How to answer 'what was your most recent salary' in a job interview?

By Robert Half on 12th November 2019

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

It’s one of the most likely interview questions a jobseeker can come up against: what was your most recent salary? Conversations about money can be uncomfortable at the best of times, let alone with a new employer.

So, can a prospective employer ask your salary? Our recruitment experts discuss the pros and cons of answering interview questions on your salary history and remuneration expectations, along with the best answers to give.

Do employers need to ask a salary related interview question?

Although a potential employer does not need to know your salary history before hiring you, in some cases you may be asked and there could be advantages in entertaining the discussion, especially if you’re asked a salary expectations question.

Several cities in the United States such as Massachusetts, California, Oregon and Delaware),  have made it illegal for employers to ask candidates a salary interview question (but can a prospective employer ask your salary here in the UK? Yes — according to a recent survey by YouGov, almost half of employers asked job candidates about their salary history.

Preparation is everything when going into the interview process. If you are asked a salary interview question, it helps to have a clear stance on your remuneration expectations and a plan for remaining professional while navigating that conversation.

Related: How to explain career gaps in your CV

The cons of sharing your salary history

  • Salary is only part of the bigger picture - your salary is often only one fraction of an attractive remuneration package. Some employers use salary bands alongside a range of benefits and bonuses to create a package which is appropriate to your role. Questions about your salary history may not take these additional elements into consideration and could prevent the opportunity for you to discuss your remuneration expectations.
  • It may harm the potential for equal pay - although many employers are supporting professionals in an attempt to close the pay gap and fight for equality in the workplace, there’s a chance that, in answering a salary interview question, you are harming progress. Your potential employer may use the information as an opportunity to make a similar offer, binding you to the pay bracket you’re already in.
  • You may undermine your professional value - interview questions are usually designed to determine your level of skill and whether you’re a cultural fit for the role. By responding to a salary interview question, you may inadvertently pigeonhole yourself into the same pay bracket, irrespective of the level of skill you have. You could miss the opportunity to earn according to the new challenge.

The pros of sharing your salary history

  • Helps your recruiter find suitable opportunities - It’s unlikely that you’ll want to leave your current role for one which pays less. To help maximise how effective your recruiter is at supporting you in your job search, you may find it helpful to let them know how much you’ve been earning in previous positions and what your remuneration expectations are, so they can narrow down the search field and help you progress. 
  • An opportunity to open negotiations - you can use a salary expectations question as an opportunity to negotiate a higher starting salary. Don’t forget to do your homework before an interview — check the regional salary benchmark for your role and skill set against a recognised industry report like the Robert  Half 2020 Salary Guide. Our research has shown that professionals are gaining confidence and beginning to request benefits at the interview stage.
  • Showcase your career growth and professional value - Starting a conversation about salary history could provide you with an opportunity to show how far you’ve come in your career. By including details of pay rises and bonuses received, you can show how much value you’ve brought to previous employers throughout your tenure. You can also educate yourself on in-demand skills for the coming months and use them to pitch yourself at a higher professional value.

Related: How to negotiate a higher starting salary

Alternative ways to manage salary history questions

Rather than committing to choosing whether you will or won’t answer questions around your salary, you also have the option of allowing a recruitment expert to handle the conversation for you. 
A preliminary discussion about previous remuneration packages and your expectations for the future can be used to supplement their expert knowledge on current trends and salary bandings for your role, seniority and region, to increase your chances of coming away with a fair deal while avoiding uncomfortable discussions.


To find out more, access the Salary Guide now

For more help and advice on answering interview questions or discussing your salary, you can get in touch with the Robert Half team.

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