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What to say when a job interviewer asks how much you currently earn

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Moya Crockett
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Answering truthfully could put you at a disadvantage – but you don’t want to seem evasive. Here’s what to say next. 

It’s one of the more uncomfortable questions you can be asked in a job interview: “So, how much do you make in your current position?”

Our innate awkwardness about discussing money isn’t the only reason this question is so hard to answer. If you feel that you’re not paid enough in your current role, you’re likely to worry that blurting out the truth could harm your negotiating power going forward.

At the same time, you don’t want to appear evasive or outright lie – not least because if you do ace the interview and get the job, they’ll be able to see your previous salary once you provide them with your P45.

According to one women’s charity, interviewers shouldn’t be asking job applicants what they currently earn in the first place, as it can “trap” women on low pay. The Young Women’s Trust is now calling on UK companies to follow the lead of California and New York City, where the practice of quizzing interviewees about their previous pay is banned.

“We know that women are more likely to be on low pay than men,” Young Women’s Trust chief executive Dr Carole Easton OBE tells stylist.co.uk.

She explains that the gender pay gap starts from the moment women enter the workplace – so if they move to a new job and are paid based on their previous earnings, as opposed to what they or the role are worth, they will continued to be underpaid.

“If wages continue to be based on previous jobs as women go through their lives, we won’t be able to break the cycle of paying women less,” she says.

So. An interviewer asking how much you earn = not great. But it is, unfortunately, something that many of us will encounter at some point. So how should you answer? 

1. Prepare

While there’s no real reason that a prospective employer should need to know how much you currently earn, revealing that information isn’t guaranteed to lead to you being screwed over. But to figure out whether it’s a good idea to be honest or not, it’s important to do your research.

“Being prepared is the key to getting it right when it comes to any salary negotiation,” says Laura Holden of jobs site Reed. “Before the interview do your research so you’re not caught off guard by the question. Use an online salary checker to gauge the expected salary of a role if it isn’t specified in the job description.”

Spend some time poking around on websites such as Glassdoor and talking to recruitment agencies to figure out the market rate for the job you’re currently in. This will help you establish whether you’re being underpaid in your present position. (Asking friends in your industry how much they earn is also a good way of gaging this.)

“Different industries will pay differently as well – if you’re working for say a charity sector and you’re interviewing for a role in a private sector, you’ll typically earn more,” says interview coach Margaret Buj.

“If you know your salary is within the market range of what other companies are paying, you can tell an interviewer what you’re on,” she continues. “But if you are very underpaid – let’s say you earn £25,000 when you should be earning £10,000 more – try to avoid giving them a concrete number.”

2. Know that you don’t have to answer if you really don’t want to 

If you’re asked point-blank how much you currently earn and you know you don’t want to answer, Dr Carole Easton OBE of the Young Women’s Trust says you shouldn’t feel duty-bound to respond.

“Employers should be advertising jobs with pay bands, which gives you a point to negotiate from instead,” she says.

“If not, you are well within your rights to ask them what salary they had in mind and to negotiate from there. Remember, you are under no obligation to answer the question.”

3. Be vague, then specific

However, refusing to answer an interviewer’s question may feel too combative at a time when you’re trying to impress. If that’s the case, Buj recommends giving them a general sense of your current salary, then following up firmly with what you’re looking for in your next role.

“Say something along the lines of, ‘I am currently earning close to £30,000 and I am looking for at least £35k for my next role,’” she says.

“Or try: ‘I am currently earning a bit less than the market rates as I am working outside of London. However, other jobs I am interviewing for are paying between £35,000 and £40,000 and this is the range I am looking at.’”

Holden agrees. “If your interviewer asks you about your current salary and you don’t want to disclose an exact figure, try to deflect the question by giving a salary range for roles that you’re currently interviewing for, rather than anchoring yourself to a specific figure.

“Ultimately, know your worth and don’t sell yourself short when it comes to answering questions about salary. It’s about being confident that you’re worth the salary on offer regardless of the salary you currently earn now.”

So now you know that an interviewer shouldn’t be asking you about your current pay – but what are the questions you definitely shouldn’t ask your next interviewer? Find out here

Images: Getty Images 

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Moya Crockett

Moya is Women’s Editor at stylist.co.uk, where she is currently overseeing the Visible Women campaign. As well as writing about inspiring women and feminism, she also covers subjects including careers, podcasts and politics. Carrying a tiny bottle of hot sauce on her person at all times is one of the many traits she shares with both Beyoncé and Hillary Clinton.

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