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June 19, 2013
They’ll Ask. Don’t Tell.

If you are asked what you were paid in the past, and most interviewers do ask, here are some things to say.
Turn it around with a question: “What are your expectations for this position? I’d like to get a feeling for what you’re looking for.”
Let them know that you hold their interests in high regard: “I’d like to find a job that’s a good fit for me and my employer. I expect to be paid current market rates for my skills and experience. Paid fairly for what I contribute.”
Make them the expert with the knowledge: “I assume that you have a budget and a fair idea of what this position is worth to your company.”
My past pay isn’t relevant: “What I’ve been paid in past positions is not relevant to my current value or future performance. I’ve added valuable skills and experience.”
The “it’s none of your business” answer: “My past compensation is a private matter between my last employer and myself. It would be a violation of that trust to reveal it to you.”
And finally, just say no: “No, I can’t do that.”
I know this feels awkward. It may even feel inappropriate. You naturally feel like you need to accommodate the interviewer. You think you need to be compliant, obedient, eager to please. But all those feelings work against you. You will appear to be much more valuable, and more powerful, if you politely refuse to answer this loaded question. If you do tell, the interviewer will peg the offer to your past compensation. And you’ll leave money, and more importantly some respect, on the table.

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Ted Leonhardt has provided management consulting and negotiation training exclusively to creative businesses since 2005. He cofounded the The Leonhardt Group, a brand design firm in 1985 and sold it in 1999. In 2001 and 2002 Ted served as Chief Creative Officer for Fitch Worldwide, out of London. In 2003 through early 2005 Ted was president of Anthem Worldwide, a brand packaging design group.     
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