Should People Fib About Salaries To Prospective Employers?

Money cake salary cutIn recent years, many jurisdictions have made it illegal for prospective employers to ask job candidates about their salary history. This is a great development, since asking about salary history makes it more difficult for people to advance and might reinforce barriers that people have in the workforce. However, many jurisdictions do not have protections preventing employers from asking about an applicant’s salary history. In such instances, job candidates might feel justified if they fib about their salary history since it should be inappropriate for employers to ask about this, and being transparent about an applicant’s salary history can unfairly prevent them from being fairly paid at a job.

The first time I ever heard about someone fibbing on their salary at a job interview was about a decade ago. At the time, a friend of mine was seeking to leave a law firm we both worked at where we were being paid very modest salaries. My friend told me about his interview at a larger firm and related that the employer had asked him about salary at the shop. My friend responded by conveying that he made $15,000 a year more than he did.

This ended up working to my friend’s advantage. When he was eventually hired by this different law firm, he was offered a salary that was 30% or 40% higher than the salary we earned at the smaller shop. We both thought that if my friend was completely transparent about his salary at the smaller shop, the bigger shop would have offered him less money to work there, and he probably would have still taken the job since it was a step up from the shop at which we both worked.

My initial reaction to this fibbing was negative. First, it is dishonest to inflate the salary that someone earns since people generally expect job candidates to be completely truthful in their dealings with prospective employers. Also, it would not be difficult for a prospective employer to discover the true salary a job candidate earned at a previous position. An employer once had a background check performed on me, and when I requested a copy of the background check report, the document included an accurate summary of my employment history. I have even heard of employers asking to see pay stubs to verify the salary history of workers, but this is an extremely invasion practice, and I would recommend not working for an employer who asks to see income verification.

On the other side, it is inappropriate for employers to ask job candidates about their salary history in the first place. A person’s past salary should have no bearing on what they earn in the future, and employers should pay employees based on the value they bring to the workplace. Moreover, receiving lower salaries due to illicit reasons earlier in one’s career should not have ripple effects if that salary is being used to calculate the income a worker will earn in each subsequent role.

Given how inappropriate it is to ask a job candidate about their salary history, some people might think it is justifiable to fib about how much money they make. Of course, people should not tell less than the whole truth if they make statements under the threat of perjury, but in the context of an informal job interview, some people might believe inflating prior salaries is justified. Employers should be aware that people tend to fib when asked about their salary history. People have a vested interest in making prospective employers believe that they earn more money than they actually do, and employers can read between the lines to ascertain that salary information should be taken with a grain of salt.

I am lucky since I cannot remember an employer asking me about my salary history when I was interviewing for jobs. Sometimes, an employer would ask what my salary requirement for the new job was, which is a less pernicious query that does not require exaggeration. I am not sure how I would answer if an interviewer asked about my salary history at a job interview, and I think a lot would depend on the circumstances of the particular interview. Although each situation is different, some people might believe fibbing about salary history is justified since it is unfair for employers to ask questions about salary histories in the first place. In addition, employers should not be able to use someone’s past salary to keep paying that person less as they progress in their career.


Rothman Larger HeadshotJordan Rothman is a partner of The Rothman Law Firm, a full-service New York and New Jersey law firm. He is also the founder of Student Debt Diaries, a website discussing how he paid off his student loans. You can reach Jordan through email at jordan@rothman.law.


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About the Author: Tony Ramos

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