5 ways to avoid answering the worst job interview question, 'What's your salary history?'

How to Answer the Salary Question

First things first: anyone who tells you that you can always dodge the salary history question is probably trying to sell you something. The reality of the situation is that sometimes, you just can't wriggle out of answering this question – not if you want to stay a viable candidate for the job. But, that doesn't mean that you should name your price right away. You might be able to get the hiring manager to focus on the future, not the past, and that's what you're hoping for.

If you've ever participated in an interview process, you know why it's a bad idea to name your salary history or potential salary range right off the bat. It hems you in, either pricing you out of contention or costing you money that you didn't know you could get. Over time, these missteps can add up. If you miss out on $5,000 a year every time you negotiate salary, it could add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of a lifetime.

Here are a few ways to conduct your salary negotiation so that you avoid directly answering the salary history question.

1. Be willing to enter a blank.

You don't even need to set foot in the interview room to confront the salary history question; many companies put it right up front, in their online application process. To get around this, leave the current salary/requirements box blank. If the field is mandatory, enter a dash or 0.

It's a bit of a gamble, but a small one. If your qualifications are good, most recruiters will at least give you a phone call to determine if your expectations are in range with their budget. Then, even if you're eventually forced to name your price, you'll at least have a chance to find out more about the job first.

If not answering that question on an online form knocks you out of contention, you have to ask yourself if you'd really be happy working for a company that insists on putting you at such a disadvantage, without even giving you the chance to gather enough information to name a more appropriate salary range.

Click through for the 10 worst body language mistakes during an interview:

10 worst body language mistakes during interviews
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5 ways to avoid answering the worst job interview question, 'What's your salary history?'

Body language expert Tonya Reiman, author of "The Power of Body Language," previously told Business Insider that job candidates should make sure they offer the "appropriate amount of eye contact." 

"If you don't, the interviewer will assume you are either insecure, don't have an appropriate answer for the question being asked, or are being deceptive. Does that mean it's true? No, but perception is everything in a job interview."

Reiman said smiling demonstrates confidence, openness, warmth, and energy. 

"It also sets off the mirror neurons in your listener, instructing them to smile back. Without the smile, an individual is often seen as grim or aloof," she explained.

This may give the interviewer the impression that you're bored or uninterested in the conversation. Instead, keep your hands on the desk or table, and don't fidget.

In their book "Crazy Good Interviewing," John B. Molidor, Ph.D., and Barbara Parus suggest showing your palms during an interview — since the gesture indicates sincerity — or pressing the fingertips of your hands together to form a church steeple. which displays confidence, reports Business Insider's Shana Lebowitz.

Reiman previously told Business Insider you should always be aware of your posture.

"People don't realize that the job interview begins in the waiting room, but it does. So don't slouch in the chair in the reception area," she advised. "In order to be perceived as confident, you must sit or stand tall, with your neck elongated, ears and shoulders aligned, and chest slightly protruding."

This position changes the chemicals in our brain to make us feel stronger and more confident, and it gives the outward appearance of credibility, strength, and vitality, she explained.

Playing with your hair, touching your face, or any other kind of fidgeting can be a major distraction for your interviewer. It also demonstrates a lack of power, said Reiman.

This gesture will tell the interviewer you're not comfortable or you're closed off. 

"You should always keep your hands in view when you are talking," Patti Wood, a body language expert and author of "SNAP: Making the Most of First Impressions Body Language and Charisma," previously told Business Insider. "When a listener can't see your hands, they wonder what you are hiding." To look honest and credible, keep your arms uncrossed and show your hands.

"When we touch our faces or hair, it is because we need self soothing,"Reiman explained.

Is that the message you want to send to your interviewer

A weak handshake may tell the interviewer that you're nervous, shy, and that you lack confidence, explains Colin Shaw, CEO of Beyond Philosophy, a customer experience consultancy, in a LinkedIn post

Ideally, your handshake should be firm, but not overbearing. "The secret to a great handshake is palm-to-palm contact," Wood told Business Insider. You want to slide your hand down into the web of theirs, and make palm-to-palm contact. Lock thumbs, and apply an equal amount of pressure.

"It's okay to use your hands to illustrate a few important points," writes Lebowitz. "In fact, research suggests that staying too still can give the impression of coldness. 

"But relying too much on hand gestures can be distracting, according to Molidor and Parus."

She says you should remember you're in a job interview, not a theater audition. 

People tend to show their dominating personality by gripping the interviewer's hand and palming it down, but this tells the interviewer that you need to feel powerful, Reiman explained. "Instead, the handshake should be more natural: thumbs in the upward position and two to three pumps up and down."

As the applicant, you should always wait for the interviewer to extend their hand first, she added. 


2. Turn the question back on the recruiter.

There's a budget for the position for which you're interviewing – count on it. If the hiring manager or recruiter asks you for your salary history, ask for their range instead.

In PayScale's Salary Negotiation Guide, negotiation expert Katie Donovan suggests a potential script:

You may hear the classic, "Well, I don't want to waste your time. Knowing your pay helps me determine if we are in the same compensation ballpark." As I learned on day one while working at a staffing firm, no job is truly open without approval and a budget. Your response should be, "Oh, well I assume this job has been approved and budgeted. What's the budget for the job and I can let you know if we are in the ballpark?" Many recruiters answer this question and you can more on to your qualifications for the job.

3. Come prepared with questions about the job description.

Even though you're hoping not to blink first, you should come prepared with a salary range in mind – but more importantly, you should come with questions about the job and its duties.

Why? Because you can't go by job title alone, or even necessarily the job description in the listing, to help you figure out what you'll be doing all day if you get the job. Job titles vary considerably from company to company. One company's social media guru is another's marketing intern. To figure out an accurate range, you need to know what will be expected of you in the role.

4. Bring a range that focuses on the job, not on your history.

Once you know what the job entails, you'll be able to include that information in your research, and come up with a more appropriate range. Remember: it doesn't matter what you've earned in the past. It matters what you can do for this employer, and how much that's worth now and in the future.

5. Reframe the question.

"The best thing you can do when an interviewer asks about your salary history is to reframe the question into what salary range you're seeking," writes Alison Green of Ask a Manager at U.S. News. "After all, this is the more pertinent question! For instance: "I'm looking for a range of $45,000 to $55,000." In some cases, this answer will be accepted and the conversation will move on."

If that doesn't work, Green suggests saying that you keep that information confidential. One thing you should never do, she says, is lie. Hiring managers have only to ask for your W-2s to find out whether you're telling the truth.

Tell Us What You Think

Do you avoid answering the salary history question, or do you feel that it comes with the territory? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

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5 ways to avoid answering the worst job interview question, 'What's your salary history?'

13. Postal service clerks

Average hours typically worked a week: 39.32

Median earned income: $51,000

What they do: Perform any combination of tasks in a post office like receive letters and parcels; sell postage and revenue stamps, postal cards, and stamped envelopes; fill out and sell money orders; place mail in pigeon holes of mail racks or in bags; and examine mail for correct postage.

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12. Speech-language pathologists

Average hours typically worked a week: 36.17

Median earned income: $54,000

What they do: Assess and treat persons with speech, language, voice, and fluency disorders.

(Jayme Poisson via Getty Images)

11. Registered nurses​

Average hours typically worked a week: 37.59

Median earned income: $56,000

What they do: Assess patient health problems and needs, develop and implement nursing-care plans, and maintain medical records

(Reza Estakhrian via Getty Images)

10. Psychologists

Average hours typically worked a week: 36.75 

Median earned income: $56,000

What they do: Diagnose or evaluate mental and emotional disorders of individuals through observations, interviews, and psychological tests and formulate and administer programs of treatment.

(Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

9. Chiropractors

Average hours typically worked a week: 39.75

Median earned income: $60,000

What they do: Assess, treat, and care for patients by manipulation of spine and musculoskeletal system.

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8. Occupational therapists

Average hours typically worked a week: 36.02 

Median earned income: $60,000

What they do: Provide rehabilitative treatments and procedures that help build or restore vocational, homemaking, and daily living skills.

(Dan Porges via Getty Images)

7. Technical writers​

Average hours typically worked a week: 39.61

Median earned income: $62,000

What they do: Write technical materials, such as equipment manuals, appendices, or operating and maintenance instructions.

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6. Physical therapists

Average hours typically worked a week: 37.43 

Median earned income: $63,000

What they do: Assess, plan, organize, and participate in rehabilitative programs that improve mobility, relieve pain, increase strength, and improve or correct disabling conditions resulting from disease or injury.

(Bloomberg via Getty Images)

5. Audiologists

Average hours typically worked a week: 37.77

Median earned income: $64,000

What they do: Assess and treat persons with hearing and related disorders.

(Boston Globe via Getty Images)

4. Radiation therapists

Average hours typically worked a week: 38.40

Median earned income: $70,000

What they do: Provide radiation therapy to patients as prescribed by a radiologist according to established practices and standards.

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3. Optometrists

Average hours typically worked a week: 39.03

Median earned income: $100,000

What they do: Diagnose, manage, and treat conditions and diseases of the human eye and visual system.

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2. Pharmacists

Average hours typically worked a week: 38.38

Median earned income: $102,000

What they do: Dispense drugs prescribed by physicians and other health practitioners and provide information to patients about medications and their use.


1. Dentists

Average hours typically worked a week: 37.83

Median earned income: $130,000

What they do:Examine, diagnose, and treat diseases, injuries, and malformations of teeth and gums.

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