Okay, the first thing to say about salary and benefits is that there are actually various stages of the selection process when employers are typically keen to tempt applicants, if not into a discussion, then certainly into revealing important information about current or previous levels of earnings. As you will see, however, there are some excellent reasons why it is in your own best interests to delay.
The first point at which compensation is often raised by employers is as soon as they invite applications from prospective candidates. Some job advertisements state specifically that applicants must divulge their current, past or expected earnings in order to be considered for the position. There are, however, several major problems with complying with such a request. First of all, no matter how well-qualified or well-suited you are for the job, if the figure that you reveal is too high, then there is a very strong chance that you could actually put yourself out of the running before your application has even been properly considered. If the figure is low, on the other hand, then you could find yourself struggling with salary negotiation and getting suitable compensation if you happen to be offered the job.
With regard to current or past earnings, however, there is an even more important reason why you should try to avoid revealing this information, and that is simply that there is absolutely no correlation whatsoever between any job that you did in the past or the one that you are doing currently and the one that you are now applying for. Even if the job titles were the same, the tasks and responsibilities, the required levels of skill and experience, the company itself, your colleagues and co-workers and perhaps the hours and annual leave entitlement would all be different. Trying to compare the two jobs and the appropriate compensation for each, therefore, would be like trying to compare apples with elephants and so each new job should only ever be considered on its own merits.
What many employers will typically assume if you do choose to reveal past or current earnings is that a further 10-15% on top of this will be enough to keep you happy, and so getting any more out of them can then prove to be extremely difficult, even if the position warrants a higher salary. If you are asked to reveal current or past earnings at the point of application, therefore, try to skirt the issue by indicating that you will be happy to discuss it at the appropriate time, when you know more about the job and other important factors. If you are asked to reveal your salary expectations, meanwhile, either use the same tactic or, if doing so would preclude you from applying, then do your research and indicate a reasonable salary range (a range, not one figure) for the particular role that you are applying for, in the particular location where you are seeking employment and for a person with similar skills and experience to your own.
Of course, the next point at which employers are likely to raise the issue of money is during the course of a job interview, but entering into discussions even at this stage could find you facing precisely the same problems as earlier on in the process. In addition, however, if the recruiter thinks that you are the most suitable candidate for the role and you indicate during your interview that you want more money than their second choice of applicant, you could find yourself losing out on a job offer which might otherwise have been yours. Again, therefore, if the interviewer tries to bring the subject up, simply tell him or her that you will be happy to discuss compensation at the appropriate time. Incidentally, never raise the issue of money yourself during interviews, for the simple reason that all employers care about at this stage is what you can do for them and bringing the subject up is only likely to make them think that you are only interested in the job for what you can get out of it.
So, if the application and interview stages are not the appropriate times to discuss salary and benefits, when is the right time? The simple answer is this: the only time when it is appropriate to talk about money and engage in salary negotiation is after you have received a firm job offer, and even then it is important to remember that you should be negotiating for what is reasonable for the job that you are applying for, not the one that you are doing currently or any that you done in the past. Never raise the issue of money yourself before this point and if the employer happens to do so, then do your best to dodge the issue. Employers aren’t stupid and most know that they are pushing their luck when they ask about current, previous or expected salaries, and so in many cases they will accept polite resistance and let it go until the time is right.