Awkward Interview Questions: Owning Up to Your Current Salary

Experts weigh in on how to prevent your current salary from becoming an issue when you are trying to land a new job. 

The toughest interview question isn't "Tell me about yourself." It's not "Why do you want to work here?" "What don't you like about your current job?" or even "If you were an animal, what kind of animal would you be?"

These questions are close runners up, but most experts argue that the toughest interview question is, "What is your current salary?" This is true for a simple reason: If you answer the question honestly, you may not get the salary you want, and if you answer it dishonestly, you may not get the job you want.

Joyce Maroney, director of the Workforce Institute at Kronos, says that hiring managers have a budgeted number in mind for each position, and want to understand if the job seeker is in the desired range.

"If the job seeker volunteers a number that's outside of the range on either side, the hiring manager is going to have second thoughts. Too low, and the job seeker looks insufficiently experienced; too high and the hiring manager decides he or she can't afford the candidate," said Maroney.

So what is a job-seeker between a rock and a hard place supposed to do? eWEEK has culled responses from several employment experts on how they think the question is best answered. The answers fall largely within two categories: dodge the question for as long as you can, and don't you dare dodge the question, as it will hurt your prospects. A discrepancy which suggests that potential employers are as torn about this question as the job seeker-as if that is any consolation.

Arguments for Dodging the Question

Penelope Trunk, the work/life columnist behind Brazen Careerist, sees the salary question as more of a challenge, to which the right answer "is always some version of 'I'm not telling you.'" Trunk encourages readers to explain that the position is not exactly the same as their last job, and that they'd rather discuss what responsibilities would be at the new job, and determine a fair salary from there.

"The interviewer is just trying to get a leg up on you in negotiations. If you give in, you look like a poor negotiator, and the interviewer is probably not looking for someone like that," writes Trunk.

Karen Burns, another workplace blogger, suggests seven different answers to what she calls the hardest interview question of all.