Underpaid worker: should i overstate in my next salary negotiation


Hi all, 

i have a moral dilemma in salary negotiation: 

I left my job because i was grossly underpaid as a graduate architect with experience ( 45% lower of industrial rate, close to year 1 intern) for the amount of work and contribution i have done, setting aside other unhappy reasons. But i hung on to it for 7.5 months as the job market was very tough back then.

Now I have been to 2 job interview, another 3 lining up. I was wondering if it's ever wise to lie about my current salary in my next job? One of the interviewer has already asked about it. I didn't want to be too honest in case it becomes a vicious cycle in my career, future employers might only add 10% of my past rate. All i am asking for is a fair remuneration.  

What should i do? Would prospective employer ever find out if i over state it? Some people have told me they would ask to see old contracts; some would call old employers to check. Ahh scary... PLease advise... thank you.


Aug 16, 13 11:00 am

While it's dis-honest, I did the same thing when I was younger.  And found, on two occasions, that my new employers offered to match my 'salary' at my old job, so in each case, I bumped up my pay by switching positions.

In each case, my current employer had declined to increase my pay at my latest salary review, despite glowing performance reviews, and in one case despite the fact that they'd promised a raise 6 months earlier.

Maybe I'm a bad person, but I've never lost a minute of sleep over it.'re right, if a former employer is asked what you made, you'd be caught in a lie.  But in 15 years of interviewing people and checking their references, I've never asked what they made.  It never seemed relevant, as I knew what we could pay, and what the market rate was for the position.

Aug 16, 13 12:10 pm

I always told the truth - I was grossly underpaid for 3 years, then move up a bit with my current job - during the recession, there were many employers who took advantage of some of us. I do know people who are very well paid - they are also very very good at what they do. 

Aug 16, 13 12:17 pm

It's less about what you've formerly been paid, and more, as bklyntotfc says, what the employer can afford, and where they value you in financial terms. Your past experience should inform your value, but not dictate it.

To answer your question, I don't imagine any employer would ever ask that of a previous employer. I'm a terrible liar so I'm not  sure I'd allow myself, but on the other hand, if you want to move up any ladder, you've got to go for it.

Aug 16, 13 12:59 pm

I do know people who have rapidly moved up - they do stretch the truth in terms of pay and even the actual work they claim - Frank Lloyd Wright did it - the key is to be able to deliver to meet or exceed your claims - that is the difference.

Aug 16, 13 1:21 pm

None of their damn business. It's just a way to feel you out for the lowest possible offer. If that's the kind of questions you're getting, move on because you really don't want to work there: it's not going to get any better.

If want to have some fun, grossly overstate your previously salary and say you left because you didn't like the firm's culture/quality of work and that you'll be willing to take a pay cut in order to get the position. Make it clear that salary is less important than professionalism and the kind of work you're doing, which is why you're here, but try not to lay it on too thick.

Aug 16, 13 2:57 pm

The architectural community is smaller than many realize and the senior people in different firms often have close relationships. They also tend to know quite a lot about each other's firms and projects. (This is especially true in smaller communities.)

In many markets, some firms are notorious for paying low salaries. If your current firm is one of those and you state that you were paid very well at that location, it would not be surprising to me for that to raise certain 'trust' questions in the mind of the person interviewing you.

A real life example: I once interviewed a pretty talented young architect. As I looked over his credentials, I saw that he took credit for a high level contribution to a project that - unbeknownst to him - I knew quite a lot about (I worked for the developer of the project at the time the project was designed and the architectural firm reported to me). I knew for a fact that he was grossly overstating his role - and I confirmed that fact after the interview by a quick call to a friend at that firm. Although he seemed a decent candidate, this simple act of deception cast a shadow over the remainder of the interview and made it impossible to move forward with this candidate.

As difficult at it might seem at times, honesty always is the best policy. Rather than lie, think of an appropriate way to explain the circumstances. If the firms where you are interviewing are reputable firms they will understand and treat you fairly. If they are not reputable and try to use this information to take advantage of you, you don't want to work there anyway.

Aug 16, 13 8:37 pm

No, I totally agree with Miles Jaffe et al. that lying is totally acceptable here. Its a straight lowball question. My friends in other fields are consistently surprised the kind of bullshit salary questions architects get during interviews sometimes. I don't think you can walk away from offers like this in a mediocre economy, but if I was in this situation I would confidently lie, and if I was discovered, no big deal, that place has already shown me how they feel about their employees anyways. Quizzical does show what happens when you are caught, but he doesnt mention that its ever so possible most of his other candidates also overstated their roles and he just caught the one that he knew about. Anyways overstating your role in a project is a bit of a different thing than salary. The salary question has no other purpose but to try and lowball you, questions about role are asking about actual skills and actually relate to the job you would do*.


*though I have to say, in architecture I would totally recommend overstating your role in interviews. It really is an amazing way to get more responsibility, just make sure that you only overreach to things you can actually do and explain during an interview, not just whatever you feel like taking credit for

Aug 17, 13 5:08 am

If you are asked for a specific number at an interview, tell them you are unable to provide that number out of respect of a confidentiality agreement you had with your former employer regarding discussing salaries. This isn't necessarily lying - a lot of companies have a policy regarding discussing salary specifics.

If they keep persisting, end the interview and walk out.  It just means they're bottom-fishing. Any firm that would ask for this doesn't care about you, your credentials, your experience or anything else about you; their only concern is whether or not you're the "low bid".

Also, I don't think many employers would give out someone's salary history because of legal issues, so if you wanted to stretch the amount stated it probably wouldn't come back to you anyway.

Aug 17, 13 10:20 am

Hey guys, thank you so much for your input, it gave me a lot of insight into the issue from different perspectives and circumstances. From all your input, i am beginning to learn my right as an employee. Also because we belong to the lowest of hierarchy in entering this fierce job market, these issues are very good for all the newbies to know.

@bklyntotfc, @bowling_ball, @Given : exactly, the hiring company already knew what they could afford. I wished all hiring companies practiced this moral code, and just follow the market rate.  After all we have a probation period for the recruiters to know if we were worth what they pay. I think they only need to ask ex HRs if i am asking 20-30% above the market rate, which does raise abit of an alarm. If i am asking for the average market rate, then they shouldn't do this at all just to save a few penny.

@Xenakis: wow you were very patient with the situation for 3 years! I grew restless. I think its not the most cost efficient for the company as well, if employees are not motivated to do more. If there were other benefits to pay this off, i could settle. If not, its really an abuse of human labour. 

@Miles Jaffe: I agree. Having said so, i have heard from other friends who said its the norm now in a lot of different professions as well. Some would ask to see contracts, pay slip, or ex HR. 

@quizzical: thanks for the advise. No i wouldn't dare to buff up on works i have no credit for either... everyone's capability shows after 3 months of work. 

@ark1t3kt: That's very clever, thank you. Never knew employees have this right. I really do hope my boss & HR wouldn't give it out either. It would make them look awful too if other company knew they paid so low. Else, recruiters might also think there is something wrong with me... Anyway, good piece of advise! 

Aug 17, 13 3:09 pm

Tell them you'll reveal what you made at your last job if they reveal what they paid your predecessor.  That might put a cork in it real fast.

Aug 17, 13 4:41 pm

With the optimistic assumption that the employer tying to lowball you is going to tell the truth.

"The MArch you' be replacing started here as an intern and worked his way up to $14/hr after five years."

Cheech and Chong spell it out.

Aug 18, 13 11:05 am

They wouldn't fib, now would they?  Shocked, shocked, shocked.........

Aug 18, 13 4:55 pm

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