Some job posts say "include salary history" or "state salary expectations" when you submit your resume and cover letter. Should you do it? Should you even mention the word "salary" in your cover letter?
There's no right or wrong answer to that question. Here are my thoughts on the subject. After reading this article, do what your gut tells you is right for your job search.
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Talking Salary in Your Cover Letter... or Maybe Not
Although some job posts ask for a resume and salary information, the two do not go together. Ideally, discussion about salary belongs in the interview, not on the resume. It is greatly to your advantage not to make a monetary request before an interview. Indicating salary requirements before the interview may increase your chances of being screened out and decrease your bargaining power during salary negotiations. This is also true if you respond to a salary request from an employer. You could guess too high and price yourself right out of the job, or guess too low and settle for less money than you deserve.
Take a Risk
You know what I would do if faced with the kind of demand for salary information mentioned above? I'd flat-out disregard the request. That's right, I'd take the risk that even though I didn't respond to the ad's requirement, I'd still get in the door for an interview. I say "risk" because there is a risk in not complying, since you could be disqualified for being "insubordinate." But there is also a risk if you do comply, since you could easily be screened out for asking for too much money. Either way you would not get the job, but maybe that means it wasn’t the right one for you. Of course, you need to decide which suits your style of risk-taking.
How to Handle a Salary Request in a Cover Letter
If you feel obligated to address salary history in order to fulfill the employer's initial application requirements, do so in your cover letter (not on your resume!). Speak in generalities, such as:
- My salary in previous positions ranged from $X to more than $Y, accompanied by benefits.
- My growth in earnings from $4.25 an hour as a grocery clerk back in 1986 to my current salary as a division manager is something I'm extremely proud of.
- Since salary history is a confidential matter, please understand that I prefer to speak about it in person.
- I would like to discuss my salary history during our interview.
- My salary requirements are negotiable.
Here's a cover letter that side-steps the salary history question. Notice how the job seeker cleverly speaks of his salary history without revealing any figures.
Cover Letter Sample That Refers to Salary History
Know Your Salary Stuff
Talking directly about salary expectations in a letter is tricky. If you are pressed to name a salary, I suggest that you first find out what the position typically pays. (Learn about pay scales by checking with a career counselor, an employment agency, ads for similar job offers in the newspaper, and online resources.) Then mention your salary expectations in your cover letter using language that gives you room for negotiations, such as "I am looking for a position in the $X to $Y salary range."
Be a Savvy Negotiator
Salary negotiating is a skill in and of itself. Your cover letter and resume will get you the interview, your interview should get you to the bargaining table, and your negotiations should win you your desired compensation. For help tuning up your negotiating skills, refer to my book, The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Perfect Interview, and practice interviewing with a friend or counselor.
When the hammer-it-out salary negotiations start, remember this terrific bargaining technique called cherry picking: Present a number of items you want as part of the deal, knowing that you probably won't get everything on your wish list. The employer, feeling pretty smart about his bargaining skills, will likely pick a few "cherries" from your list and reject the rest. You both come out of the bargaining room smiling, feeling that a real compromise was made.
Here's a cover letter sample that deals with the salary expectation issue without spilling the beans about how much she hopes to make.
Cover Letter Sample That Refers to Salary Expectations
Create a salary history
New laws prevent employers from asking you about your salary history—but only in some states. Learn how to tackle this request from employers tactfully.
Say you see an interesting job posting that prompts you to "send resume with salary history." What do you do?
Well, that depends on where the job is. Recent changes have made it unlawful for employers to ask candidates about their salary history during the screening and interview processes. Massachusetts adopted a salary history ban in 2016 (it will go into effect July 2018); and in 2017, California (in effect January 2018), Oregon (in effect January 2019), Delaware (December 2017), and Puerto Rico (in effect March 2018) did the same, along with the cities of New York, Pittsburgh (for city employees only), and New Orleans (for city employees only). Other states and cities are expected to follow suit sooner rather than later.
But if your state or city isn't covered under the law at the moment, you'll need to know how to answer this salary history question tactfully.
There are potential drawbacks to providing your salary history. If you're willing to take a salary cut, revealing an earnings history higher than the range for the opening may price you out of the running. If you were underpaid in previous positions, stating your history may lead an employer to think you'll work for cheap, thus shaving thousands of dollars off your salary offer.
A lower salary level may also give the impression that your work experience isn't good enough. Moreover, you may be leery about disclosing your income history to a total stranger.
Even if an ad requests a salary history, many employers would still consider qualified candidates who omit this information. You can sidestep the salary history request by mentioning in your cover letter that you would be delighted to discuss salary information once a mutual interest has been established.
An opportunity to market yourself
But consider the flip side: Busy hiring managers often sort through thousands of resumes to find a suitable applicant, and they use a salary history as a way to find a candidate who fits the position's pay range. Companies want to interview applicants they know they can afford. As a way to weed through thousands of resumes, some employers require a salary history and immediately discard applications that omit this requested information.
If you decide it's in your best interest to present a salary history, use the opportunity to market yourself. Include information about your key accomplishments, allowing hiring managers to see your real real value.
Use your resume
The easiest way to create a salary history is to open your resume file in your word processing program and save it as a new document (i.e. YourName_salaryhistory.doc).
Leave in the heading that contains your name and contact information so the salary history layout matches your resume layout. Next, remove all sections other than your work history, leaving in employer names, dates and job titles.
Below each position, add in one or two of your top accomplishments, followed by your total compensation, including bonuses, stock options, tips, and benefits. You may also include starting and ending salaries for each position in which your salary increased. Title your page "Confidential Salary History."
If you are applying online using your Monster resume, set up one resume that contains your salary history in the document. Just log into your My Monster account and click the Resumes link. Find your main resume and select Copy from the menu. View/Edit that resume. Click on the Additional Info link at the top, then enter your salary history, keeping in mind that you just need to provide basic information, such as employer name, job title and earnings.
You don't need to include details about your accomplishments, because your resume already contains this information. Then when you reply to the posting, select the version of your resume that contains this salary information.
Sample salary history
1 Address Lane Anytown, MA 00000 | 215-555-5555 | firstname.lastname@example.org
Top-Producing Sales Representative
Confidential Salary History
XYZ COMPANY – Anytown, ST
Sales Representative, 5/16 to present
- Average $350,000 in monthly gross sales, consistently exceeding quota by 15% and ranking number 1 out of 35 reps in territory.
- Won and currently manage numerous Fortune 500 accounts, including GHI Co, JKL Co, MNO Co and other industry leaders.
- Compensation: $45,000 per annum plus commission
123 COMPANY – Anytown, ST
Sales Representative, 12/14 to 5/16
- Used prospecting, cold-calling and solution-sales techniques to generate and close 36 new accounts in first six months.
- Achieved President's Club membership for outstanding sales performance.
- Compensation: $38,000 per annum
456 COMPANY – Anytown, ST
Customer Service Representative, 7/10 to 12/14
- Commended for outstanding customer service delivery: "Judy's work is of the highest caliber...she is diligent in her follow-through with all customers and possesses a strong sense of accountability" (supervisor's comments).
- Compensation: $28,000 per annum
789 COMPANY – Anytown, ST
Customer Service Associate, 5/09 to 7/10
- Gained knowledge of hardware and software solutions, including high-speed networks, storage, backup systems, disaster recovery and systems/network management.
- Compensation: $10.50 per hour