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The question : "What is your expected salary range?" is pretty common, but how should you respond to the question "How much were you paid with your previous employer?"?

Is it disadvantageous for the applicant to disclose that information? And is it a private and legal matter that the applicant might be sued upon if discovered?

  • what about giving an estimate? and perform your estimation (i.e. rounding) in such a way that the answer to the first question is the same as the second. then you can answer both in the same way – Brandin Aug 22 '14 at 5:47
  • The problem I have is when they use your last job as a metrics to determine your current salary. As I took a huge pay cut in my last job due to being in an area that had a lower cost of living and no state income tax (Florida), then moved to San Francisco bay area where there is extremely high cost of living and high state sales tax, so now I'm making much less than I did in my last job even though my salary is higher. Employers don't take these things into consideration. – stephenbayer Aug 22 '14 at 16:17
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Is it disadvantageous for the applicant to disclose that information?

It can be, yes. As the saying goes, "the first person to give a number loses". If you're currently on a low wage for whatever reason, disclosing that may set you up for receiving a low offer, if you make it that far. You can always negotiate upwards towards market rate, but why start yourself out in a lower position than absolutely necessary?

Conversely, if you're on a high salary and you disclose that, you might be dismissed as "too expensive" even if you'd be willing to accept a paycut for a job at the new company. In this case, you probably won't even get an offer or followup, so you also lose the opportunity to negotiate downward to something the employer can afford if you put a scarily high number.

And is it a private and legal matter that the applicant might be sued upon if discovered?

In most Western locales, your salary cannot be declared private and confidential, either because laws are on the books which protect the open discussion of salaries or because the required burden of proof in a legal case is untenably high (for instance, it's not generally sufficient to prove that the salary was declared confidential and then disclosed; it's generally also necessary to prove that the salary was declared confidential to protect a legitimate business interest, that the business has suffered some tangible loss as a direct consequence of the salary being disclosed, and that in monetary terms the tangible loss is exactly $x). Some employers will try to do so, but such terms are not generally enforceable. Though as always, you should check with a local lawyer to determine what applies in your specific locale.

In practical terms, you do not need to worry about disclosing your current salary in an interview. However, you should carefully consider whether doing so is really in your best interest (for the reasons noted above).

How should you respond to the question "How much were you paid with your previous employer?"?

I'd suggest something along the lines of "Unfortunately details of my previous compensation are considered confidential, however I can say that my compensation was in-line with the market rate for my industry and locale, and that I'd be willing to accept a comparable offer".

That avoids naming a specific number (albeit for a spurious reason), and sets expectations at 'market rate' compensation, which is a fair starting point all around.

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  • you can always say the data protection act applies or just say that's what your contract says (even though its probably not an enforceable clause) – Pepone Aug 22 '14 at 13:09
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1st: possibly, but consider that if you don't disclose it the interviewer may think you've something to hide and decide to not do business with you.
2nd: that's highly specific to specific locations and situations, in some places no, in others certainly not, in others again it would depend on your contract (I've never had a contract that stated my salary was secret and I wasn't allowed to disclose it myself but have heard of such things happening).

In my experience it's an extremely common question, asked usually to see if you're going to have unrealistic expectations. If you're currently making $10k a month, and the job you're applying for only pays $5k, there's going to be some eyebrows raised there and then. There might be a valid reason, but more frequently it means they've invited the wrong person, either someone who's way overqualified and will cut off negotiations at the last moment or someone who's desperate for any job at all and is going to quit the moment a better offer comes around.

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