How Should I Include my Salary History in a Cover Letter?


Providing a salary history can be tricky, because it serves as an early screening tool for recruiters and a strong indicator of what your next salary should be. By revealing your past salaries, you’re essentially plotting the course to your next one. And your potential employer may not have the same destination in mind.

Just like all money conversations, discussing salary can be awkward if you don’t approach it with confidence. To make sure you know what you’re talking about when it comes to salary history, we talked to Paul Barada, salary and negotiations expert for and president of pre-employment screening company Barada Associates Inc.

If you’re applying for a job that specifically asks for salary history on the application, don’t ignore the request or put ‘not applicable.’ An incomplete application is the quickest way to the trashcan, says Barada, so don’t give the hiring manager an easy excuse to throw yours away.


If you’re asked to outline your salary history, include a separate sheet from your cover letter and resume devoted to salary. Include all fulltime, professional positions you’ve held post-graduation (no need to include short-term, hourly stints like serving tables, transcribing, etc.).

The best way to organize your salary history page is to state your position, employer, time spent in the position, and then your annual salary. (See below for an example.) This is a great way to show how your salary has steadily increased with your professional status—and what you expect your next salary to be.

Second-Year Audit Associate
Deloitte and Touche LLP, New York, NY
8/2008 – Present
Starting Salary: $45,000
Ending Salary: $55,000

This is an absolute no-no: Lying about your salary will discredit you as a candidate and burn a bridge with the potential employer. Barada says it’s simple to check up on an employee’s salary history, and many employers will ask for a copy of a recent pay stub or W-2 form to verify past payments.

Barada says companies check up on salary history more often than you’d think. “A company asked us to do a report on a candidate, and the applicant had about 20 years of professional experience, but he lied about how much money he was making at his last job,” says Barada. “He would have been hired if he’d been honest, but he didn’t get the job. The $5K he lied about wasn’t worth it.”


If you’re apprehensive about sharing your salary because you think you’ll get less than you’re worth, include what you expect your new salary to be. For each advancing position, it’s fair to assume you should receive at least a 10- to 15-percent increase in salary.

Take a candidate making $40,000. When applying for a new job, this candidate could state in her cover letter “My most recent salary was $40,000, but my anticipated salary is negotiable within the $45,000 to $50,000 range.” Most people change jobs because they have more experience and want to make more money—and there’s nothing wrong or unethical about asking for a bump in pay to reflect that. Just make sure your desired salary is realistic: That $40,000 candidate should not be requesting a $75,000 salary if her experience and skills don’t warrant it.

For this post, Doostang thanks our friends at WetFeet.


  1. Steve Carson says

    As an entrepreneur and business owner can’t verify specific salary as it varied as business cycles. Would income tax records be acceptable?

  2. says

    Hi Steve,

    Income tax records would be acceptable to verify your salary (if necessary), but you could include a range or the salary from the most recent year in your cover letter.

  3. Eric says

    As a former owner of a Single Member LLC, I was unable to “hire myself” (put myself on payroll). Had the LLC had more than 1 member, I could have been an employee, but with just one member I couldn’t do that.
    So, technically, I have been “unemployed” for over a decade… I suppose “Self-employed” would be an acceptable term. Anyway, like the previous poster, my income varied from year to year and some years were better than others.
    I wouldn’t dare report my final year’s income as it would reflect the amount I made on the sale of my business and that is in NO way indicative of a normal salary.
    I hesitate to include the previous years salary (or any of the previous years salaries) simply because I know they are much higher than any positions for which I am applying.
    I made good incomes and I did it without having a college degree.
    Imagine someone without a college degree applying for a job with your company who lists a very high previous annual income.
    So, I went and earned a BS in Business Management over the past year… So, now I have a BS. Even still, if I report previous income(s), those incomes will be WAY ABOVE what a BS typically gets paid for most positions requiring a BS.
    I don’t really feel there’s any way I can actually fill out the “Previous Income” field in a way that will endear me to a hiring manager… If I tell the “truth”, they will throw me in the trash can because they think I’m expecting too much and they can’t afford me… If I “lie” and say something more ‘reasonable’, then I run the risk of starting a relationship off without any trust.
    …when the truth is, I’d be very happy working for a fraction of my former income…
    I hate this question on an application. Frankly, the money I made in the past is “my business” (literally and figuratively)… …and IF I am applying for this position and am willing to take a pay cut, that is also “my business”. I understand the concern that someone who used to make a lot of money but now wants a job that pays very little may sound risky to the employer because that person may not be around long… but, in my particular case, he fact that I worked in one SPOT for 23 years (demonstrating that I’m hard working and loyal and not prone to bouncing around) should be enough.
    The trouble is: Most hiring managers won’t consider this kind of ting at all, in my experience. They see the big number$ and pass me right over.
    So… How’s an ambitious, qualified, successful person supposed to answer this particular question?

  4. Mike says

    As one who was making lower level income for many years,I can attest that employers try to get by on the cheap. Case in point – I went back to school and get back to back BS and MBA degrees. That coupled with my 40+ years in automotive Tier 1 & 2 qualify me for higher levels of compensation, even considering my cost reduction savings career to date in excess of $19 Million, employers want to start negotiations at 1980s salary levels! I’m worth much more, and can demonstrate it! I just need hired!!

  5. Fred Swan says

    Great tips, Always a tough question to answer when just applying for a job.

    Giving your last salary and a negotiable range seems reasonable.

  6. Lenny says

    I think I screwed up. I have been telling, only when asked, my former salaries but have been bumping them up about 5 to 10%. I have never even had to look for work and have never gotten positions I’ve had using a résumé. It has alway been thru networking and people I know. After 20 years I find myself in a position searching for a job. …and the employers starting salaries are 20% lower or more than what I am used to. Some companies want to hire experienced, seasoned, loyal account managers and salespeople at the rate of the inexperienced. So I have been bumping up my recent income in hope to have wiggle room to negotiate.. I am not experienced in job hunting and never even knew they have the right to check your W2s .. What can I do and possibly say now that the lying has been done?

  7. Gil says

    Enjoyed a successful sale of the previous business for which I contributed greatly to its growth and had a minor equity stake. Subsequent to that I had to go outside my former industry with my new sole-proprietorship consultative and sales representation business due to industry seasonality cycles and the timing of my departure. As this occurred during the pinnacle of the Great Recession (Dec. 2011), with no reputation to precede me, my operation is 100% commission based.

    It took on average three months to secure contractual representation agreements with each client, which does not include the lengths of time to find or be found by potential clients or to learn their products and/or services. Long story short (finally), very little income to show for the effort exerted, regardless of successes initially earned. Going from a fairly good salary base of $163k to a mere fraction of that in the past two years, what is your recommendation on how best to present this? Please know that in such cases, I had listed N/A, 100% Commission as my response.

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