Can You Negotiate For More Money by Lying About a Past Salary?


Is it ever OK to lie about your current or past salary to a prospective employer? The Daily Worth sparked controversy when it recently reported a story of a woman who lied about her current salary by adding $5,000 to the figure she reported to a hiring manager and then negotiating for an additional $5,000 on top of that to end up with a $10,000 increase in salary.

While the point of the post was to show that women can successfully negotiate for the salary they believe they deserve, for some the message came across as "lying is OK if it gets you what you want."

According to Richard Seldon, president of Sterling Infosystems, Inc, a background and employment screening service, 43 percent of applicants misrepresent information on their resume or application. "While lying on an application may not be considered illegal, it is wrong from a moral and ethical standpoint. And some companies request W-2s from prospective employees prior to finalizing the deal just to make sure that reported salary is consistent with actual earnings," Seldon said.

So how do you negotiate a competitive salary without lying about past earnings? The key is to understand your market value and use that information rather than your past salary as the benchmark for the negotiation process and your future salary.

Even if an employer uncovers that your previous salary was lower than market value, your strategy should be to negotiate based on the market value of the position -- which is a more relevant benchmark than past salary. All a salary represents is what someone is willing to pay you to do a specific job at a certain point in time. That salary may have little relevance to the market value of the next position you apply for, even if it is in the same industry or in a similar functional area. In order to know your market value, try to:

  • Speak to industry contacts. They may be able to shed light on salary ranges for positions in various industries and at various professional levels.
  • Review job postings. Many job boards list salary ranges; this information can help you decipher the going market value for similar jobs.
  • Contact recruiters and professional associations in your field to benchmark positions. Recruiters will know what the market will bear based on recent placements. Professional associations may have survey data to help you better understand your market value.
  • Refer to salary sites such as Payscale.Payscale combines salary report data and scrubbed self-reported data to create salary ranges for various positions across multiple industries and geographies.
  • Be aware that every job has unique factors such as geography and industry that influence salary level. If you are an administrative assistant in financial services and you are seeking administrative positions in a not-for-profit, chances are the salary range will be lower. If you were working as a customer sales professional in Columbus, Ohio, and you are now seeking a similar position in Boston, Mass., chances are salaries will be higher.
  • Try to determine the flexibility of the employer you are dealing with. Is it a large company with strict salary ranges or a smaller company that determines salaries on a case-by-case basis? Knowing this ahead of time can help you figure out how much wiggle room you will have during the negotiation phase.

Transparency regarding your past salaries is always best. But that doesn't mean that you can't negotiate for a competitive salary in your next position. By showing employers that you are aware of your market value, you increase the likelihood of negotiating a fair and reasonable employment offer.

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