What to Do When a Recruiter Asks About Your Current Salary

Salary questions are perhaps the most dreaded type of interview questions—and none quite so much as “What is your current salary?”

asked about current salary

Potential employers like to ask this question largely in order to gauge how much money you’ll be expecting in a new position. But this question poses difficulties on multiple levels: Your current salary may not accurately reflect the going rate in your field. It may not represent the amount of work you actually do in your current job. Or it may not be as much as you hope to receive in a new job.

Hopefully, the question won’t be an issue much longer.

In 2017, New York City officially made it illegal to ask “What’s your current salary?” during any point of the interview process. CNBC reports that the law, instigated by NYC’s Commission on Human Rights, bans employers from asking potential employees about their salary histories. Buzz is now growing that this may urge other cities to tackle what is seen as a largely invasive interview topic.

But until that happens, plenty of other people around the country will still be faced with this dreaded question. Below are a few points to keep in mind when answering.

1. Deflect

This can be done either directly or indirectly. Fast Company recommends keeping your answers short and to the point, such as “Salary information is something I only share with my accountant” or “My employer considers that information confidential” (note: if you use the latter excuse, make sure it’s actually true).

A direct response is always preferable, since it shuts the conversation down unequivocally, but if you’re really not comfortable with confrontation, try applying your answer generally by reciting what the current salary range is for someone of your position and using that to declare what your expected (new) salary would be.

2. Don’t get defensive

It’s easy to sound defensive when you’re attempting to avoid answering a question that makes you uncomfortable. And even if you do answer the recruiter’s question directly by providing her with your current salary, the topic of personal finances itself can make a normally unflappable candidate balk. That’s why it’s so important to practice answering this question in a positive tone, not a defensive one. Yes, it’s difficult to sound enthusiastic when you’re rebuffing someone’s attempt to find out how much money you make, but that’s why it’s all the more important to do so.

Whether it’s in front of a mirror, a friend, or even a beloved pet, rehearse your answer (whatever you decide it will be) in a tone that remains friendly and open. This will go a long way toward smoothing over the rest of the interview in case your answer is not the one that the recruiter ultimately wanted.

3. Talk about the future

If you’re absolutely certain you don’t want to give your current salary because you feel as though you are currently being underpaid, use the question as a jumping-off point to talk about your future earning potential. The Muse suggests you simply reveal your underpaid status directly: “My previous salary was below market value at [current salary], so based on my skill set, experience, and research about this position, I’m seeking [salary range].”

Be sure to shoot for the higher end of the salary range, keeping in mind two things: one, most companies will counter whatever salary request you give them initially and two, walking away from your current company (with all your current skill sets and knowledge) is a leap of faith on your part that should require some additional compensation.

Ultimately, the answer to a recruiter’s question of “What is your current salary?” boils down to how much information you feel comfortable sharing. The most important thing to remember is to remain calm and collected under the recruiter’s pressure, and don’t feel bullied into revealing more information than you want.

Search for your next job now:


Back to listing

The Washington Post Jobs Newsletter

Subscribe to the latest news about DC's jobs market