A reader writes:
I am searching for a new position and more than half of listings require salary history. Not even requirements but history, which I think is completely unjust and I typically do not give out because a) it’s confidential, b) it’s excessive in wanting to know about the applicant and c) if my future salary is to be determined by my past salary, I would be broke for the rest of my life because I was grossly underpaid!
But some companies insist on it, including a few companies I badly want to work at. And since I can’t be unemployed forever, should I…. a) surrender my principles and submit a history and b) if I do, can I slightly exaggerate the numbers? Like I said, it’s confidential and the company cannot ask others about my financial record so they wouldn’t be able to find out.
Well, there's how things should be and then there's how things often are.
Personally, I believe that your salary history is no one's business but your own, and that employers should pay based on their assessment of your value, not what their competitors thought you were worth. And I think that insisting on salary history is the mark of a lazy HR department.
However, the reality is that many, many employers do require it. And some will discard you immediately if you don't provide it. So you have to decide if you want to hold firm on not giving it out and risk not being considered, or whether you're willing to compromise in order to possibly get the job.
If you decide to hold firm, Nick Corcodilos has a lot of advice on how to do it (as well as some impassioned treatises on why you should). You can also try saying that you committed to your past employers to keep your salary confidential, and you need to honor that.
But some employers will end things right there, so you need to be prepared for that. It's possible that this is a sign of an employer who you don't want to work for anyway, but it's also possible that they just have a bureaucratic HR person. So you need to decide how important this is to you and how much risk you're willing to take on.
But one thing you can't risk: lying about the numbers. If you give numbers, they must be accurate, since if they find out later that you lied, employers can and will yank job offers over that, because it speaks to your integrity -- in fact, they can even fire you after you've been hired if they find out you lied in your application materials. And they can indeed find out; some companies actually ask candidates for W2s or other documentation of the numbers they gave, as part of the offer paperwork. So either tell or don't tell, but don't lie.