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What is the best strategy when a recruiter asks you your current salary before making an offer?
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Don’t be caught off guard when a recruiter asks your current salary in the interview process. Here’s a way to answer that question and keep the interview moving forward.

The question

What is the best strategy when a recruiter asks you your current salary before making an offer?

This seems to be an anchoring move. Given that the company has and is willing to at least match your existing pay and you as the potential employee want to get the most money you can, what is the optimal strategy?

My answer

The main issue in a salary negotiation—and make no mistake, when a recruiter asks you your current salary, that’s part of a salary negotiation—is that you’re at a huge informational disadvantage. The company knows a lot more than you do since they know what they’re willing to pay for your position, what they’re currently paying other similarly qualified candidates, etc.

If you tell them your current or desired salary, you’ll exacerbate that informational disadvantage. Instead, keep that information to yourself and force them to make an offer without the benefit of knowing your current salary.

Don’t divulge your current salary or desired salary

Most companies (usually the recruiter or hiring manager) will ask you what I call “the dreaded salary question”:

“So where are you right now in terms of salary, and what are you looking for if you make this move?”

This is really two questions in one: What’s your current salary, and what’s your desired salary?

Give an answer like this:

“I’m not really comfortable sharing that information. I would prefer to focus on the value I can add to this company and not what I’m paid at my current job.

I want this move to be a big step forward for me in terms of both responsibility and compensation.”

They may be persistent, but if you divulge either or both of these numbers, you will likely cost yourself money.

This forces them to name the first salary in the negotiation

If you resist the dreaded salary question, then they will name the first number in the negotiation. When they do, thank them for the offer and ask if you can have some time to think it over. “Is it ok if I take a couple days to think this over and talk to my family?” is a good way to buy a little time.

This is a business conversation, not an emotional one. The company knows what they’re willing to pay for your skill set and experience and you don’t. By resisting the dreaded salary question, you force them to reveal information about the pay range for the job you’re pursuing, and you can negotiate more effectively.

You can get “How to ace your next interview”—a free chapter from my book Fearless Salary Negotiation—at How to ace your next interview. The chapter goes into a lot more detail about how to prepare for and excel at interviews. Or you can get the full book here: Fearless Salary Negotiation: Get it here

Good luck!