People tend to get cagey with money. They don’t want to talk about it. They think somebody is going to reach into their wallets and steal their hard-earned cash.

I think this is how a lot of people feel when interviewers stop, sternly look at them and ask, “so, what’s your current salary?

It’s like you’re revealing some deep dark secret that not even your parents know. And hell, I don’t blame them, I don’t tell my parents how much I make either.

But it’s an irrational fear. And when we let go of it, it can be very liberating.

Well, first of all, you’re not legally required to share your salary during an interview. So if you don’t want to you don’t have to. Simple as that.

If you’re not comfortable doing it, then don’t do it.

But then there a lot of people who strongly oppose disclosing your salary in the interview. They say it weakens your negotiating power and puts you on the defensive.

This is bad advice.

The problem I have with people not disclosing their salaries is that it creates an air of distrust and more headaches for everyone down the line.

This is akin to saying:

“Sorry potential employer (who I am going to be committed to working for), I don’t trust that you are going to give me a fair wage and therefore I am not going to disclose my current salary, because I don’t want you to screw me over. Give me the best salary. Xoxo, Jim.” 

This just leaves things up in the air and doesn’t benefit either side, usually leaving a bad taste in the mouths of both parties.

Salary info isn’t that difficult to find out nowadays and you’ll probably end up telling them anyways. So why are you keeping it a secret?

Here’s the deal: Companies are going to pay you based on three things.

  1. A salary range that’s approved within their budget (this is usually fixed and cannot be stretched, unless you are an all-star)
  2. Market considerations (They are also going to collect market data from other companies and employees who have similar titles and responsibilities)
  3. Your current salary and how much they like you (they will consider it and usually give a competitive increase from there)

Imagine that you don’t tell them your current salary. You just give them some blanket statement like, “I’m not comfortable revealing my current salary. But l would accept a fair market value for my position.”

Assuming you continue the interviews, here are a couple of scenarios that could play out:

Scenario #1 

Your current salary is $50k. After 3 weeks and 6 interviews they get to the end and offer you the job. The salary they offer is is $52k but your minimum expectation is $55k. Nobody spoke about this and you chose to keep it hidden, but unfortunately the company can’t stretch beyond $52k.

You decline the offer…

What was the point of going through all of those interviews? It would have been better to lay things out on the table after the first couple of interviews when it started to get serious. That way, you could have ended things early and there would have been no surprises.

Scenario #2

Let’s say that your current salary is only $50k like before, but except this time they come back with a decent salary of $54k.

It’s not the $55k salary you wanted but still pretty good. You are happy to accept it because you are excited about the responsibilities of the job.

However, they really wanted to hire you so they maxed out their budget and had to get some extra approvals. The $54k salary range is actually a glass ceiling and you’ll have to be promoted at least twice and likely wait 2-3 years before you can get a salary increase from there. Two things happen:

  1. The company has very, very high expectations of you because they are bringing you in at the top of the salary range. If you are not very confident that you can do the job, then you’ll likely be the first person on the chopping block.
  2. There is less room for growth from a salary perspective, which thus creates a psychological barrier for you. While “more money is better,” if you don’t feel like you are growing (which salary is a part of), then the job will become stale quickly.

With this in mind, even though it’s a nice salary, you have to A) seriously consider whether or not you can step up to the plate and also B) if you’re OK to accept a flat salary for a couple years.

Oh, and because the extra approvals took longer (because you didn’t disclose your salary), you have one week to decide the offer. You have a big decision to make.

Tick tock.

This ‘surprise’ at the end of the interview process could have been avoided by being up front about your current salary. The company would have likely said that your salary is above their budget. Then you could have started mentally preparing for a potentially not getting the salary you wanted.

When you save negotiations to the end of a job interview, you’re basically hoping that each side can make it work. Fingers crossed….

Perhaps they can stretch your salary but it will take some extra time to get HR or VP approval. That could screw up timing for both sides. And it creates surprises.

When it comes to your job interviews, surprises aren’t a good thing.

Unless it’s your birthday. But otherwise, minimizing surprises is a good rule of thumb.

How do we avoid this? Simple:

Negotiation happens *throughout* the process. Not at the end. 

Job seekers who I’ve seen with great negotiation skills tend to have these 3 traits:

  1. They are open about their current salary from the start. They’re not hiding anything. “Currently I’m being paid $60k and looking for a good increase based on market value. I also feel I’m being underpaid with my current job compared to my friends in the same industry, so I’m also taking that into account.”
  2. They never commit to a number early on. They don’t say “I”ll be happy with something around there” because they know it would weaken their negotiation power later on.
  3. They are clear about what is important to them and their salary structure. Whether that’s a higher base salary, higher bonus, room for promotion, stock options, or other incentives.

While your current salary is fine to disclose, the mistake people make is committing to an expected or desired salary. 

When asked, tell the company that you are expecting a fair and competitive market value — but it also depends on other offers that you get. This is important.

Don’t give them a number.

You can leverage other offers you may or may not have (company x offered me this salary, so now you should give me Y salary to compete).

You keep things open for negotiation.

Repeat: never agree or commit to an exact salary.

If you take the above approach, once you get to the actual negotiation table things will go smoother. They already know what you are making and you have already discussed salary with them throughout the interview process. Less surprises are likely to occur.

To summarize, here are the benefits of revealing your current salary, but not committing to an expected salary:

  1. It helps mitigate any potential surprises and also leaves time for necessary approvals from the companies side.
  2. It creates an air of trust and transparency on both sides. My belief is that transparency is one of the key things you can do to build trust in an interview.
  3. Allows both sides to manage expectations way ahead of time.

Now you have one less thing to worry about during the interview.

Good luck and happy hunting.

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