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Attention, Female Job Seekers: This Interview Mistake Could Really Hurt You

By Maurie Backman - Feb 5, 2018 at 5:36AM

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And the worst part? It's a tough one to avoid.

There's a reason so many job candidates stress out about the interview process: A single sit-down can essentially dictate whether or not you land your dream job.

Of course, breezing through an interview is easier said than done, especially since you're likely to encounter your share of tough questions along the way. But if there's one inquiry you really need to be careful with, it's the dreaded "How much did you earn at your last job?" While you may be inclined to dodge that question, not disclosing that information could end up hurting you -- that is, if you're a woman.

Serious looking woman in business suit

Image source: Getty Images.

According to research from PayScale, women who are asked to disclose their salary history and refuse wind up earning 1.8% less than women who share that information. But interestingly enough, when men are asked that question and don't answer, they wind up getting paid 1.2% more. Talk about a mind-boggler.

The good news is that some states have already banned the aforementioned salary question, mostly in an effort to bridge the ever-controversial gender pay gap. But until then, it pays to develop a strategy for talking salary -- especially if you're of the female persuasion. Here are a few ways to start.

1. Don't lie about your previous earnings

Tempting as it may be to avoid answering the salary question or fudge the truth a little, resist that urge. Employers have a means of verifying your former earnings, and if you're caught in a lie, you'll compromise your chances of getting hired. If you're asked about your former salary directly, just answer the question, and if you think that number will hurt you, follow it up with something like "I'm hoping for a more competitive offer this time around."

2. Know your worth going into the interview process

It's easy to get caught in the salary trap if you approach an interview having no idea how much money you should be commanding. A better bet? Do your research beforehand so you're equipped with solid knowledge from the get-go. Job site Glassdoor has a handy "Know Your Worth" tool that lets you review salary data based on factors such as title job and geographic location (keeping in mind that you might earn a higher salary in a major city than you would elsewhere). Plug in some data and see what you should actually be getting paid. That way, you'll be in a stronger position to talk numbers.

3. Be prepared to negotiate

Say you've given a salary offer based at least partially on your former earnings, and you don't like it. Rather than immediately decline, aim to negotiate. If you do the aforementioned research and compile some data for your prospective employer, you'll have a good starting point for that discussion. From there, it's really a matter of highlighting what you bring to the role and why you deserve more than the number being offered.

As a woman, getting asked about salary can seem like getting shoved between a rock and a hard place. Answer honestly, and you might get hurt. Dodge the question, and you might get an even lower offer. Therefore, the best you can do is arm yourself with knowledge and prepare to negotiate with confidence. Remember, the salary you earn today will probably come to dictate your future earnings, so don't settle for a lowball offer -- especially if you know you deserve better.

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