To Maximize Your Salary, Learn the Art of Deflection

Know Your Worth

It’s best to steer clear of discussing a salary until you’ve received a job offer. Here’s how to handle compensation conversations with finesse.

During the hiring process, it’s not uncommon for HR or hiring managers to ask job candidates for their salary history. But doing that can put women and people of color at a serious disadvantage. Basing future compensation on past pay carries forward the effect of any previous discrimination.

The good news is that, these days, fewer employers are requiring candidates to disclose prior salaries. That’s in part because AAUW and other groups are advocating for fair-pay laws that don’t allow the practice. Such legislation is now in place in some form in 18 states and Puerto Rico, at least four counties and 13 cities. A proposed federal law called the Paycheck Fairness Act would ban the use of salary history nationwide.

In the meantime, if you’re asked for your salary history on an application or in an interview, practice the art of deflection. That means doing your best to avoid discussing your salary or negotiating until you have received a job offer. It’s a skill AAUW teaches in its free Work Smart Online salary-negotiation course. To follow are a few tips AAUW recommends.

At the application stage …

  • If prompted to provide your salary history on an initial written application, use dashes, “zero” or “N/A.”
  • You may be asked about compensation in a different way — through a question about your “salary requirements.” As with salary history, try to hold off on giving a number until you’ve received an offer.
  • If the job posting requests your salary requirements, you could write “negotiable,” or “I am looking for a fair and equitable salary based on my skills and experience.” Or, if you’re responding to a post that asks you to send in a resume and salary history, consider sending only the resume. If the employer is interested, someone will call to request more information.
  • Some online forms might not accept an application without a numerical answer. If you decide to move forward, consider using your target salary or target salary range. AAUW’s Work Smart course walks you through how to determine your target salary based on market values, job duties and your qualifications.

In an interview …

  • If you’re asked for your salary expectations, you could deflect by saying “What do you usually pay someone in this position?” or “I’d like to learn more about the role before I set my salary expectations. I would hope that my salary would line up with market rates for similar positions in this area.”
  • If you’re asked to share your salary history, you might try “This position is not exactly the same as my last job. Let’s discuss what my responsibilities would be here and then determine a fair salary.” Another option: “I’d appreciate it if you could make me an offer based on whatever you have budgeted for this position, and we can go from there.”

And remember, a growing number of cities and states prohibit employers from even asking about salary history, so make sure you research local pay-equity laws prior to going in for an interview.