Ignore or Reveal? How to respond when a company asks your current salary.

Note: This article first appeared in a post for The Hired Guns. Check out TheHiredGuns.com to Get Hired, Find Talent, or Rock Your Career.

Conducting a job search often leads people through a series of highs and lows. You have a great lead, but it falls through. You haven’t had any interviews in a month, and then you get 3 in one week. Even the end of a successful job search can be stressful: the company offers you the job, but you’re unsure how to discuss salary.

Someone wrote to me with the following question:

“Good news. I received this email from the hiring manager and am a finalist for the job. But how should I respond to the salary question?”

“Hi Amy. We finished all our interviews and we will be making a final decision between you and one other candidate. Could you provide two references and also let me know your current salary so that we are in a position to make an offer.”

First of all, the approach this employer takes bugs me a bit. If you read between the lines, you can almost hear them saying “It’s between you and someone else, and since we’re not confident enough to know what this position pays and simply make an offer to the best candidate, we’re going let the two of you fight it out in a low-bidding war.”

Needless to say, I urged her to do the following
1) Respond excitedly, saying how thrilled she was to be considered, that she’s certain it will be a great fit, and reemphasize one of her skills
2) Provide the two references, saying they’d be happy to speak with you, etc
3) Then take on the salary question

In this scenario, should she Ignore or Reveal?

Let’s start with the easy one first:


In order to maximize the highest salary during negotiations, your goal is to never reveal your current salary. What you are making at your current job should have no bearing on the position you are applying for. You want to make sure you are getting paid the fair market value for the skills you are bringing to this new position.

Put it this way, when a graduating college senior with a degree in finance goes on an interview, does a company make an offer based on his “current” job of working the cash register at the university bookstore? No, they’re going to look at his skills and what an entry-level finance person should make.

Therefore, you need to address the issue without giving them your number. More specifically, you need to have the employer respond with their number first.


Let’s look carefully at what I mean by ignore. You definitely do not want to avoid the question completely. If she just responded with the references and didn’t say anything about salary, she might put herself out of the running.

So one option is to ignore the request for current salary and respond as follows:

“In terms of compensation, I’ve done my homework regarding comparable positions in the industry and have a pretty good idea of the market value for someone with my skill set. However, I know that this varies from company to company, so you are probably in the best position to know what [company name] feels is appropriate. If you can give me a range of what you have budgeted for this position, I’m sure we can settle on a number that works for both of us.”

By doing this, she has thrown the ball back in their court and is addressing the question while ignoring their direct request. I think answering this way is appropriate and effective, but it is up to the individual to gauge the relationship they’ve had thus far.

If you want to address why you are ignoring the salary question, you can lead with one of the following responses before going into the paragraph above, depending on your situation:

“In terms of compensation, unfortunately my employment contract at [current company] plays things pretty close to the vest in terms of sharing private company information, so I don’t feel comfortable revealing my current number. However, I totally understand that you want to get to a figure and I’m sure we can settle on a number that works for both of us. I’ve done my homework…”


“In regard to compensation, I understand your request in terms of my current salary to help settle on a number. However, when I started at [current job] in 2008, it was right as the economy entered its massive downturn. As you know, during this time many companies had layoffs, hiring freezes, and did not give performance raises, therefore, I don’t feel that my current salary level is a good representation of my current skill set, so I’d like to speak in terms of the [position name] role. I’ve done my homework…”


“In regard to compensation, I took the job at [current job] in order to make a career transition into [new field], expand my skill set, and as you’ve seen, I’ve now acquired some amazing experience that I am looking forward to bringing to this new job. So I’m not sure my current salary is a great indicator for this new role. I’ve done my homework…”

By tailoring your response to your individual circumstance, ignoring the question but addressing it head-on, and not revealing your current salary, you put yourself in the best position to respond to the range that they come back with, without getting in a low-bidding war with your competitor.