I have been applying for a number of similar roles via third party / recruitment agencies and all of them have asked for my current salary - usually among their very first questions.
As I wanted to see their reaction, I tested a number of recruiting consultants by giving them different values of my current salary, but the same value of my target salary range. e.g. current: 50,000 OR 65,000 / target: 70-75,000.
Everything else equal (my achievements, the job role type I applied for), those whom I told I earned 50,000 tried to convince me in the most patronizing way that it would be absolutely impossible for me to make a jump to 75,000. They listed a number of arguments and spent a huge time of the conversation on salary. However, those whom I told I earned 65,000 didn't say anything at all.
So I would like to understand if - in general - regardless of whom I apply through (recruiter or directly) - must I assume that my target/final salary will always be calculated as a function of my previous salary?
Will achievements, value, etc. and industry value not override or trump that?
In essence, I am asking to understand how likely (common/frequent) it will be that I find a job that will not underpay me because my previous job did (with respect to the industry level salary).
P.S.: Thanks for the answers so far. Could someone please explain to me - if required, in a comment - how come (why) previous salary is so much more important than industry value or, for example, the advertised salary? Is there any justification to underpay someone?
P.P.S.: @jmac, thanks for your elaborate answer. The only point that I cannot relate to is where you equate achievements with skills. To clarify, I mean achievements in terms of business expansion and contribution to the bottom line. For example, I implemented ideas that significantly cut costs and also boosted profit/growth to far above our goals. Also note that my role has direct P&L ownership, and I don't work in IT as most in here I assume.