Career Advice

How to Answer Current Salary Question

min read
Vera Chan

So you have found a role that you like and are applying for it. Or you have already applied and have come across a sticky question "what is your current salary?" This is something that gets asked by many employers to candidates. It could be during a job application, over the phone, or in-person. Regardless of the setting, we take a look at how to tackle the question and the best way of answering it.

Why Does a Hiring Manager Ask about your Current Salary

This question usually gets asked early on in the hiring process, such as before a job interview. In some places, such as the United States, this question is illegal to ask. Why? Because it can hamper on your opportunity for fair pay. The job could be for a different role or is set in a different environment. This all contributes to the final package, including the pay.

In most cases, a hiring manager wants to understand your situation better. Sometimes, they need to request for the latest salary to get approval for a hire. Or they need to justify a candidate offer they are about to propose to higher management. Yet, providing your salary does mean they gain ammunition to negotiate.

If it is an external recruiter, it is a fair question to ask, so that they can position you better to the company. An external recruiter's role is to find the balance between candidate and employer. That means they are helping both parties. Their goal is to find the best potential employee for a role at a company and the best position for the candidate.

What is the Difference Between "What is Your Current Salary" and "What is Your Expected Salary?"

What other forms does this question come in? A more appropriate question is "what is your expected salary?" This allows you to answer the question with a targeted response. Do your research beforehand on similar roles in the industry and you can find your market value. You will be able to go into the conversation with a stronger stance, knowing your worth and where you stand.

Remember, salaries are part of an employer's total compensation package. This can include other benefits, such as:

  • Annual leave
  • Bonuses
  • 13-month pay
  • Medical coverage
  • Shares

Put together, your salary is one piece of the pie. The other elements can boost your total pay package if they are attractive enough. In the end, it is up to you to decide if you are getting paid fairly for what you are worth.

How Should You Answer the Question About Your Current Salary

You will be faced with some circumstances where the question is point blank, such as in a job application. Can you avoid this question and should you? In some instances, such as In Hong Kong, an employer may well ask for proof of payment. So in any instance, if you decide to answer the question, do not lie. You will just find yourself in a pickle later down the line.

If you are on the phone or in a face-to-face interview with the employer, you may find that you need to toe the line. But first, try and swerve the topic to the expected salary instead. This will give you more leeway and room for negotiation as you are discussing a range at market value. In the end, it is up to you to decide on whether you want to pull the plug on the job opportunity. Refusing to answer this question, even in a polite manner, can mean that the employer will move on. There may be a pool of candidates in the waiting line. Or this may be a requirement from senior management that simply cannot be bypassed.

The Takeaway

Be sure that the total compensation package the company is offering you is fair. It should reflect your capabilities that you are bringing to the table. A package should be based on your performance and past experiences, not past earnings.

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