What to Do When Asked About Your Previous Salary

Posted by in Career Advice

Score! You’ve landed an interview for the job of your dreams. You meet with the boss, and all goes favorably until you are asked the dreaded question, “Tell me about your salary history.” Or maybe you’re reading about an opportunity that you’d love to pursue, but the ad states that resumes without salary histories will not be considered.

Naming a low salary can cause a potential employer to write you off as not being worth what the company is willing to pay. Instead, it may get you the job, but at a lower price than they were going to offer. If your previous salary was higher than the company is willing to pay, you may not get a call back on the assumption that you would not be interested anyway. What to do?

One thing not to do is lie. If your previous salary is not what you are willing to accept now, don’t be tempted to simply beef it up a bit. It’s not worth the potential hassle that lying can cause.

You could try offering your salary requirement instead of your salary history. Tell the hiring manager what you are expecting to make instead of what you have made in the past. If that doesn’t work, you could attempt to convince the hiring manager that your previous salary has nothing to do with the present opportunity. This is true, of course, but may not go over well.

In the end, you may end up needing to give out the info or risk losing out on a job offer. In this type of situation, it’s good to have a plan, and to know your bottom line. If you know that your previous salary was higher or lower than what you expect from the new position, then say so. Let your salary history be a part of where you were, but don’t let it necessarily determine where you are going.


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  • Gayle B.
    Gayle B.

    Good to know.


    I think you gave sound advice on what to do when asked about previous salary .

  • Rita M.
    Rita M.

    Thanks. Makes perfect sense.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Anthony thanks for your comment. So true - regardless of what healthcare system we are using, nurses will always be needed. And it's true - there's more to life than money. Negotiating for better working hours or more vacation time, etc. can really make a world of difference. Good luck with your search.


    Fortunately, as the demand is going to continue to go up in the nursing field because so many are either retiring, switching careers or moving to management and administrator jobs. Many nurses are unionized and maybe that is why salaries are being held up. Is your market working freely for you, are you specialized, are you seeking skill improvement, etc. Many organizations will pay higher salaries for these type of people because of demand. Way I see it Nurses are needed everywhere as I'm searching myself. Sell yourself and negotiate other meaningful, valued benefits as well if possible. Non monetary benefits can sometimes be just as valuable.

  • Rhonda T.
    Rhonda T.

    And, I totally agree with Nancy and Donna!

  • Rhonda T.
    Rhonda T.

    Helpful information.

  • Yolanda T.
    Yolanda T.

    Very helpful

  • Harrison Ajiamah
    Harrison Ajiamah

    Very helpful and enlightening

  • Denise  A.
    Denise A.

    Thanks for the information. I am branching into a different field.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Donna thank you for the insight. It is true that all salaries have gone down - not just nursing salaries. I agree with what you have said but the truth of the matter is - if we want to work in whatever industry - we have to accept that they just don't pay us what they did 10 years ago. Sure, I made a 6 figure salary back then, too, but times are not like that. Maybe you do need a national organization to fight for your rights. Maybe you need to unionize. But the harsh truth is that if you won't accept the salary offered, someone else will. So you have to decide if you are going to stick to your principles and not accept a position because the salary is not what you want or are you going to accept it and work your way back up the salary scale? I wish you all the best!

  • Donna L.
    Donna L.

    Very unfortunate that nurses are placed in such a degrading position. (Too many) companies are not looking for the best skills, hardest worker, loyalty or best personality. They are simply looking to fill a position the cheapest way they can. I have to show my tax docs to get people to believe what I was being paid 6 fig for years. I did work a lot ( Illinois) and everyone loved me being on the job, because no one had to worry about things being done perfectly. I find it insulting that nursing carries such a tremendous responsibility along with dedication and many hours of unpaid work only to have salaries go down. I discourage whoever I know from going into nursing and to look at ALL healthcare fields because of the politics of pay and lack of respect for our profession as a whole and The Healthcare Industry is unable to function without NURSES! They have the money to pay us well but choses to play this insulting salary game. I tell them this is why they can't keep people, people cancel. don't show up, lack the skills needed etc. Patients deserve the best care possible. I did not go to college to be treated like a Wal Mart employee. People tell me I should not be in healthcare for the money, and I am not. I simply want my fair share of profits for doing my job exceptionally well. Nurses rarely get discounts in life like the Military, yet Nurses care for the well and sick, keep people alive, save lives , and often risk OUR lives by exposure to dangerous situations or people. Nursing was once a very well paid elite field. Now we are just used/leveraged for stockholders. How many of you will be getting a pension from anywhere? How many of you have aches and pains and for the Night Shift Angels how many have insomnia? So when someone asks me what I made I tell them a lot, they don't want to know and I realize times are different but... I have never missed a scheduled day of work in 38 years, I have always worked every holiday. I ask them how much is the blessing of a loyal competent nurse worth to them? I also tell them I am interviewing them and their company. I am also looking for a good fit. I have bills to pay and responsibilities of my own. I tell them I want the most they are able to pay and if they find I am not worth it then lower my salary, but I always end up getting raises quickly. If they don't want to pay you a decent wage move on. Let that be their problem and trust me it will be. When I see the same companies looking all the time, sometimes it is due to need/growth other times it is because they mistreat nurses and pay is low. I am looking into other fields, despite my love of patient care. I have to consider my lifetime financial needs. As nurses we all know how expensive healthcare can be. We have to plan. Nurses need to stick together. The companies meet and decide to lowball pay. We need National Organizations and for everyone to participate. Good Luck to all and flip the script on these cheap greedy employers. Just don't work for them. When One settles for low pay It Effects Us All.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Lurine it certainly does seem to be the reality today. The best advice I can offer is to do a salary search for the position and area. You could try www.salary.com. That way you can have a general range to offer when the question is asked. Bear in mind that they have done their research also and have a salary range in mind for you. Hopefully you can come up to a good agreement for both you and the employer. Just be careful that you don't price yourself out. And know that, even though you have given them a range, you can still negotiate salary upon a job offer.


    The key is to know what to place on the job application, when unable to put a range or a "negotiable/flexible" response. That is where the initial inquiry starts and you are "required" to answer in order to move to the next question. It is absurd these days when the employers do not provide flexibility in answering such questions on a application that already provides the answers to the job requirements for skill sets, experience and more, but it's a reality.

  • Kimberly Carter
    Kimberly Carter

    Thank you for this valuable information. I will benefit from this in my future interviews to come.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Dianne it is great that you have upgraded yourself but the world is different today. There is nothing wrong with having expectations of a higher salary but don't let that desire cloud your judgment when it comes to applying for jobs. When we put it into our heads that we should command $XXXXXX, then we take ourselves out of the running for a job that is perfect for us even if the salary is a bit lower. Those huge salaries from ten years ago are no longer. You can certainly ask for a larger salary than the one advertised for the position but don't be surprised if you don't get the position. For example, just ten years ago I was earning $60/hr but today - I am lucky to earn 1/3 of that. We wish you all the best in your job search.

  • Dianne M.
    Dianne M.

    I have upgraded myself tremendously, and will expect a higher pay. Food for thought given is reasonable to consider.

  • June E.
    June E.

    I am branching out to another field of nursing. With what I was getting before, I am open, willing to accept an offer. After that probationary period, I will asses if the acquired knowledge Vs. pay is justifiable. I am not afraid to negotiate for I have been there and done that, so they say. ....

  • Jane O.
    Jane O.

    Liked these suggestions. I lost out on a good job because I was too high in my amount when asked directly by possible employer.

  • Stephanie B.
    Stephanie B.

    Dana N. Did you get the position and the salary you wanted?

  • Parmod D.
    Parmod D.

    its something you selling and HR manager buying and all depend on conditions

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Noe - thanks for your insight. Knowing what the market is paying is a good way to go in. Do your research ahead of time so that you give the hiring manager a range. He/she will appreciate that you have done your homework and will be happier to accommodate you. Good luck!

  • Noe M.
    Noe M.

    Focus on you highest recent pay. Know the National and local salary averages and add 5-10%. Know an per hour and annual salary ranges. Ask the hiring manager "What is the value you place to the position?"

  • Dana N.
    Dana N.

    I said to the employer "This is what I need to live on. "Anything less I can't accept the offer.

  • Lorna B.
    Lorna B.

    Good information

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