a: you've definitely got the right idea to be honest about your current salary. potential employers can always find out what you earn and it would be the end of an opportunity if a company found out at a later date that you lied about your salary. “it reflects your ethics,” says sheryl spanier, an executive career management consultant in new york.
to get what you think you deserve, you'll definitely want to know why you have been underpaid. is it because you have had marginal performance, is the company or industry struggling or is the company bad at managing salaries? perhaps you stayed on because of challenging assignments even though raises were paltry and you see now that the best way to make more money is to jump to another firm. once you get a handle on why you've be underpaid, you'll be better able to explain it honestly in an interview.
recruiters and human resources personnel ask this question because they want to know where you fit into their compensation structure -- not necessarily to figure out how little they can pay you. but, there are ways to get around giving a specific number at the beginning of the interview or even shifting the focus of the question when asked about your current salary. the first thing to keep in mind is that companies are most interested in your experience. they want to know that the person they're offering a position to can handle the everyday challenges on the job. “be very clear about how your experience and talent fits directly with the new position,” says andrea eisenberg, a senior human resources consultant in new york.
then, when the conversation gets around to a hiring manager's question about what you're making, paul gavejin, managing director of total compensation solutions, a compensation consulting firm in armonk, n.y. suggests asking a few questions in return. you might say: “i'd be happy to tell you, but first, i'd really like to know what you think this job is worth?” or “what is the salary range for this job?” you could also reply with by shifting the subject and saying, “i'm looking at jobs in this salary range.” it might also help to adjust your thinking when you respond. think in terms of total compensation, and not just salary alone. to that end, you might respond, “my salary is x, my annual bonus is y and the employer contribution to my 401(k) is z. all totaled, my current compensation package is worth $(x+y+z)。”
another tactic might be to tell the interviewer that you appreciate that they have asked you about your compensation but that you won't be making your decision about the job based solely on that criteria alone, says ms. spanier. “tell them you're looking for an opportunity for growth, career development, and the ability to make a contribution,” she says. you could also say that the job you did for ten years is a very different position than the one for which you are applying, even though the skills are similar.
clearly, you only want to deflect the question up to a point, otherwise you'll start to annoy the hiring manager. the idea is to try to get as much information as you need about the position and salary range before you disclose your previous salary. “the goal is not to get screened out before you can fully explore your candidacy,” says ms. spanier.