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What Happens if I Embellish My Salary History?

Kaitlin Madden, CareerBuilder.com Writer

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Talking about how much you earn is kind of like talking about how much you weigh. Both are uncomfortable subjects, so you might not always be 100 percent honest about either.  (Who hasn't shaved 10 pounds off their physique or upped their salary by a few thousand dollars when hanging with their rich and skinny friends?) Most of the time, these little white lies are no big deal -- it's not as if your friends are going to ask you get on a scale to verify your  weight.

However, while telling an occasional fib in daily conversation may be a minor offense, lying about your salary history on a job application can be a serious transgression.

"Unlike many soft skills, salaries are finite, concrete numbers that can be verified through things like a W2, 1099 [or] tax return," says Paul Peterson, national talent resource manager for Grant Thornton, a management consulting firm. That means that if you lie about your salary history on your résumé, there's a good chance that your potential employer will find out. "If someone goes to extremes to embellish a salary prior to getting the job, one has to ask, 'What will they embellish when they are actually performing the job?'" Peterson  says.

Though it's true that not all employers conduct background checks or delve as deep as checking a candidate's W2 forms, salary information can easily be verified through your references -- which most employers do check.

"Salary is one of the very few things that former employers are often willing to reveal in a reference check," says Barry Maher, author of "Filling the Glass: The Skeptic's Guide to Positive Thinking in Business." "Even if they won't give the exact amount, a question like, 'If I placed his salary range with you in the area of $100,000 would I be in the ballpark?' usually yields the information."

Bottom line? "Lying about anything as part of a job search strategy is not a good idea," says Elaine Varelas, managing partner at Keystone Partners, a recruitment firm. "Starting a relationship with a company based on false pretenses may not hurt you in the short term, but chances are you will be exposed."

Yet what about job seekers who think they were underpaid at their last job? Should they continue to settle for less money than they think they're worth, just to avoid embellishing their salary history?

Not necessarily, say our experts. There are plenty of ways to get the salary you deserve without lying on a job application.

Here, they offer three ways to broach the subject of salary increase with a potential employer:

1. "If you're looking to make a significant jump in salary, my advice to people is to convince the potential employer why you are worth what you are seeking and, where possible, quantify that number," Peterson says. 

2. "It's perfectly acceptable to say something like 'I'm making $80,000 now. And though my present employer would certainly agree that I'm worth more, the simple fact is ...'  then give the reason, [whether it be] a salary freeze, budget constraints, tough times in that industry, whatever.  [Then continue with] 'Since the industry standard for someone with my skills and experience is $120,000, that's one of the reasons I'm looking to move on,'" Maher says.

3. "When you are asked about compensation, you can say: 'I was making in the mid-$70s, which included a 20 percent performance bonus, which I always got, and a very comprehensive benefits package.' Then ask, 'What is the compensation range for this position?' Using this technique allows you flexibility and gets the employer to share compensation data. Be prepared to negotiate only after an offer has been made," Varelas advises.

Kaitlin Madden is a writer and blogger for CareerBuilder.com and its job blog, The Work Buzz. She researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues. Follow @CBForJobSeekers on Twitter.



Last Updated: 01/09/2010 - 10:59 AM


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