is it okay to lie about your salary history when applying for a new job?

A reader writes:

I’ve been wondering about whether or not it’s ever okay to exaggerate your past salary. I currently work for a nonprofit and I’d like to transition to the for-profit world. I’m worried that I will not get paid the for-profit market rate because future employers will see what I am currently paid. My current salary is significantly lower than what someone in a for-profit company would be making for the same responsibilities.

My friends in the past have bumped up their salaries to get a higher pay in their next job, and they are encouraging me to do the same. I would like to know if I could ever be caught lying about my salary thus jeopardize my potential offer or if this is something that a lot of people do. I am currently employed, so I would ask that hiring managers not reach out to my current employer since I don’t want to risk them finding out that I am job searching. So because of this, is it ok to say I make $5k-$10k more than what I make now to better position myself in my next job?

Nope. Don’t lie about your salary.

Some companies verify the salary information you give them, by asking to see a recent pay stub or a W-2, or by checking with the previous employer directly. And they often do this after you’ve already accepted a job offer as part of their new hire paperwork (don’t ask why; I’ve never understood that), which means that you risk them pulling the offer after you’ve already accepted it and resigned your current job.

In general, lying isn’t a good idea. And in this case it could bite you in the ass, hard.

You’re better off declining to discuss your previous salary altogether and/or pointing out that salaries in the nonprofit world often don’t translate to other sectors. Or you can point out that you were willing to take a lower salary in previous jobs because you were working for a cause you cared about, or whatever other reason you might have, but that part of the reason you’re switching to the for-profit sector is because you want to be paid a normal market rate. (In fact, read this post, which will give you close-to-the-exact wording that I once used to double my salary in a similar situation.)

And from there, keep the focus on what you want to earn now and why you think you’re worth that. But don’t lie.

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