or numbers (a series of 1’s or 0’s) that are clearly not accurate but allow you to complete the application and/or explain in a dialogue box.
• In a paper application, state your salary history accurately or write a note in that section explaining that you are declining to respond as discussed above.
- Do your research.
Whether you choose to provide the info or decline to disclose, move forward in conversations with a prospective employer armed with research about competitive salaries and the market rate. Also, as always, be prepared to articulate your value!
- Always be truthful.
Misrepresenting salary history is never worth it. You may be able to overcome other challenges like rusty skills, a long gap or a lack of expertise, but you cannot overcome an employer’s doubts about your credibility and character.
About iRelaunch Career Coach Carroll Welch
Carroll Welch is a career, executive and leadership coach who supports individuals at all levels on issues involving career and leadership development, transition and reentry into the workplace. As a fully committed collaborative partner, Carroll coaches her clients through the work of articulating a career vision and setting goals to make progress and experience results. As a past director of a program for reentry professionals, Carroll has extensive experience coaching individuals in communicating about their strengths and anticipating and planning for obstacles in their job searches. Prior to becoming a coach, Carroll was also a practicing attorney at two major law firms; her work included the representation of management on employment law issues. She is a member of the iRelaunch coaching team and has facilitated Boot Camps I and II. Carroll also coaches participants in the On Ramp Fellowship, an attorney reentry program.
Carroll received a certificate in Executive and Organizational Coaching from New York University, is a member of the International Coach Federation and holds their Associate Certified Coach credential. She is also credentialed as a coach in the Five O’Clock Club’s job search methodology platform. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Johns Hopkins University, and a Juris Doctor from the University of Virginia School of Law. She serves as a mentor and member of the board of directors of Campus Bound Scholars, a nonprofit that supports first generation college bound students.