Two senior managers reading a resumé during a job interview.
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On the job hunt? Why it doesn’t pay to inflate your salary

28 Aug 2019

If you’ve been tempted to tell a little white lie about your current salary during job interviews, you should reconsider, writes Nick Deligiannis of Hays.

What do you want from your next job? More flexibility, perhaps? To immerse yourself in a new and improved company culture? And probably a little more in the bank each month, right? These are the sort of rewards we all tend to look for when we decide to switch jobs but, naturally, money in particular is a key motivator for many.

You may also, however, be a little anxious about discussing your current salary and salary expectations when job searching. At the very least, you probably want to secure a good enough pay rise to make you actually want to leave your present job and take up a new role. So, the way you approach this topic could have a huge bearing on whether or not you’re able to achieve this.

It may, therefore, cross your mind to add a few thousand euros to your current salary when discussing it with a recruiter, in a bid to maximise the likelihood of prospective employers offering you a substantial raise. Surely that couldn’t hurt, right?

Indeed, you might also think this is worth doing if it makes you look better-qualified or experienced, and therefore a more attractive candidate who will receive a greater number of job offers with higher remuneration.

However, if you’re tempted to inflate your current salary with the aim of securing a higher salary in a new role, you should know right now that this approach doesn’t always work. And although that awkward question of, “What’s your current salary?” will still pop up, an honest and upfront approach is the far better option, for both you and the interviewer.

Why you shouldn’t inflate your salary

While it might not seem at first like much harm is being done, you should really take into account the following pitfalls of lying about how much you earn:

  • You could price yourself out the market: Inflating your salary could risk you immediately pricing yourself out of the job that you aspire to – especially as the wage stagnation that has affected many parts of the world since the 2008 financial crash continues to impact how much employers can realistically offer. Even the most qualified, skilled and experienced candidate can’t expect to attract many job offers if prospective employers can’t afford to hire them.
  • You risk looking completely overqualified: Similarly, a higher salary may lead to the misguided perception that you have more skills and experience than you do in reality, and operate at a much higher level. This could make you look overqualified for the roles you’re actually ideally suited for.
  • You may be perceived as dishonest: As I highlighted above, an honest and upfront approach is recommended – not least because the recruiter or hiring manager will know what the reasonable salary ranges are in your sector, so a salary vastly above the norm will raise alarm bells. Career coach Theresa Merrill explains: “There’s a high probability that the truth will come out and then you’re done. You’ve lost all credibility, trust and, most likely, the job offer.” In effect, lying about this one factor could lay to waste all of the other genuine and positive attributes on your CV.
  • You may come to regret it yourself: Even if your inflated wage is never noticed by your recruiter or an employer, ask yourself if it’s really worth the emotional worry to begin with? Yes, it may ‘only be a little white lie’, but do you really want that on your mind when preparing yourself for an interview? Spare yourself this emotional stress and instead focus on how to honestly present yourself as ready for the higher wage you desire.

You can still negotiate your salary nonetheless

Another great reason not to inflate your salary is that you simply don’t need to in order to move into a higher-paying role. Hiring managers understand that people look for a salary increase when moving jobs. So, you’ll more than likely be offered a raise and once you reach the offer stage the power will be with you and your recruiter to negotiate the exact figure. Nor do you necessarily even need to mention your current salary – stating your desired salary should suffice.

Consider, too, that hiring decisions aren’t made on the basis of salary bandings alone. Each hiring manager will also be interested in knowing about your specific skills, experience, character and personality, including trustworthiness. Risking getting caught lying about your salary is, therefore, one of the very last things that you should do if you want to boost, rather than harm, your chances of landing a higher-paying role.

In any case, most employers will be perfectly prepared to pay the fair and appropriate market rate for the value that you would bring to their organisation. Employers know that they need to offer competitive salaries in a skills-short market in order to secure the best talent.

If, then, you get to the offer stage, you can be sure that you have the qualities the employer requires – and therefore the power to negotiate a strong salary. Your recruiter can help you at this stage by negotiating on your behalf to ensure that the employer doesn’t, for example, negotiate you down just because you’re presently earning less than their role would otherwise offer.

It’s worth remembering, regardless, that salary should never be your sole focus when negotiating. Bonuses, benefits, employee rewards schemes and enhanced employee pension contributions can also all be discussed and could be instrumental in driving up the overall value of the job offer that you receive.

Be honest about your requirements

Quite simply, it’s much better to have a strong sense of your real value to prospective employers and an appropriate salary range for negotiation than it is to inflate what you’re currently being paid. By being truthful from the outset, but also stating your desired salary for your next job, you won’t get caught out.

It’s never a good idea to fabricate the truth at any stage of the job search, application or interview process, including when you’re discussing your salary.

Even if you feel utterly undervalued at your current employer (hence why you’re looking for a more rewarding role) you should resist the temptation to overstate your salary. Instead, say that you realise you are underpaid and that’s why you are looking for a new role. Then provide your desired salary figure, remembering that it must be realistic and in line with the current market. Your recruiter will then be able to secure a salary for you that matches your ideal figure as closely as possible.

By Nick Deligiannis

Nick Deligiannis is the managing director of Hays Australia and New Zealand.

A version of this article originally appeared on the Hays Viewpoint blog.

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