Never reveal your current salary to a potential employer

Salary negotiation

In 2017, both California and New York banned potential employers from asking job candidates about past salaries. This is pretty great for anyone in the job market these days. One of the biggest ways that people can shoot themselves in the foot in salary negotiation is by telling prospective employers their past salary or expected salary range. The other is not negotiating at all.

Why is it such a big deal to tell a prospective employer your past salary? Let’s think about it this way. Say you were making $60k and your new employer normally pays $120k. As soon as you tell them what you were making, they’re no longer inclined to pay you the full $120k. Chances are they could get you to jump ship and work for them for a lot less than a 100% raise, so why would they pay you more than they need to?

Now you may say that a raise is still a raise, which is true. Even if that company only offered you $100k, that would still be a lot more than you were making. Point taken. However, many people undervalue the importance of even a small difference in initial salary. Every future salary you will earn is based on percentage increases on that initial salary. If you consider a $20k salary difference and 40 years of 5% raises, that results in a difference of $2.5 million in lifetime earnings. That’s a lot of money.

And even if you don’t care about the money, it is important for your employer to value your work. If they’re paying an arm and a leg for you to work there already, they likely won’t bat an eye at additional costs, like trainings or conferences, that will help you be the absolute best employee that you can be. Having an employer who is willing to spend money to help you improve is one of the best ways to get ahead. And it’s also nice to not have them nickel and dime you for every expense.

So what if you don’t live in New York or California? Or what if you do and they still ask you probing questions like “What is your desired salary range?” If that’s the case, then memorize this phrase. You can use it to deflect until they make you an offer.

“I’d like to see if this position is a good fit first and then we can talk about salary.” Click To Tweet

This sentence is incredibly powerful for two reasons. First, it accomplishes the goal of deflecting salary questions until later down the road. Second, and possibly more important, it puts you in control. Now all of a sudden, you are the one evaluating them. They are selling the position to you and you are the one who has the final say.

Putting yourself into this strong position can seem weird because most people think of the company as evaluating them. They see it as a completely one-sided power dynamic. However, that is not completely the case. Showing them that you are evaluating whether a position is the right fit for you is a subtle way of making yourself seem confident and self-assured, without seeming conceited.

At the end of the day, it’s up to you to get the salary you deserve. The company won’t be on your side on this, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find a happy medium. Your offer won’t get rescinded for trying to negotiate, so just do it.

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Sam Gavis-Hughson

Sam Gavis-Hughson

Sam, founder of Byte by Byte, helps software engineers successfully interview for jobs at top tech companies. Sam has helped thousands of students through his blog and free content -- as well as 400+ paying students -- land jobs at companies such as Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Bloomberg, Uber, and more.