Discussing Your Previous Salary With Potential Employers

Dear J.T. & Dale: I worked for a bank in the mortgage department until the real estate market bottomed out and I was laid off. After five months, I took a job for $35K less than I'd been making. I stayed till I was able to find a better-paying job, and worked my way up to $70K, then was laid off last month. Now, as soon as a potential employer asks what I was making, they say they are looking to pay $20K less. I try to explain a lower salary is OK, but they believe I'll only stay until the economy improves. While this may be true, how do I get around it? — Pat J.T.: When discussing your previous salary, I would say some version of: "I was making $70,000 at my last job, but I understand now I'll be earning less. I enjoy feeling successful at work, and that means much more to me than trying to have the same size paycheck." Dale: And then you give them the look Puss In Boots uses in the Shrek movies and hope they believe the little lie you just tried to pass like a counterfeit twenty. Or, you could startle them with the truth: "My last employer was very generous — maybe too generous, because they had to lay off a lot of people." If the interviewer persists in wanting numbers — and they will because it's a rare moment in life when you get to force people to blurt out their salaries, and few people can pass it up — you say: "They paid me $70,000, and in this market, I think I was overpaid. What do you think?" They'll say that yes, the going rate is more like $50,000. You tell them that you've done some research and you agree. Now, look at what you've accomplished: You and your new boss have agreed on the right pay. J.T.: I like that. You come across as agreeable, not greedy. Even so, the hiring manager might straight-out ask if you plan to leave as soon as you can make more elsewhere. If so, you can say: "I've learned throughout the years that more pay can come with the risk of being laid off. I'm focused on finding a job where I can feel good about the contributions I make and where my salary doesn't make me vulnerable to layoffs. I'd like to stay here and grow, long-term." True, right? And instead of a big-eyed, sad look, a winning smile would be good. © 2012 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.
Feel free to send questions to J.T. and Dale at advice@jtanddale.com or write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th Street, 15th Floor, New York, NY 10019.
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