Career Corner

Writer: 
January 31, 2006

I work in management for a nonprofit, and am interested in a similar job in the private sector. My potential new employers want to know my current salary. Should I give it to them?

There's an old adage regarding salary negotiation that says "he (or she) who states a number first, loses." That's particularly true when you're underpaid--for whatever reason. If you allow your new salary to be based on your current salary, you may be inadvertently giving up thousands of dollars. So how do you avoid the question?

First, try to finesse the issue by stating that your requirements are flexible and dependent upon the nature of the position. You might choose to go further and say that you'd be happy to discuss your salary in a personal interview. Avoid, at all costs, giving a figure in a letter. You want your new employer to be excited about you first, not hung up on whether they can afford you.

Second, do your homework and know your worth. Worth is based on your years of relevant experience and salary typically paid for the type of organization in which you intend to work. It's usually expressed as a range, e.g., $45,000-$55,000. You can get an idea of your worth through websites such as salary.com. Even better, quiz friends who work in the industry. Armed with this information, you can put your nonprofit salary in context. You'll also want to know the value of your current benefits, such as health insurance or retirement, which are often substantially greater in nonprofit than for-profit organizations.

Most important, know that the "sweet spot" of salary negotiation is when your new employer has offered you the job but you haven't yet accepted. If you can get to that point without having mentioned a number, you're golden!