How to answer the question “what is your current salary?”

Here is something that a lot of career coaches, salary negotiation people and random strangers miss. Salary negotiation starts the moment you answer that horrible little question “what is your current salary?” or “please provide a salary range."

But let me start by explaining this process to you. It is a process that corporations explain in ways that don’t make any sense. When HR people say that they “need to know you are in their hiring range” that means they don’t know what they are talking about and have been programmed to spout things they don’t understand.

Pay transparency means that companies have to be open and honest about their salary ranges. They are required to tell you that range and they are not allowed to ask you your current salary. It is actually legislation in several states and is close to being legislation in Ontario (once Doug Ford moves the hell on). Why? It is illegal in many places as it is a proven tactic to pay women and POC less.

Hold on what? Yes — you heard me right. IT IS A TACTIC USED TO PAY YOU LESS. As a hiring manager I know exactly the range of money we have to hire you. Your current salary means NOTHING TO ME.

Ok — now that you are all fired up…how do you answer these ridiculous questions when they are asked of you because it is still legal in many places. Worry not friend I have a list!

  1. If you are required to put in a salary range on a form that only lets you put in one number instead of putting 50 000. Put this. 50275 What does that mean (it means 50–75K)
  2. If you have to pick a range — pick the higher one than you think you should. Women tend to undervalue themselves. Pick the higher one.
  3. If you have to provide a range — make it an obnoxiously big one. They wanna play a game — go for it. 55–100K.
  4. If you are asked by a recruiter for your current salary, try one of the following answers:

a) I would like you to provide me with the salary range since you are the one who called me

b) I am not going to answer that as my current salary is not relevant to this new role.

c) I am not going to answer that as requesting my current salary is a tactic used to under pay POC and women. (prepare for a bumbling apology and/or awkward silence)

d) Can you tell me the salary range for this role? I want to make sure it isn’t below what I am looking for.

and my favourite:

e) Can you explain to me why that is relevant? (which will be some bullshit answer) and then you can insert answer c.

I am not telling you this as someone who has just read all these studies and is spouting them back out at you. I am telling you this as someone who has been a hiring manager for well over a decade, a career coach for over 800 women and an expert in pay transparency. I know this because I have seen it — for years.

Ok now go try this.

Allison Venditti

Career Coach, HR Expert, salary negotiation whisperer, pay transparency and equity advocate. Founder of My Parental Leave and Moms at Work, Canada's largest organization committed to helping women earn more money, land better jobs and build community. Allison was named The Globe and Mail Report on Business Top 50 Changemakers 2022, is a regular speaker and media expert with over 100 interviews in 2021.

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