Fog Creek Software
Discussion Board




Salary history

With the interesting discussion of employment agreements, here's another new-job-related topic:  Salary history.  The ad says they require it, or they tell you in person that they do.  Do you:  (a) Tell it all; (b) Make up numbers; (c) Flat out refuse; (d) Stall; (e) Other...?

Kyralessa
Friday, April 04, 2003

I generally refuse. It's none of their business and gives them an extra "barganing chip" in the negotiation game. If they insist, I demand to see the same from them: Their tax records that indicate their profitability for the last few years. It's only reasonable. If they want my financial information they can have it, but only if they cough up theirs in return. Quid Pro Quo. If they refuse, I simply walk.

I use the same tactic if they want anything similar: Background check (I demand same from interviewer(s), as well as management all the way up the chain of command), If they want a credit report, I ask same -- Credit report for the business, If they want *anything* at all, it's both a fair and a reasonable request that they supply the same.

If they're unwilling to supply same, and don't back down on their request for information from me  I'll walk.

Technically speaking though, this hasn't been an issue for me for the last 5 years as I've been independent for that period -- but that's the way I used to handle it.

Of course times have changed in the last several years and this all depends on how badly you want/need the job.

Sergent Sausage
Friday, April 04, 2003

MYOB.

         
Friday, April 04, 2003

Some of you may remember -- there was a long discussion of this question some time ago.  I guess it is gone from the archives.  People in the discussion got somewhat testy.

A person who reads this group -- I think his name is Eric Sink -- passionately argued that salary history is necessary in order to come to a "win-win" arrangement.  He runs his own company, and IIRC, he said if you didn't disclose salary information, you wouldn't be considered for a job -- or at least you'd be "low-balled."

Other people argued that disclosing your salary history was just a way for the company to find out how badly they can cheat you out of your market value.

I came down on the latter side.

programmer
Friday, April 04, 2003

Well, I suppose flat out refusing is an option but in today's job market that might not be the most reasonable approach.

I really don't see the big fuss. After speaking with a company and learning more about them and the job, I can quickly get an idea of what my salary requirement is going to be. If it is substantially more than what I'm currently earning then I'll demonstrate why this job should pay more.

Good negotiation skills are going to be much more useful than just saying "No! You can't have that info!"

Mark Hoffman
Friday, April 04, 2003

Don't mean to keep pimpin' the headhunter, but since he does have the best answers...

http://www.asktheheadhunter.com/faqsalary1.htm

"Employers have no business asking for your salary history. It's confidential. It has nothing to do with hiring you. Imagine what they'd say if you asked to see the history of salaries they've paid for this job over the past ten years. Or, if you were to ask the manager what his current salary is. Sorry, Mr. Manager, but what's good for the goose is good for the gander.

The excuse employers make is that your past salary helps them determine your experience level, it pegs your value, and it helps them establish a new salary for you.

Hogwash. By that logic, they don't need to interview you. All they need is your salary history and you're off to the races. By using the figures other employers have used, they'll know what their job is worth and what you are worth. And they'll win the lottery, too."

         
Friday, April 04, 2003


It clearly is none of their business. They should be making you an offer based on your capabilities and the market rate for that expertise, which they will be well aware of.

There is only one reason for them wanting your salary history, and that is to see whether they have an opportunity to pay you less than they would otherwise. They will certainly not pay more than they need to.

The best way to handle it is to deflect the question by asking another. If they return to it and insist, they you have a conflict situation anyway, and should explain it's private information, which it is.

The tactic of requesting salary history is particularly prevalent with recruiters. This is because their business is based on minimising the pay to you.

On the subject of the market being bad, they're not going to consider you unless they have a strong interest in you anyway, so don't be concerned about offending them by refusing to divulge private information.

3
Friday, April 04, 2003

I say market rate. What you made last year or 3 years prior is irrelevant.


Friday, April 04, 2003

Lie, and inflate the numbers to what you want them to pay you.

S. Gwizdak
Friday, April 04, 2003

"You can have my salary history when you give me the salaries of all the people in the same job title, including history comparable to what I'd give (10 years)".

Fair's fair, right? It's not like you're going to take the job if you feel like you're getting screwed.

Brad (dotnetguy.techieswithcats.com)
Friday, April 04, 2003

Oh, and I would definitely NOT lie. It's better to withhold the information than to lie.

Brad (dotnetguy.techieswithcats.com)
Friday, April 04, 2003

The danger in lying is that they'll ask you to prove it.  For instance, my dad, a manager, asks for salary history when he interviews.  Assuming they tell, he then asks for a pay stub as evidence.  So in some cases lying can be worse than simply refusing or deflecting the request.

His argument is that if someone has a much higher salary history, he's probably not going to be interested in the position at hand, and if his history is much lower, they're probably not interested in him.  My reply is that if people know the range, or are asked for "salary expected," these judgments can be made without the invasion of privacy that a salary history entails.

I was torn over these for a long time (I even called the Department of Labor to ask if requiring a salary history is legal), but I finally concluded that there's really only one reason a company would request a salary history...and why would I want to work for a company like that?

Kyralessa
Friday, April 04, 2003

http://208.155.195.240/~trforum is a technical recruiter discussion BBS site and is a GREAT place to lurk to find out how HR people and recruiters think. And I've met a few online, too.

Frankly, you guys are p*ssing in the wind if you think that you can withhold salary information and simply rationalize it (however correctly) when you apply for a job. You just won't be considered at all. Yes, it's none of their G*dd*** business. No, it's not fair, yes, it's an invasion of privacy. And they simply don't care, and they don't have to care.

Here's the deal. HR people want to see your previous salary so that they can develop a rationale for paying you $X for a job or for even considering you for the job. It's just that simple.

Literally - their thinking is that if you earn $60K/yr you are perhaps a candidate for a $75K job but not a +$90K job.  (in fact, I recently saw a web ad from a local recruiter whom I think is lying pond scum, that states exactly that kind of thing in print.)

And In case anyone wants to rail about borkers and headhunter scum (which they are), be aware that this thinking also comes straight out of the HR departments of most companies. They call it something like "internal equity". It basically means that you're *always* evaluated by the calibre and pay level of job you hold now.

Qualifications and seniority and ability? Denoted by current and past pay level, primarily.
Unfair, short sighted? Yes. What to do about it?

Well, start by telling every single programmer and IT person to not play ball. Maybe we can get a national movement going.  Yeah, right. And some heads down nebbish - one of our peers - that burnt through his savings will be right there in front of you, scrambling to apply for these jobs like a third world kid begging for tourist's coins.

Bored Bystander
Friday, April 04, 2003

Bored, I think that chat room represents reality as much as slash dot represents current engineering practice.

I've never disclosed salary history and it has never prevented me from getting a job.

Those bbs cats are just blowing smoke out of their navels.

Dennis Atkins
Saturday, April 05, 2003

What about the proverbial stacks of resumes that companies have to wade through whenever they advertise a job?

I'm going by empirical evidence.... the recruiter posting(s)... the positions taken by a recruiter I know that belongs to a mailing list that I run... a few other people with HR background that have stayed around for some time on some BBSs I've frequented who seem to have a long term career interest in HR practices.

I'm also allowing that HR culture isn't the law of the land at many smaller and some technology based companies. I'm not saying that it will be mandatory at all companies - just that most companies that use HR people to screen candidates and many recruiters doing perm placements will demand the salary history and they will slam the gate shut if you don't provide it. "Policy" is just that.

Bored Bystander
Saturday, April 05, 2003

Salary history is used as a lever in gettng the lowest amount for a particular job.  If that  information is required as a key to being interviewed then it indicates a considerable amount as to the kind of organisation it is.

If you don't care about giving that information then you won't care about the kinds of organisations that work out remuneration that way.  You won't notice because those same organisations will also have a clause in their contract that discussing salaries is forbidden (some I've seen its been a sackable offence). 

Unless that kind of organisation pays the market rate at the time, gives reasonable increments for cost of living, experience and so on there will be an undercurrent of dissatisfaction.  It might not matter because there are other upsides to working there.

Recruiters, employers never ask irrelevant questions from their point of view, from the applicant's they might be entirely irrelevant and sometimes tell you that its not the place for you.

Simon Lucy
Saturday, April 05, 2003

Ok, both Bored and Dennis bring up some really good points.  Does anyone think there is a downside to playing it safe, and just telling them that you were paid at the last company the ammount your hoping you'll get this time?  I mean, we all want more money, but if we're *hoping* our next job hope will net us 70k a year, is it really that horrible if we missed out on possibly getting 75k?. 

Vincent Marquez
Saturday, April 05, 2003

Don't get me wrong, I'm in favor of getting as much as possible, and I think that someone basing your worth to them based upon your current salary is complete, total bullsh*t.


IE - what if you are currently underemployed? Nope, the HR types with their "everyone needs to be a shrink wrapped commodity" thinking want your "number." It's the same demeaning logic that makes these wastes of flesh raid other companies for talent rather than consider someone on the bench.


HOWEVER - this is all MARKET DRIVEN. Most responses on this topic don't seem to include what the *company's* goals may be in this. Companies want to pay what is necessary to hire talent and they do not want to feel that they overpay *anyone*. THAT is what the emphasis on current and past pay rate comes from. What is deemed "necessary" to acquire an "asset" is some small premium over your current pay rate, because it works for most people. For every person protesting "I deserve 20% more than my current pay rate" there are 10 (nominal to exceptional) people lined up salivating at the chance to get billable again at almost any price...


Having ranted - no, I don't see any downside whatsoever to giving your salary. First principles - you may need to give it in order to be considered at all. For another thing, companies will often request a credit history and they can glean your approximate income anyway. For yet another thing, HR types often know the market better than we do and they may have other ways to infer a range for your past salary - such as past experience hiring people away from the same company.


Another unconstructive rant & aside: I hate and despise HR people - their professional role, I mean. Anyone who performs real work should, too.  A leprous pox on these pompous, haughty resource wasting creeps. More than H1B, more than outsourcing, the attitude that everyone must be evaluated against bullet lists of criteria like you're grading fruit separates more worthwhile people from tasks needing done than any political trend possibly could...

Bored Bystander
Saturday, April 05, 2003

A credit history? No company has EVER asked for that, and no company will EVER get one.

Brad (dotnetguy.techieswithcats.com)
Saturday, April 05, 2003

I've heard reliable "rumors" that credit checks are sometimes now asked from job applicants. It's definitely a new HR trend.

Personally - I would draw the line at that. Salary history - I'd give grudgingly. Authorization to check my credit? Well, I was going to use an impolite acronym... but "no way".

Bored Bystander
Saturday, April 05, 2003

Credit checks are required to get jobs that require a security clearance. And you also have to pee in a cup.

Chris Tavares
Saturday, April 05, 2003

Hmmm... lets see, for my current job I had:

salary history
background check (in.c any criminal record)
credit check
proof of eduction & grades
drug test
and about 12 interviews.

punter
Saturday, April 05, 2003

Man this just gets crazier. What country and industry are you guys working in that requests a credit history? I mean whdat the hell? Maybe they want a semen sample too? Surely you guys are saying no to the credit checks?? If not, I wonder if there is anything you wouldn't do??? Surely this has to stop somewhere. Could you name names of companies doing this? I've got a cousin that works for a magazine and this might be a story she'd like to pursue.

Dennis Atkins
Saturday, April 05, 2003

Well, I work on Wall street for one of those "premier" investment banks.

punter
Saturday, April 05, 2003

OK, actually I can see that for a bank... they would want to look real carefully at any programmer wth a lot of gambling debts or such. I have heard that bank tellers get a pretty thorough  checkout since they handle money. And I suppose with a government security clearence, they have to look that stuff up anyway since likewise someone with gambling debts and/or outstanding loans from the mafia might be suceptible to being bribed or such to get secrets. Anyone running into credit checks for making shrink wrap software or ordinary business apps or stuff like that where there would not seem to be any apparent reason?

Dennis Atkins
Saturday, April 05, 2003

Vincent, yes, there's a downside to giving them an inflated figure instead of the real one.

They sometimes check and, if it's wrong, they will then label you a liar. So, you suffer twice because of deceitful behaviour by them.

It's worth remembering this is a two way street though. They wouldn't be seeing you if they didn't have some interest. People should not be afraid to stand up for themselves.

3
Saturday, April 05, 2003

I simply use HR to fight HR.  I tell prospective employers that  my last employment agreement forbid me from revealing any salary information.  While I would love to help them out, I am unfortunately bound by contract not to do so.

With more and more HR department banning the discussion of salaries, this is becoming more and more believable.

Derek Woolverton
Sunday, April 06, 2003

The taxes in Norway are public domain. Several online newspapers give you the opportunity to search for individuals. There are no details, though, so it's the total earnings revealed. The last year is not there, of course, as the data isn't collected yet.

Thomas Eyde
Sunday, April 06, 2003

"They sometimes check and, if it's wrong, they will then label you a liar. So, you suffer twice because of deceitful behaviour by them."

Erm - it could just be me, but blaming the "suffering" on deceitfulness by "them" doesn't seem quite right.  I'd label you a liar too if you provided false information and passed it off as the real McCoy.  So if you did in fact lie about your salary history and get caught out, you would "suffer" because of your *own* deceitful behaviour.

Furthermore - to be completely nitpicky - asking for salary history is not deceitful.  One can consider it invasive, abuse of power, sleazy etc etc.  But unless the ad says something like "we promise not to ask for your salary history", they are not being deceitful when they do.  I guess if they asked for your salary history during an interview and weren't actually hiring, or were planning to use that info to sell on the salary history black market or something it could be deceitful... 

Anyway.

Phibian
Sunday, April 06, 2003

My company insists on giving a salary history.  When we make a job offer, we offer the slary you're currently making (maybe a tiny bit more).  Of course, we also adjust for cost of living.

Our philosophy:
We're not look for people who are jumping from company to company seeking more money.  People come to work for us because they want to.

After 6 months, we review you and adjust your salary based on your performance.  So, if you were underpaid at your old job, you have to put up with it for a little bit longer.  Of course, if you were overpaid at your previous job, be prepared for a pay cut.

If you don't give it to us, you're not worth our time.  There's too many other applicants out there to put up with it.  Plus, if we had to pry it out of you, it means you're going into the job with some reluctance, which raises questions about your quality as an employee.

Myron Semack
Sunday, April 06, 2003

Be careful about overstating your salary.  I was passed up once for a job because I was considered too expensive.  Even though I would have been willing to take a pay cut.



Myron, I think you're probably just trolling, but I'll bite...

That's a pretty stupid policy.  Basing salary on what the person was making before has absolutely no bearing on what the job is worth to the company.  Do you understand? 

Just because some bloke was making 100K at their last job doesn't mean that you should pay him 100K!  Do I need to break it down further for you?  Let's say at his previous job he was making 120K as the db admin, sysadmin, and main architect.  Now lets say that you only need him as a db programmer.  Your company is very stupid if you pay him 120K and the going rate for db programmers is only 50K.

Likewise, maybe that very same person was only making 20K working at a startup.  If his going market rate is 100K-120K, then you're going to miss out on him!  Easy enough to grasp, no?

And the 6 month re-negotiation is a fraud.  Smart negotiators know that if they took the job, in 6 months time their bargaining position will be severly weakened.  Of course you know this, and that's why you put in "be prepared for a pay cut".

         
Sunday, April 06, 2003

Everybody has a level of shit they're willing to put up with. Myron gets people, because there are people willing to put with his level of shit just to get out of a job. Rule #1 when deciding to take a job: will you be happy with the exact pay and work you'll be doing at the start? Always consider the 6-month pay re-eval and the "you'll work on cooler stuff later" with a huge grain of salt.

We offer people what we feel they're worth, not what other people thought they were worth. We're not going to try and dick them out of money. A change of $5k/year in salary is far less expensive than training a new person every year because you can't retain them because of stupid hiring politics.

Brad (dotnetguy.techieswithcats.com)
Sunday, April 06, 2003

Phibian, the deceitfulness is the asking for salary history without honestly explaining their reason for wanting it.

Companies tell lies all the time, in their marketing, in their dealings with state regulators, law firms, and job candidates.

3
Sunday, April 06, 2003

"Be prepared for a pay cut"??

If you paid them markets rates that wouldn't be necessary. And if you can't determine their market rate based on your own research into the state of your market and their talents I wonder if the persons doing the interviewing are incompetant?

In any case, this hardly sounds like a desirable place to work. What are the reasons why someone would want to take a pay cut and put up with your poisonous attitude to come work at such a firm? Free crack on Wednesdays? (A word to the wise, lay off it a bit...)

Dennis Atkins
Sunday, April 06, 2003

I like what Derek said. Cheers.

Prakash S
Monday, April 07, 2003

What I've done is widen my eyes a little and ask why they asked for my salary history, as if I'd never been asked that before.  Based on their response, I can figure out how to continue.  If they have a good, cool reason, I'd tell them.  If not, I might use Derek's excuse (if it's a good place except for HR) or more likely try to steer them to deciding whether to hire me first and then we can find a mutually agreeable salary.

I don't really want to lie because I push to make sure I'm not dependent on some dumb job for survival and happiness.

But it boggles the mind that a company that would laugh at the idea of opening their sourcecode, but act all shocked that I'd hesitate to give out salary history.

Tj
Monday, April 07, 2003

Salary history came up right away when I was hired recently.  I gave my current salary without a second thought.  I was hired at a 30% raise from that salary.  The most important consideration for getting paid what you're worth is to apply to jobs for which you are qualified.  All I had to do was explain why I was worth more, and they agreed without any problem.

Thinking in Java
Monday, April 07, 2003

My current employer had a clause in the contract that stipulates that I must spend my salary at the "company store", which, when I went to look at it, has a very sparse array of products that all seem very expensive.

Is this usual?

Also, rent for my desk is subtracted from my gross salary.

Niemand Jones
Monday, April 07, 2003

I'm glad that you wouldn't hire me Myron, doesn't sound like a place I'd like to work. 

It reminds me of my first job out of college when I didn't know any better.  Young, dumb, and full of eagerness at having my first real job.  I was also pretty happy when they gave me a 15% raise after my first review.  Right up until somebody contacted me about what would eventually become my second job at a much much larger salary. 

Yes, you can see where this is headed.  The sorry b#st#rds had lowballed my initial offer.  A 15% raise on top of crap is still pretty crappy.  Of course they countered that they would meet or beat my new offer.

Too late, damage was done.  I didn't want to work for a company that would take advantage of my naiveté.

And what's with the being prepared for a possible pay cut in 6 months?  I suggest you take some interviewing courses to find out how to gauge a person better.  You shouldn't be making such a gross mistake in evaluating a person that you have to make them take pay cuts so soon after hiring them.  Unless of course you're just taking advantage of them.

big bob
Monday, April 07, 2003

I interviewed at a software company recently. Breezed through the technical interviews, my friend worked there so that was a plus, and scored 90th percentile in the C standardized programming test they made me take. (That should have been a red flag right there.) The final interview was with the CEO of the company, bascially to meet him and to discuss salary requirements. After some small talk he asked me how much I made in my last job. I told him I would rather not discuss my previous salary. His eyes popped out of his head, and he haughtily stated that in all his years, he had never had someone refuse to divulge their salary. He then stated that he thought that this was a strategy for me to get a bigger salary. I told him to pay me what was fair for that position. He then said in that case, they would simply use my 7 years of expereince and my BS in Computer Science (he strongly emphasized the BS, what a jerk...) to come up with an offer. The interview ended quickly after this. The next day I got an email saying that could not make an offer at this time. Talking to my friend who worked there, he said the CEO had been upset at my lack of cooperation and had refused to extend an offer, though the developers I had interviewed with had all loved me. I know I made the right choice, who wants to work for someone like that?

Viper
Monday, April 07, 2003

Two jobs ago, they asked for salary history. I said no and then the slimeball manager low-balled me. This was at a low-class start-up.

At my current job, they ask for salary history. This time I gave it to them. This was at a well-known intermediate-sized company. The HR guy said, "wow! They were underpaying you!" Soon he gave me an offer that was about 120% of my previous salary.

I'm not sure what lesson to learn here, though.. :-\

runtime
Monday, April 07, 2003

I work for a large pharmaceutical corporation in the USA, and they require your last salary -- don't give it and you won't be considered.

Is this shortsighted? Yes. Is it fair? No. Do I agree with it? No. Is it being used to determine what to pay rather than paying fair market? Possibly. But this is a large corporation, and them's the rules. Play, or don't work here is probably their policy -- and in general there are plenty of candidates who do supply the information.

~ ~ DaveG

Dave G
Monday, April 07, 2003

Viper, you probably "screwed the pooch" as they would say in "The Right Stuff". The fact that you seemed to like or at least be compatible with the people that work there indicates that it probably would have been a decent working environment.

I agree with you on a moral basis of "correctness".  But for the millionth time, it's *their* company and they can legally require that all hirable candidates must love peanut butter and jelly sandwiches if they want.

The owner wanted you to turn over "vital" information. He was offended that you didn't comply. What he did is not right and is probably counterproductive, but he owns the place.  *All* small business owners I've worked with have had the attitude that they are lord and master of their little universe, and a perk of that status is being able to push people around and to be in a power position.
It's hell to get any business going, especially a tech business. One of the rewards appears to be able to tell other people what to do, within reason.

Hey, I know a small tech company whose owner demands that all employees be non smokers. Not just during work hours, but 24x7x365. Not just for insurance purposes but simply because he wants to impose his views on people over which he has control.

Bored Bystander
Monday, April 07, 2003

Who's screwing which pooch here by being a power-mongering asshole, again? :)

Brad (dotnetguy.techieswithcats.com)
Monday, April 07, 2003

The fact that you get along with the rest of the people that work there doesn't necessarily mean that it would be a good environment.  In my current job there is great camaraderie.  It is mainly forged out of an 'us vs. them' attitude.

big bob
Monday, April 07, 2003

Yehyehyeh... I AGREE with you guys, but the point is, no job and no owner is *perfect*.  That's why they call it "employment", and not "peer relationship with someone wholly reasonable who incidentally owns the means of your livelihood for the time being."

(When that definition changes, please post here and on Usenet so that I can quit this s***ty contracting with the commensurate paperwork, downtime and marketing hassles and get one of those new no-power-dynamic jobs. Yes, I'm being sarcastic. No real offense intended.)

About "power mongering assholes" - aren't they a trip? And sometimes they have the job you really want and/or need, and sometimes, once in the door, it doesn't really matter what they think.

PS: Aside - I wonder if Joel asks for salary history!?? Heh heh heh...

Bored Bystander
Monday, April 07, 2003

"Be prepared for a pay cut in six months"

WOW.

What a fantastic way of making sure staff turnover runs as high as possible. It's a good job all software engineers are identically skilled interchangeable cogs isn't it?


You know, I keep coming across these bone-headed companies that do things like this. I'd mind less if they were honest about it. It's not that they're bravely trying the confrontational style to management.. you know it might JUST work.

It's the lying. It's the pure, full-on, in-your-face lying that people are doing when they talk about valuing employees and then do things like that.

It's because these companies are run by people who do not understand where their value is. It's not in the buildings or the machinery, it's in the heads of their employees and there's no legal way to stop them taking it with them.

You hire someone for six months, that's the carry time during which they're costing, but not producing. Just as they become a productive employee, you turn them back into a cost because they'll spend the next six months writing CVs instead of code and then leave...

Good screaming god, how DO these companies survive?

Katie Lucas
Tuesday, April 08, 2003

<But for the millionth time, it's *their* company and they can legally require that all hirable candidates must love peanut butter and jelly sandwiches if they want. >

Actually no.  They can't legally require anything.  They can choose to filter on any criteria, so long as it in itself isn't unfairly discriminatory (under whatever local laws define as unfair). 

Filtering on irrelevant criteria in the end just hurts their recruitment, they'll never understand that and  they're more likely to fail in the process.  There's no need to encourage them though or pretend that that they have any leverage over candidates.

Simon Lucy
Tuesday, April 08, 2003

I don't think I've been asked for my salary history, but even if I did, that wouldn't prevent me from stating what my salary requirements are *now*.  And every time I've stated my terms, the company has accepted them.

Brent P. Newhall
Tuesday, April 08, 2003

*  Recent Topics

*  Fog Creek Home