Responding to Application Questions about Salary

You should never, ever lie on a job application, but that doesn't mean you always have to volunteer information that could be to your detriment.

Companies will often ask for your salary history on an application, but you should pause before answering that question. It can be a way for employers to try to justify paying you less than you deserve simply because they know it's an increase from your past salary. It provides you with less leverage when conducting a salary negotiation. If you're new on the job market and most of your experience comes from volunteer work, it can be seen as less valuable just because you weren't paid for the work.

What many people don't realize is that these fields can often be left blank or will accept free-text responses such as "Not disclosed" or "Confidential." It is to your benefit to keep this information to yourself if at all possible.

Another tricky application field is "Expected salary." If you've already done your research, then you choose whether you want to share your expectations. If you do, provide a range, not an exact number. However, this can be to your disadvantage — if instead you wait until a hiring manager interviews you and decides they absolutely want to hire you, you may find that you're offered a higher salary than you would have even asked for.

These fields, too, often can be left blank or accept free-text responses rather than only numbers. My go-to answer for Expected Salary is "Negotiable." This is not an aggressive answer, nor does it imply that I didn't see the question — it illustrates that I want to have a conversation about salary once we're at a point where we're both sure this is the best fit for everyone.

This question may crop up again if you make it to the interview stage. Thankfully, at that point it's much easier to give a carefully crafted answer than within the black-and-white confines of a job application. Alison Green shares some possible responses to salary questions that I encourage you to check out.