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Cover Letter Casualties - Selling Yourself Out Of A Job With Salary History

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Selling Yourself out of a Job With Salary History

Job Seeker's Story

After moving from Boston to the small town of Mims (Florida), Marshall was thrilled to find a local opportunity for a Project Administrator at one of the few large companies in the area. He was careful to tailor his résumé and cover letter to match the job requirements, right down to the request to include salary history.

He felt a little twinge of concern about the salary history, as it seemed both pay and cost of living were not as high in this small town compared to what it had been in Boston. However, he knew he should answer the question so he explained in the final paragraph of his cover letter that his ending salary in his last position had been $80,000.

Marshall was disappointed that he never heard from the company for an interview but assumed it was probably his salary history.

Job Seeker's Stumble

Marshall had the right idea about answering all employer requests and questions, but he did not take advantage of the opportunity to help this prospective employer connect that his salary was based on Boston wages and cost of living, and not that of a small Florida town. In fact, the Boston wage of $80,000 would have been equivalent to around $50,000 in his new location, but, because the reviewer would most likely not look deeply enough into the accompanying résumé, she would just assume that Marshall was way out of the company's budget.

Rarely do employers see it as a positive opportunity to consider a candidate who is outside their budget because, even if the candidate would accept a reduced salary, the general assumption is that he would be likely to leave as soon as a more lucrative offer were obtained.

Job Seeker's New Strategy

Including your salary history can seem to be a lose-lose proposition, as employers use it as a screening tool to cut out applicants who are too high or too low. So why would you include it? Because if you do not you raise “red flags” with the reviewer for not following directions, appearing difficult, and/or having something to hide (too high or too low prior salary).

It is not actually that hard to deal with this issue. Just apply the following strategies:

  • • Do not over-think the request if your salary requirements are in the range of the job market. It is not necessary to include an entire starting and ending salary list for your career. Instead, keep it simple with an open response such as “During the last few years of my career my compensation has been in the $70K range with benefits. I am currently negotiable.
  • • Help the employer cross the bridge to understand your salary if it is too high or too low for the market. This is particularly important if you have made too much based on a different cost of living or are changing fields. For example, you might say, “Having just relocated from Boston, I recognize that my $80,000 salary is equivalent to a salary in the $50–60K range in this market. I believe compensation should reflect both professional ability and market trends, and am therefore currently negotiable in my requirements.” Keep your salary history details clear, concise, and positive within the cover letter. Additionally, it is a good idea to always include that you are “currently negotiable,” as it can make an employer more willing to speak with you. It does not mean you are opening yourself up to low offers, but that you want to see if there is a fit for your skills and a fitting salary for that contribution.

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