If lying could raise a starting salary offer, should you do it?

Surely it's a good sign in an interview when the HR manager asks about your current salary. If they weren't seriously considering you, they'd have no reason to want to know.

But what if it's a trap ‒ a cynical ploy to low-ball you when it comes to pay negotiations? Should you strike preemptively and bend the truth with an inflated figure? Or should you take the honest route, fearing your lies may later be found out? It's a tough one, but we've got the answers to handling the "current salary" interview question.

Is asking about your current salary legal?

So stringent are our employment laws, it's a fair thing to wonder. Employers aren't allowed to discriminate in hiring, but does that mean your present pay information is off limits?

In short, no. In the UK ‒ unlike parts of America ‒ there is no law preventing HR managers from enquiring about your current salary.

Dodging the "What's your current salary?" interview question

It's such a personal question, we'd forgive you for wanting to snub it altogether. A job should be awarded on the candidate's merits ‒ not what they earn.

And there's a bigger issue at play also: the gender pay gap. If a female candidate is already underpaid for her work, might disclosing her current salary simply entrench her under-remuneration?

These are all valid points, but ultimately, refusing to answer a straight question in an interview is difficult, however principled the reasons. Because of this, you'll likely have to respond.

Benefits of answering the "current salary" interview question

Employers know that it's a hard question, so answering it well will go far to show your professionalism and clear-headedness under pressure. If you swerve the query, you risk looking at best, uncommunicative and at worst, downright obstructive.

A confident candidate can also use this opportunity to get on the front foot for future pay negotiations. Therefore, give them the figure with pride, taking care to highlight any recent bonuses and pay rises. As an employee, your contribution can't be measured in just pounds and pence ‒ but they're a handy metric nonetheless.

Should I lie?

But what if that metric is a bit on the low side? To put it bluntly, should you just lie?

There's certainly a strong argument for being economical with the truth. Let slip that you're currently on a meagre salary and the employer will hold all the cards in a future pay negotiation. Pump that number up, however, and you can expect to be offered close to that number if selected.

Be sensible though. Any interviewer worth their salt will know the salary averages of an applicant's current sector and skill level. Dish out an exorbitant sum and you'll only be making a fool of yourself, so use tools like Glassdoor and Payscale to find out appropriate salary ranges for your field and level.

Will they find out?

It's hard to think of a trait more recruiter-repellent than dishonesty. In fact, a survey conducted by TopCV and CV-Library found that 62% of HR managers identified lying as a major turn-off for job candidates. But what they don't know won't hurt them, right?

Whether a company would try to verify a candidate's salary with their most recent employer is doubtful. And if they did, that employer certainly wouldn't be compelled to offer the information.

So, the truth-benders are in the clear, right?

Not exactly. When an individual moves jobs in the UK, they must supply their new employer with a P45 form ‒ a document detailing their tax affairs as they relate to their salary. From that, past salaries can be gleaned.

So, it's a calculated risk. If you lie about your current pay, you're unlikely to be found out until after you've started your new job. By then, you'll be safely employed and on good money. Still, your new boss will know of your deception. Maybe they won't mind, or might even admire your enterprising spirit. But equally, you could forever be pegged as untrustworthy.

Summing up

As a general rule of thumb, if you're going for a job in which honesty is particularly valued ‒ lawyer, doctor, police officer, etc. ‒ we'd recommend playing it straight. If your industry puts a little less emphasis on absolute righteousness ‒ sales or advertising, say ‒ you've got more licence to be creative.

Still, it's a lot to weigh up. The most important thing is deciding how you'll answer the "current salary" interview question beforehand. Going in with a planned response will guarantee you have a cool head when the query crops up. Accurate or not, deliver your answer with confidence... and hope for the best!

Your CV says a lot about you ‒ including how much you're worth. Get a free CV review to find out if an employer would see your true value.

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