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Plotting Your Job Salary History Carefully

Should you ever disclose your job salary history or salary expectations before a job offer? Yes. Tell all when you’re asked by third-party employment specialists — chiefly executive recruiters and employment consultants who find people for jobs.

These professionals are specialists at their work and are paid for their time, either on a retained or contingency basis. They get paid to find good talent, and so they won’t let salary deter them from presenting you when your skills are a match for a job opening. Recruiters are far too busy with the matchmaking task to waste time with you if you make their work difficult. Time is money.

Bear in mind that salary is a cash figure; total compensation includes benefits and such variable pay as potential annual bonuses, stock options, and expected merit raises. Example: Last year I earned $42,000 to $45,000 compensation, based on a salary of $30,000.

When your salary history ranks you at the top or above the range of market value, you can afford to discuss that history verbatim. When your history is less impressive, be less specific. State your figures in wide ranges so that you’re more likely to stay in the game for positions for which you’re qualified. Include figures slightly above and below the market value to cover all your bases. Usually this approach requires bundling your income figures for multiple years:

For the past three years, I have earned total annual compensation ranging from $95,000 to $125,000 for my work in this field.

Some job seekers feel they should inflate their salary history. That’s a risky idea — the odds of discovery are stacked in the employer’s favor.

Instead of misrepresenting your history to try to improve your lot in salary negotiations, try the following:

  • Show compensation modules. List base pay and variable pay in one figure; give another figure for benefits; then add the figures together for the total compensation package.

  • At executive levels, list compensation items line by line.

You might be asked to back up your salary claims. Decide in advance what you will do if your interviewer asks you for tax forms or pay stubs. The request isn’t illegal, but you should anticipate whether you will comply.

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