Most hiring managers-nearly 90 percent, in fact-don't make their best and final offer during the first round of salary negotiations with new employees. They may want to first check your salary at your old job, although your previous employer is under no obligation to provide the information. However, it's never wise to inflate your earnings record, particularly if the company calls your previous employer to verify your salary information.
A prospective employer might ask for your salary history as well as your salary requirements to determine whether your skill level is consistent with the company's needs. Calling your most recent employer to verify your salary suggests that the recruiter doesn't want to rely solely on your word to determine the compensation you received in previous jobs. Recruiters usually can tell whether your past wages are on par with market pay, based on your qualifications, work experience, job duties, industry and company size.
Verification vs. Check
Employers rarely provide detailed salary information and even more rare that your previous employer would volunteer information about your earnings. Prospective employers that discuss salary with a candidate's previous employer generally have a base salary amount they're calling to verify. For example, verification means the recruiter asks, "John Doe indicated that his starting salary with your company was $50,000 in 2009 and that his current salary is $62,000, in his three-and-a-half year tenure with you. Are those amounts correct?" A recruiter is unlikely to get salary information if she simply asks, "Will you give me John Doe's starting salary and his ending salary during the time he worked for your company?"
Although prospective employers can ask just about anything related to your work history, including salary, it's up to you whether you'll authorize such inquiries. Many online job applications won't even let you proceed to the first page of the application unless you give the company authorization to conduct a background check or verify the truthfulness of the statements on your application. In addition, some companies ask you to provide hard copy, signed authorizations they use to make specific requests for salary information. Some states are considering making it illegal to request salary histories, so this option may be off the table for some employers.
Background vs. Salary
Post-9/11 security precautions increased the percentage of employers who obtain background information for new employees. Nearly 70 percent of employers reported that they rely on criminal history information to help screen candidates, according to a 2012 criminal background check survey by the Society of Human Resource Management. Although many background checks include employment verification, criminal history checks and consumer reports, if the employer subscribes to a comprehensive search company's services, it might as well get salary information, too.
Many employers outsource their employment verification tasks, and some of the companies that serve the needs of employers also assist job seekers. For example, The Work Number provides verification services for an astonishing number of federal agencies and Fortune 500 companies, nearly 90 percent and 66 percent, respectively. The company also provides an employee-focused service that lets job seekers give prospective employers a "salary key" they can access for accurate salary and employment information. If you're looking for a job and your previous company outsources its verifications, this is the perfect alternative to save a recruiter's time and effort to check your salary history. It also provides you with peace of mind instead of being concerned that prospective employers might call your current and previous employers.