This Question Should be Banned From All Job Interviews.

This Question Should be Banned From All Job Interviews

“What was your salary at your current or last job?”

I know… You hate this question too.


Why is this a bad question?

Imagine going to a farmers’ market and telling the vendor that you want to buy three oranges. Can you imagine your reaction if the vendor’s response was, “OK. But first, tell me how much you want to pay for these oranges, or how much you were willing to pay for them the last time?”

That’s an example of how ridiculous this question is. The farmer wants ME to tell HIM how much HIS oranges are worth to me?

It’s a great question for the farmer (or the employer), but an absolutely terrible question for the consumer (or job candidate).

Reasons employer will give for why they are asking that question.


We want to see if we’re in the same salary range so we don’t waste each other’s time.


It’s our company policy to ask that question. We can’t move forward without an answer.


The real reasons they ask this question are:

  1. To give you a competitive offer. They want to make sure that they’re paying you more than your last job in order to make it enticing enough for you to leave.
  2. To avoid wasting your time. They really don’t want to go through the entire process, only to find out that they want to pay you $10k less than you’re making now and have no room to negotiate.

I do believe that these are fair reasons for asking the question.

However, be warned that when you provide this information you’ll be leaving a lot of money on the table, especially if you were underpaid at your last job. You are setting yourself up to continue being underpaid for the rest of your career until you learn to answer this question properly.

Don’t try to negotiate once you’ve already joined the company. It doesn’t work.


Is it legal?

Unfortunately, it is. Depending on the employer’s policies and your country of residence, it may also be legal for them to get salary information from your previous employers during a background check.


How do you answer this question?

Here is a script that I use that will work well for you too. Every time an employer persists in order to get an answer, progress to the next line, in exact order.

  1. “Great question. Unfortunately, I don’t feel comfortable giving that information at this time. I really just want to see if I’m a fit for the job and the company. Once I get through the process I’ll have a better idea of whether I’m a fit, and then we can figure it out when it comes to salary. At this point I really don’t feel comfortable because I need to understand more about what the expected job duties are.”
  2. “Understood. I also want to make sure that we don’t waste each other’s time. Would you mind sharing with me the range for this job? That way I can tell you if it’s something I will consider.” (Make sure to ask this question and be as silent as possible. Put them on the spot.)
  3. “You would like to know what my target salary is instead? Again, it is really hard for me to give this information without speaking to more of the people who I would work with at your company.”
  4. “You can’t move on the process until I give you a number?” (This is where you start looking at your phone in disbelief that the employer is THAT persistent.) “Ok. Take this information with a grain of salt. I still want to understand more about the position. It’s the job I am concerned about much more than the salary. I want to make sure that I’m clear about that. I am looking to make at least $100,000 a year. I know this is probably higher than you want to pay for this position, and that is why I want to move forward with the process and learn more about the job. (Editor’s note: ALWAYS give a reasonably high number. If you know that the highest they’ll pay will be 75k, tell them you’re looking to make 80k.)

Liz Ryan also has some good answers here on how to respond to this question.

You should never, ever lie, under any circumstances.


What if you’re afraid the company will pull the offer if you’re being difficult? Isn’t it a bad economy to be this difficult?

Imagine you’re back at the farmers’ market and the vendor is asking you how much you’re willing to pay for his oranges.

The candidates who are afraid to ruffle feathers will say, “Man, I REALLY need those oranges. I’ll pay anything for those oranges. You’re the only vendor who is selling oranges at this market and the price doesn’t really matter. I just really want the oranges. I don’t want to make you mad. I’ll buy them for whatever you’re selling them for!”

How much do you think you’ll get charged for those oranges? You’re right if you said you’ll get ripped off. What do you think the vendor thinks about you? He thinks you’re stupid. He would’ve GLADLY sold you the oranges for market rate, but now he’s forced you into paying more.

This is unfortunately how most candidates reply, thinking that they’re cooperating. In reality they’re being viewed as being less confident, and possibly as candidates who are applying just because they can’t find anything else. That stigma will follow them throughout the entire process.

Long story short, you must be confident during this stage of the process because cooperating does NOT increase your chances of getting the job. If anything, it may hurt it. Read this LinkedIn article about why you’re not getting paid enough.

My proposed semi-serious solution: The employer must read you your Miranda Rights before asking this question.

  • You have the right to remain silent when asked about your last salary.
  • Anything you say or do will be used against you in a court of compensation negotiation.
  • You have the right to consult a career coach before speaking to Human Resources and to have a career coach present during questioning now or in the future.
  • If you cannot afford a career coach, one will be appointed for you before any questioning, if you wish.
  • If you decide to answer any questions now, without a career coach present, you will still have the right to stop answering at any time until you talk to a career coach.
  • Knowing and understanding your rights as I have explained them to you, are you willing to answer my questions without a career coach present?


PS: Read the only resignation letter template you’ll ever need.