When Sasha hired me to work with her, she said she had never negotiated a salary and was woefully underpaid in her current position. She was in the midst of the interview process and, fortunately, they hadn’t yet discussed compensation.
Sasha knew how the salary history question can perpetuate the wage gap. She also recognized that if she disclosed her current salary, she’d be at a particularly large disadvantage. In addition to being underpaid in her current role, the job she was applying for was a significant increase in responsibility, in a much larger market and in a different industry.
She wanted to be paid based on the work she would be doing in the new role, not what she was currently making. But, she had no idea how to go about it and felt nervous about avoiding the question if she was asked. She reached out to me for guidance, and I coached her on the following strategies.
We talked through sample language like, “My current employer considers that information confidential,” and “I only share that information with my accountant.” While it felt a little funny for her at first, I’d play the role of HR manager, and Sasha practiced answering the question in her own words until she was more comfortable.
Sasha still wasn’t excited about the prospect of the conversation but felt better with a plan. With a better understanding of how this might play out, she made a more informed decision that the potential for a significant salary increase was worth discomfort in the interview.
Know your salary range and be prepared to pivot
Sasha went in armed with the salary range she was seeking based on market value. She looked at salary calculator data and talked with others in the industry to determine the “going rate” for the position.
If the HR manager continued to push for her salary history, Sasha could act like a political candidate and pivot to the question she wish they’d asked. If it came up, she planned to say,
“Based on my experience, the city, size of company, and type of work, I’m seeking a salary range of XYZ.”
I don’t generally advise sharing your range early in the interview process unless your potential employer asks for it, but when they ask about salary history, they’re clearly looking for you to name a number first.
Consider several scenarios
Sure enough, in the first interview, the HR manager (we’ll call her Amy) asked about Sasha’s current salary. Sasha used the language we’d practiced, and they moved on with the interview. After it was clear that Amy would keep inquiring about Sasha’s salary history, Sasha asked me, “If Amy brings salary history up again, can I just tell her?” I told Sasha that of course, it was her choice, but that I’d continue to try to avoid it.
Still, we planned for how Sasha could frame her salary in the event that Amy kept asking until Sasha answered. Sasha planned to reference being underpaid directly and say: “I accepted my current salary in part because the company provides extensive other benefits like stipends for my car, cell phone, etc. At this point in my career, I’m only considering positions in the range of XYZ.”
Ultimately, the HR manager asked about her salary history several times. She even asked Sasha, “Does [your current employer] consider bonus information confidential?” Sasha said yes. Because Sasha recognized her nervousness and practiced (out loud!), she was able to successfully avoid the salary history question completely. Each time she was asked later in the interview process, she pivoted to the more relevant question: what salary she was seeking.
Ultimately, using the strategies we discussed and negotiation success other key tools, Sasha began making 30% more than she had in her previous position, in addition to significant bonuses. She and I both believe this increase would have been unlikely had her new employer learned how much she was making in her previous position.
A version of this piece was originally published by Forbes.