What should you say if you're asked your current salary?

Going for a new job and wondering what to say if asked what you're making at the moment?

It's an awkward conundrum for many of us. Answer honestly and you may run the risk of being pegged as too expensive – or too cheap – for the role on offer. Beat around the bush or say you'd rather not say and perhaps you'll damage your chance at the gig by looking like you've something to hide.

So what's your best bet if this classic question pops up some time during an interview?

Keep schtum, says Simran Gambhir, founder of Ganemo Group and a former chief technology officer in the corporate sphere.

"I've been asked that about 17 times and I never answer that question," he says.

Rise and fall

If your current salary is below market, an interviewer may be tempted to offer a package less generous than the one they had in mind, Gambhir reasons.

Conversely, if you've been pulling sums well in excess of what the new role is likely to command but really want the job anyway, your chances of getting it may be shot if those doing the hiring think you'll shoot through as soon as more money is dangled.

"I have gone from a $210,000 salary to a $70,000 salary and I had to beg for that job," Gambhir says.

"I said, 'look I've had a lucky run but I really want to get my hands dirty'. [It's the] only time I've begged and pleaded for a job…because if I told them what I was on, there is no way they would be convinced I wasn't there just 'til I [found] another job. In fact, I held that job for three years, which is the longest I've ever held any job."


Spot on

What to say if you're put on the spot?

"I actually just say 'look … rather than on the salary, I'm more focused on what the job brings to me mentally and emotionally as a package because it's not about the money'," Gambhir says.

"My advice is, talk about holistically what you're looking for in the position and if you're really cornered say, 'I believe the market rate is x but I'm quite flexible' so you can still leave the door open if it's a [role] you're really going to learn from…try to get them to come out with a figure."

Recruiter Jarrad Skeen disagrees. While the question can turn the atmosphere 'cut the air with a knife' awkward, he believes candidates are best to answer it openly and honestly.

Size matters

Sure, the size of one's salary may still be a taboo topic socially but not when you're spruiking yourself on the jobs market, Skeen argues.

"It is a personal topic between friends or what have you but the employer is going to pay them eventually so if they're not completely across that detail, I think the downside outweighs the upside of not declaring it," he says.

"You do get a bit of … people second guessing themselves, whether it's something they should declare or it's something they should keep to themselves.

"I think it's in [your] best interest to be as transparent as you can. If you're not, then ultimately there's a concern or a fear that someone's hiding something for a particular reason and it creates distrust.

"If you're in an employment process and the employer side of the equation feels that you're trying to hide something then that can be reason enough not to employ someone."

Be honest

Honesty wins, agrees careers coach Sally-Anne Blanshard.

"If you are underpaid – this happened a lot during the GFC as people needed an income, not necessarily the right level – then explain you have been working at a rate lower than usually applied and with your research, and maybe advice from a recruiter, you are looking for x dollars to bring you back to market rate," Blanshard suggests.

Like Gambhir, apps strategist Steve Molloy has had the opposite problem. Revealing you've been earning a healthy six figures can make you appear a pricey proposition, he's found.

"A lot of companies can't really match that salary and perks and hours so what tends to happen is once you've had that one opportunity, to try to get something else similar is very limiting," Molloy says.

Saying you're happy to negotiate if the role is right, or nominating a salary range may help keep you in the running and, despite the danger of positioning yourself too high, being open is the way to go, if asked about your pay packet, he adds.

"If you answer it quickly it's fine, it doesn't seem to be an issue … but if you become more defensive then it sort of sounds like you're either telling a porky or you're trying to get the right [number]."

Would you share your salary if put on the spot, or keep the details of your package to yourself? Share your experience in the comments.