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3 Phrases to Keep Your Current Salary a SECRET from Recruiters

You know what sucks? Applying to a job because you're underpaid, and then being asked by the recruiter, "What's your current salary?" as if they're not going to use that information to give you a lowball offer.

I want to tell you the secret to not giving away your current salary.

First, I need to acknowledge that it is illegal in some states in the US to ask about your current or past salary. Here's a handy guide to check the laws in your state.

That said, these tips might apply to other questions that you don't want to answer, so let's dig in to what you can do in these situations.

Phrase #1

I want you to practice saying the following:

My current contract does not allow me to disclose that information, and it's important to me that I keep my word

Make sure you've had a look at your current contract. Is there a clause about not disclosing your salary?

"Pay Secrecy" Aside

Salary disclosure is a complex topic. One common misunderstanding is about "Pay Secrecy", which is a concept in the US dating back to the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 and reaffirmed as an Executive Order in 2014. The short answer is that it is illegal for companies to prevent co-workers from discussing their own compensation with each other.

However, the law doesn't mean that companies can't require employees to not talk about salary externally. Read your work contract and see what it says for you.

Phrase #2

If you don't have a clause against disclosure, or if you are being pressured to disclose anyway, here's what you say:

"I'm not comfortable discussing my current salary right now, however I am really excited about this role. I think it's a great fit. Compensation is not going to be a problem."

Focus on the next steps for moving forward, and how compensation is not a blocker for you.

Note: this has nothing to do with wanting a high salary and planning to negotiate later. Like I said in my last post, application questions are not negotiations. Focus on getting interviews so that you get a great offer you can then negotiate.

Phrase #3

If the recruiter continues to press you about the past, ask:

"Can I get back to you about my current salary later?"

Then never get back to them about your current salary.

The question they should be asking is, "What compensation are you looking for?"

This is a great question for everyone to get on the same page:

  • The recruiter is trying to figure out whether you're going to end up wasting their time
  • You want to make sure you're not wasting your time, either

If a recruiter continues to pressure you about your past salary, move the conversation to what salary you're looking for:

"I'm not comfortable discussing my current salary right now, but I can tell you what compensation I'm looking for in my current job search."

It's important to have a good answer for "What compensation are you looking for?" but I've reached the end of my time today, and will leave this post as a cliffhanger.

Next week I'll dig into the specific numbers and phrases you can use to most effectively discuss compensation expectations.

β˜† Compensation history laws by state:
β˜† More info on "Pay Secrecy"


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Top comments (3)

jmfayard profile image
Jean-Michel (double agent) • Edited

The important thing is to make a commitment to never answer the question.

Then it doesn't really matter how you do it, it will become better with practice.

Right now I make it simpler than what you propose

Q: What is your current salary?
A: You want me to give you my current salary?
A: <pause>
Q: ... yes
A: I don't do that
A: <pause>

Worst case scenario: after this, the recruiters gets pushy, insist that I have to obey his rules for... reasons.

That's actually a win for me because I have decided to not work with ethically-challenged people.

But usually the recruiter moves on and it's a win for me.

candidateplanet profile image
lusen / they / them πŸ³οΈβ€πŸŒˆπŸ₯‘

Yes! It helps so much to figure out your boundaries and decision tree before you are talking with someone in a stressful situation.

Another one that can help is to make it your policy to never make life-changing decisions without first sleeping on it and discussing with family. That way even if you feel pressured to accept an offer on the spot, you can say,

"Thank you so much. I'm really excited about opportunity! However, it's a policy of mine to always sleep on a big decision before signing. When is a good time for me to call you back tomorrow?"

I think it's important to point out that there are no right or wrong candidate boundaries. For some candidates, the worst case of not answering a phone screen or application question could be getting rejected (or ghosted), and that might not be a risk they're comfortable with at this point.

Every life decision contains trade-offs, and there are many great companies and roles that have less than perfect hiring processes. You might not want to (or be able to afford to) miss out on an opportunity simply because of a recruiter interaction.

In that case, hopefully these phrases and encouragement from myself and @jmfayard are helpful, but if a recruiter can't move forward without ticking the box, you may want to give your (full, bonus including!) compensation in order to move forward. That's ok!


  • Don't lie: it might come back to bite you.
  • Be polite: they are still evaluating your communication skills and how you make others feel.

"I don't do that" is clear, but a bit terse and depending on tone could be taken as rudeness. You don't want to introduce red flags early in a candidacy, especially if the role requires collaboration. It could also push the recruiter further away from you rather than getting them invested in moving you forward. If you can be both clear and kind that will give you the best options.

Last thought: if it's a written application, you could enter $1. It is obviously wrong, but would still get you through validation and an automated salary checker. It introduces some risk since a human reviewer might reject you because of the answer.

Ok here's my LAST thought: if you haven't done any interviews yet for a company but you really want that interview, don't sweat the salary questions. Try to avoid giving an answer, but if you have to answer to get an interview GET THE INTERVIEW!

Application questions aren't negotiations! You're not locked into anything until you sign.

Impress the heck out of the interviewers (leverage!), get a great initial job offer, and then negotiate it.

jmfayard profile image
Jean-Michel (double agent) • Edited

I don't do that

it works wonder.
definitely do it.
That's how busy self confident powerful bosses answer their emails
I know that's stupid, but I'm not the one that invented this job market industry.

you can also try



that's a pass thanks


busy right now third weekof January ok