First rule of negotiation - never give a number. Wait for them to give a number, then bargain.

It's fairly easy to dodge questions about desired salary with a simple

"At this point in the process, I'm much more interested in whether we're a good mutual fit."

But if asked about salary at previous jobs, what would be the best way to dodge the question and avoid getting low-balled?

Note that this question Is it okay to withhold previous salary information during the interview process? and this question How to respond to a direct ask of salary earned and expectations? seem to have primarily attracted responses that it isn't okay to withhold previous salary information or that it's somehow detrimental, which is different from what I'm asking here. Not whether I should, but how to do this diplomatically.

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    Possible duplicate of How to respond to a direct ask of salary earned and expectations?
    – shoover
    Commented May 10, 2016 at 14:56
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    Same problem as the related question I added. The answers primarily respond that you should just give them the information. This is bad advice.
    – user49529
    Commented May 10, 2016 at 14:58
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    Is this a question or a rant? It seems to me that you're getting answers, just not the ones you want.
    – Chris E
    Commented May 10, 2016 at 15:00
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    "How can I decline discussing previous salaries in an interview?" Not whether I should.
    – user49529
    Commented May 10, 2016 at 15:01
  • 4
    This article will be interesting to you.
    – enderland
    Commented May 10, 2016 at 15:12

5 Answers 5


If I'm shopping for a Senior Widget Maker (a high paying job), I want to know that I'm getting someone who is truly a Senior & not a junior-wannabe.

One (not very good) way to gain that reassurance is to ask what you made in your last job, with the presumption that if I'm offering a small bump (10% - 15%) then your previous employer probably considered you to be pretty good. If your last job paid a tiny fraction of what I'm willing to pay, then there is too great a risk that you're a pretender and this won't end well.

(I'm not personally advocating this line of reasoning, but I've seen it often enough).

The trick is to so thoroughly convince the interviewer that you're the right fit for the job that the interviewer blows off the question as obviously irrelevant.

If they insist on asking, you have a couple of choices

My previous salary is not relevant; I was in a different field/industry/city

My previous employer considers that information confidential

For personal reasons I was deliberately underemployed so I could take care of my sick aunt. She is no longer with us, and it is time to get back to work.

That information is not available.

Zero. I took some personal time.

Zero. I do not wish to be boxed into my previous pay grade
(sometimes straight up honesty works well)

I'm sure there are others. Don't be defensive about the question or your answer. The goal is to get past this hurdle as quickly as you can.

  • Thank you! "My previous employer considers that information confidential." Is this actually believable?
    – user49529
    Commented May 11, 2016 at 2:12
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    @DanielMoore Would your employer give out your salary information to anyone else but you except where legally required? Seems the definition of confidential. But really you just have to find gentle and friendly ways of saying "I'm not going to discuss that."
    – mcknz
    Commented May 11, 2016 at 20:18

What a recruiter is doing when they ask you for this information is asking you to disclose private information which they will then use against you mercilessly.

Sure, some people will rationalize it saying that they're using the amount to judge whether you're at the "skill level" they need, but that's mostly baloney. A lot of employers pay their staff below-market-value salaries, or hire them at a lower wage promising raises which never materialize. It's the interview which determines your competency, not your previous salary.

Your previous wage is not a ball and chain that should follow you around for years. Nor is it something you have to justify and explain to recruiters, and hiring managers.

What it is, is private information they have no business asking for.

When I first started interviewing for full time positions after school I was quite shocked at the attitude that many recruiters exhibit - that you should answer their questions without thought. That they are entitled to all sorts of information about you. Not too many seem to remember that an interview (even a preliminary one) goes both ways - I am also assessing the job!

After doing some reading I have become convinced that providing your previous salary is nothing short of stabbing yourself in the back, and I have never done so again.

I will describe my approach, with the following note: if you decide to play hard-ball with the recruiter you have to be ready to walk away from some potential opportunities. I'm perfectly happy with this because I prefer to take a stand for my principles than bow down to pressure from a stranger who doesn't give two figs about me, or my well-being. However I am also not in a desperate situation, so keep that in mind:

Recruiter: So what are you currently making?
Me: I don't feel comfortable disclosing that information. However I can tell you that the figure I'm interested in for the advertised position would be somewhere between X+2000 and X+7000 (where X is the least I'm willing to settle for)
Recruiter: Why don't you feel comfortable telling me? (at this point many of them are quite outraged, or at least losing their cool. They don't like being told to mind their own business) I can assure you that anything you tell me will remain confidential.
Me: What I make at the moment makes sense for my current circumstances, and in light of the arrangements which I have with my current employer. I do not believe it applies to this situation.
Recruiter: I'm afraid we can't move forward with the process unless you tell me.
Me: I'm sorry to hear you say that. As I've stated, my current salary is private information. My coworkers don't know how much I make. The person replacing me here will not know how much I made. I certainly am not being told what the person I would be replacing used to make. I believe I was quite reasonable in the range I stated.

This is not how all of these conversations will turn out, however some recruiters will not take it well. Be aware of what you're getting into with this approach.

What a lot of recruiters actually do when you confront them with this approach is they try to avoid the conflict:

Recruiter: So can I say that you make X+3000?

I also understand it from their point of view: they have a form they need to fill out and will get in trouble for leaving that information out. At that point you might just go along with it, or ask them to increase that amount - it will depend on whether your goal is not to be low-balled, or whether you truly do not wish to reveal any sort of amount.

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    I always find the "current earnings" discussion rather odd - you're obviously looking to move, and one of the more common factors is moving from any job is the pay - this pretty much invalidates the question, and so I never ask it.
    – HorusKol
    Commented May 11, 2016 at 0:16

This is dependent on many factors like location and availability of jobs (whether you have a strong negotiating stance or not).

Information is valuable, because firstly they don't know it, and secondly they can immediately use it against you because it weakens your negotiating stance. I've normally blown these questions off with a joke.

"I'm not sure I want the job yet, how much were you thinking of giving me?"

If they insist I say.

"That's between me and them, I'm looking for around $XYX."

and give them a figure I'm comfortable with negotiating from.

If they still insist I'd make a judgement call, but would probably decide they're pushing it and decline anyway. But in saying that I'm not usually desperate for a job, in my youth I'd just tell them and take whatever they gave just to be employed. Which is the norm here since there is 80% unemployment so it's an employers market.

  • "80% unemployment" — wow, what country is this?
    – Wildcard
    Commented May 11, 2016 at 23:18
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    It's a Pacific Island. Official stats say different but they class all housewives as employed, and all working age men who don't have a job as working on the land. But reality is 80% unemployed if not more.
    – Kilisi
    Commented May 11, 2016 at 23:23

Usually I say something like, "My current employer has asked that I keep that information confidential." Since I am in the data business, if pressed, I respond with, "You wouldn't want to hire someone who can't keep confidential data confidential would you?" And frankly if they still insist, I end the discussion because I am not interested in them if they insist they have to have a number.


First rule of negotiation - never give a number

I never ever heard such a "rule". Honestly, I think you were desinformed by people like to talk from nothing until the ethernity, instead of using clear wishes and expectations.

But it really depends on the culture. As I've heard, there are regions where it is much more important to understand eachothers metacommunication, to build a "psychological bridge" between the partners. It highly depends on the country in which you live! Most answers you get here are mainly from the anglo-saxon region, but if you are in, for example, saudi arabia, maybe they won't pass your situation.

I think, you won't talk from nothing until the ethernity, while both of you try to avoid to give numbers.

Not giving a number has no real advantage, if you are with a competent partner. If your partner is incompetent, then you have some chance that he overestimates you, but it is not likely and on the longterm your life will go better if you are between competent people.

What you offer, has a market price, and it is known for both of you. In most cases, getting a little bit better price is not so important as risking to lose the whole contract.

There is another reason for that: in most cases, it is not the price what matters. If your partner thinks you (your work force) is his dream offer, he will pay for you even much more. If he thinks you are bad, he won't employ you even for a much lower wage.

The only reason to try to not give a number first: if you worth yourself much worthier as your wannabe-employer thinks, he will think you won't work well for him even if you accept his much lower offer (because you are unsatisfied).

And, if you underestimate yourself (and so say a number much lower as he would give), he will think that maybe you are not so good as you look, and this will be the reason why he won't employ you.

To defend yourself against these dangers, is not that you won't give a number, but that you know the market well.

What is really important: have clear expectations and show that you give reliable for what you were hired. You need to show that you know very well where are you on the job market, just as you will know where are you on your workplace.

  • 3
    I think you need to work on your spelling and grammar a little bit.
    – AndreiROM
    Commented May 10, 2016 at 16:39
  • @AndreiROM Uhm... sorry. :-( I do what I can.
    – Gray Sheep
    Commented Jun 19, 2016 at 0:08

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