5 Options for When You're Asked About Your Salary

The Fawcett Society has said that asking about previous pay when hiring is keeping the gender pay gap alive. GASP

Alice Tapper

The Fawcett Society has said that asking about previous pay when hiring is keeping the gender pay gap alive. GASP

Their survey (2021) found:

47% of people had been asked about past salaries.

61% of women said being asked knocked confidence to negotiate better pay.

"We're calling on employers to make a simple change and stop asking potential employees about salary history...Evidence shows that this will help to stamp out pay inequality, not only for women but for people of colour, and people with disabilities." - Jemima Olchawski, Chief Executive of the Fawcett Society

I agree wholeheartedly but in the meantime, whilst the question is still alive and kicking, WTF are you supposed to say when asked for your current salary? Here I outline four options. A disclaimer: this is my view based on the UK employment landscape and my own opinion. There's no right answer here...

But first: Are you being underpaid?

Ok, before anything, do your research to understand if you're being underpaid. Recruiters and employers will know the market well. They also know, within a range, what you're currently earning.  If you're going to lie, at least do it well..

So, with that in mind you've got a few options:

Lie

I know that most HR folk out there will tell you that lying is a bad idea but in an Instagram poll over half of you said you would or have so I don't think it's helpful to rule out this option.

Can your employer find out your previous salary?

Yes - your employer could ask as part of a reference check. They could also find out when you produce your P45 which shows an employee’s earnings from their previous employer.  In a large organisation, referencing is likely to be overseen by a different team but some of you have reported that you'd been warned against it:

'I had an employer remind me not to lie as they’ll see my P45… the fact he expected me to?!'

But at the same time, plenty of you admitted to lying:

'I usually start with saying I'd rather not say, as I'd like my new employer to pay me based my worth and experience, not on my current salary. If they really push I add about £10k to it'

And a stark reminder of how not to go about it:

'We failed someone’s probation at my old company for lying about this. They lied, then when asked for proof via payslip they then doctored a payslip. Now I never inflate. At most I will round up and say “package”, to be able to explain a lower reference salary if the need ever arises'

Is it always better to tell the truth?

'If you tell the truth you don't have to remember anything' - Mark Twain

Yes, Mark has a point but if the salary band hasn't been communicated on the job description, any negotiation expert will tell you that disclosing first, is a bad idea...particularly if you're currently underpaid. It means there's an asymmetry of information and information is power.

So you could lie but you need to proceed with caution and be clued up on the risk. So before you tell a porky, how about these options:

Honesty

If you're being underpaid, you could be honest about it and say something like:

'I'm earning close to £xk which is less than the market rate' (if it actually is) and then 'I'm looking for a step-up of at least £xk in my next role' or 'Other roles I'm interviewing at are paying between £xk and £xk so that's the range I'm looking at'

Embellish the truth or be vague

Rather than lying, you could keep your cards a little closer to your chest by being vague and giving a wide range which places your current salary at the lower end.

'It's within £xk to £xk but I'm currently looking for opportunities in the £xk - £xk range which reflects my market value and experience'

Refuse to answer

To be quite honest, it's none of their business and the question is a bad one - we know it perpetuates pay inequality and quite frankly it's time recruiters stopped asking it.  If you'd rather not answer you're well within your rights not to but I quite understand that if it's a job you really want, being obtuse isn't always easy.

If you don't want to disclose your pay, you can keep it open and friendly by saying something like:

'I'm looking for opportunities in the £xk - £xk range' or 'I'd prefer to focus on the value I bring as opposed to my current pay'

If this doesn't feel right or a recruiter is particularly pushy...

Give the value of your compensation package

If they really push, you could talk about your current compensation package. Avoid talking about salary and given the total value of your remuneration (bonus, holidays, additional perks, health insurance). Calculate the approximate value, give a range and then always bring it back to what you're looking for.

A tip for calculating the value of perks: This is an art, not a science - two community members gave this advice on calculating the value of holiday pay & perks:

'Work out how much your leave is worth. Work out a day's pay and multiply by how many days leave you get'
'So my overall package is worth 10% more than my headline salary due to sizeable pension contributions and annual leave so I tend to add on at least 10k extra'

For other perks, try to work out how much it would cost you to pay for the perk yourself.

And there you have it...4 options for withholding the truth and your power...

 

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