Workplace Rights

Weekly (5/21/18)

Topic of the Week  Blood Money: "What was your previous salary?"

  • DO blame your old company.
  • DO say the jobs are different in key ways.
  • DO say you'd be willing to discuss with a job offer.
  • DON'T give a specific number, but provide a range.

 Blood Money: "What was your previous salary?"

If there is one rule that always applies at work, it's that you should always delay answering the "How much did you earn on your last job?" question for as long as you can. Talking about salary before they actually offer you the job only weakens your case. Which reminds me of when a teacher at Texas' Carrizo Springs High School was placed on leave after a student was stapled to the classroom wall.

Like that poor teenager, your last salary doesn't have to be stapled to you. Below I'll explain three Do's and one Don't for increasing your salary when you get offered a new job. For more, check out "101 Toughest Interview Questions" by Daniel Porot (Ten Speed, 2009).

DO blame your old company. If you are asked about your previous salary one strategy suggested by Daniel Porot is to blame your old company and say that they had a policy prohibiting you from discussing your salary. Okay, this might be a slight fib, but if it gets you out of telling them what your former salary was, it served its purpose. Why should you work so hard to not tell them your former salary? For the simple reason that it can probably only hurt you in your negotiations over a new salary. If your salary is too high, it probably will eliminate you from consideration. If it was too low, it could artificially depress the amount of money they'd be wiling to pay you.

DO say the jobs are different in key ways. Another excuse you can use is that the job you had and the new job is like comparing apples to oranges. They are so different that the salary conversation is mostly irrelevant. Again, don't lie, only use this line if the jobs really are different. And be prepared to outline the differences if you are asked. But this is a dodge that I've heard has worked for people that I know.

DO say you'd be willing to discuss with a job offer. This response takes courage on your part. If they ask about salary tell them that you'll be willing to discuss it once they offer you the job. You have to not only have courage to say this, but you have to have the sense that you are a very attractive candidate to the company that you're interviewing with. But only try this if you are really on top of your game.

DON'T give a specific number, but give a range. Okay, you've tried everything and they still want to know your former salary. You still have one bullet left in your gun. Don't give them a specific dollar amount, but give them the range that your company used when paying employees for your job. Again, the purpose of this is to give you wiggle room when, hopefully, you start to negotiate your salary in your new job.

Follow these tips and you should be able to avoid being stapled to your last salary.

Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the Check the revised edition of his Wall Street Journal best seller, "The Boss's Survival Guide." If you have a question for Bob, contact him via

Thought of the Week

"When people are open and want to understand more about my experiences and why this is meaningful for me, then that's a great place to start."

–journalist Makkah Ali on observing Ramadan in the workplace.

Weekly Comic by Jerry King

Weekly Comic by Jerry King

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