Answering Salary Questions

Answering Salary Questions

How do you answer salary questions?

Many candidates panic when they hear a recruiter ask what their current salary is. And they often refuse to answer, mumbling something about salary flexibility or a question about average compensation.

The problem is, without knowing your current salary, I won’t submit you for a job.


If you’re making way under the market average, I wonder why. If I know or can discern that your employer grossly underpays all its employees, your low salary won’t hinder you in your search. My job, after all, to bring you in above the salary minimum for the job. And if you’re a fit for the role, it’s in my best interests to get you as much pay as I can. If you’re happy with your compensation and stay with my client for a long time, I’ve proven to them I can find the right candidate for the job. So I want you paid what you’re worth.

If your employer pays you less than the average because your current job is a stretch, whether because you don’t have the skills or background for your role, I am very hesitant to put you forward for a job that’s too challenging for you. I’m selecting for fit, after all, and your salary is sometimes an indication of where you will do your best work: not too high above nor significantly below your skill set. But I won’t assume you can’t handle a job just because of your current salary. Trust me to do the due diligence inherent in my goal of finding the right candidate for each job. I’ll figure out whether you’re making the right amount or whether you need a salary increase.

If, on the other hand, you’re making well above market average, I likely can’t put you forward for a job, since fit for both you and your potential employers—my clients—means a compensation that works for both of you. You won’t willingly take a pay cut for long, and the employer won’t reach beyond their comfort zone for a candidate they don’t know.

So what should you do? Tell me honestly what you’re currently making. I’ll confirm the rate with your employer when I call for references, so honesty about your salary is crucial to our relationship.

It might be uncomfortable when your Aunt Mary asks about salary. But salary is a legitimate part of the job search process. A recruiter needs to evaluate your fitness for each job she’s hired to fill. Salary is part of the equation.

My greatest hope is that I can submit you for just the right job. If you share that hope, answer salary questions honestly.