Could salary history make you history?

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Should I provide a salary history when requested by a potential employer?

“He who raises salary first loses.”

I am far from a yogi. But I would like to suggest a mantra to use when you’re asked for salary information.

This is a time-tested principle. In the minute between potential employer and job seeker, the party that mentions what they want first usually doesn’t get it.

That is to say, as much as you may want to show you’re a cooperative sort, you’re better off not including salary information with your resume. Remember, information is power: If someone knows what you’ve earned, then he or she knows what you might accept. That could be lower than the company intended to offer. Indeed, providing such information could hurt you when compensation is negotiated in the hiring endgame.

Your position will be stronger if you let employers raise pay issues. If they want you enough, they’re more likely to pay more. Some of you may view the above as sacrilegious. If an organization seems interested and asks the salary question early on, it seems logical to answer. You think: “They may think that I don’t follow instructions. Or worse, they may think that I’m defiant, not a team player. That’s grounds for disqualification, right?”

Doesn’t affect chances

Not exactly. A 2001 survey of 159 human resource and hiring managers by the Career Masters Institute found that nine in 10 respondents said they wouldn’t eliminate applicants who didn’t provide salary information when requested. The Career Masters Institute is an association of professional resume writers and career coaches. “Not providing salary history or requirements — even when employers ask for it — doesn’t much affect the chances of being considered for employment,” the survey concluded.

Let me here add a word of fair warning. There’s no mathematical formula for job searching where the right steps lead to the desired result every time. Sometimes you have to rely on your gut. If you really want a job with a firm that you believe won’t consider you without a salary sheet, perhaps you should veer from the norm.

“You have to make a decision as to how you’ll feel if a company that you want to work for doesn’t offer you the chance to continue trying for the position because you didn’t provide salary information,” says Linda Peacock-Landrum, director of career services at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.

Use the cover letter

But even if you decide that you must respond, you don’t have to pin yourself down. Several top professional resume writers told me they advise clients to offer a salary range. If you’re still worried about not following directions, you might address salary in a cover letter. One possible sentence: “I noted your request for salary history in your ad.” Then you can provide a range.

Of course, resume experts say it’s best to find out the position’s exact requirements and the going rate for such jobs. That way you can price yourself appropriately. “Intelligent job seekers do their own market research,” says author and resume expert Susan Britton Whitcombe.

Los Angeles-based James Peter Rubin has written about employment and management issues for many publications, including The Wall Street Journal and The Economist.