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Why Do Employers Ask for Salary Histories?

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‘JT & Dale Talk Jobs’ is the largest nationally syndicated career advice column in the country and can be found at JTandDale.com.

Dear J.T. & Dale: Why do employers ask job applicants for their salary histories? I know the standard answer is to screen out those with unrealistic salary expectations. But I am uncomfortable giving out such personal information to virtual strangers. — Richard

J.T.: If you really don’t want to give out that information, you are within your rights to refuse to do so. On the other side, hiring managers are completely within their rights to write you off as a candidate. Look at it this way: You are a business-of-one selling your services. Would you buy from a company that, when asked “What does it cost?” responds by saying, “We’re not telling you until you agree to buy”? To make the sale, you are going to have to name your price.

Dale: Well said. I suspect that part of your reluctance comes from not wanting to give away negotiating position. There’s an old saying, “The first one to name a number loses.” First, that isn’t true, but I don’t believe employers who ask for salary history do so as a negotiation ploy; rather, it is simply a part of screening. Give them the history, get in there and set the hook, get the offer, and then be a good negotiator.

J.T.: One more point: Not only is it efficient for employers to screen out unaffordable candidates, it’s good for the candidates, too. Would you want to go through all the trouble of interviewing, only to find that you were out of their price range? Instead of letting the question rankle you, let it reassure you that if you get interviewed, you and the company are in general agreement about potential salaries.


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Jeanine “J.T.” Tanner O’Donnell is a professional development specialist and the founder of the consulting firm, jtodonnell.com, and of the blog, CAREEREALISM.com. Dale Dauten resolves employment and other business disputes as a mediator with AgreementHouse.com.

Please visit them at jtanddale.com, where you can send questions via e-mail, or write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St, 15th Floor, New York, NY 10019.

© 2010 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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