Job Interview Question

What did you earn at your last job?

How To Answer Interview Questions Series

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For most candidates, “What was your salary?” is a very uncomfortable, Too Much Information-kind of a question.  But all potential employers are going to ask at some point in the process, usually very early on, sometimes as early as the initial application.  So why do they ask?  And how do you handle it?

If your recruiter or Human Resources asks, it’s because they’re trying to make sure you won’t embarrass them by refusing an offer over money.  If you make $60,000 a year and this job only pays $40,000, chances are you won’t take it and they want to know about that up front.  They get yelled at if they get hiring managers involved with a candidate they can’t afford.

If you manage to avoid it during the application process, the hiring manager will probably ask you in the interview.   The reasoning is the same.  They want to know, “Can we afford you?”

If you feel strongly about not revealing that information, you can try saying something like, “Can you help me understand what information you’re really asking for here?  I’m not very comfortable discussing my past salary because it doesn’t really relate to this job.  There are a lot of other factors involved than just straight numbers.  I would love to answer questions about my skills and qualifications for this job.  I think this is a great company, and I’m excited about the possibility of working here.  I know that if we agree that I’m the best fit for the position, we’ll be able to come to an agreement on salary.”

how to answer interview questions q54Or you could avoid answering by asking a question: “What’s the salary range for this position?”  When they tell you, assure them that you’re comfortable with that range and if they make you an offer, you won’t refuse it over the money.

If you try to avoid answering, you may face opposition and may even lose the opportunity over it.  But if you keep the opportunity and get the offer, then you’re in a very strong negotiating position, which is a great place to be.

The whole process is a dance and the steps are not hard-and-fast moves.  You’ve got to take the temperature of your own situation and see what you think you can manage doing.

In my personal opinion, it’s not a big deal to tell them how much you made at your last job.  Why?  It’s easy to research salary and find out what the going rate is for this job and know if what they’re offering is in the ball park.  And, it’s easy to argue that what you made on your last job doesn’t have any bearing to what you’ll make at this one, because they’re different jobs with different responsibilities.  Usually this new job is going to have more responsibilities and a higher level of authority, so it only makes sense that you’d be paid more.

In my experience as a recruiter for well over a decade that most companies have a range they’re offering for a position and they won’t make an offer outside of that range, even if what you made before was below it.

If they do try to lowball you, you have options.  Now you’re in the negotiation process.  They want you, but you haven’t come to an agreement on the price of doing business yet.  I strongly encourage you to read Jack Chapman’s book, Negotiating Your Salary:  How to Make $1000 a Minute.  It’s the best book I’ve ever seen for gaining insight on this subject.


If you’d like to practice your interview answers with professional feedback, or you need help with specific answers, I’d love to work with you as your interview coach.

Find out more about my special offer for personal 1:1 coaching or my group coaching membership that meets online Thursday evenings at 7:00pm CST!



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