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Ask HN: Should I provide salary history after an accepted offer?
45 points by thrwymcthrwface 72 days ago | hide | past | web | 57 comments | favorite
I've received a written offer from a BigCo that I've accepted, and we've now proceeded to the background check stage.

They've contracted with a third party to perform a background check, and part of the employment verification step requires previous salaries and dates of employment. I have an issue with providing my salary history as I've received large increases last time I switched and this time as well (>40%), and I'm concerned they'll lower my agreed-upon salary after seeing the results of the report (as I seriously doubt it's a binary yes/no from the third-party).

Since I have not previously disclosed my salary history during the interview process, my plan is to bend the rules of allowable characters in the salary field to provide a null value and supply heavily redacted W-2s / paystubs as supporting documentation (in lieu of allowing them to contact my previous employers directly).

I'm wondering--Is this a sound plan? Would you do something different? Am I being overly-cautious with information I perceive to be confidential and irrelevant in my background check given I already have an accepted offer?

You would supply supporting documentation? Why on earth would you do that?

I'd write $1 for previous salaries, let the human figure out that it is obviously an error, and say "That's confidential." when asked, in the unlikely event that was asked. Your new employer is not performing the background check to get permission to hire you. They've already made the decision to hire you. If a blip pops up in the background check, that's going to be HR's minor emergency, not yours.

(Why do employers do background checks? In most cases, so that they never have to say in the future "No, we don't do background checks." Consider the case where an employee embezzles a large amount of money from the firm. One of the first questions they'll be asked by various aggrieved parties is "Did you do minimal due diligence when hiring like background checks?" and if that answer is "No." then regardless of the contents of the hypothetical background check on that employee they're in a bad way.)

Your old employers will generally verify employment in the most minimal manner possible. You'd have to pull teeth to get anything more than dates and titles from a lot of firms; anything more than that a) gets them absolutely nothing to provide and b) exposes them to liability.

bend the rules of allowable characters in the salary field to provide a null value


To expand on this slightly, patio11 (the guy who wrote this comment^^) has written a phenomenal post about hiring that's a must-read: http://www.kalzumeus.com/2012/01/23/salary-negotiation/

Thanks for the advice and the insight :) I'll uncheck the boxes preventing them from contacting former employers and rely on them restricting info to dates and titles.


ducks Yeah, this was a dumb idea. I'll avoid the form validation antics.


This law is broken more frequently than it should be.


Especially now that he's documented his intention to do so on the public internet, which could add charges like conspiracy and wire fraud.

> as I seriously doubt it's a binary yes/no from the third-party

Actually, this is most likely what it is. Checking on employment history, they just need your name really, and the company should be able to say you worked there or not, and the dates. Providing dates is just helpful to match up to your resume. They don't need your salary to be able to verify employment history - I've never heard of this before. The company will say you worked there or not. They may also say if they fired you or you resigned. Anything other than that seems pretty unlikely.

Part of the reason for this is liability. If this happened, and you got paid less all of a sudden (or didn't get the job), you could possibly sue your former employer. I think this is why references these days are not at the company level, but you provide your own references.

I think it's just as likely that you got the job without having to fill out a salary / job history (because you sound smart, and they obviously like you), and this is just them catching up on paperwork. I wouldn't put the salary in, and see if they even bring it up. My bet is they won't.

Also, and this is important, make sure you have their offer in writing with the salary clearly spelled out. If you've already signed a written offer letter, I think it'd be very questionable of them (legally, morally, ethically) to change the terms. Especially before you've started (where they can make up some reason why they don't want to pay you that much).

Congrats on the new job and the pay raise!

yes. these background check companies suck. I almost didn't get a job because the company doing the background check couldn't be bothered to get off their ass and deal with a company that went bust in the dot com crash. They just said i was lying rather than actually taking the time to do research and see that the company didn't exist anymore for a good reason.

I documented my BS experience here http://weblog.masukomi.org/2007/06/22/the-trials-and-tribula...

I remember having to provide proof for companies that got acquired or went bust for a background checking company...I ended up giving proof of employment from my tax return, which sucked to have to do.

I was in a similar situation a couple of years ago with a large company. They wanted 1099's as I had been an independent contractor for years -- I refused to provide any tax info on principle; however, my skill-set is in high demand, and I had other competing offers.

The hiring manager really wanted me, so he argued with HR until they waived the requirement for me. I think it was kind of a pain in the ass for him, so I think it comes down to how much the manager is willing to fight for you.

Edit: I always refuse to allow employers:

  - financial/credit checks

  - drug testing / medical information
  - salary verification
I always explain this to recruiters - I can pass any of these checks, but I think they are immoral; since my skills are in high demand, I try to fight the battle for those who don't have as much negotiation strength. I don't believe that any of this information is relevant for employment, and these types of checks tend to hold back people who are already struggling.

> financial/credit checks, drug testing

There are sound reasons for these kinds of checks; you may not entirely agree with them, but they do exist. For certain industries, it is almost mandatory to use them.

They all basically exist as proxies for determining how honest or trustworthy a person is. Can the person being hired be trusted to keep our proprietary information confidential? Can they be trusted not to pawn their laptop? Can they be trusted not to sell company secrets to someone they owe a favor to?

Questions like that can be somewhat answered by the results of such tests. If, for instance, they have a bad credit score, it may mean that they run up high bills on their credit cards, and don't pay off the balance in time, or miss payments. Why would that be, if they are being payed a decent salary? Could they be coerced by someone to lend them money in exchange for say - a list of passwords to some servers? Or a dump of the database?

Drug testing is the same way; if they test positive for an illegal drug, that right there is a huge red flag that says to the employer "this person is in contact with people doing illegal things" - and again, coercion or extortion are possible here.

Depending on the employer, these proxies may or may not be overkill. As I noted above, you can make valid justifications for them even in a white-collar software engineering role. It should go without saying that for certain roles (financial, medical, heavy equipment) that having a trustworthy employee can mean the difference between "life or death" of the company, liability risks, or injury/death of the employee or fellow employees.

>There are sound reasons for these kinds of checks; you may not entirely agree with them, but they do exist.

Well, I understand their reasons, but I dispute that the logic behind this reasoning is sound.

The best overall argument I have ever heard is that for security clearance, a company might want to evaluate how susceptible a candidate would be to blackmail; however, at that level of background check, a candidate would typically be given a chance to explain any issues.

If I were seeking a high security clearance, government role, I think I could understand the justification.

However, this type of invasive background check is frequently used for jobs that have no need for security clearance, in which case it seems like an automated "purity test", which is automatically waived for higher-level hires (e.g. do CEO's have to piss in a cup before being hired?)

Re: Drug Tests -- Easy to beat if you've got the $. I also dispute that drug use is a valid measure of morality. If someone is intoxicated on the job, that should be obvious. I find drug tests particularly hypocritical at companies that have weekly happy hour gatherings, or other job-related consumption of alcohol.

Re: Credit/financial checks -- Likewise, I think this is a poor measure of morality or future performance. Lots of people have had financial trouble; it doesn't mean they're going to steal, or be unable to do their job. Again, if they are stealing, or unable to do their job, they should be fired, regardless of any past credit history.

I think that these checks/tests are inaccurate predictors, and are generally used only in situations where there there is a great power asymmetry between the employer and the employee.

I understand there are exceptions where they might be more justifiable, but in general, I feel they're an invasion of privacy.

>Questions like that can be somewhat answered by the results of such tests.

Not really. Credit checks and drug tests are worthless for determining the trustworthiness of employees beyond serving as filters so basic that they border on being comical.

For example: a clean drug test and perfect credit score wouldn't save a company from a sociopath that grew up with a silver spoon in their mouth, and gets blackout drunk every other night.

Moreover, I'm willing to bet Snowden had quite excellent credit and finances prior to taking off with the sum total of the intelligence community's PowerPoint files. In fact, I bet his drug tests were spotless too.

Real trust is far more complicated.

On the bright side, at least credit and drug tests do screw the companies that use them out of otherwise excellent candidates on a regular basis. It also saves their apathetic HR departments from having to solve the mystery of why a candidate's affinity for the number 300 stems from the fact it's both their credit score and the number of times they've taken PCP. I'm sure someone of that caliber would've otherwise just slipped right past and landed a cushy software development job.

One interesting side effect someone was postulating w.r.t. the Equifax leak was that it may provide bad actors a handy list of "people with credit issues that may be more amenable to blackmail and/or bribery".

New York City just recently passed a law banning salary history inquiries. I hope that other cities and states start following suit. Good coverage of it here:


The idea behind the new law, which was sponsored by the New York City public advocate, Letitia James, is to try to prevent pay inequality between men and women. According to an August 2016 study commissioned by Ms. James, women in New York State get paid, on average, only around 87 percent of what men get paid. Women in New York State earn collectively some $20 billion less annually than do men. In New York City, women get paid nearly $6 billion less than men annually.

This inequity gets memorialized not only when a woman starts a job but also when she switches jobs because until now employers were able to ask prospective employees how much they have been paid in the past. The pay inequity gets perpetuated year-to-year, person-to-person across industries.

For my last 3 jobs I've entered 0 (or $1 if 0 isn't allowed) as my past salary in online forms and blacked out my SSN, pay, taxes, etc on W2s and pay stubs. I usually just leave my name, date, and the company logo. I've had zero issues. Nobody has ever asked why I blacked it out or what was under there.

Curious - how are paid (and taxes taken out) if your employer doesn't know your SSN?

Unless you're a contractor and using a "company" tax ID number, or being paid "under the table" in cash, bitcoin, or other goods...?

Just because you do not supply your SSN to a scummy background check company does not mean your employer can't see it.

In all 3 cases, the background checks were done by third party companies. HR receives a report from them that has text like "Employer 1 - Dates Verified, Position Title Verified." I also had "Employer X, called twice on number provided by applicant and left voice mails. No response from employer. W2s were provided."

There's no reason for me to give my SSN to a third party.

I typically provided my SSN to HR as part of the onboarding process after the background check was completed and my offer was finalized.

I am not a lawyer.

With that out of the way, you have already completed the negotiation phase of the process. They can't reopen the salary question without rescinding the offer completely. Why would they do that? They've already invested heavily in recruiting you and have offered a salary they must be comfortable with. To squeeze you now would make no sense. If they did that, you wouldn't want to work there anyway.

The third party is certainly some 'bcheck' company that services many clients that do require salary info as part of their negotiation process. They don't have a custom process for BigCo, so you got the generic form everyone gets, regardless of employer. They run a series of standard online checks, maybe call past employers and get only dates and title (no employer gives out salary data when asked), and forward the whole mess to BigCo HR. The bcheck company has no opinion in the matter. I'm guessing the only use for past salary data they might have is to judge how they are doing versus the market.

"I'm concerned they'll lower my agreed-upon salary after seeing the results of the report"

Agreed upon is agreed upon. If they really try to lower your salary it's probably not a good place to work.

Keep in mind that if the company now feels like they're overpaying that may impact their future decisions about salary .

My advice is always to not negotiate against yourself. Take the money and see how it plays out. Companies have short memories.

hmm, Is it that binary? What if the OP lied to get higher numbers from the prospective employer.

Usually, most employers do ask for your existing pay slip/old W2 along with your accepted signed offer letter to ensure due diligence.

I have seen plenty of times where employers lied about average salaries in the company and told new hires that they are in the upper range at the company. I find it crazy that somehow employees have to be fully transparent but companies can lie and hide information as much as they want.

They should do their due diligence before hiring somebody.

> Usually, most employers do ask for your existing pay slip/old W2 along with your accepted signed offer letter to ensure due diligence.

Never seen this happen. Ever.

Anecdote incoming, but I've never seen that in 12 years in the industry (asking for an existing slip). And I've worked from everyone from AmaGoogFaceSoft types to HR companies to startups.

I would enter $1, as mentioned elsewhere.

"I noticed you entered $1 here. Can you please correct with your actual salary?"

Answers: "No"

"I'm sorry, but I do not share previous salary information"

"As a matter of principle, I won't be sharing previous salary information"

"Yes I'm aware that it is required, and I would love to work for BigCo, but I won't be sharing my previous salary information"

"I understand you need to enter salary information, but I do not share that information with any prospective employer. I sincerely hope we can move forward."

Notice that the reasoning for each response is "because I said so" and is not open to prying HR tactics. They will try hard to make you second guess yourself, they may revoke the offer. Stick to your guns, "No salary info. I'd love to work there. Let's move on."

You have to be prepared to walk away from the offer though to make this work.

Which makes for some interesting game theory.

I fell in to this trap with 'BigCo'. I never gave my salary information to the recruiter, and kept my cards to my chest.

When I tried to negotiate my low-ball offer this docu was brought up, that she had taken a look at my past salary that was provided here. I would not fill this out if I could go back in time. That being said, this was provided prior to the salary offer.

Don't get fancy with a null. Just put $0 or $1. If they ask about it say it's confidential. They already made you an offer, it's unlikely they'll do anything at this point. They want you to work there.

Most of these sorts of forms I've seen in recent years have been online things that have some kind of input validation. In particular, the ones I've seen tend to be a drop box with choices like $20,000-$29,999...$30,000-$39,999... etc. And the form won't submit without making a choice. The point evidently being to leave no realistic choice but to tell them the truth.

Put the lowest or highest amount the drop down says so it still seems unrealistic if possible. They'll probably ask about it, and again your answer is, "That information is confidential, so I just put in the lowest the form would take."

"Okay, but we really do need that information."

"That's between me and my accountant, haha. But based my my research this is the amount people in my field make so let's put this number down. -places print out of Glassdoor salary info on table-"

Ultimately it's just another method to pressure you into giving them more leverage in salary negotiation. You still don't have to give it.

> "I'm concerned they'll lower my agreed-upon salary after seeing the results of the report"

That would be a really easy reason for you to back out and to start out not happy with them. If they did this, I'd consider leaving immediately.

Not to mention that this kind of dirt gets around. Employers don't want to be viewed as bad employers.

I would be pretty surprised if they decided to reduce their offer after you'd already accepted it.

My partner works in HR. If you have given them a salary figure previously and they do this check and find you have lied then they can withdraw their offer.

This is why this check is in with the background check and why you should never give salary history to a potential employer.

Null value FTW.

They will still contact your previous employer but all that they will confirm is whether you worked there, no one will give out your previous salary. And no, I wouldn't give any supporting docs as per patio.

> If you have given them a salary figure previously and they do this check and find you have lied then they can withdraw their offer.

this line should just read,

> they can withdraw their offer.

I'm pretty sure they can withdraw their offer at any time for any reason or no reason at all.

Right, in the sense that they don't owe the applicant a reason. But being caught in a lie is an especially good reason, from an internal perspective, to decide to move on from an applicant.

It is not the BigCo which is asking for the info but the third party. You can refuse to share the information by writing "undisclosed" if it allows for text or just write 0. In case the BigCo wants the salary information let someone from the company contact your directly and discuss it.

I also had this happened with BigCo. I left it blank or if required entered $0. Nobody said anything about it.

My decision would depend on how hungry I am. It's difficult for me to imagine being in a position where I would disclose previous salary information, at this point in my career. It's irrelevant. I should be paid what I'm worth to this company at the present moment, which has nothing to do with what I may have earned elsewhere.

I personally would not submit the form until I've had a conversation with someone. I'd tell them, in writing, I won't share my salary history, and then ask how I should proceed on the background check form without it. I would not submit a null value without giving them a heads up.

That said, if you really want or need the job, feel free to make an exception.

I went through this when I received an offer to join a BigCo.

During the background check provided by the 3rd party, I actually filled in my STARTING, not FINAL salary for some of the previous companies that I worked for.

This actually came up in the final report as mismatches in my history since they actually do call up each company you provide information for, but nothing ever came of it.

I suggest that you not lie on a background check. The company will not renege on an already agreed on salary nor does a BigCo care how much they're paying you.

What they're looking for is honesty and that there are no glaring red flags in your personality or history.

Isn't there a way to find your current salary by your future employer? For eg. I am making x$ per year today, could I say I am making 1.5(x) to my future employer and wouldn't he validate/verify it?

Only if the future employer asks the current employer for this information, and the current employer agrees to provide it. Both those things are unlikely in the US.

Just put one or zero in the salary field(s). No company worth working for is actually checking your salary history.

Resorting to entering '; DROP TABLE candidates; -- will definitely get your application rejected though.

I jist went through this. The company used a firm called HireRight. They wanted to confirm my employment history, and get info on my past salary. I left those fields empty, and redacted salary info from other documents I had to provide them. They also tried to get this info from my past employers, but no one in their right mind would disclose that to a random third party. This hasn't caused any problems for me - turns out they want to hire me more than they want that info.

I'd suggest showing your offer letter to a lawyer and discussing it with him/her.

I understand your desire for privacy, and it sucks that BigCo is asking for this person info. But if you didn't lie about previous salaries and they've already offered you a certain amount, I think your risk is lower if you just give them the info.

HR departments can be pretty rigid and unforgiving if you try to deviate from their prescribed processes...

Basically they make you fill it, but I think the idea is that the company who'll hire you fill in the salary you claimed you had during the interview and the background check company will check if you didn't lie.

So you can just leave it out, if it's important they'll ask you and you can discuss why you're not confortable sharing it. Anyway it won't cost you the job.

No, no and no. Everything is negotiable, and employers don't need to know your previous salaries. They want it as a negotiating tactic only, there is no other legitimate reason to require it. Any company that would bar you from employment for (tactfully) refusing to provide this information is not a place you want to work.

For VOE they should just need start and end dates (at least anywhere I have worked) possibly with a heads up from you, but if I accepted an offer that was contingent on passing a background check I would just cooperate as that is just part of what you are signing up for this that type of position.

Just lie or if you want to be a stick in the mud put $0 in the field and tell them to buzz off.

If they come back to you with "proof" that you had a lower salary just say that that didn't include your large yearly bonuses and that your previous salary was confidential anyway.

If their background check comes with a much lower salary they'll probably doubt the agency anyway. This information is supposed to be pretty protected and most people are probably just doing the old trick where they pretend to be someone interested in a job at your former company and ask about general compensation there.

Don't lie about it. The odds of them withdrawing or changing their offer at this point because of your salary history are lower than the odds they fire you for lying.

Just say $1 and tell them it's confidential. You value your privacy and don't want to reveal this information to them.

You're not supposed to be required to report previous salary. Just give names of previous employers and don't tell lies.

It seems unusual. Can anyone else vouch for this happening to them?

No, never.


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