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Why should I reveal my past salaries?

There are some headhunters – including Manpower and TempGirl that require information on your past salaries. Some ask for the latest drawn salary, some ask for the salaries for all jobs you have held. JobsDB is even worse – there’s a compulsory column for Latest Salary for all work experiences. JobStreet has this column too but it’s optional.

JobsDB - resume - latest salary
JobsDB – resume – latest salary

Jobseeker: Why

As a jobseeker, why should I disclose this PRIVATE & CONFIDENTIAL information if I don’t want to?

Unless the interviewer discloses the company’s current/past employee’s salary for the job, I would should keep mum about the exact figure of past salaries.

I do believe that some employers (few in between) do think it’s just to know more about the salary and benefits at your old/current job and it doesn’t affect the package that they will give you. They just want to know how much you are getting.

Employer: Why

According to a staff at TempGirl, “The companies that hire want to know your previous salary so that they can evaluate.”

Evaluate your value to them (current companies that are hiring) or the previous employer? Interviewers see all other employers of a candidate in 1 group – employers, which is where interviewers are. So they are more likely to think from your employers point of view unless they are open to possibilities and understand that each of us are different.

“What if the company is a really stingy company and the employee is really good?” I asked. Or what if the employee sucks but the company pays a lot?

“Then it depends on the hiring company to judge during the interview. You have to include expected salary too. You can put a range. Then they can expect.”

What I did

Pressured, I disclosed my past salaries in a range. No more next time!

Now I’m going to send an email to JobsDB about this. If there’s no change in the option for Latest salary for each employment, I’ll cancel my account there.

Start low, end low

Employers ask for past salaries because they want the upper hand. Say you were paid RM2K for your previous job. So they maybe willing to give you only 10% increase even if they have more budget because they thought you are worth that much just because the previous company paid you that. Some companies actually have this policy of not giving more than 10%-15% higher than your previous salary. It is a bullshit policy!

Imagine the disadvantage you’ll have if your previous employer took advantage of your naivety when you were worth so much more – like when you had to do several people’s job, help out with other colleagues, productivity and capability much higher than your essential tasks.

It’s like a domino effect. Once a company pay you low, you’ll get lower increment every year internally. If you jump (to another company) and if this new company also have this constricted thinking to judge you on your previous work & salary, then you’ll get a lower new salary too. And so on for the next jobs..

It’s a never ending effect until you find a company that appreciates you and has the right budget to hire you for your skills that match the position.

Of course not all companies and HR practice this (mis)judgement on your worth based on your past salaries.

A responsible, well-managed business shouldn’t care what you’ve been earning. What will matter to that company is whether and to what extent it needs your abilities; how much it can afford to pay you; and how much profit it projects you will bring to its bottom line. Such a judgment requires that the company evaluate you carefully and in terms that are relevant to its business, not in terms that are important to someone else.

Ask The Headhunter: Keep Your Salary Under Wraps


In US:

There are inappropriate questions that tend to focus on non-ability factors, such as race, sex, age, marital status, religion, etc.

The Riley Guide – Handling Questionable Questions

Over here, employee’s form definately has race, sex, religion, marital status, # of children and names of your family column.

So what can you do?

If you don’t want to disclose ‘sensitive’ information, just don’t disclose it but reply in a polite way. Ignore the column in the form. Explain when asked by employer/headhunter. You could risk being perceived as “do not follow instructions well” or “not co-operative” though.

Or you can establish your expected salary range – mention the specific Lowest that you are ok with – Highest if you are applying for several jobs in 1 go.

Ask the company what range of salary they are willing to pay first before you disclose yours!

If you are brave enough, ask “What is the salary for the staff doing this job?” and see if they would be willing to disclose this.

If the headhunter still insists on past salaries, you can reply, “My past salaries are confidential to my past and current employers.” Check your offer letter – there should be a clause for not disclosing salary to anyone.

Is there any official guide from the Malaysia’s government about ethical hiring process?

More:

Ask The Headhunter: FAQ Salary 1
Skor Career – Job Search Guide: I deserve higher salary, mate! Negotiate your way in accepting a job offer
Tips – Top 12 Tips for Negotiating Your Salary

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12 thoughts on “Why should I reveal my past salaries?

  1. Why not? Why have a poke at an organisation seeking to know as much as it can about a person it is thinking about inviting to its fold? Dont be an inward looking nitwit and think about the real world!

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  2. good post! people always say it’s the employer’s market now, but that doesn’t mean they can exploit jobseekers like that. if one isn’t so keen for the job, that person can test out by putting a ridiculously low number for past salary and see what’s their offer. if they’re sincere they won’t give a 10% increment.

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  3. This is my take on the debate. I think current it is actually a job seeker’s market, so even if you are requested to reveal your past salary history, rule-of-thumb is not to do so to protect your bargaining power in salary negotiation. Prospective employers have a right to know what you are drawing now, but this should be discussed only when they are about to offer you a job.

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  4. I think it would be fair to disclose the range of personal salary only when the company discloses the range of the salary for a position. Win-win situation.

    No company would like to hire a liar and no employee would like to work for a deceiving company too.

    But if you were getting higher salary than the market/the company interviewing you, would you want to put it in your resume or let it be known to the employer so that you could negotiate a better package? I know I would ;)

    Teewoh, asking salary history for information is different than evaluating a person’s worth just by the salary history. However, I understand from your point. The world is certainly not filled with roses. It’s easy to become practical or cynic, depending on your personal view.

    Sulz, then that person would get bad record for putting false info for interview!

    Razlan, asking your point of view – if the employers do not want to disclose the range of salary and benefits, is it fair for the employee to disclose the current salary even though the employee is offered a job?

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  5. whoops. :P ah well, see what i mean about it being an employer’s market? they don’t have anything to lose.

    is it our right as candidates not to disclose our past salaries even when asked?

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  6. Sulz, I think most employers would think you have something to hide if potential employees don’t reveal their past salaries.. but then I have never been an employer so I can’t say for all employers.

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  7. it’s your choice to choose to reveal your salary or keep it up for yourself, then in turn, the recruiter might think it’s his choice to choose or not processing your job application. This depends much on specific area geographically and culture

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  8. MJ, i must say this is a good piece of writing. You’re right in the sense that ideally the employer should offer the job based on their own evaluation on the candidates (or if you’re worth the salary) and not needing to know how much you made. This is the standard practice in the US/UK and so on.

    But then again here in Malaysia I found this practice almost non-existence. Only a handful of employers comply to the right procedure. It’s not only about the salary issue, but there are also other loop holes. Some call these malpractices. Others call it imperfections.

    Nevertheless, I don’t think I have enough space to evaluate and discuss further here. I will write something in response of this later. Keep up the good writings though.

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  9. I’ve sat on both sides of the desk. On the employer side as a hiring manager, the question of previous salary history in a job posting helps the employer determine if the element of pay is a match to the salary range the employer has already pre determined. A simple rule is that if the employer already knows they’ll pay from $32-36k for the job, applicants that show a history of $65k and still working would obviously not be a good match. A currently employed $60k bread winner submitting a resume for a job also leaves a possible impression that the employee is not happy ( which leads to many questions ) if an interview were to occur.

    On the applicant side, it does get very frustrating. Previous salary requests creates the mindset in the applicant that a possible low ball wage would be offered if the candidate made it that far. Sitting on that side of the table ( candidate ), I’ve always ansered the salary question by turning the tables and restructuring the question back verbally followed by my answer…..”My salary can be best viewed as to an expectation vs. my past. My salary range desire would be comensurate with the industry for the position and the area. I’ve ran several web based salary charts on the position for this geographic area and see that a comparison from all charts averages about $$$$ as a starting range. I agree with the results”
    Now that’s turning the tables on the subject of salary. If you are a good candidate with a good accomplished background and you performed well in a interview ( phone screen or in person ) and you did not get the offer, fair bet to say that the company pay is extremely low by industry standards.

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  10. How do I handle a situation in which my boss hired me as contract when I was really an employee and conveniently forgot to tell me that I was going to have to pay his share of my taxes when I did as he said and filed a 1099. When I found out what he tried to do to me, I quit on the spot.

    I worked there for a year though and did an outstanding job. He even wrote that on many of paychecks. What happens when a potential employer calls him?

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