By timestaff
October 24, 2007

by JEANNE FLEMING, PH.D. and LEONARD SCHWARZ

Question: I work for a firm that is notoriously cheap when it comes to paying its employees. I’m now interviewing for a job at another company. When I’m asked about my current salary, should I tell the truth or give the amount that I know I’m really worth in the job market?

Our Answer: Lie through your teeth.

Just kidding. While we sympathize with the position you’re in, being underpaid by one firm doesn’t justify lying to another, especially when the sole purpose of the misrepresentation is to manipulate the company into paying you more. To lie like that would be as unethical as your prospective employer misleading you about, say, the period of time before you’ll be eligible for a raise.

Ethics aside, lying is a bad idea because you run the risk of getting caught. And since falsifying information on a job application is often grounds for dismissal, that’s a risk to avoid at all costs. Imagine losing your job for lying, then being asked in subsequent interviews why you left your last position.

So tell the truth – or try to deflect the question. But either way, make a case for why you should be paid the salary you want. Point out what people with your skills make elsewhere. Mention that you’re changing jobs because you feel you’re underpaid. And most important, explain what makes you worth the money. After all, what matters to your prospective boss is not what you feel you’re entitled to but how hard you’re willing to work and what you’re prepared to deliver. So tell him!

Questions? Email Money Magazine’s ethicists – authors of the upcoming book “Isn’t It Their Turn to Pick Up the Check?” (Free Press) – at FlemingandSchwarz@right-thing.net.

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