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I'm new in the workforce. I have been working as a designer for past one and half years. The problem is the city I live in doesn't have much opportunity (actually not any) in the profession and my first employer was a startup in my town. They paid me half of the minimum acceptable wage for designers in my country from the beginning. They said they were paying the same to everyone else and that is what they can afford. I also didn't push thinking this is the first opportunity and I will have experience at least because I didn't go to design school and so I have less experience to brag about regardless of my skill and knowledge of design. Later after talking to other employees, I got to know everyone was getting paid at least two or three times more than me.

I left the company last year because their business failed and at the end they were not able to pay salaries to employees. Now the problem is not a single company will offer me a reasonable salary. I did apply in other cities. They all are asking my Cost To Company in the previous organization and deciding an amount based upon that which is not even enough to sustain my life and pay bills, rent etc in another city. The latest was a company in the costliest city of my country (where the cost of life is 72% higher than my home city) offered me a reasonable amount but then changed it to an absurdly low amount after seeing my previous offer letter. Other companies I negotiated with are imposing ridiculous conditions to just pay the average minimum salary, regardless of which city they are based in, like work 65 hours a week and such. The problem is they all are offering reasonable amount to other person of my skillset and experience but offering me less from the beginning because they think I'm cheap labour.

I don't know if my approach is wrong... What should I do?

UPDATE: Employers are now asking to provide a mandatory form 16 (certificate from employer which says tax has been deducted on the mentioned salary). Thanks to my previous employer from the startup, I wasn't in the tax bracket. So the form was not needed. And I didn't get paid my salary of the last months because the employer went broke and unreachable later. Providing a tax-form is a distant dream. Anyways, I'm pretty sure I'm not legally bound to provide that sort of information in my country or under any democratic country's laws. But the employers are like asking with a gun on my head "provide that, or we don't accept your acceptance of the offer" (one literally said that).

The last company who lowered the offer, confirmed what my role would be in their company and the sum they are willing to offer during interviews. I also told during interviews that I was underpaid in my past company and it has very little to do with my skill. Upon hearing that, they repeatedly said "No problem, send us your documents. Will amount X will be reasonable for you?" I said "yes sure. But I would like to see the offer letter before I make any suggestion."

As I provided my documents after 3 rounds of interviews during a whole month, bam! They even changed my job position. Offered me a position lower in hierarchy and I didn't even apply for that. I applied, interviewed, and completed their assignment for a different position. Now they are saying I didn't state my expected ctc (well but you did!) and the responsibility is same just the name is different (so not true). It is like asking a clerk to do the manager's job for a clerk's salary. Is it even a legit thing to do anywhere in the world? This is just becoming a practical joke. I'm truly feeling harassed now.

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    What country are you located in? – sf02 May 9 at 19:14
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    Are you required to show the new employer your previous offer letter and salary? If not, do not offer, nor provide your previous salary to new prospects. – jesse May 9 at 19:15
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    @sf02 I'm in India. – X5010 May 9 at 19:27
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    You have to push down and say that was when you had no experience. It makes zero sense for them to charge you as low now that you do. – lucasgcb May 10 at 11:27
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    Where as lying isnt typically the best road to take. You must also look out for yourself and do right by you. You say your previous, same level co-workers made twice or 3 times your pay. Choose one of those pay rates and pass it on as your own, to make you more inline with the market. – jesse May 10 at 11:28
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You said (in the comments) that you were not required to show them what you earned in your last job, but that you would not want to outright lie to them.

It would be no lie to simply respond 'no' to their request for that Information.

In my personal experience, a firm 'no' in response to a request for personal information is accepted in most situations.

Of course, there is the possibility that companies who want to short-change you in regards to your salary anyhow, will not offer you a job if you refuse to share that information with them. But I'd call that a dodged bullet, to be honest.

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    Caveat: While this is true for most countries, it won't work in India. There it is common practice to ask for proof of your last salary, else you just won't get the job. (Still the best answer for most people.) – Chris May 14 at 18:48
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"I'm not interested in talking about my old salary - I'm interested in whether this position would be a good opportunity for me and my growth, and whether I'd be a good fit for your company."

HR wants to know your prior salary for two reasons:

  • They want to make sure you're not someone who expects more than they are willing to pay for the position
  • They want to offer you the smallest amount you'd reasonably accept. So if you were making 15/week before, they're not going to offer you 30/week, when they could realistically expect you to accept 18/week.

It's in your best interest to simply not give them an answer. Redirect if possible, and be firm in saying that you're not interested in disclosing your prior salary.

I recently applied for an opening via a company website, because I felt my salary was below my rate/worth. The app page asked for my ending salary at each of my prior jobs. I tried to leave it blank. It errored out, highlighting the fields in red, indicating they were required. So I simply put a dash character in each of them. Which worked (if it hadn't, I would've simply put a zero.) The HR person reading it obviously could tell that I wasn't going to answer that question...

... and they still contacted me to set up an interview. And because of how I handled it, they couldn't use my current salary as an achor/baseline for what amount they would offer me.

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I can only speak in concept as it seems the US and India have very different employment laws. I would suggest waiting until documentation of your prior salary becomes required. In this way, they've already judged you as the professional you are. Before you then provide the documentation, I would state something like the following:

"This position is definitely interesting to me and one that I am clearly qualified to fill. I will gladly provide documentation of my prior experience. You'll surely note that the salary I accepted as a fresher at a startup is considerably lower than this role's value. The figure reflects a struggling company's inability to pay and nothing of my skill or value. I will happily be an asset to this company and in return only require that a salary commensurate with the role is provided."

Or perhaps you can staple that to the letter. The point is, wait until they've seen that you are valid for the role in question then clarify that your only requirement is simply that you get judged by that vs. a former mistake.

UPDATE It's not terribly surprising for a company to ignore a statement as above. On one side, many companies are thick-headed and their HR, accounting or other dept. have too much control in picking talent they know nothing of. Overall, there's a little merit to the idea because it keeps rogue managers from running the company out of business. On the other, there's a chance this is a bargaining tactic. They may be thinking they can get you cheaper by saying "it's policy". Either way, you need to decide whether you're willing to walk away from this offer or not.

If they're just hoping to get you cheaply and you are willing to walk away, you might have a chance at something like, "Thank you for the offer and I understand you have a policy. I have a policy of being paid reasonably for the value I am providing, which I believe the process up to this point has demonstrated. I would gladly consider an offer that reflects my actual value to you. Otherwise, I thank you for your time and wish you luck in filling the role."

  • The last company interviewed me for 3 rounds and then asked me to complete a design assignment which they liked and then as I sent my documents (they asked), bam! offer lowered! Now saying it's not fair to pay me much based on my experience. I just got off the phone with them. I told the exact what you wrote above. They are saying last drawn ctc is a deciding factor for them along with skill and experience. I'm like 'did you just listen what I said?!'. So I said fine send your offer letter, I will let you know my decision. – X5010 May 10 at 8:56
  • I will say these in my next application. For now I had to reject the last one. They audaciously lowered the offer and said they won't accept my acceptance of the offer unless I provide tax form from my previous employer and salary sheets. And any other past job offer letter but I shouldn't disclose their offer. These make me believe that they intentionally made such offer so that I reject it. – X5010 May 10 at 21:11
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    They may be thinking they can get you cheaper by saying "it's policy" or it's actually policy. I know of some companies where your salary including any raises you'll get there is hard capped at previous salary + 10% + inflation. It's not often this is hard policy but might be the case if they're doing a salary freeze or similar organizational measures to save on personell cost. – Magisch May 13 at 11:24
  • @Magisch Yes probably. Something really weird was going on in that company (where I last applied). They not only offered me a lower amount (then they should have been very careful about not quoting the amount they normally pay) but also they changed my position/job-role in the offer letter (I can't find any explanation for that). But every single company is playing that trick of lowering amount. I wonder whether everyone is doing salary freeze... – X5010 May 13 at 15:38
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Job Hopping

Warning: This only applies to India.

I had a discussion about this practice with an Indian colleague who is a team lead in India. Unfortunately it's common practice.

The only way to get more salary is to take the best offer you can get and start job hunting again. People with few experience will switch jobs often. Sometimes you can negotiate a counter offer, then you should take it, but only to get a better number for the next job - rather than staying there.

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    Yes, exactly. This struck me too few days ago. Since the companies are not caring about efficiency, they don't care how long someone has been in a position, unless looking for higher management posts. So hopping would be the best antidote for their tricks. – X5010 May 13 at 11:17
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    This site is often terrible in giving proper location specific advice. Contrary to that, this answer is spot on. AFAIK that's the way it works in india. +1 – s1lv3r May 13 at 13:49
  • @s1lv3r Definitely. – X5010 May 13 at 15:10
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Not sure of how your contract looked like and if it is a common practice in India, but a lot of job/B2B contracts in Europe straight out forbid disclosing salaries to other companies for a certain period (1 year for example), and saying "I am sorry, but due to my last contract's limitations I cannot disclose this information" would be a perfectly reasonable response here.

  • Not if it's not true. – IllusiveBrian May 10 at 12:22
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    @IllusiveBrian - Debatable. Ethically, they shouldn't even ask for it, so lying could be appropriate, if not even necessary. And legally it's questionable if it constitutes fraud. Would the difference in not willing to do so and the inability to do so matter? It could be considered a matter of negotiation, in which charisma, deception, conviction is part of it. It does not affect the actual skill of the employee, so they'd get what they expect (with standard uncertainty and variance of course), just at a possibly higher price (because they'd be failing in their negotiation tactics). – Battle May 13 at 6:56
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    @IllusiveBrian - Obviously I assume Western type legislation, which vaguely resembles common sense. I don't know about India in particular. But the arguments would still apply in either case. – Battle May 13 at 6:58
  • @Battle What I understood is that they are not striving for efficiency. They just want to get the job done and for the overpopulation, they know there are thousands other people to fill the position. So the companies deliberately try to get cheap labour and one of the best way to get it is to add 20 or 30% to the previous salary, regardless of they can actually afford to pay. The companies are really not caring that your efficiency can be replaced or not.. – X5010 May 13 at 11:11
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    @X5010 But they are. If they saw you have skills for a 1000$ job but were making 100$ before they'll figure you'll take 110$ and offer that instead of the 1000$ they were prepared to offer. Paying less for a given job is the peak of financial efficiency. – Magisch May 13 at 11:18

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