How To Avoid Disclosing Your PhD Salary During A Job Interview

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 PhD 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.

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 PhD salary to your potential employer, ever.

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 PhD 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.

Decline to provide your current salary and ask for a negotiation

#2 Decline to disclose your current PhD 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 PhD 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.

Not disclosing your current PhD salary makes negotiating higher pay much easier

#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.

What else can you do to make sure you get your first job in industry after leaving Academia?

Here’s what to do if you REALLY want a job in Industry after a PhD

There is a training program for PhDs and young academics that want to leave academia and get a job in industry.

It’s for you if you think nothing that you learnt in academia is valuable for a company.

For you if you feel like an overspecialized academic.

For you if you went to a networking event hoping to get a job and nothing happened.

For you, who can write a 30 page paper but has no clue how to write a single page CV that gets you invited for an interview.

For you, who doesn’t want to run the rat race of linking postdoc after postdoc in different countries hoping for an elusive tenured position.

For you, if you have that feeling in your gut saying “I enjoyed academia so far, but I don’t see myself here all my life”.

Meet the Cheeky Scientist Association

… the best training program that helps you land a job industry after a PhD.

It helps you get a job in industry AND once you are there, it teaches you how to grow in your new role. It’s a lifetime investment that pays off year after year!

It covers topics like networking, applying for jobs, negotiating, developing the right skills for industry, or even turning your LinkedIn profile into a magnet for recruiters. It’s that damned complete.

It opens enrolment soon, stay tuned!

Wait, there is more. Keep reading.

Fun fact #1: did you know that Dora Farkas, a guest blogger here at Next Scientist who wrote viral posts on dealing with tough supervisors, is an Accredited Cheeky Scientist consultant who is also an active member in the Association?

Fun fact #2: did you know that Isaiah Hankel, the creator of the Association, is also the author of the book Black Hole Focus, which has been equally endorsed by New York Times best selling authors and top scientists?

Wait, there is even more. Don’t stop reading now.

Special bonus for Next Scientist readers

We partnered with Cheeky Scientist to offer some extra goodies, so joining the Cheeky Scientist Association is a no-brainer. On top of all the Cheeky Scientist Association offers, you’ll exclusively get:

  • A guide on the Recruitment Process and how to handle the relationship with recruiter.
  • The step-by-step Salary Negotiation Guide you need (with this one you will recover the registration price of the Association, multiple times).
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But before … I have a last surprise for you

Free job search in industry webinar:

You are invited to a free webinar training on job search in industry starting this Wednesday, August 9th.

“Access The Hidden PhD Job Market By Following A Proven Job Search Blueprint webinar is hosted by Isaiah Hankel (Cheeky Scientist) and Julio Peironcely (Next Scientist) this Wednesday August 9th, at 3PM EST.

Click here to register now for the webinar.

Isaiah will share common mistakes PhDs do at job searching in industry and what you should do instead so you get a job fast.

Are you in?

I want to see you at the webinar, it’s going to be career-blowing!

About Isaiah Hankel, Ph.D.

Isaiah is a Ph.D. in Anatomy & Cell Biology and internationally recognized speaker, bestselling author of Black Hole Focus, and a top Fortune 500 consultant. He is an expert in the biotechnology industry and specializes in helping PhDs transition into cutting-edge alternative career tracks.

Isaiah is the founder of Cheeky Scientist, an industry training platform for PhDs who want to become confident and successful industry professionals. Follow Isaiah Hankel and Cheeky Scientist on Twitter.