Can They Really Ask About My Current Salary?

John Krautzel
Posted by in Career Advice

Asking a question about your current salary in the midst of a job search is borderline illegal because it can lead to discrimination. Some states and cities ban these types of questions altogether because they create an income inequality gap. Learn how to sidestep this question from employers trying to offer you a lower salary than what you're worth.

1. Avoid Hard Numbers

Employers typically increase your current salary by 10 to 15 percent as a way to motivate you to accept their offer. When filling out an online application, put "N/A" or "flexible" in the blank for your salary. If you have to include a number, use 0 and then leave a note about your flexibility. Doing this lets you put off talking about your salary requirements until after you receive an offer following an interview.

2. Research Other Positions

Create a well-researched range of your compensation needs that goes beyond your current salary. Look at Glassdoor, and research similar positions at other companies. Take into account the cost of living in your area, and then factor in 10 to 15 percent above your current pay. Back up your salary range with relevant data.

3. Know Your Value

The sum of your skills, experience, certifications and education can make you rise above other candidates. Use this knowledge to negotiate a salary by explaining why you think an employer's number is too low when making an offer.

4. Deflect the Question

Deflect a question about your current salary by saying you'd rather feel out what this role entails before giving a firm answer. Someone who says, "That question is illegal and I don't have to answer it" may come across as uncompromising, and it may be a turnoff to your interviewers. Stating you want to gauge if you're a perfect fit first lets you figure out what you expect to be paid rather than what you currently make.

5. Share the Number if It Helps

If the company makes an offer that's below your current salary but you really want the job, you may find it prudent to state your salary number outright at this point in the negotiations. The company can match your salary, but you can come back with the point that you need to make more than that to leave your current situation.

6. Report What Happened

You can always report the incident if you feel moved to do so. States or cities in which asking about salaries is illegal often have hotlines to report this discriminatory practice. You can remain anonymous when you file a formal complaint. You can always take your grievance online to Glassdoor or PayScale when trying to dissuade others from falling into the same trap.

Your current salary should not even enter into the picture when it comes to your job search. If it does, use these tips to sidestep the question or make your case for a higher salary. What techniques do you use to talk about salary with an employer?

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  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Amanda K thanks for your comment. I have to agree that most people wouldn't put a true salary on the form as they are afraid that it would take them out of the running. I truly dislike finding a question like that on an application. It should never be there - should never be allowed. Salary is a very private issue and should only be discussed if an offer is being made. On the other hand, as job seekers, we need to make sure that we have researched the position as thoroughly as we can prior to applying. I mean, after all, if you need a salary of $50,000/yr, why would you apply for a $10/hr job? Employers know this and they don't want to hire someone who is just desperate for job that they will take anything, only to turn around a month later, when they have found their dream job, and quit. So, if, after researching, you find that the salary is not going to cut it, move on.

  • Amanda K.
    Amanda K.

    I've never been asked in an interview but every job application I have filled out has requested this info. In online job applications, it is usually a required field. I have never seen a job app that did not ask for previous salaries.

    What I don't understand is why anyone would feel obliged to tell the truth. It's not as if the potential employer can check. They have no way of verifying this information. If they tried to phone your previous employer to enquire, they would be told it's proprietary information.

    I have always answered this question strategically. That's not to say I have always lied. I mean I have said what was appropriate in each instance. I assume that's what everyone does.

  • Dipak B.
    Dipak B.

    It is not a part of Good Manner.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Jonathan Beer thanks for your comment. It's always best to know what salary you need before you apply for a position. Why apply for a position where the salary is $30,000 and you need $40,000? Go to a site like and see what the salary range is for the position of interest. If that salary meets your needs, then you can apply for the position and have an answer for the salary question. Other sites to check on salaries would be Glassdoor and LinkedIn. Remember, though, if you input a salary range of $40,000 - $45,000, they are going to offer you the lower end. So always make sure that you submit a realistic salary.

  • Jonathan Beer
    Jonathan Beer

    I have been coming across a strategy that I had not seen before. I'm pretty sure, in California, they can no longer ask your previous salary info. What i have seen is as part of the online application (required field) "What salary do you require?" Any thoughts on how to tackle that one? - Thank you

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for the great comments. @Richard M - it depends on the question. If they are asking for something that they should not be asking, then refusing to answer is the right thing. If you don't get the job - maybe it's blessing. @Richard Y - technically they aren't supposed to discuss salary/benefits during the interview. If they do, you could try to sidestep it by saying something like - we can discuss that when you make me an offer. @Rachel DaSilva never sell yourself out. They already knew, based upon your resume, what salary range you might consider. Trying to offer half is just an insult. @Michael Tolleson that was truly unprofessional of them to ask that question. Companies will truly try to get you in at the lowest salary that they think they can get away with. But, for your parts, make sure that you are doing your due diligence even before you send a resume for the position. Check the company out. Try to research and find out what the salary range might be. You could even call the HR dept and ask for the range. They may not give it to you but it's worth a shot. Check them out on LInkedIn or Glassdoor, etc. Maybe you know someone at the company? If so, they might be able to give you a general idea of what to expect - salary-wise. It's worth taking a little bit of time to research. It might turn out that it was the best time spent because the salary range is nowhere in the ballpark of what you were expecting. All the best.

  • Richard M.
    Richard M.

    Lot's of luck refusing to answer.

  • Richard Y.
    Richard Y.

    Me myself,I will kindly would decline to answer it. it's not professional. it's none of there business. I did that once, year's ago,and I got ito big trouble. When applying for a job, simply ask,what is the company willing to offer?
    and are there benefit's included.

  • Rachel DaSilva
    Rachel DaSilva

    I have the same issue. Given the field I am in, most of the jobs have salaries way under that what I'm making. I am willing to be flexible but I can't accept half my salary. I've heard that there's a way to sidestep this question deftly but how can the interviewer not see it as being evasive.

  • Michael Tolleson
    Michael Tolleson

    During an interview, the interviewer asked me, how much were you making. When I told him, I knew I was doomed, when he looked at the other interviewer. He then said, sorry sir but, we can,t even come close but, we will keep your application on file.

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