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Your Take: OK to Lie About Previous Salary in Interviews?

This post about “a little white lie in salary negotiation [3]” sparked a bit of a heated debate in the Daily Worth community (I discovered it through a post on the New York Times Bucks blog [4]). The original post said:

I’d found a position I liked and applied for it. The recruiter asked for my current salary. Let’s just say I inflated the figure—and told her I was earning $5,000 more than I was. (“Everyone does that,” a successful colleague had told me. “Just don’t puff it up too much, so that figure seems realistic.”)

Some people didn’t take kindly to her advice about inflating your previous salary.

I don’t think it’s lying. I think it’s acceptable to lie about your previous salary if you are pushed to give a hard number. I also don’t think it’s appropriate for a recruiter or a prospective employer to ask what you earned at your last job. They have assigned a dollar value to you and they should base their compensation on that value, not on what your previous employer paid you. When you reveal what you earned at your last job, they make take that into consideration when they shouldn’t.

The right thing to do is to decline to answer but if I were pushed for a response, I’d give a range. If pushed for a single number (and I’d find this very inappropriate but sometimes you have to do what you have to do), I’d puff up the salary such that I’d be at most 10% away from what I wanted to earn.

This benefits both sides. First, either they decide I’m worth it or I’m not, in which case they will extend an offer or they won’t. Second, I don’t get an offer I won’t take even with a bump because of negotiation. We all save time and we all walk away happy. Why tell them you earn $40,000 if you won’t accept a job offer for $44,000? Or $50,000? It’s a waste of everyone’s time.

What do you think? Is lying/puffing OK or unacceptable?