How do folks avoid the question, "What is your current salary?" Or do they?

I work as a software engineer in California and am currently looking for positions. This time around, I've noticed that potential employers are very pushy about asking what my current salary is. Perhaps I'm old fashioned, but I feel this is personal information and shouldn't be given out to just anyone. It certainly is not in my interest to reveal my salary right now as it's rather low due to me being at a startup place where I have a large amount of options. Also, I feel like an employer ought to be able to come up with a number himself/herself. All that revealing my salary does is give them an option to potentially offer less than they otherwise would with the rationale, "Hey, we made him an offer $10,000 over his current salary. He should be happy."

I've tried the often recommended, "I prefer to discuss salary after we have mutually agreed there is a good fit" with little luck. The response was in at least one case, "We need a firm number now to know if it's even worth moving forward. Your salary expectations might not align with ours." On the last interview, I actually used the line, "I am under obligation not to divulge my salary." This is as close to lying as I like to get. In fact, I've promised myself not to reveal my salary, so technically I'm under "obligation" to myself. Unfortunately, instead of this ending the inquisition, it resulted in the response, "So you've signed a NDA about your salary?"

I've been an engineer for over 15 years. I swear that folks are getting more and more pushy about current salary. In my more paranoid moments, I wonder if they are collecting this info as a cheap way to do salary surveys.

How should I handle this? Should I refuse to answer? Could it end the interview process right there and then?

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    There are many, many, many questions on this topic already. Voting to close.
    – David K
    Commented Aug 6, 2015 at 17:55
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    How about something like Q: "What is your current salary?" A: "I'd be looking for something in the XXX range". It's not revealing your salary, only putting a bracket on your expectations. Commented Aug 6, 2015 at 17:56
  • Spehro, I've tried that! I've actually encountered, "A range is great, but we need to know your exact salary"!
    – Dave
    Commented Aug 6, 2015 at 18:14
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    Every potential employer has asked me the same question and I always tell the truth. They try to come back with 5k over and we go through the motions and I always get the number I was looking to get. Why? Because I'm worth that number and I'm not letting them use "well you want X more than X?" as an excuse. Yes I do want 25k more because I'm worth it and qualified. Commented Aug 6, 2015 at 18:27
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    This is a duplicate, but a straightforward answer would be, "My current company's employee policy requires that I do not divulge my salary." Commented Aug 7, 2015 at 0:29

1 Answer 1


Personally I let them get as pushy as they like. This is one of the reasons I prefer to go through recruiting agencies rather than direct hire opportunities. I can easily deflect questions of compensation or history to "[Recruiter Name] and I have an understanding that (s)he will handle all matters tied to compensation and the like." This often ends the discussion immediately without really ruffling any feathers. I can always tie a little humorous comment to it to alleviate any potential tension.

For a direct hire, however, you have to be just as aggressive a negotiator as your recruiter would be. This means not giving out information that could be used as a negotiation element against you. How to respond depends on the situation. If you desperately need the job, then you really have no reason not to divulge the information with a caveat that you're well aware of how grossly underpaid you are (this lets them know you have very specific salary expectations and anything that doesn't meet them will be disappointing.

However, I personally feel you should respect yourself and your abilities to the tune that if you don't want to disclose it you shouldn't disclose it. I would say simply, "I'm looking for a salary of X. I currently make less than that." If they press on details, my response would be "I'm sorry, that's personal information. I wouldn't feel comfortable divulging that kind of information until after becoming an employee."

This could ruffle feathers, but if it does then you don't want to work there. Anyone who can't respect your need/desire for privacy in that matter is going to be even less respectful of other things after you're working there. This is a serious red flag (IMO), and you should reconsider working in an environment where this kind of disrespect is prevalent.

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    I like your idea of using the recruiter as a foil!
    – Dave
    Commented Aug 6, 2015 at 18:16

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