By: Perri Capell

After my column on whether to state an exact salary or a range on a job application was republished, readers again wrote to say they disagreed with my answer.

A reader wanted to know whether it’s best to give an exact amount or state a range when the application requests salary history and requirements. I responded by saying that it’s advisable to supply the exact amount you earned.

One reason this column generated responses is that I focused more on legal issues surrounding job applications than on pay strategies. My point was that candidates who lie about pay or other facts on applications and are hired can be fired later on if the company discovers the falsehood.

This point is still important. However, from more research, I’ve learned that you can provide a range and still truthfully respond to the salary history question.

One way is to add up the value of different elements of your entire pay package, such as your potential annual bonuses, stock options and expected merit raises. Since the total is based on variable factors, not exact, you can provide them as a range. For example, in the space for salary history, you could say, “$70,000 to $75,000 total cash pay based on a salary of $60,000,” or “total compensation ranging from $100,000 to $130,000 in my past three jobs.”

As far as stating your salary requirements on job applications, find out what the typical average pay is for the opening in your geographic area. If it’s adequate for you, list your required salary as a range encompassing the average market rate for the job. If the average pay is $85,000, you could say your requirement is a salary of “$85,000 to $95,000.”

Since the typical increase for changing jobs is 10%, another way to answer might be to say, “10% over my prior year’s earnings.” You also could say your requirement is “market within the area” and then see if the employer asks for more, says Annaly McPherson, director of human resources for Zetron Inc., a communications company in Redmond, Wash.

“There is no hard and fast rule about this subject,” she says. “You need to find out what the company wants to know and then answer in a way that doesn’t paint you into a corner if you really want this job.”

Lastly, I was incorrect to say that providing a salary history doesn’t tell an employer anything because the company already has an established pay range for the job and therefore knows how much it wants to pay.

Companies ask what you are earning or have earned because they sometimes weed out candidates who earned more or less than the salary range, say HR executives. They fear that if you earned a lot more you might not accept a lower offer. And earning a lot less sometimes tells an employer that you don’t have enough experience.

Readers’ comments follow.


You point out it would start the relationship on the wrong foot if a prospective employee withholds or exaggerates salary information. When I am required to provide my complete salary history, can I ask the hiring manager for a copy of a pay stub, W-2 form or annual salary verification for an employee in the same position? Only then would there be full and equal disclosure on both sides to start the relationship on the right foot.


I agreed with very little of your article. I’ve always looked at pay as very personal. The only people who know what I earn are my boss and my wife. My best friend doesn’t know, nor do my co-workers, parents, siblings, etc. Why is a potential employer’s business?
I figure that potential employers want this information for two reasons: 1) to reassure them that I do what I stated on my resume and 2) to make sure they don’t pay me too much more than my current employer.

Assuming I am correct, I find both these reasons appalling and disrespectful. A good hiring manager and HR department should be able to tell based on my interview and references if I am telling the truth on my resume about my job function. And who’s to say I’m not grossly underpaid? If I wasn’t, I probably wouldn’t be looking for another job.

On the second point, if a job pays $70,000 a year and an employer finds out I make $50,000 now, the odds of them offering me $70,000 are slim to none. More than likely, they’ll offer me $60,000 and say, “He should be happy because it’s 20% more than he makes now.” It’s the job of HR to get the most talent for the least amount of money.

I don’t want to work for a company that demands to know my salary. In fact, I have walked away from the negotiating table twice because of this demand. I want to work for a company that wants me and will do whatever it takes to get me. I have no respect for anything else.

Have a question about job hunting or career management? Send it to Perri Capell. If you don’t want your name used in our column, please indicate that. Due to the volume of mail received, we regret that we cannot answer every question.

About Joseph Doonie

Joe has over 35 years of experience in management and as a recruiter. He also maintains extensive experience in financial reporting, investment evaluations, financial systems applications, process reviews, and corporate governance. Joe has also assisted numerous clients by completing special studies relating to claims and underwriting performance. For the last 20 years he has been offering his professional recruiting and Resource Consulting services for his clients. He holds a Bachelors degree in Business Administration, Chartered Insurance Professional and is a Certified General Accountant.

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