Actually, there’s not a very satisfactory answer to this question because what we have here is a horse and cart situation.
The reason the employer is asking for salary rates is either because he/she is looking for a way to diminish the pool of applicants, and one way to do this is to ask candidates what they’ve been making in the past OR because he truly can NOT afford to pay more than XXX dollars. Either way, the result is still the same for you, the job seeker. And that is to say that if you DON’T give this information, you WON’T be considered. Period.
About the only work-around possible is to write a very nice cover letter explaining the fact that while you have held salaries for as much as $XYZ, you are no longer searching for the ‘bucks’ but rather for job satisfaction. Therefore, the paycheck is really the least important part of the job. You might wish to elaborate on this by stating that your partner has more than sufficient income, thereby allowing YOU to take a position that pleases you, salary notwithstanding.
Having said that however, be ready with a convincing and logical answer to the question as to WHY you’d even agree to work for less than what you’re really worth. Some answers that come to mind would be outright lies such as a) I just inherited a substantial sum of money from my great uncle/dog/sister etc and I can afford to work for much less than previously or b) I just won the lottery. However, the better part of valor is to use your spouse, as per the above and simply say that your wif/husband already has significant financial resources allowing you to live quite comfortably without your contributions.
And, while you probably won’t want to use the previous answers, you DO still need to create a sense of devil-may-care re what salary they offer you. The customary phrase here is ‘I’m open for discussion on that point” or “I’m certain we can come to a mutual understanding on this point.”
If the employer does agree to interview you, he may still want to see a dollar amount. If this is the case, no reasoning is going to persuade him otherwise. You will therefore need to provide an acceptable range. Note that if you’re applying for a position as Senior Management, you’d do best to provide a range in 10K increments: ie. “I am looking for $80,000-90,000. If applying for a more modest position, your range would obviously be a more modest one: i.e. $30,000-$32,000.
That way, if the employer is truly interested in you, he has some flexibility and will feel better about hiring you at a lesser level. MAKE NO MISTAKE….Don’t kid yourself and think the employer is doing this because he cares so much about you: NOT! Instead, he knows only too well that an employee is likely to leave as soon as a better offer comes along. Therefore, why even bother to make the offer?
One other technique you can try is to volunteer to sign a binding contract for a specified period of time. Of course, it may not be in your best interest to do so–it just depends on how badly you want the job!