Cheeky Logo
Ready To Get Hired?
Apply To Book A Free Call With Our Transition Specialist Team

3 Ways To Avoid Disclosing Your Salary During A Job Interview

After two postdocs at two different universities, I realized that I didn’t enjoy what I was doing anymore.

This wasn’t the academic career I had envisioned.

All I did was sit at a desk, alone, and work on my research, alone.

I had lost my passion and was seeing only a very limited future for myself in the academic world.

I sought advice from a prominent senior researcher in my field who is renowned for her ability to teach and mentor students and postdocs.

The first thing she told me when we met was to get a job outside of academia.

It hurt to hear this.

I saw academia as the only way to be successful as a PhD, and I thought she was telling me I wasn’t smart enough or good enough to succeed in academia.

In reality, she was telling me the opposite.

She was telling me that there are other, better, opportunities for me outside of academia.

She opened my eyes to the many opportunities available in industry and recommended a few of her connections that I should contact.

I took her advice and started to build my industry network.

I worked on my resume and cover letter and started applying for industry positions.

But there was one annoying question that kept cropping up in these applications:What is your current salary?”

I didn’t want to disclose this information because, as a postdoc, my salary was low.

Let’s be honest, it was pathetic.

I was worried that if I disclosed my current salary, a potential employer would give me a lowball salary offer.

I knew my value to their company was higher than what my low postdoc salary suggested.

But I didn’t know how to respond to this question.

Beyond that, it felt invasive and embarrassing.

So I did everything I could to deflect this question and avoid it entirely in future applications.

My current salary wasn’t relevant to the skills and value I would bring to my potential employer.

I deserved more than the low pay of an academic postdoc, and I was going to make sure I got a salary matched to my skill set.

Shot of two businesspeople having a discussion in a modern office

Why You Don’t Need To Tell Prospective Employers Your Current Salary

From the hiring manager’s perspective, knowing a candidate’s salary history helps them determine whether the person is likely to accept the position or keep looking for another job.

If your salary history is known, the hiring manager can try to negotiate the best deal for both the potential employee and the employer.

But, we know that the hiring manager is working for the company, not you.

If a prospective employer knows you currently earn a low salary, they are more likely to offer you a low salary.

And in a way, that’s just good business.

Even if it feels unfair.

The potential for a lowball salary offer is increased for PhDs and postdocs, who have been receiving very low compensations for many years.

Disclosing your salary history puts you at risk of being undervalued.

According to a study by Georgetown University, holding an advanced degree increases your annual salary by an average of $20,500, compared to having just a bachelor’s degree.

Know your value as a PhD and don’t let the mistake of telling a prospective employer your current compensation limit your potential future earnings.

As reported in the Huffington Post, there is a movement to make the practice of asking for current salaries illegal, and some US cities and states have adopted this policy.

All of Massachusetts, as well as Philadelphia and New Orleans, have already made this practice illegal and New York City might pass the law shortly.

The main reason for this law is to reduce the gender wage gap.

However, this law also benefits PhDs and postdocs by ensuring that you are appropriately compensated based on your value to the company, and not what you have previously been earning.

In the future, more cities, states, and countries may make the practice of asking for a candidate’s current salary illegal.

But, for the time-being, you will probably be asked about your salary history.

So, how can you handle this question and avoid receiving a lowball salary offer?

The answer is simple… do not disclose your current or past salary to your potential employer, ever.

3 Ways To Avoid Disclosing Your Current Salary

As a PhD, you have a lot to offer industry, no matter what positions you decide to pursue.

You are worth a lot more than the low salaries or stipends that are offered to PhDs and postdocs in academia.

Do not trap yourself into a lowball offer by providing your current compensation.

Ensure your successful transition into a well-compensated industry position with these 3 strategies to avoid disclosing your current salary…

1. Choose networking over online application forms.

Online applications will almost always ask you for your current salary, or your desired salary.

To avoid this question, you need to avoid these forms.

As a smart PhD looking to get hired quickly, applying to jobs through online application forms should not be a part of your job search strategy.

A better approach is to network and build connections within the company, or companies, where you want to work.

Not only does this serve the purpose of avoiding the dreaded salary question, but it increases your chances of getting past the initial screening process.

Many online application forms filter out candidates based on the keywords in their resumes.

Often, this filtering is done using software, so your resume may be rejected before an actual person even looks at it.

By networking, you can email your resume directly to a person, dramatically increasing your chances of making it past the initial screening.

Networking also gives you access to unadvertised positions that you would have otherwise been completely unaware of.

However, networking is about relationship-building, and takes time.

If you are still earning your PhD, start networking while you are in graduate school.

This is the best route, since you are in the perfect position to give without asking.

But, if you forgot to network in graduate school, don’t worry. You can still harness the power of networking and find an industry career.

Research companies and positions you are interested in, find people who have those positions already, and set up informational interviews.

Look deep into your current network.

Let people know that you are looking for industry positions, but always provide value and invest the time to build relationships first.

With a solid industry network in place, you can secure job referrals from your connections and get your resume straight to the hiring manager.

No online applications, and no dreaded salary question.

2. Decline to disclose your current salary.

Even if you avoid online applications and get your resume directly into the hands of a hiring manager, you might still get asked about your salary at some point during the application process.

If this happens, whatever you do, do not disclose your salary history.

The hiring manager may be persistent in requesting this information.

You are under no obligation to tell a prospective employer your current salary.

However, it is important that you are polite when declining to give your salary information.

You cannot simply say “no” and leave it at that.

Rather, demonstrate that your salary history is not important because of the value you can offer the company.

Say that you’d rather not disclose your current salary, as you would like to have a fair negotiation based on your skills and what you have to offer the company.

You can be firm and say that your salary is personal and confidential information.

If you are a PhD student or postdoc, you can say that you receive a stipend or scholarship, which is not a salary.

Do not disclose the amount of your stipend or scholarship.

Make it clear that you haven’t had a salary before, and that a stipend or scholarship is different from a salary.

You may need to be persistent and firm.

If the hiring manager or interviewer keeps pressing you to provide your salary to a point where you no longer feel comfortable, consider walking away.

You may need to think hard about whether the company culture is a good fit for you.

Under no circumstances should you lie about your current compensation.

There might be some temptation to tell a ‘white lie’ and exaggerate your salary to avoid the risk of getting a low salary offer.

However, it is likely that you will be caught in this lie during a background check.

If a potential employer learns that you lied about your salary, they will question what else you have lied about and end the application process.

Throughout the discussion, remain firm and insist that your current salary is not relevant.

Keep bringing the conversation back to the value you can offer the company.

3. Interview the interviewer on salary range.

Another strategy to avoid disclosing your salary is to turn the question back onto the hiring manager or interviewer.

Don’t forget the importance of coming to your industry interview with your own set of questions.

If asked about your current salary, respond by interviewing the interviewer about salary range.

Ask your potential employer what the expected salary range is for the position.

Make them provide the first salary number.

If the position has been defined, the potential employer should already have a salary in mind and this should not be a secret.

If they refuse to tell you the salary range, they cannot expect you to disclose your current salary.

Once they provide a salary range, they may ask if this is in line with your expected compensation.

Again, this is a good place to be prepared with a deflection.

You aren’t ready to make a decision yet, you’re still gathering information, so don’t let them lock you down to a range that’s less than what you deserve.

State that you will consider all reasonable offers and do not commit to a specific salary range.

If you say “yes” at this early stage, it will make later salary negotiations harder for you.

If pushed into a corner, remember to use the phrase “I will consider all reasonable offers.”

Not disclosing your current salary will make negotiating a higher salary much easier once you have been offered the position.

At the end of the day, you are not obligated to disclose your current salary to hiring managers or potential employers. Remind your prospective employer that you will consider all reasonable offers, and demonstrate the value that you will bring to their company. Inform the interviewer that as a PhD or postdoc you received an academic stipend, which is not a salary. You may need to be persistent, but do not back down. Do not, under any circumstances, disclose your current salary or your expected salary. This will set you up to get the best offer possible.

If you’re ready to start your transition into industry, you can apply to book a free Transition Call with our founder Isaiah Hankel, PhD or one of our Transition Specialists. Apply to book a Transition Call here.

Book a Transition Call
Get Free Job Search Content Weekly

ABOUT GEMMA PAECH, PH.D.

Gemma has a PhD in Social Sciences specializing in sleep and circadian rhythms with a background in genetics and immunology. She is currently transitioning from academia into industry. She has experience in communicating science to lay audiences and believes in sharing scientific knowledge with the public. She is passionate about educating the public about the importance of sleep and the effects of sleep loss and disruption on general health and wellbeing to increase quality of life and work productivity. She is also committed to mentoring students across all demographics, helping them reach their full potential.

Gemma Paech, Ph.D.

Similar Articles

5 Interview Questions PhDs Always Get (and 5 Questions They Should Ask Employers)

5 Interview Questions PhDs Always Get (and 5 Questions They Should Ask Employers)

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

By the time I started my industry job search, I was desperate. I was nearing the end of my PhD and my proverbial plate had never felt so full. Between final experiments, last drafts, and defense presentations, I had dedicated virtually no time to my job search. The little effort and time I was able put into it felt very arbitrary and unfocused I wasn’t even sure what job I wanted. All I knew was that I needed a job – and fast. Needless to say, when I finally did find myself seated in front of a hiring manager, I…

How PhDs Can Avoid The Overqualified Label To Get Hired

How PhDs Can Avoid The Overqualified Label To Get Hired

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

“We regret to inform you that we will not be moving forward with your application due to concerns that your qualifications exceed those required for the role.  We feel it would not be a good fit. Thank you for applying.”  Oof, that’s part of a rejection email a PhD sent me. An employer had sent it to them after the first interview.  Another PhD told me this recently… “I feel like I’m both overqualified and underqualified for the jobs I apply to Isaiah.”  Which do you feel is more of a problem for you? I asked.  “At first I thought…

How To Answer “Why Are You Leaving Academia?” (& 4 Scientific Ways To Convince Employers To Hire You) 

How To Answer “Why Are You Leaving Academia?” (& 4 Scientific Ways To Convince Employers To Hire You) 

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

“‘Why do you want to work here more than anywhere else? And why are you leaving academia?’ Those are the questions I got stuck on, Isaiah.  I told them why I liked their company, mainly because it was aligned with my values, but I also wanted to be fair and ethical so I told them that I was considering other companies. Then I explained that academia was no longer a good fit because I wanted to do more than write grants all day.”  “Okay, I replied, anything else? What did you say after that?” “I asked them a few clarifying…

Should You Apply To More Than One Job At A Company? (& 3 Other Tough Job Search Questions Answered)

Should You Apply To More Than One Job At A Company? (& 3 Other Tough Job Search Questions Answered)

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

“Isaiah, I applied to ThermoFisher two weeks ago and a hiring manager got in touch with me and I had my first interview…. But then a second hiring manager reached out to me about another job I applied to there.  I started talking to this second manager and they asked if I applied to any other positions there.  I couldn’t lie so I told them about the other job and the other hiring manager.  Now, neither of the hiring managers will get back to me.  What should I do?”  This is what a PhD told me over the phone last…

How LinkedIn Ranks Job Seekers With PhDs, EdDs & Other Degrees

How LinkedIn Ranks Job Seekers With PhDs, EdDs & Other Degrees

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

“Be real Isaiah, there’s not a government bureau keeping track of how our resumes perform.”  This is what a frustrated job seeker said to me recently.  “What do you mean I have a reputation score?” they asked.  “Of course there’s not a bureau dedicated to this, at least not yet” I said.  “But you absolutely are being scored and ranked” I went on, “and your ranking is used to indicate how reputable you are as a job seeker.”  This is what I’ve explained to countless people looking for a job in today’s job market, most of whom were getting initial…

How The Academic PhD Job Market Was Destroyed

How The Academic PhD Job Market Was Destroyed

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

“I spent over a year looking for a job in academia and flew to multiple interviews. I didn’t get one offer.” A PhD told me this recently and many other PhDs have told me similar stories.  Of course, the stories involve more than just looking for a job for a year.  They involve living on a meager academic budget, trying to support themselves and their families, often in very expensive cities where many of the biggest universities are located.  They involve decisions to never go on a vacation, to feed their kids cheaper, less healthy food, and to work all…

Give Yourself The Gift Of Leaving Academia Forever

Give Yourself The Gift Of Leaving Academia Forever

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

My last year in academia, I didn’t have enough money to fly home for Christmas. So I spent it in Iowa City, mostly alone.  I was broke (of course) so I decided to shovel snow out of driveways for $10 per driveway. I remember thinking how ridiculous it was to be a PhD shoveling snow for money. “What I wouldn’t give to have a better job”, I thought.  That was the gift I wanted for Christmas and the holidays.  A better job.  Not to be a student or a postdoc or an academic PhD getting paid less than I was…

The Ideal Keyword Density For Targeting Your PhD Resume To An Industry Job Posting

The Ideal Keyword Density For Targeting Your PhD Resume To An Industry Job Posting

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Writing a resume for an industry job is one of the biggest sticking points I see with PhDs entering the job market.  What worked even a year ago is not working today due to recent and rapidly accelerating advances in Applicant Tracking Systems.  These systems, called ATS or just AI today, are software tools used by companies to filter resumes.  They scan for specific keywords related to the job role, abilities, credentials, and qualities desired in a candidate.  As a PhD seeking very competitive roles, including relevant keywords in your resume is essential to pass through these systems and get…

AI Is Replacing Recruiters. Here’s How PhD Job Seekers Should Adapt

AI Is Replacing Recruiters. Here’s How PhD Job Seekers Should Adapt

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

“I had a recruiter reach out to me, Isaiah, and after I gave them my resume and answered their questions, they never got back to me. What should I do?”  I hear this a lot.  I also hear, “Isaiah, I was on the phone with a recruiter and as soon as they heard that I needed a visa, they hung up” …”or as soon as they heard I had no industry experience, they hung up.”  Man, I personally hate this. What a waste of time. The recruitment industry is broken.  The good news is its being devoured by Artificial Intelligence,…

Here's What Others Are Saying

"I'm happy to share that I'm starting a new position as R&D Scientist II at Chemring Sensors and Electronic Systems, Inc.!"

Karim Dawkins

Karim Dawkins

R&D Scientist II

at Chemring Sensors and Electronic Systems, Inc

"I am happy to share that I'm starting a new position as a Research Scientist at Cellecta, Inc.!"

Chaitali Saqcena

Chaitali Saqcena

Research Scientist

at Cellecta, Inc.

"I signed with ASML for 117k! (asked for 120 and they came up from 110) plus a 10% target annual bonus."

Andrew Dawes

Andrew Dawes

Senior Applications Engineer

at ASML

"I am happy to share I started a new job as a senior research scientist in medicinal chemistry at x-chem Montreal."

Nicolas Wlodarczyk

Nicolas Wlodarczyk

Nicolas Wlodarczyk Senior Research Scientist

at X-Chem

"I picked the Planet job! It ended up being the better fit for me... Thanks for all of your help!"

Emily Martin

Emily Martin

Hardware Systems Engineer

at Planet

"I got a job offer from a pharma company, which I am going to accept..thank you for your amazing support!"

Gonzalo Rosso

Gonzalo Rosso

Formulation Scientist

at Coriolis Scientist

"I got an offer at Estée Lauder! I accepted the offer since it is a great company and less than 15 min away. I don't have to worry about relocating."

Ivan Peran

Ivan Peran

at Estée Lauder

"I’m happy to share that I started a new position as Medical Science Liaison at Ashfield this January, part of UDG Healthcare (now Inizio) supporting Avita Medical. Thank you to all my mentors, colleagues, and friends who have been incremental in making this dream possible for me.....It is an exciting space/time and I can’t wait for the future."

Mimi Borrelli

Mimi Borrelli

Medical Science Liaison

at Inizio

"I’m excited to share that i am starting my new job as a technical support engineer at lumencor, inc. the ultimate goal is to grow potatoes on mars by 2050 and make other advaces for mankind."

 Andrii Repula

Andrii Repula

Technical Support Engineer

at Lumencor, Inc.

"New offer - went ahead and signed contract today - - excited and thank you for the confidence booster - grateful for investing in Cheeky Scientist."

Wael Bahnan

Wael Bahnan

Senior Scientist

at Minervx ApS

"I'm happy to share that I'm starting a new position!"

Norhaziland Mohamed Zaid

Norhaziland Mohamed Zaid

Senior Development Scientist

at Haleon

"One thing I feel I did great was joining the association as a Diamond member. Modules and Classes helped me to prepare ahead of the search- to do and to go right. The other useful thing was the accountability forum....your classes and modules really helped me to believe in myself and have confidence in myself. I value myself as a PhD. I gave a shot for a senior scientist position, and got one!"

Nabina Paudyal

Nabina Paudyal

Senior Computational Scientist

at Colossal Biosciences

"I signed the offer today! I am will be working as a technical support manager - it is what you call a field scientist within Cheeky. I am super excited and already feel welcomed!"

Maria Terra Terra

Maria Terra Terra

Technical Support Manager

"I am thrilled to be starting my position as a Scientist at bioMeriuex! I will be joining the device validation team to bring #invitrodiagnostics to the market!"

Alec Vallota-Eastman

Alec Vallota-Eastman

Scientist

at bioMeriuex

"I'm happy to share that I'm starting a new position as Senior Actuary, Pricing at HDI Seguros!"

Claudia Wehrhahn

Claudia Wehrhahn

Senior Actuary, Pricing

at HDI Seguros

Top Industry Career eBooks

63 Best Industry Positions For PhDs

63 Best Industry Positions For PhDs

Isaiah Hankel, PhD & Arunodoy Sur, PhD

Learn about the best 63 industry careers for PhDs (regardless of your academic background). In this eBook, you will gain insight into the most popular, highest-paying jobs for PhDs – all of which will allow you to do meaningful work AND get paid well for it.

Industry Resume Guide for PhDs

Industry Resume Guide for PhDs

Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Learn how to craft the perfect industry resume to attract employers. In this eBook for PhDs, you will get access to proven resume templates, learn how to structure your bullet points, and discover which keywords industry employers want to see most on PhD resumes.

AI & ATS Resume Filters

AI & ATS Resume Filters

Isaiah Hankel

In today's competitive job market, understanding the impact of AI is crucial for career success. This involves ensuring your resume stands out in the digital realm, mastering your online presence, and being aware of how AI assigns reputation scores. Discovering how to leverage AI to your advantage is essential, as it plays a pivotal role in shaping professional opportunities.

Complete LinkedIn Guide For PhDs

Complete LinkedIn Guide For PhDs

Isaiah Hankel

The LinkedIn tips & strategies within have helped PhDs from every background get hired into top industry careers.