Q&A: Do I list my salary history if asked? What’s the right thing to do?

J0439452 Ms. Estrin,

I hope I am finding you well. I wanted to get your opinion on what to do when an ad requests your salary history. Do you send a salary history or not? I recently read that you should circumvent this by adding a sentence to the last paragraph of your cover letter that states: "I understand you would like my salary history. I would prefer to discuss this with you during a personal interview." I have received some negative feedback using these sentences. I would really appreciate your opinion on this matter.

Best regards,

Job Seeking Candidate

Hello Ms. Candidate:

My personal opinion is it is the second test from the potential employer.  The first is your cover letter to see if you are literate, copying standard lingo from a form cover letter or a poor speller. The potential employer is asking: Can you follow instructions?

I hate the idea of sending salary history. It's private information and who knows who is looking at this personal information?  It could be someone you definitely don't want to have that information.

However, most employers I know will reject the resume if the candidate does not follow instructions. They want to know if you a) fall within their salary range and b) have proven that you are on an upward climb.  Asking for salary history saves the employer time and money by bringing in only those candidates that qualify with both skills and salary.  It also means that they are probably tightly locked into a rigid budget.

What you are trying to do by avoiding stating your salary history is to tease them with your qualifications and see if they will bring you in anyway – even if you are in the dark about what they will pay.  You are assuming that you somehow are not within the range. Reasoning with fear, you convince yourself that you will knock 'em dead with your stellar resume. 

I'll tell you: Your qualifications had better be so on point (not a tad over, not under) that the employer would feel as though he/she had no choice but to invite you for an interview. And frankly, that's rare because you really don't know what the employer's "right on point" guidelines are.  Will they wander a bit from the ad or are they adamant about the requirements?

In these difficult times where unemployment is still as high as it is, and competition for each job is stiff, my personal opinion is to follow directions and do what they request. Why add one more reason for them to reject you?

Best of luck in your new adventure!