As a rule, we ask candidates for their w-2s.  Without question, this is the request we receive the most pushback from candidates on.  If we were recruiting for roles outside of sales, I would agree with the camp that states it’s none of the employer’s business what a candidate has earned.  With sales roles, I’m honestly shocked that more employers don’t insist on it.  Why?

I’ve shared ADP research previously that found approximately 44% of resumes contain misrepresentations.  There hasn’t been a study on what % of sales professionals exaggerate their earnings but I would bet the % would be staggering.  The sad truth is that people do cheat and they most definitely lie.  Don McCabe, a professor at Rutgers University, has been studying academic cheating for decades.  Ready for some startling statistics? 95% of high school students and 80% of college students admit to “serious cheating”.  80% is an interesting number given the 80/20 rule.  There’s isn’t a gently sloping bell curve in sales.  The top 20% of sales performers in most companies far outperform the next tier below.  Given that, the bottom 80% of sales professionals are in a position where it’s almost imperative for them to lie to get a better job.


“The sad truth is that people cheat and they most definitely lie.”


With other roles, for example programming, you can give a test and get a pretty good idea about how talented the candidate is.  The test won’t show you work ethic but you’ll be able to figure that out within weeks.  With sales reps, you really don’t know if someone is a top performer unless they can prove it.  There are sales professionals that interview like a lion but sell like a lamb.  With some roles having 6-12 month selling cycles; it can take an employer as long as a year before they realize that they hired (and overpaid) a subpar performer.  With hundreds of thousands of dollars invested in a hire, it’s simply imperative that employers ask to see w-2s.

And yet Linkedin is full of discussions by outraged members sharing their opinion that asking for w-2s is an invasion of privacy and well, un-American.  Still sympathetic to their point of view? Watch this video of Ryan Braun lying about his steroid use.  He is absolutely convincing.  I’ll spare you the studies but humans are actually very poor at spotting liars.  To be clear, there are real victims in the w-2 debate but it’s not the vocal outraged.  The real victims are the legitimate top performers.  Imagine an accomplished sales professional coming in second place for a position to another candidate that “exaggerated” their accomplishments.  That’s a real travesty.

There is a silver lining for top performers in all of this.  The ones that show up for interviews with full documentation of their #s and leave a copy (minus your SSN) with the hiring manager(s) have a clear edge.  If they do find out that they’re in second place during the interview process (you do ask for feedback during the interview process, right?) they can ask a simple question of the hiring manager.  Did their top candidate provide proof of their #s?  Most of the time they probably didn’t.  Income history also presents a very persuasive argument when trying to negotiate a stronger offer (assuming your income supports it).  Remember, nothing sells like facts and stories.  Which are you presenting, fact or story?