From the Northeastern Section of the ACS, focusing on career management and development

November 2021
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Application Form_Salary Questions
Filed under: Position Searching, Public Relations docs
Posted by: site admin @ 9:10 am


Application asks for your salary:  Is it better to list a range?

By Perri Capell WSJ

Question: I’m considering applying for a job that requires my salary history and requirements upon application. Do I “give away the store” before getting my foot in the door? And if I do apply, should I be exact, or can I give a range?

P.C.:It’s clear that you don’t intend to blatantly lie about or inflate your earnings. But putting down a salary range is a way to imply that you are paid more than you currently earn.

I presume you want to do this so the new employer might offer you a higher salary than if it saw your actual earnings. But this can be construed as misleading, and you don’t want to start a new job by making that kind of impression.

In fact, you need to land the job before you can begin to discuss pay. This won’t help you. Most large companies hire employees contingent on them passing a successful background screening and reference check. The signed job application you provide — including the pay amount — is a legal document. If the company discovers you’ve supplied spongy numbers, or any other inaccurate information, it may be grounds for your termination. Even if you have started work, you may be asked to pack your things and leave. Not only would that put you back in the job market, but it won’t look good on your resume.

Stating a range probably wouldn’t have raised too many eyebrows a decade ago. But hiring squeaky-clean employees is more important than ever, thanks to corporate scandals and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, which tightened corporate-governance rules. These have made employers sensitive to any appearance of impropriety. You don’t want even a hint of dishonesty to tarnish your chances of making an impeccable impression.

“Be as specific as possible” on the application, says Jason Morris, co-chair of the National Association of Professional Background Screeners, a Durham, N.C.-based trade group. “You never want to give someone the thought that you would be misleading them.”

Even so, many candidates still try to get away with falsehoods on applications, says Mr. Morris, president of Background Information Services Inc. in Cleveland. Of job applicants it has screened during the past seven years, 56% have misstated their salaries by $1,000 or more, were a month or more inaccurate about their employment dates, or listed positions different than the ones they actually held, he says.

Besides using screening firms to check on candidates’ backgrounds, some companies ask for final pay stubs or W-2 tax forms to verify salary, adds Jim Pappas, manager of corporate staffing for the Barnes Group Inc., an international diversified manufacturing-and-distribution company based in Bristol, Conn.

“If you put down a number that isn’t correct, it could get you in a lot of trouble,” says Mr. Pappas. “I’ve been with companies where a person lied about their salary, and they were subsequently terminated for falsifying their application.”

Bonus or commission pay is hard to determine, especially if you leave a company at mid-year. If you are eligible for a bonus or commission, it’s OK to state your salary and then say you also have a, say, 20% bonus potential, he says. It’s also acceptable to say, “I earn $60,000 now but hope to make $70,000 in my next job based on my performance,” Mr. Pappas adds.

Leaving the space blank probably won’t work, because large employers may not interview you until they know what you make now. “I always call and ask candidates what they are earning before they come in,” says Mr. Pappas. “I say that I need to give the hiring manager the complete information and, without it, I won’t forward their information. They can either give it to me and interview or not provide it and stay home.”

As for “giving away the store,” that’s not likely either. Most companies have established ranges of pay for each job and try to pay candidates a “market” salary, or what surveys indicate is the “going” rate for people with the same amount of experience at similar companies in their industries, says Mr. Pappas. If you have more experience, you might receive pay at the top of the range and if you have less experience, you might receive a salary at the lower end of the scale.

So you really aren’t giving away anything when you put your recent earnings amount on an application, because employers know what they’re willing to pay. If you earn significantly more than the market rate, you need to explain what makes you worth more. And if a company tries to pay below market, it will have difficulty keeping employees.

Myself, I would struggle with the “guilt” factor. If I fudged my salary amount a teeny-tiny bit on an application, perhaps by inadvertently including a one-time spot bonus award, I would worry about the number not matching what a background check would uncover. Feeling nervous would be a terrible way to start a job and a relationship with a new employer. By being accurate, you never have to worry about exaggerations coming back to haunt you.


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