You're filling out an application -- online or on paper -- and it asks what you earned in your last (or current) job.

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You’re filling out an application — online or on paper — and it asks what you earned in your last (or current) job.

Or it asks what you expect to be paid in this job.

Either way, your heart sinks. Your answer could ruin your chances.

And, if you’re filling in online blanks, you can’t even submit the form without putting something in the salary spot.

What should you do? That’s one of the most frequent worries I hear from job hunters.

Applicants say what they earned in the past isn’t relevant, especially for career or industry changers in a down economy.

And they’re afraid of lowballing or pricing themselves out of contention.

I asked several career counselors what they advise clients. They agreed you have to put down something if asked.

Leaving the salary question blank is more likely to cause your application to be tossed for failure to follow directions.

So what do you put in the blanks?

Nothing — until you’re researched the company, the job and the industry in your geographic area.

When you understand the current range for the position, then choose a midpoint number for your salary expectation or list the range that you know is reasonable.

If it’s required that you list your past pay, don’t lie. A lie, if caught, will toss your candidacy for sure.

But you can try to finesse any big difference between what you made before and what you expect to earn in the new job. Look for somewhere else on the application where you can explain that your career interests or financial needs have changed.

If there’s no opportunity for an explanation, it may be best to reassess your application. This job may not be the best fit for your skills or experience.

Employers are wary about hiring someone who they think will leave as soon as something more fitting arises. Even if that’s not true for you as an applicant, it’s a reality in today’s job market, so it’s best when your salary number fits what they expect to pay.