How to Answer 'What Was Your Last Salary?' (Plus Tips)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 15 November 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

During an interview, the hiring manager may ask questions about your salary expectations and previous earnings. They can ask these questions to learn more about you and determine if they can meet your salary needs. If you're interviewing, learning more about these questions and how to answer them can be beneficial. In this article, we explain why employers ask about your salary history, describe how to answer the question, provide examples and review helpful tips for managing salary-related interview questions.

Related: Guide to What to Wear for an Interview (And What to Avoid)

How to answer 'What was your last salary?'

It is important to know how to answer 'What was your last salary?' before you meet with a hiring manager as it can affect your earnings in a new position. These are some steps you can take to answer this interview question:

1. Understand your salary range before the interview

It's important to understand your salary expectations before the interview and before you seek new positions. Consider your previous earnings, experience and market value when determining your expectations. You can research online to learn what similar individuals earned in the same role. Speaking with other professionals in the industry to learn more about their earnings can also be beneficial. Determine a tight salary range that you're willing to accept, with your lowest number at the bottom end. For example, if you want to earn at least $50,000 per year, you may ask for $50,000-$57,000 per year.

Example: 'I'm not comfortable discussing my salary history, but I do know that my target salary for this position is $50,000-$57,000 per year, contingent on the benefits we discussed earlier.'

Related: How to Write Interview Feedback for Hiring Teams (With Example)

2. Focus on your salary expectations instead of history

You aren't obligated to provide the hiring manager with your salary history and if you want to earn more than you previously did, it may not be a good idea to share them. Instead of providing a history of your earnings, you can focus on what your current salary expectations are. This is a straightforward way to communicate your salary expectations and that you don't want to share your salary history.

Example: 'I'd love to discuss my salary! My target earnings for this position, at my experience level and with my skills, is a range between $110,000 and $120,000 per year. I'm also interested in learning more about this company's strategies for bonuses and additional compensation for leadership positions.'

3. Explain your reasoning for not disclosing your salary

If you want to, or if the hiring manager persists, you can explain your reasoning for not disclosing your previous salaries. There are many reasons you can use to explain this and it's important to focus on your right to privacy rather than a desire for a higher salary in your new position. For example, you may explain that your previous employer wouldn't want you to disclose your previous salary. You can also express that your professional advisor advised you not to share your salary.

Example: 'My previous employer, Qiu Huan Industries, was very strict about privacy and security, and I'm sure they don't want me to disclose information about the salaries they offer. I can tell you, however, that I understand the market value for a professional with my education and experience in this position is between $75,000 and $80,000 per year.'

4. Express potential benefits that may influence pay

If the hiring manager isn't flexible on the salary, you can express how potential benefits may influence your salary expectations. For example, if the company assists with relocation or transportation costs, you may accept less salary. Preparing a list of benefits you're interested in before the interview can be helpful.

Example: 'Though my target salary is $150,000 to $160,000 per year, it includes my transportation and education costs. If the company can offer benefits in the form of tuition assistance or transportation, I may be more flexible in salary expectations.'

5. Detail how you arrived at your expectations if they ask

After expressing your salary expectations to the hiring manager, they may want to know how you arrived at that figure. If you want to, you can explain your reasoning. Focus on your experience and skills when answering and emphasise your knowledge of what others in the position earn within the market or industry. Citing professional reasons like experience, education or market value is usually better than expressing your own financial needs.

Example: 'As a marketing director with more than 15 years of experience and a master's degree, I believe my leadership abilities and skills influence my market value. I'm uniquely prepared for this position, as I specialise in social media marketing. These are the factors that influence my understanding of my value for this position.'

Related: 19 Types of Common Interviews and How to Prepare for Each

Why do employers ask 'What was your last salary?'

Interviews are an opportunity for the hiring manager to learn more about your professional experience and expectations for a new role. They may ask questions about your salary history to learn more about what you expect to earn. These are some reasons employers may ask about your last salary:

  • To determine how you fit into their budget: Hiring managers have a budget for the role and they may ask you about your salary history to learn if your salary expectations fit within that budget. Many hiring teams have flexible budgets, so it's important to consider that when answering the question.

  • To understand if you know your worth: The hiring manager likely knows both your market value and what the company can offer you. They may ask this question to determine if you earned market value in your previous position and if you understand your professional worth.

  • To assess your current professional level: If you ask for a salary far below what they offer, they may assume you aren't at a high enough level for the position. If your previous salaries are far more than what they can offer, they may assume you're too senior for the role.

  • To learn more about your personality: How you answer this question is as important as the information you give them when you do. You aren't obligated to share your salary history and they can learn more about your personality and approach by seeing how you answer this question.

Related: 4 Sample "Thank You for the Opportunity to Interview" Emails

Example interview question answers

Though you can disclose your previous salaries, it's likely better to avoid doing so. Instead, you can focus on your target earnings and potential benefits you may be interested in. These are some example answers to this interview question you can use as inspiration when preparing your own answer:

Example 1

'Thank you for bringing up compensation! I'm not prepared to disclose my previous earnings, but my target salary is between $80,000 and $85,000 per year. I've based my salary expectations on my understanding of the market value for this position and my own discussions with other professionals in this position. It's very important to me that I earn a competitive salary equal to my professional worth.'

Example 2

'My professional advisor counselled me to avoid disclosing my previous salaries, so I'm afraid I can't share that information at this time. I am prepared to discuss my target salary for this role, which is $200,000 per year. I'm willing to negotiate this target if there are substantial executive benefits available for the role.'

Example 3

'I'd be interested in knowing more about what previous individuals in this position earned as well, but I don't think it's wise to exchange this information. I'd prefer to focus on what my intentions are for compensation and benefits currently, rather than what they may have been in the past. I understand you likely don't want to share the previous salaries for this role, either. My current salary target is $90,000 to $98,000 per year.'

Related: 10 Questions to Ask an Interviewee (With Example Answers)

Tips for managing this interview question

These are some helpful tips you can use to answer 'What was your last salary?':

  • Assess their approach: Hiring managers who insist on learning more about your previous salaries may reveal more about their company culture. You can take what you learn from the interview to determine if it's a good fit for you.

  • Focus on being confident: Confidence is important when answering this interview question, as it can affect how likely the hiring manager is to take your salary expectations seriously. To be confident, practise sitting up straight, maintaining an even tone and making professional eye contact.

  • Prepare for the question: Questions about salaries and earnings can surprise you if you aren't ready for them. Consider practising answering these questions during mock interviews with your friends and family to improve your ability to answer confidently and professionally.

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