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Addressing the Salary History Issue for Your New Mid-Life Career Job

By Dr. Jan Cannon

The wisdom of negotiation and job search etiquette meet when discussing salary.

It's important not to bring up salary until there's an offer, to give you the best negotiating position.

The Salary History Question Problem

What do you do if a job application asks for a salary history? Or what if an interviewer asks what you earned on your last job?

Don't give a figure. You may be pricing yourself out of the job (overqualified) or, amazingly, you may be seen as not experienced enough (under qualified). Here's an example:

  • Let's say you mentioned $60,000 as the salary you're seeking. What if they'd been willing to offer $55,000 tops? You wouldn't be considered because they would assume you would take the job, but keep looking for one that paid better, whether or not that's true.
  • The opposite can happen when they're expecting to pay $80,000 and you mention $60,000. Do you have enough experience and skills to perform in the job? Maybe yes, but you'll be perceived as not.

So either way, mentioning salary too early in the process (before the offer interview) can be detrimental. So what can you do?

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Salary History Question Solutions

When you are sending in your resume with an accompanying cover letter:

  1. In your cover letter, mention that they requested a salary history.
  2. Then, state that you're paid market value of the job (title you had) with (number) of years of experience.
  3. Also state that you'd be happy to discuss your compensation package in an interview. And assure them that salary will not be a problem.

Then, in the interview, you can say, "If the job seems like a good fit, [you're] sure an agreement on the appropriate salary can be reached." Notice no mention of any dollar amounts yet!

When you are completing an application that asks for your salary requirements, previous salary, or salary history:

  1. Write "Open" in the salary requirement space.
  2. If possible, leave previous salary/history blank.

    If you are required to complete all fields in the form for it to qualify as a "completed application," write "Competitive" and add an asterisk " * " so that the salary requirement and/or history space on the form looks like this, "Competitive * "

    At the bottom of the page, note " * I'll be happy to discuss this in an interview."

In the initial interview, indicate that you'll discuss it during a hiring interview, but assure them that "salary won't be a problem." Then, find out if you're a good fit for the position and the position is a good fit for you.

Remember the cardinal rule of negotiating: do NOT make the first offer.

For information about salary levels, there are many websites which offer that information. Just be sure to look at job responsibilities, not just job titles, when making comparisons.


About the author...

Dr. Jan Cannon, Job-Hunt's Mid-Life Career Expert, is author of Now What Do I Do? The Woman's Guide to a New Career, Find a Job: 7 Steps to Success, Finding a Job in a Slow Economy, co-author of Exceptional Accomplishment, and a career professional for 20 years. Visit her website, JobSearchDoctor.com, and circle Jan on Google+ for more career advice and help.