Yes, a number of states don’t allow employers to ask your current salary, but they can still ask what your salary expectations are as part of the interview process. Here’s how to prepare an informed answer that will sound reasonable and hopefully get you what you want.
If you are in a state that allows the sharing of salary history, and you feel you are being paid competitively, then it certainly doesn’t hurt you to share this information. Unless you’ve been at your current firm only a short time, your base salary will probably be an odd number like $92,650. Share that exact number. It adds to the credibility of the information you are providing. When you give $90,000 or round up to $95,000, there is always the assumption that that you aren’t giving your “real” salary.
If your current salary is significantly lower or higher than it should be, be prepared to discuss why. “My company has lower base salaries because our bonus’ are significantly higher than industry average.” “I took a leave of absence for two years to care for a sick relative, keeping my salary a bit depressed.” “I’ve been at my current employer so long that I haven’t gotten the competitive bumps one gets in a job change. Part of the reason I am now looking is to rectify that salary shortfall.” The law also gives you an out to even answering this question, and most informed HR people won’t ask it.
If you are put on the spot and asked for your current salary and you don’t want to share, turn it around and say “I’d love to discuss my salary expectations. I’m looking for….” If they persist in trying to find our your current compensation and it isn’t legal in their state, very carefully say, “My understanding is that isn’t a legal question. Your state law doesn’t allow current compensation discussions, just salary expectations.”
At some point in the hiring process, you may be asked to provide a pay stub or even some stock or 401K ledger to confirm what you say. Interestingly, some states allow current compensation questions AFTER an offer is made. So, while you don’t have to be completely revealing in the salary discussion, you do have to be completely honest.
Make sure your salary expectations are in-line with reality. Yes, it is always nice to make more money but not if you are already being paid the top of your position’s salary range. Visit payscale.com, glassdoor.com and salary.com for information on salary ranges by job type, title, company and location.
Cost of Living Differences
Be careful when taking into account and discussing cost of living differences. Yes, New York City and San Francisco are very expensive but both of those cities believe “everyone” wants to live there and they do not compensate for how costly it is to be there. Often employers view resistance based on cost of living differences as a cover for the candidate not really wanting to move in the first place. Be careful how adamant you are on your salary expectations based on COL calculations.
What to Say
After you have thought through and researched all the information above, formulate how you will talk about your salary expectations. Ideally you want to offer a range of salary you would accept for the position. The low end of that range should be a number you would accept 90% of the time but there is a 10% chance, given other information about the job, you might not take it. The high end of the range might be your dream salary. Make sure it is within the realm of reason but it can be a stretch. Around the midpoint should be the salary you expect to receive based on your research and what your gut is telling you.
Do not select this range based on what your “friend” tells you. You are the one working in this particular career niche. You are the one who has done their research. You know what is reasonable and appropriate for this job change and this job. “Everyone gets a 20% raise in a job change.” “If the cost of living difference is 20%, you should get 20% plus 20% more for changing jobs.” “You are so desperate, just take the job for whatever salary they will give you.” None of these approaches are living in reality.