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Ask Sue
A Weekly Q&A Column About Professionalism, Etiquette and Problems in the Workplace
by Sue Morem

Salary Negotiations

Dear Sue: What is the appropriate way to respond when asked about salary history or salary requirements when applying for a job? 

- Curious

Sue Says: I asked Lawrence Alter, president of The Arthur Group, a Minneapolis career development company, to help answer your question. He does not recommend exposing your existing, previous, or desired compensation levels. When you tell someone what you are earning or what you wish to be earning, then you could be limiting yourself. It is not uncommon for a candidate to be eliminated by their previous or desired level of compensation because the employer feels that they are not an affordable option, or that they have not been at a high enough level of responsibility.

If the figure disclosed is on the low side, it could limit the amount of salary the new employer might be willing to offer. For example, if an employer has a budgeted range of $65,000 to $70,000 and you say that you've been earning $55,000 or would like to earn $55,000, you are not going to be effective at negotiating. Chances are you will be brought in at or below the minimum of the budgeted range.

Today there is a concept that if an individual (especially seeking a management opportunity) cannot effectively negotiate their value to a company, that they will not be an effective negotiator for the company.

Alter offers these additional suggestions:

  1. Never include salary history in a resume or application, even when requested. If your background is strong enough and you meet the majority of the qualifications, the company will most likely contact you anyway. 
  2. When filling out an application and you are asked for current compensation, write, "Will discuss in interview." If asked for desired compensation, indicate "negotiable." 
  3. When asked about your current salary in an interview, you can respond by saying, "Frankly, I would like to see my income with your company based on the responsibilities of this position and what you believe my skills are worth to your company, not on what I have been earning." Then follow with this question, "What is the range you have budgeted for this position?" Or you might respond by saying "I'm really not comfortable addressing my previous [current) income, because it isn't a fair indicator of the strengths I bring to this new opportunity." Then follow by asking, " What are you looking to compensate someone -- what is your range?" 
  4. If you are asked about expected or desired salary in an interview, you can respond by saying, "I don't have an absolute figure in mind. I recognize that my compensation will involve a package including benefits and possibly incentives, so I am very willing to negotiate with you. I have no doubt that if we are comfortable with each other, and you want me as a part of your team, that salary will not be an issue that keeps us apart." Again, and importantly, follow with the question, "What is your range?" or "What are you looking to pay someone for this responsibility?"

Coming to an interview armed with responses to questions you are likely to be asked will not only put you at ease, but will enable you to present yourself more effectively.
You don't want to your responses to sound rehearsed, or as though you are giving "canned" responses. Use these suggestions as a guide. Create and practice responses in your own words that you will be comfortable using.

Alter has written a book, Tomorrow is Today, which is a behavior modification guide to manage the job search process. For additional information or to order the book, you can e-mail him at

Sue Morem is a professional speaker, trainer and syndicated columnist. She is author of the newly released 101 Tips for Graduates and How to Gain the Professional Edge, Second Edition. You can contact her by email at or visit her web site at

Send Sue your questions by clicking here: Ask Sue
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