How to answer when an interviewer asks 'What's your current salary?'

Pattanaphong Khuankaew | iStock | Getty Images

It's the question you hope will never arise during your job interview: What is your current salary?

Answer honestly, and you risk getting low-balled and missing your chance to climb the pay scale. Bend the truth, and you might overshoot the mark or, worse still, be found out as a liar.

In the U.S., the once routine query is becoming increasingly uncommon as a number of states, cities and companies have moved to ban it. New York City, Delaware, Amazon and Facebook are but a few of the places to make the shift away from the question.

The move is part of efforts to reduce the gender pay gap. Research suggests that salary history questions can cause pay disparities between men and women to snowball over time.

In some cases, the ban appears to be working. New York City-based recruitment specialist Oliver Cooke told CNBC Make It that one female candidate who interviewed through his firm secured a 100 percent pay increase shortly after the city-wide regulation came into effect.

"I'm pretty confident that if she had said her salary history she would have been offered much less," remarked Cooke, who said he had seen a "big shift" in the year since the roll out.

Yet, elsewhere, the question continues to rear its head. According to compensation research firm PayScale, 43 percent of U.S. workers are still asked about their salary history. Meanwhile, in other countries, the request is still widespread.

So, how should you respond to make the most of your next job opportunity?

Know your position

 Steve Debenport | Getty

First up, do your research to find out the current regulation on the question in the particular place in which you're interviewing.

If the question is still legal, then it's unlikely you'll be able to dodge it entirely. According to Cooke, when a candidate attempts to do so, it is typically seen as a "red flag." But, if you are reluctant to share, it may be possible to answer indirectly.

"You can try to gloss over the question by stating, 'According to my recent research on [X site], I was being paid fair market value based on my role and level of responsibility at [Company X],'" Amanda Augustine, career advice expert for interview coaching site TopInterview, told CNBC Make It via email.

Don't lie

That answer may not satisfy your interviewer, or you may prefer to be direct from the start. In which case, experts agree you should not lie.

"I'm never an advocate for lying," said Augustine, noting recent research that suggests resume and interview lies tend to catch up with candidates sooner or later.

"Some employers will go so far as to request tax returns to support your compensation claims," she continued, adding that it's best to be upfront.

Bestselling management author and CNBC contributor Suzy Welch agrees, telling CNBC Make It earlier this year that honesty is the best policy.

"People are going to tell you that you should game this conversation ... That is no way to start a relationship," said Welch.

Suzy Welch: Here's the best answer to 'What's your current salary?'
Suzy Welch: Here's the best answer to 'What's your current salary?'

Include context

According to Grant Torrens, Singapore-based business director for global recruitment firm Hays, sharing your salary history with recruiters and hiring managers can actually be beneficial for candidates and ensures that their "expected salary is in line with what the employer is willing to offer."

However, it's important to also share other factors to put that pay into context, "such as skill set, experience, and personality," said Torrens.

Augustine agreed, saying that's even more vital if you're trying to change industries, when it may be unhelpful to compare salaries on an apples-to-apples basis.

In such instances, she recommended saying something like: "It's difficult to compare my previous salary to this role, as I was working for a very different [industry/type of company]. However, based on my recent research, I believe the value of my position in an [industry/company] such as yours is [$X]."

Be confident

Finally, respond with confidence.

Whether you believe you've been underpaid previously, or are simply after a pay rise, the "what is your current salary?" question is also your opportunity to state your case, said Cooke of recruitment firm Selby Jennings.

"You probably wouldn't be at that stage of the process if you weren't considered a strong fit," he said, noting that employers will already have a vague idea of your market value.

"Just do your research and be open," he added.

These numbers show why you should negotiate your salary
These numbers show why you should negotiate your salary