So you’ve successfully passed your technical job interview and now you’re talking with the HR of the company (or maybe the CEO himself). All of a sudden this nice girl asks how much did they pay you at your last job.

I personally find this question inappropriate and rude. When I answer it honestly I always feel like they want me to justify myself. At the same time I suspect that my employer is afraid to pay me more than the bare minimum.

Here’s an image to illustrate the point. The HR knows the salaries of all the people in the team you’re applying:

Happy HR is asking about your previous salary
Her job is to minimize the costs for the company while minimally satisfying you with the number.
You, on the other hand, have different set of numbers in mind, like your dream salary, the “median salary in the industry” you’ve read on some website, the minimal salary you’re willing to work for.
 Sad person thinking about his previous salary
In that moment you feel that this question is even worse than the question about your weak sides. If you think logically, there’s not so many options for you to answer it.

Option 1: answer honestly

Just shoot the number. It’s good because you don’t need to make anything up. It’s bad because you will suspect that your potential employer is trying to save money on you. For example, you earned 5000 dollars/month on your previous job. After the interview you receive an offer for 5300 dollars/month. Is that the real salary they typically give to the developers of your level, or did they just increased your previous salary by 6%? You don’t know and you won’t know and you’ll likely to be grumpy about that.

Option 2: lie

Instead of answering honestly that you earned 5000 you can lie that you earned 6000, because you want your new employer to pay you 6000. It can work, but lying is bad and dangerous for you. Your lie can be uncovered and you will get in trouble.

Option 3: discard the question

That’s my favorite. You don’t have to answer how much did your previous employer paid you, because it’s stupid and toxic to talk about that, and because you don’t want your new salary to be bound to your old salary.

At the same time you don’t want to be rude and you want to provide the alternative. Say the following:

“I can’t tell you my salary on the previous job. However I can tell you that I received 3 job offers, and the biggest salary they propose is 6000.”

Not everyone is asking you this horrible question and you have a good chance that by the time you have your job interview, you will have some offers under your belt.

In this case the frame of the dialog won’t be about you trying to prove that you’re worthy of a new salary.  Now it will be more like you asking the company, if they can propose you better conditions that you’re already have.

So, I guess you’ve figured out by now that there’s more than one possible answer to that questions. I recommend you to reflect on which answer is the best for you, before your technical job interview. This questions is usually asked on a behavioral part of an interview, but sometimes the HRs are sitting right beside the team of the programmers.

Categories: Uncategorized


Ma Sato · August 25, 2017 at 1:06 pm

That’s interesting. I always tell the truth. But then my salary hasn’t increased for years. Maybe I’m doing something wrong 🙁

    admin · August 26, 2017 at 10:48 pm

    You should be careful with the truth – it’s a double-edged sword)

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