I've been going through new opportunities lately and for many opportunities I have found HR and recruiters saying, "Well you were making X amount before so they wouldn't feel comfortable giving you Y"

I was wondering why this would be the case despite having the experience and qualifications for the job? To me this implies that if I had been making more they would pay me more but since I wasn't I'm less desirable?

I can't make heads or tails of it.

Apologies if this question may end up being too open.

edit: I should add this has happened very recently where I was told that they couldn't justify the pay boost... but they are not my previous employer

  • 4
    This is not an answer, just some information: where I live, your current salary is something you don't talk about. Certainly not with a future employer. You only state what you want to make. Our economy is fine and getting a job works quite well for both employers and employees. So whatever people think it's useful for, it works well without, too.
    – nvoigt
    May 10, 2016 at 0:20
  • 1
    Does this recruiter work for you, or for the potential employer?
    – Lumberjack
    May 10, 2016 at 0:37
  • 1
    It is not an internal recruiter if that is what you are asking
    – Cractos
    May 10, 2016 at 0:50
  • Well, for one, if you actually tell them your previous salary, they know you're a dope that can't negotiate. Unless desperate for the job, do not say a number first. If the recruiter won't make you an offer, they're trying to maintain a negotiating advantage, you're within your rights to call them on that.
    – millimoose
    May 10, 2016 at 1:08
  • @millimoose It's true that you shouldn't bring up your current/previous salary but religiously holding to "don't say a number first" is foolish and will get you rejected more often than not. A candidate should have a range in mind and should be willing to discuss it. See here for more on that topic.
    – Lilienthal
    May 10, 2016 at 8:06

2 Answers 2


It matters because it hints how much the previous employer valued your work.

It matters because it suggests how much you might be willing to consider a reasonable (or at least acceptable) offer.

Neither of these is hard data, but soft data is also useful in negotiations. And for that very reason, you may not want to share it.

As many other answers have said, you aren't obligated to answer this question. But they want at least want some indication of whether your target salary is at all rational, so they don't waste time on the people who price themselves out of the market. So you want to have some answer prepared, even if it's the relatively weak positioning of "I think I'm worth above industry average, but I trust you to realize that I'm talking to others and make a competitive offer."

  • 3
    @JoeStrazzere It's also possibly an undervalued signal. What you're worth in the market place is what buyers are willing to pay for you now, not what any of them has paid you before. Sharing what you make now undermines competition between potential employers by providing them a mechanism to coordinate setting a price, kind of like forming a cartel.
    – millimoose
    May 10, 2016 at 1:13
  • 1
    @millimoose There's an acceptable range. Someone undervalued is not going to be making 50k less than a similar counterpart. I guess the question is really asking if a job seeker is looking for a lateral or vertical move? If a job seeker is asking for 65k when he was making 50k then that can be considered a lateral shift and maybe negotiable. Now if a job seeker is requesting 80k when he was making 40k, then that sounds like a vertical jump and as such you have to ask if he's qualified for the job. I don't think an industry would underpay someone by 50k. Maybe 10-15k in the same area.
    – Dan
    May 10, 2016 at 12:38
  • 1
    @Dan - Even if you're underpaid by $100 a month, that's a "free" Macbook in a year. If you're underpaid by 5%, and expect to stay at a company for at least three years, that justifies extending the job search for about 2 months. In absolute terms, the job seeker has more than reasons to play hardball. The vertical/lateral shift thing you mention is, again, a signal that advantages the recruiter - you're giving up a negotiating position to make their task of determining your qualifications easier. You don't owe this to anybody, unless it makes or breaks the hire that you already want/need.
    – millimoose
    May 10, 2016 at 16:13
  • @Dan - And 10-15K a year is a ludicrous amount to just handwave away. (I used to live on less here in Central Europe.) Yet entirely plausible given the variance in pay - if someone is switching from a small mom-and-pop outfit to a larger corporation, they could easily lose that amount by lowballing themselves if the prospective employer doesn't offer them more afterwards. (And why would they, rationally speaking?)
    – millimoose
    May 10, 2016 at 16:20
  • @millimoose I think you misread what I wrote.
    – Dan
    May 10, 2016 at 16:25

In our company that question is usually asked as a first validation filter. We have had people sending resumes for executive positions that informed, during a phone interview, to have had a last salary more compatible with a junior person.

  • 2
    What do you do when a candidate declines to answer that question?
    – user45590
    May 10, 2016 at 8:11
  • 1
    I suppose in this case you would reject the application of someone whose salary is $1. May 10, 2016 at 8:52
  • What would you do when the candidate tells you a made up amount? This filter is useless for catching other than naive people.
    – user49901
    May 10, 2016 at 10:59
  • What if the reason they switch jobs is precisely because they were paid peanuts for a demanding position? May 10, 2016 at 11:52
  • To all commenters: If the person declines, made up the amount or even informs an incompatible amount it doesn't mean necessarily that the application is invalid and is going to be thrown away. It's a first filter only to know how to proceed next, RH of course have other tools and techniques available to determine if the person is compatible or incompatible to the position they are applying.
    – fsenna
    May 10, 2016 at 12:09

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