does an employer asking you to name your salary requirements first mean they’re jerks?

A reader writes:

I’m currently unemployed. I’m in a final interview for a position. I’ve already had a first interview and a writing test. The company then asked me to send my salary requirements or current salary before the interview.

My reaction was fury. Just pure fury because I think this is a dick move. They clearly have a budget for the position, and if they think I’m going to ask for too much they could have told me what they expect to pay rather than demanding what I want to earn. I cannot stand organizations that act this way and it sets off a bad beginning should I work for them.

My friends and I split about my reaction. One person who does more hiring than I ever have didn’t understand why I was *so* upset and cited times when candidates were in interviews for positions that paid $50,000 and they asked for $100,000. (I’ve seen that happen before, where a person was considered a strong candidate and then may have asked for six figures because they thought the office was going to pay it, not realizing how cheap my then-boss was or didn’t know how to look up a 990 form on Guidestar.) I have also been in positions where I had no idea what they were budgeting for a position and been told it was $20k more than I even imagined. Then asked “would that be acceptable to you?” (Hell ya!) Hiring managers are becoming strangely insistent at asking before the interview even happens for my salary requirements. I absolutely will refuse to give salary history, but I may cite what I made at my previous job, but only if I absolutely have to or forfeit the possibility of the position.

The truth is I’m in such dire financial straights that if the position paid $30k less than I previously made, I would still take the position. But the employer doesn’t need to know that. I was well compensated at my previous job but not unreasonably so for the field. I also got that employer $5,000 above what they wanted to pay for my role. I know for a fact I negotiated them above what they initially were hoping but not outside the real range they capitulated to.

I know my field pretty well and my position in it. I’m not a naif who would think I’m going to get a six-figure position at an organization where only the president is earning above six figures, according to their 990.

I eventually settled on giving a 20K range back to the interviewer prior to the interview and got back “Thanks so much.” I’ve handled this question in different ways. After a first interview or during a first interview, if I have to give a range or expectation, I go with the 20K range or the “well, in my last position I earned X” if I think they will go that high. But prior to a first interview, I won’t give that number at all, and one employer withdrew an offer of an interview because I asked them for the range because I needed to know more about the position. (I was less interested in that job and really disliked how they handled it.)

Here’s my actual question though: am I wrong to think that an employer who acts this way during the interview will be a miser when it comes to either actual salary negotiation or a terrible boss? I think that’s the split between me and my friends. I think this is a *terrible* indicator for a boss and some of my friends think this is just “maybe not the best but not the worst.” Is this objectively a “dick” move for an interviewer or am I flying off the handle thinking this says something about how they will operate should I work for them? For what it’s worth, it may be my field is especially filled with people who try to take advantage of youth and nativity or that I’ve just had some bad experiences with miserly employers.

It’s so, so common that I don’t think you can read that much into it.

I’d also distinguish between salary history and salary expectations. The former is no one’s business (for all the reasons I talk about here), while the latter is at least a more reasonable question. It’s still better for the employer to name a number first (for the reasons I talk about here), but it’s not outrageous for them to ask what salary range a candidate is looking for.

But both of these things are so common that they’re really not automatically terrible signs about the employer more broadly. I’ve known excellent managers who ask, “So what are you looking for salary-wise?” and I’ve known perfectly good employers who ask for someone’s previous salary, even though that’s an incredibly wrong-headed thing to do.

There are lots of wrong-headed hiring practices that are so common that you can’t draw broader conclusions about what working there will be like (for example, using unfriendly application systems, or waiting months to update people on the status of their candidacy, or sending you into an interview with someone who just got your resume two minutes earlier).

It would be much easier if it was always true that stupid act X meant an employer would be a terrible place to work — you could screen much more effectively if it worked that way! — but the reality is that it doesn’t. Even at good employers, hiring can be messy and full of less-than-ideal practices. (Most places kind of suck at hiring, actually.)

And to be clear, I don’t mean to say that just because something is common, it’s okay. That’s not the case. But I do think you’re wrong to jump to broad conclusions on this one, and fury feels like an overreaction.

{ 217 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Kyrielle

    What Alison said. For my current job, after I spoke via phone with the hiring manager, the in-house recruiter I was working with reached out to ask me what salary I was looking for. I said “At least $X, but it will also depend on the benefits package.” She sounded a little concerned by that, but if it had made the chance of a job offer evaporate I was willing to let it go.

    The benefits package was awesome (equivalent to my previous job in some ways, better in others), and they offered me $10k over my $X. My boss was great to work for, and when a shift in priorities resulted in his group stopping their work, I was moved into another group doing related things, with a boss who has also been great to work for. The company culture is wonderful.

    But they still wanted to know what I was hoping to make. If I’d taken that as a red flag and gotten outraged – well, hopefully after my due diligence I’d still have taken this job! But it really told me nothing about the company, the job, or my potential boss. (I suppose it could have told me the company liked that question. If they do. But it may have only meant that recruiter did.)

    Does that mean no one will ever ask you that and then lowball you? Not at all. There are people who do that – I have worked with and for people who would lowball anyone they could, regardless of a reasonable rate.

    It just means that this question doesn’t necessarily tell you anything useful in that regard.

    Reply
    1. Managing to get by

      I ask people what compensation level they are looking for in my phone screens. For a current open position, I had one candidate give a salary number $25k higher than what we would pay for this job and total cash comp (salary plus incentive) $50k out of range. I told him the actual salary/incentive range for the open job, and what types of positions we have that would be closer to the range he was asking for and told him to keep an eye on our postings in case one of those positions opened up. He appreciated the information, and it saved us all the time and trouble of interviewing and then finding out we can’t get anywhere near where he needs to be. Another candidate gave a range a little lower than starting salary for this position. If he gets an offer that will not affect the amount, he’ll get an offer a little higher than he expected.

      If I got the sense that a candidate was furious I asked what compensation level they were looking for, that would affect whether they got called in for a face-to-face interview. Actually, if a candidate seemed furious or overly emotional about anything on the phone screen, I’d pass.

      Reply
  2. CES

    I’m not sure I quite understand why the letter writer is so furious. As much as I hate to do the “what do you want for salary” dance and try to get them to name a number first, I actually think it’s completely reasonable to discuss salary before setting up an interview, because if there is a mismatch it’s a waste of everyone’s time.

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    1. Rookie Manager

      Its reasonable to have an idea of salary going in, but that should come from the employer.

      The reason I find it so wrong (can’t speak for the OP) is that traditionally women, minorities, people with disabilities have been paid less. Therefore will undervalue themselves/not negotiate/be offered less/insert other reasons that causes lower salary. But the employer gets to wash their hands of it and claim that gender/sexuality/race/disability have nothing to do with why all the white straight men get paid more.

      Basically it’s a way of perpetuating pay inequalities.

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      1. TCO

        Well said.

        I do think pay should be clarified early in the hiring process. In a perfect world, though, the employer should be the one to name a number first. (If it’s not posted in the listing, I usually ask about it early on–sometimes even before the first interview by saying, “I know the pay for roles like this can really vary [true in my field] and I want to make sure that I don’t waste your time by coming in for an interview if we’re not in the same range. Are you able to tell me the hiring range for this position?”)

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        1. Zombeyonce

          Love that language for asking about salary, thanks for sharing! I’m definitely noting it for future job prospects.

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        2. Green Goose

          This is good wording. My industry can also be very across the board for salary in certain positions. I wish companies would just post salary bands online so no one would waste their time applying if they knew they would never accept a job that paid $x.
          I remember one time asking an employer about salary range before traveling a distance for an interview and she refused to give me a range and kept saying “standard range” but there was no standard range so I decided against going to the interview.

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          1. Ego Chamber

            Bullet dodged. That kind of nonsense is a huge red flag for the tactic where the company tries to get the candidate so invested in the dream job they’re hiring for that the candidate just doesn’t notice that the pay is terrible or something.

            I’m convinced there are some hiring managers/recruiters/CEOs/companies/etc who just don’t get that most people work (primarily) for money. Which is ironic, considering the focus they put on it.

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      2. Mona Lisa

        Yes, this. I ended up in a discussion on-line with a hiring manager once who basically said, “Well, if someone is happy with X salary, why should I pay them more when I could save my department money instead?”

        You should pay them more because it’s in line with their worth to the company and because they’re part of a demographic that has historically been penalized for attempting to negotiate a salary offer.

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        1. nonymous

          Also, because it sets up the relationships in the org as a zero-sum game. The flip side of that hiring manager’s mentality are employees who game the system to do the least amount of work possible.

          Since the manager’s compensation and reputation are in large part driven by the quantity and quality of their staff’s work output, it’s a perspective that merits poor returns.

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          1. Ego Chamber

            I’m 33 years old and you just concisely explained to me why all of the jobs I’ve ever had except for 1 completely sucked.

            **The one that didn’t suck had a pay structure that was heavily regulated from above, but the store manager was kind, and he consistently had our backs (this is a rarity in retail).

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        2. Optimistic Prime

          And even from a completely selfish standpoint from the employer’s side – shortchanging your employees isn’t playing the long game. At some point after working there for a while, best case scenario that employee finds out that you lowballed them and leaves earlier than they would have otherwise. Finding a replacement and training them will probably cost you more money than paying them appropriately would have. Worst case scenario, you systematically disadvantage women and minorities and you get sued or get an EEOC complaint – or the word simply gets out that your pay is lower than the industry average and then you have a hard time attracting top candidates.

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        3. NotAnotherManager!

          My HR director’s response to that is “so people know we value them and also so we don’t get sued”. Every single salary is cross-checked against market data annually, and we separate market increases from merit increases on notification forms. Last year, I gave a market adjustment to a mediocre-at-best performer and had to explain that it was due to a market shift for the position and not a reflection on their performance, which required improvement in some very specific ways.

          There is no value to lowballing my employees. There are some people who will never be happy with their pay, but I have about 4 industry surveys with regional data that say we’re well above average and there are distinct differentiation points for the variation within position ranges (like specialized experience or training, master’s/doctoral degrees, and exceptional performance or productivity).

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      3. Steph B

        Yes, this!!!

        My last last job (two jobs ago), I didn’t even realize how much I was being underpaid until I was offered something literally 40% higher in my last job (in which I had an external recruiter who actually suggested the salary range to request based on my experience level). That experience makes me even less enthusiastic to discuss salary expectations prior to getting a range from the employer, because I know how even in a very small industry it can vary a lot and some hiring folks DO take advantage of trying to low-ball new candidates or use prior salaries to justify lower pay.

        This former job had hired me during the recession, after 6 months of me job searching + having graduated with a masters (in a STEM field), so my prior salary had been graduate student poor. It was a new industry for me, too, so I didn’t know what I could have asked for. But I know now that I had former coworkers being paid more than me (we’ve talked) because of when they were hired (after the recession lightened up).

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        1. Anonymousaurus Rex

          Yes. Exactly! I knew I was underpaid at my previous job, but I had no idea by how much!

          I loved my previous job and wasn’t willing to leave for anything other than a significant pay bump. When I was interviewed for my current job I gave them a range “that I want to be in for my next position” as 30-35% higher than what I was being paid. They came back with an offer in that range, no questions asked. I was totally floored, because I thought it would be above their budget for the position.

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    2. Mediamaven

      I agree with you. This seems to be very misplaced outrage. It would be great if there weren’t many variables that influence a person’s salary but there are and employers like to have some parameters to know what they are dealing with. This is so common and typical I’m concerned about this person’s level of anger over it.

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      1. MK

        Nonsense. Employers don’t need to be told the parameters, because they are the ones who set them; they already know what they are dealing with, because they know what the job is worth to them and they can set a range to cover the varying candidates.

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        1. NotAnotherManager!

          This works well with some positions and not with others. The one I hire for most often has a $5K band that we will happily and proactively provide in an initial phone screen (and we just require resume/cover letter submission, so no one has to spend hours on an online application to apply). I have some highly specialized positions that we leave posted constantly because suitable candidates are rare as hen’s teeth – I will take 2 years of experience or 20 years of experience, and I’ll also consider people with close-but-not-quite experience for some of them. We don’t want to post multiple jobs with more realistic bands because (a) we’re not looking for multiple people and (b) we don’t want it to look like we’re understaffed or the team’s quit en masse. The range of pay for those is so wide as to be meaningless, and, since this is professional services and we can adjust salary up if there is a market for and ability to collect higher fees for their expertise. It’s also not coming out of a traditional operating budget/overhead, so the employee cost calculation is much mushier. This may just be a weird professional services thing, though.

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      2. Ego Chamber

        “It would be great if there weren’t many variables that influence a person’s salary but there are and employers like to have some parameters to know what they are dealing with.”

        What does this have to do with the company’s salary range though? I don’t believe for a second that anyone actually changes the range based on what candidates tell them, it’s just a way to weed out people who are “too expensive” (direct quote from the owner at the fast food place I briefly worked at who would go through the applications and throw away any that listed above minimum wage as “desired salary”).

        Most of the time when a company is way out of line on “market rate” salary, they don’t end up raising the salary, they just deal with excessively high turnover and complain about how selfish people are to want to make more money.

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      3. As Close As Breakfast

        Pretty sure the point is that the only parameters that matter are 1) the market rate for the job which is based on the job responsibilities, industry, location, and maybe the company itself which gives the employer a Y-X range. And 2) the perceived ability of the potential employee to do the job based on experience, skill set, etc. which would place the appropriate salary within the Y-X range. The salary history or desired salary of a potential employee can only be described as pertinent variables/parameters if the goal is to pay someone as little as they can get away with.

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    3. Browser

      I think part of it comes from the OP being unemployed and willing to take a job that doesn’t meet her salary standards just so she can have some income. If she states a salary and they decide not to make an offer because their budget is for less than that, she loses out.

      Not everyone can wait for an ideal job when there are bills that need to be paid.

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      1. nnn

        And added to that, there are some employers who will rule out candidates who name a number that’s too high, and others who will rule out candidates who name a number that’s too low. There are some employers who expect you to negotiate, and others who will rule out candidates who negotiate.

        Meanwhile the employer is the one with the information about their budget and what people in similar roles are paid and their own hard and fast ideas about what they are and aren’t willing to pay.

        It’s a ridiculous guessing game where the rules are different each time.

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          1. Not So NewReader

            This, this. Every business has a budget. They know what their upper limit is. Why waste people’s time with playing guess a number between 1 and a million.

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            1. A day in the zoo

              Actually, that is not always true. For the last job I hired, we did not have a salary range or a budget number. The work that this new hire will do was not anticipated in the budget, so no salary was budgeted so no I was not confined to a $5,000 salary band.

              The skill set needed to do the core pieces of the role can be gained any number of ways, but the additional skills that can allow the individual to support the business beyond the core services things and grow in multiple directions, varies a ton. And, the value to the individual employer can also vary.

              So, the role could be paid anywhere from $90k to $175k and as long as I had a coherent reason as to the reasoning behind the income, I could get it approved.

              So, I was one of those people who asked what the individual’s salary expectations are because how you value your “beyond skills” and how I value your “beyond skills” can vary. It is not a salary history question, but a value question.

              had people who valued their skill set higher than the top of my range and it was not worth their time to come in and speak to me as I could not pay that. I also told people when I thought their core skills should be valued higher.

              In the end I hired in the middle of the scale

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        1. Trout 'Waver

          Not only is it a ridiculous guessing game where the rules are different each time, it also directly impacts how well you can take care of your family. I get the anger, tbh.

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          1. Not So NewReader

            Yeah, I get it too. These are the same people that offer the employee an “opportunity” to buy elder care insurance at $2000 per month and give people monogramed pens that don’t write. sigh.

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      2. Detective Amy Santiago

        That doesn’t really make sense to me though. If you name your minimum and they aren’t willing to match it, how are you supposed to pay your bills if they’re offering less?

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        1. Becky

          But if you name your minimum, and they were willing to go higher, then they can just silently save the money and hire you at lower than you are worth.

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        2. Indoor Cat

          I mean, if I was in a situation where I knew being able to pay half my bills is better than not being able to pay any, then I’d be hesitant to name a minimum as well.

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        3. Ego Chamber

          I will take less than my “minimum” if the alternative is nothing.

          The bottom of my salary range isn’t the minimum amount of money I need to survive (which is a different number, but depressingly not so far off). The bottom of my salary range is the amount of money I feel is fair to be paid to do [whatever job I’m applying for] based on my experience and the job requirements.

          Hypothetically, I could cut all luxuries and a lot of comforts and afford to work any job I’m qualified for, for the $10/hr KFC is hiring at (based on the sign outside the location I drive past). But why the hell would I do that, unless I was desperate enough to be in the position where anything is better than nothing?

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          1. chicken_flavored_deodorant

            > But why the hell would I do that, unless I was desperate enough to be in the position where anything is better than nothing?

            You answered your own question. If you was paying attention, you’d know Wu Tang said CREAM.

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      3. Indoor Cat

        ^^^exactly!

        There have been times (prior to being an avid Ask a Manager reader) where I was asked my salary preference, and I said honestly, “Anything that pays the rent,” in a way that unfortunately came across as desperate. When they pressed the issue, I guessed based on the average rate for that job in my state based on cursory Googling. That ended up being way too high, so I ended up looking disingenuous with my first comment. Needless to say, I was not offered the job.

        Job interviewing when you’re dead broke is awful and upsetting, and when I realized I blew the job by 1. being honest and then 2. not knowing their pay was below average, I hated myself over it.

        LW just turned their anger outward, which I kinda respect honestly. Even if writing the company off is an overreaction, I totally get where that anger is coming from.

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        1. Karo

          I guessed based on the average rate for that job in my state based on cursory Googling. That ended up being way too high,

          This is my problem. How in God’s name does anyone figure out a realistic salary to request? My experience with salary.com is that it’s WAY higher than is realistic for my area, and you have to sort of guess at what each title means (i.e. which is higher, Llama Specialist or Llama Coordinator? Is “Teapots Manager” a manager of teapots, or a manager of people who deal with teapots?). AAM’s threads about salary help, but there are so many variables – industry, location, responsibilities – that I still get something like decision paralysis.

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    4. stephistication

      LW said they are in financial straits right now. Sometimes when money is tight, that is the last thing you want to talk about. When you’re swimming in surplus cash then sure, let’s talk about more money coming my way.

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    5. Mike C.

      I can understand the OP’s anger – so much about the working worker favors the employer over the employee that for many there comes a line where rage simply sets in. This situation was her line.

      Even then, if the employer is really worried about there being a difference in expectations, they can post a salary range for the position in their ad.

      Reply
      1. Recruit-o-rama

        I’ve recently started posting salary ranges in my ads (something I go back and forth on for a variety of reasons). You know what? It makes no difference. Candidates with higher salary expectations apply all. The. Time. Thinking that they are so special that we will raise our range 20k just for them because they are so special. I’m finding that no matter what side of the hiring table you sit on, you simply can’t make everyone happy. I don’t ask for salary history, ever, in fact we took that off of our application all together more than a year ago, so I’m a little taken aback by the rage at asking for an expectation. I’m perfectly happy to tell you our range first, but for crying out loud, we need to know what you want too, because I don’t want to waste anyone’s time.

        I’ve tried every combination of the salary range issue and I just cannot find the right formula that satisfies everyone.

        Also, I would be hesitant to hire someone who would take 30k less than their expectation out of desperation for a job. I GET the desperation for a paycheck, but someone who takes that kind of pay cut it out the door the second they find something in their range. I don’t want to be filling the position again in 6 months. This issue drives me nuts.

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        1. LawBee

          I’m beginning to believe most people don’t even read ads, or assume that what we say isn’t what we mean. When I say entry level position, 0-2 years experience – that’s what I’m hiring and that’s what we’re paying. Candidates who come in with 15 years of leading an office? What are they thinking?

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          1. Turquoisecow

            When you say “entry-level,” you actually don’t want multiple years’ experience?

            I see lots of job adds that say “entry level” but then add that they’d like someone with x years of experience.

            It’d be nice if there was some formula for job ads and people posted what they mean. But since “entry level” often doesn’t mean that, I guess I can see what people would be skeptical of a salary range as well.

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            1. Steph B

              Yeah, it is even beyond entry level to be honest.

              7 years ago when I was looking out of grad school (in a STEM field), there were a number of jobs at a local employer that were ‘mid-to-entry level’ that asked for 10 years of experience… working on a tech that the employer had developed exactly 12 years prior. So, you had to have had early adopter experience on this specialized tech for over a decade to be considered just a bit above entry level, according to the job description.

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            2. Jesmlet

              Entry level really should and usually does mean that they’re looking for someone with limited to no experience doing that particular job. I don’t really think I’ve ever seen jobs posted where there’s such a mismatch in description and expectation. I can see entry level being applied to a situation where they’re looking for anywhere from 0-4 years of experience, but not much beyond that.

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            3. Tuxedo Cat

              Back when I was “entry-level”, I would get interviews where it was clear they were looking for someone not entry-level.

              Nowadays, when I apply for jobs at my level and receive an interview, it’s clear they’re looking for someone closer to my boss’ experience level which is many more years over mine.

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          2. Samiratou

            They don’t want to lead an office anymore and are looking to take a more relaxed role, knowing it pays less?

            They’re having a hard time finding a job that wants someone with 15 years experience leading an office?

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          3. Kate 2

            I regularly see adds for “entry level” that want 5 years experience or more! Unfortunately I think so many employers use the term the wrong way, that people come to think that’s how all employers mean it.

            Also I haven’t heard of any employers that don’t like having people with more experience than the minimum posted in the ad, as long as they don’t want more money to go along with the experience. Sometimes life happens, and I have heard quite a few people are forced to go back into the workforce (usually bc of a family health crisis that empties the retirement acct) after retiring from high up positions. But after a few years out, they can’t go back to their old positions, even if they were open. So they’ll take anything to pay the bills.

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            1. puzzld

              For our most common opening, we dread those candidates that have way more experience than we advertised for. When we are hiring for our “receptionist” position and get someone with a masters degree or PhD?? OMG no. They probably won’t stay, won’t like the money, won’t follow the established procedures because “reasons” and especially for those folks who are used to being exempt and being able to follow their own inclinations for hours and duties? No. Thank you. For this position, which is very much an “butt in chair” job? I’d much rather hire woefully unqualified as long as s/he will just show up. Now someone with just a smidge more experience, who’s able to dial back and fly in formation? Awesome, but we still can’t pay you more than our range, which was listed in the ad.

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              1. chi type

                Why does everyone assume this? Is it really so unbelievable that someone is tired of killing themselves with overtime and having no life outside of work and so they are more than willing to make less money? Money is not the only thing in life people.

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          4. Optimistic Prime

            They’re thinking that since the exceed the minimum that they are extra-special qualified for the job – or maybe you’ll turn it into a senior position just for them.

            To be completely fair, though, I’ve worked on a team that posted a job at the senior level but internally it was known that we’d hire the right junior candidate if we didn’t find a senior – and in fact twice did hire junior candidates instead, because we couldn’t find a good fit senior one.

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          5. Front of the House Manager

            One time, I received a resume from a former coworker for a part time position. I could have maybe pressed my boss to give this applicant $12 max.

            The problem? He was a former department manager who was a career food/restaurant manager. (He also quit with no notice on us at my old job, but that truly was a distant second reason to not hire him.) There is no way I would have hired someone with such an extensive background to take such a cut (financially and professionally). He would have been gone in a month or two.

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        2. Koko

          I think the value of posting your range is less that you want everyone with high salary requirements to screen themselves out, and more that you want currently-employed people to know whether it’s worth their time to apply. You’re trying to encourage more good applications, not stop people from sending in bad ones.

          You will always get people who apply to jobs without fully reading or understanding the ad – nothing you do will stop unqualified/unsuited candidates from applying, whether you post a salary range or not.

          But a LOT of currently-employed people won’t apply for jobs that don’t at least match their current salary, and if you don’t post a range, you lose those applicants. Posting the range is not intended to increase the strength of every single candidate, it increases the strength of your candidate pool overall by enticing more potential candidates to apply.

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          1. Recruit-o-rama

            I agree, to an extent, but I am simply providing the salary frustration from the other side. My main point is that no matter what combination of information provided or asked for, there is a group of people who think we’re doing it wrong. In fact, I’m the first person someone applying to my jobs that someone will speak to, before the hiring manager and I tell people when they are undervaluing themselves. I just want people to be aware that there isn’t some evil cabal of employers and HR people trying to get people at the lowest price point possible. Most HR people and hiring managers are looking to find the best possible hire within their budget, which is not always totally in their control.

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        3. ClownBaby

          I completely agree with you.

          I am happy to give the salary range of a position to a candidate…but all they hear is the higher number of that range and add 10k to it when they come in for an interview. They think that I am low-balling them with the range and that because they are “so in demand” that we would definitely go outside of that salary band for them. No. Instead they just waste their time, my time, and the interviewer’s time. Lose-lose-lose for everyone.

          I am being honest when I give you the salary band. I want to pay you what you’re worth. I do not want to hire someone only to have him/her leave in two months. Please be honest with me in letting me know if my band meets your salary expectations. And also know that the higher number in the range is typically reserved for only the most experienced candidates.

          It’s getting to the point at which I do want to start low balling…saying 40-50k instead of 50-65k…just to scare away the people who think it’s okay to come in and say 80k is their minimum. It’s easier to talk someone down to 60k from 65k if they still think they are “beating the system.”

          Reply
          1. Optimistic Prime

            What percentage of your applicant pool is actually doing that, though? Is it 1-2 assholes every time, or is it like 50% of the applicants, or what?

            Reply
        4. Recruiter_MY

          Yes, that.
          As a recruiter, I do not -love- asking about salary expectations, but you have to start a conversation somewhere. Sometimes I do not even pass this information to the hiring manager prior to their first interview – they know a candidate’s salary is within the range, and they can form their own opinion on what the candidate is worth.
          And I had worked on the positions where the range was really wide, depending on whether the candidate is truly awesome or just a good fit.
          I am looking for a job now, and with all my experience being on the other side I am not sure what is the best way to deal with the salary question.

          Reply
        5. Mike C.

          The goal shouldn’t be to satisfy everyone, but rather to satisfy reasonable people. Those folks who are expected to go above your posted range aren’t being reasonable, so you shouldn’t worry about catering to them.

          Reply
        6. MK

          I don’t think there is anything wrong with asking for salary expectations after you have made your range known; in fact, a short conversation would be useful at that point.

          Reply
        7. Not So NewReader

          I hope I can encourage you, Recruit-o-rama, to continue posting your salary ranges. Play a fair game. It’s not your fault how people respond to it. But it could be one of your filters that you use, expect people to take you at your word. Those who can’t might have difficulty down the line, so filter them out now.
          Some people are so used to being screwed over that they have lost the ability to believe what someone is telling them. Just watch the responses and see what else that tells you about the person.

          If more and more employers are upfront about pay, that will force other employers to get in line also.

          Reply
    6. Super Secret Squirrel

      Yeah, the fury is way out of proportion to a behavior that is suboptimal and annoying.

      I suspect if the question were “what are your feelings on the salary question in negotiations” the comments would be more yeah, hate that, ugh. But “who else has blinding incandescent rage at salary questions in negotiations” is where more of the comments are enhhh no that’s not really that bad.

      Reply
      1. The OG Anonsie

        I also see where the LW is coming from with their clarification that they’re used to seeing this used as a way to lowball younger/newer potential employees in an industry that has a habit of being heavily exploitative to those people.

        It’s a crappy practice at base level, but when you’ve seen it as part of a pattern of cycling through naive people to wring them dry, I can totally see how it would make you really angry and suspicious.

        Reply
        1. Not So NewReader

          Bingo. I have see a lot of people get chewed up and spit out by this type of stuff. A lot of women, surprise, surprise. My friend is a contractor. He has decided that hiring women is best for his business, although he hires anyone who can do the work. I explained that is because women get stuck in low wage jobs and get used to working like they are ten people instead of one person.

          The “guess how much we are willing to pay you” game can be a red flag.

          Reply
    7. Florida

      It’s like going to the store to buy clothes and the clerk says, “How much are you willing to pay for these jeans?” Just tell me the price, and I’ll decide if I want to buy them. True, there might be a mismatch. The jeans might be $50 and I was willing to pay $30. But that’s an easier conversation then me trying to guess the price, then you asking if I can go down, rather than being upfront.

      My analogy for salary history is if you are buying a car and the sales rep says, “What did you pay for your current car?” Well, it’s a different car and that was several years ago, so it is completely irrelevant to the price of the car I’m looking at.

      It’s just a power play.

      Reply
    8. LT

      My first job out of college was one I had recently left after having worked there 7 years. Since it was a public sector job, the salary range was included in the job posting.
      For the job I just recently started, there was no salary range and it was tough to figure out what to ask for. I’m so thankful a former colleague had introduced me to AAM because of the wealth of advice and references to different salary guides and sites that are out there. I thoroughly researched what reasonable salaries would be for different positions depending on location and work experience/how long I had been in the industry. I was actually offered more, in the end!
      It sucks that the burden is on the job seeker now to figure out how much they should ask for, but the world of job hunting/job applications has changed even from 7 years ago when I first entered the workforce. There is so much information out there

      Reply
  3. Rookie Manager

    I hate this practice. I much prefer when a job advert has a clear salary listed (or realistic range) rather than “competitive” or something else elusive. I agree with Alison that it is not as bad as salary history (which I refuse to give) but to me it is a red flag.

    Unfortunately if you need a job right now you need to play the game. Good luck in that final interview!

    Reply
    1. DecorativeCacti

      I am sick and tired of seeing “competitive” in job ads. I especially love the ones that say they’re competitive and then list a wage $5 below average. (And $10 less than I need.)

      Reply
      1. Shadow

        I don’t think you’ll ever find a company that will openly tell you that they don’t pay well. Every company says DOE, great, competitive or some other ambiguously positive description. Remember that job ads are just another sales advertisement. Except it’s a job they’re trying to sell

        Reply
        1. Florida

          In the nonprofit world, they openly admit that they don’t pay well. Social services are the ones who are most likely to admit it. “Our salary is not as competitive as what you would make in the corporate world, but the smiles on the children’s faces will make up for it.” I am so glad to no longer work in nonprofit.

          Reply
    2. Jimbo

      I applied for a job recently. I got a reply after a day. The person who responded (an HR guy) said that it was probably not going to be a good fit because they are paying $15-20K below what I stated in my cover letter. In their ad they asked candidates to name their salary expectations. I provided a range in the cover letter. This particular job didn’t work out but I did thank the HR person for being upfront and transparent about the salary range early in the process. I found his honesty refreshing and I sent a nice note thanking him for his candor from the perspective of a job seeker.
      On the flip side, I had an initial interview with an organization last week. It was a face to face interview with the hiring manager and a potential colleague in the same department. I asked what range they are thinking about for salary. I think a standard question for a face to face, onsite interview. They played coy and did not answer my question with any solid quantitative info. They just simply said it was competitive for nonprofits in my geographic area. I am shaking my head why employers play this frustrating game — if this org calls me for a second interview I won’t even have enough info to know if this job is a realistic fit for my needs. Yet they expect a job candidate to be enthusiastic and to put his best foot forward, do a lot of background research and give a lot of effort to impressing them?

      Reply
    3. Not So NewReader

      The problem with playing along because you need the job is that it’s almost a certainty that this job won’t last long because of starting out on the wrong foot. There’s not much trust in place.

      Reply
  4. chica

    I think that you also have a lot of room to hedge on this question: “A range of xx-xx, depending of course on the benefits package”. I think is a reasonable way to give a pretty wide range without giving away what you will really take. Good medical can be worth a LOT (speaking as someone who pays a lot to cover my family on the company plan – they pay for me but nothing towards dependents.)

    Reply
    1. Kj

      I agree. Benefits matter A LOT. Of course, you can have something happen like what happened at a previous employer, where the benefits went from great (company payed all insurance costs) to not as great (we paid a fair portion) to terrible (mandatory HSA with very little contributions from employer) in the span of a few years. During an economic upturn. It was so bad I laughed when, in my exit interview, the HR rep asked about how I felt about the benefits package and she said she got that response a lot. After that experience, I value $$$ over benefits, as my industry seems happy to cut benefits to the bone. And I work in the medical field!

      Reply
  5. Maisey

    I have a question about this. If the employers asks the candidate to name a number or range and it’s higher than they expected, does the employer usually tell them that before proceeding?

    The last time I interviewed for a job I was asked this question during the phone interview. I told them I was making $50k at my current job and that was my minimum. With that information they put me through three rounds of in person interviews. At the end, I received an offer with a salary of $35k. I tried to negotiate and they told me $35k was their firm and final offer.

    Why did they put me through that rigmarole when they knew from the beginning I wouldn’t accept that salary?!

    Reply
      1. TCO

        Also a really dumb move. They wasted their own time interviewing candidates that they had to know were likely to turn down the offer!

        Reply
    1. LizB

      That’s for sure a jerk move. My company has “What are your salary requirements?” as part of our standard phone interview script that I can’t avoid using, but once I’ve decided I might want to interview someone whose answer was higher than the range for the position, I email them and say “This is realistically what the starting salary will be, I know you wanted something higher, here’s our benefits package, let me know if you’d still like to move forward knowing this info.” Some people say yes, some people back out, and there are no hard feelings for people who decide it won’t work for them.

      Reply
    2. Antilles

      That really depends on exactly how the question is presented and how far the numbers are.
      >If they ask your current salary, then it’s completely ridiculous to not at least meet that. The vast, vast majority of people would not transfer jobs for a pay decrease, so proceeding without letting you know that they can only pay $X is just a naive waste of time.
      >If they just ask for your ‘minimum’, but without a reference to your current salary, then it’s a bit more reasonable for them to think that you might be a bit flexible on the number. After all, you’re probably going to give them a slightly high-balled number as your ‘expectation’, as a negotiating gambit, right? But the key phrase is “a bit flexible” – somewhere around 5-10% would be about the limit where proceeding without telling you their range becomes ridiculous.
      That said, if they ask a number, I personally would have no issue with following up my answer with something like “Is that in line with the typical salary range for this position?” If they refuse to answer…well…there’s a big warning sign.

      Reply
    3. Mike C.

      Because they’re complete idiots.

      Did you ask them why they thought you’d be interested in taking 30% pay cut to work for them?

      Reply
      1. Florida

        This. I’ve seen candidates do the same thing. The salary is $50,000, but candidate wants $60,000. Candidate thinks, “Once they offer me the job, I can negotiate an extra $10,000.” It’s a waste of everyone’s time.

        Reply
    4. nonymous

      there could have been some politics involved where someone was trying to stack the decks for a particular candidate (because everyone else is a poor fit or drops out), or as a lesson to the higher ups that candidates with XYZ skills command market rate of $.

      I think it’s a big problem with orgs that get a lot of applications for every job opening. It turns the applicants from individual humans into a commodity that is interchangeable.

      Reply
      1. Rusty Shackelford

        But they probably didn’t have to give second and third interviews to X number of people. They didn’t have to extend offers to X number of people.

        Reply
    5. Not So NewReader

      This right here is a great example of how employers abuse the question. Why bother asking it and why bother answering.

      Reply
    6. MissDissplaced

      Usually, they’re just trying to see if you’re on the same page. I’ve given my range and been told that was higher than their budget.
      Either the person didn’t know, or they were being jerks. But probably the phone screener didn’t know.

      Reply
    7. NotAnotherManager!

      I cannot describe how angry I would have been about that. We do not bring people in if we’re not in a mutually agreeable range – waste of everyone’s time. We had someone apply for an entry-level/zero-experience required position that wanted $30K/year more than the upper end of our range. The recruiter gave him the (pretty narrow) band for it, and they mutually decided not to proceed.

      Reply
    8. designbot

      How we proceed depends on how much distance there is to cover. Typically HR reviews the application and listed salary range, and I believe that if it’s within like 5k they’ll proceed if the design team wants to. If the gap is larger, then HR will give them a call and explain that we’re interested in their application but the ranges aren’t quite a match, just to feel out if there’s any flexibility there and determine if it makes sense to proceed with an interview. I got a call like this, and while it’s a little uncomfortable so early, it’s a good thing.
      In your case, that 15k difference was almost 50% of their stated budget–not doing a temperature check up front, or at LEAST at the end of the first interview, was just stupid.

      Reply
  6. k8

    it’s definitely annoying, but it’s also definitely very common, and not anything, imo, to inspire “pure fury”. Vague irritation would probably be more appropriate?

    Reply
    1. Kathleen Adams

      This is kind of where I’m at, too. I mean, sure it’s annoying, and the employer really should be the one to first provide a range. But yeesh, it’s just not that bad, at least IMO. For me it would fall in the “there are definitely better ways to do this” category rather than the “pure rage” category, but hey, YMMV.

      Reply
  7. Anon for this

    I recently started a job at an organization committed to ending economic inequity. The job posting, however, required candidates to include their salary history in their cover letter… which can perpetuate inequity. I was surprised and annoyed by it, so I stated my salary requirements instead of my history. That still felt like a power differential because the hiring range wasn’t listed in the job posting and it’s a job that I’ve seen wildly different pay scales for.

    It became clear in the interview process that this organization is very well-led, is full of kind and caring non-jerks, and is truly committed to equity. I think my particular job posting came about through a committee of people who don’t work for the organization, and so while my organization should have caught and removed the request for salary history while posting the job, it’s not the worst crime one can commit. They offered me more than what I asked for in my cover letter and accepted some of my negotiations, as well.

    Yes, my organization made a mistake, and yes, I was right to consider whether it was evidence of a deeper issue. But that doesn’t mean that it really is always evidence of a deeper issue. Sometimes it’s just evidence of someone who doesn’t think about these power dynamics in the same way, or doesn’t proofread something that someone else wrote. I’m really happy with my new job and my pay and I’m glad I didn’t walk away just because of one line in the job posting.

    (And yes, if they make the same mistake again with future jobs my organization posts, I will speak up!)

    Reply
    1. AdAgencyChick

      Do you feel empowered to bring up this issue with anyone at your organization who could change that policy? Because it sounds like they should be practicing what they preach.

      Reply
      1. Anon for this

        Yes, I do, and I mentioned above, I will definitely speak up if it happens again. I believe that my job posting was written by an outside committee, and that the mistakes made during the hiring process (this wasn’t the only one) were due to the unique way that that outside group was involved that they won’t be for future positions.

        Reply
    2. k.k

      Job hunting in the nonprofit sector, I’ve seen this way too often and can’t tell you how hard I eye roll. The worst was for an organization that was supposed to be committed to helping marginalized groups find employment…between asking for a salary history and requiring a 4-year college degree for an entry level job that probably paid just above minimum wage, it was a clear case of not practicing what you preach.

      Reply
      1. Florida

        In my city, the Fight for 15 organization (promotes a nationwide $15 minimum wage) pays their lowest level employees $10/hour to work on a campaign to raise minimum wage to $15/hour.

        Reply
  8. Is it Friday Yet?

    I really resent job applications that REQUIRE you to fill out your starting salary and ending salary with each role.

    Reply
    1. k8

      I usually put “$0” if an application requires a salary. Some forms are sophisticated enough to require a number of a certain length or above a certain number, but most just care that you’ve put something in the field.

      Reply
      1. Goya

        k8, do you think this has affected any of your hiring possibilities? I also detest this question and never know how to answer it when applying. Up until now I’ve given the amounts (estimates anyway)…but now I’m seriously reconsidering that for the next application I may fill out!

        Reply
        1. k8

          I don’t think so? I’ve definitely gotten contacted by a few companies after doing that, but I of course can’t say for sure that there aren’t companies out there that sort applicants by their salary range and only contact those that fit their window. (Also, just to be clear, I only do it when filling out online applications– obviously, if someone asked me directly i wouldn’t say that lol)

          Reply
    2. beanie beans

      I’ve been putting a ton of applications out there and this drives me crazy also. It’s so stressful! I think I’m making a pretty good salary right now, but (maybe related to the imposter syndrome letter writer) have been feeling like I’m going to have to take a lower paying position to make a move. So how to pick that magic number that doesn’t get you automatically booted out of the process for naming a price that’s too low or too high? No room for a conversation about it.

      Like the letter writer says, they have a range already in mind. If they could just tell us what that is, we as applicants can decide if we are still interested rather than the other way around.

      Reply
    3. Jennifer Thneed

      Anytime an online app requires a field to be filled, I will fill that field so that the application can move forward. However, I won’t necessarily put in what they’re asking for just because they asked.

      Examples: they demand the full date of when I worked somewhere, and the system rejects any answer with just the year. Fine, I worked there from 1-1-xx to 12-31-xy. They demand salary history and I don’t want to give it (or legit don’t remember). Fine, I earned $0/hour or year. They demand a complete street address and I just don’t give that info to complete strangers. Fine, they get “123 Main Street” along with my actual city and zip. The best, of course, is when they demand my SSN. Nobody gets that who isn’t actually hiring me, but they might get 123-45-6789 on the application.

      Reply
  9. That other anon

    I recently interviewed. In my second interview, which was the first with this particular person, I was asked what salary I expected. I was caught off-guard, mostly because he had just completely stunned me with an offer to work remotely and I wasn’t prepared for what my salary would be in local dollars. My job is especially niche though (maybe 2-3 people worldwide in this role), and I can understand how he’d have no idea if I was going to ask for $40k or $150k. I ended up with an offer $10k over my ask, and assurances that if I did have to move to where they are, the salary would be raised accordingly. They’re a great company to work for so far, and I’m glad I didn’t judge based on just that!

    Reply
    1. Q

      Wow, only 2-3 people in the world do your job and you’re still only making five figures? Am I totally naive to assume that kind of expertise would be higher in demand?

      Reply
      1. NaoNao

        It could be “2-3 people in [the global company] worldwide”. Or it could be something niche that doesn’t pay well, such as “teaching a certain very esoteric topic” or “dead language specialist” or something.

        Reply
        1. Breda

          Yeah, sometimes “not a lot of people have this expertise” means “not a lot of people NEED this expertise.”

          Reply
      2. That other anon

        It’s not that it can’t be done by (nearly) anyone, it’s still a developing market. I can shave 6 months or so off a new company getting up and running. As much as I’d like to deserve a high 7 figure salary, that’s sadly not the case!

        Reply
    2. nonymous

      The big thing with moving to a high COL area is housing.

      If someone owns their house, 20% of equity in the current home is not equal to 20% of equity in the new place, even with a full relocation package (which pays for the transaction costs, but not the difference in value of a similarly situated home). I had classmates in grad school buy (modest) homes with $10K down and decent employment options afterwards (low six figures for the household). Even if they doubled salaries moving to the bay area (as others in our cohort have done) it would mean several years of living in an apartment while saving for the lifestyle they already have.

      Reply
  10. Long Time Reader, First Time Poster

    My MO when interviewing is to always ask first.

    I ask at the very first interview — even if it’s just a phone screen. I say something like “can you give me a sense of the salary range for this position — even if it’s just a ballpark? I want to make sure we’re both in the same general neighborhood before we get too far here, as I want to be thoughtful of everyone’s time.”

    Because, seriously, I don’t want to spend time stressing out over an interview if it turns out that the salary is $25K less than I’m making now. If they refuse to give even a really wide range, I take it as a red flag. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

    Reply
    1. TCO

      This is exactly what I do, too. While occasionally the interviewer is surprised by my asking, framing it as “I don’t want to waste your time” seems to work really well at preventing them from being turned off by the question. Sometimes they still force me to name a number first, which isn’t ideal but at least I get an answer before giving a lot of time to the interview process.

      Reply
  11. Just me

    Working for the Government, candidates had to provide HR with a 3-5 year salary history in order to justify hiring them in at an upper pay grade. If they couldn’t provide the documentation, I couldn’t hire them at a level equal to their last job.

    Reply
  12. nnn

    I’ve always found it bizarre that the conventional wisdom in salary negotiations is not to be the first to name a number, but the conventional wisdom in other kinds of negotiations is to be the first to name a number (I think it’s called “anchoring”).

    It’s also weird that employers don’t just tell candidates what the salary is, since the employers are the ones who have all the information. If they’re open to negotiation and the candidate says “No, that’s not enough for me”, then they can negotiate. I wonder how many perfectly good candidates aren’t hired because they’re not good at this guessing game that’s irrelevant to their ability to actually do the job.

    Reply
    1. Kyrielle

      The problem with salary negotiations is mostly when the potential employee names first, and the reason is that the employer usually has a set range. They don’t always have a set minimum (other than legally-required minimum wage), but they do usually have a set maximum. Name a number too far out of line with their intended range, and they may simply stop talking to you (including if you’re too low – in some cases, they may figure you can’t be a fit for their position if that’s all you want). And name a number in their range but at the low end, and some employers will ‘anchor’ you there even if you are worth more (and even if you were only willing to accept that amount if the benefits were really good, and they turn out not to be). But you have to balance “don’t lowball yourself” with “if I’m too high they’ll stop talking to me, and maybe I would have been willing to take it when I heard about the job and benefits”.

      The employer _already has_ numbers. They have _already named the range in their head and are heavily tied to it_ – may in fact be unable (at the level of the hiring manager) to go beyond it. So yes, if you name a number in the range but near the top, you’re probably in a good spot. But if you name one outside the range, or too low….

      That’s not so good.

      The employer is most likely to be inflexible, and is also the one with the power in this scenario. (They probably don’t know the exact salary, because it might be more or less depending on what the candidate brings to the table within the range of possible skill-sets for the position. But they do know their range.)

      Reply
    2. Trout 'Waver

      Anchoring doesn’t work well in salary negotiations because of the information disparity. The employer is usually already anchored on their budgeted number or what they pay other people in the same role.

      Given that, it makes sense for the candidate to not give the first number for the reasons everyone else has pointed out.

      Reply
    3. LawBee

      There’s also the possibility that the person doing the interview and ultimate hiring doesn’t know what the job pays outside of just a range. If it’s a company that is hell-bent on keeping salary confidential (however illegal that may be) then the hiring manager may not know. Or if the interviewer is the person who the candidate will ultimately be working with, but she isn’t at a position to know what the salary is.

      Sensible? Nope. Does it happen. Oh, yeah.

      Reply
      1. Ego Chamber

        It’s illegal to keep salary confidential? Then why don’t all companies have to post their range in job adverts by law?

        Reply
  13. David P. Caldwell

    Totally agree with Alison, this can happen even in exemplary places. Sometimes they’re big and lots of people are involved in the situation. Sometimes one group is making the rules, and they’ll have no influence on you once you work there. So no, I don’t think it’s a major demerit, even though I completely agree it’s wrong, and something they should not do.

    I just want to speak up on behalf of those who offer the idea you should resist this practice.

    First, I usually just say that my current salary is confidential. If pressed, I say that I signed something preventing me from disclosing it. That was true one time and ever since I feel fine about saying it’s true, and I advise people to say it. It’s the easiest way to get out of the situation without being confrontational, and it’s therefore the only untrue thing I can think of that I will tell an employer in a negotiation.

    Second, as “Long Time Reader” says, the other way to combat it is to ask immediately, “what is the budget for this position?” If they won’t answer, I ask how they can find out. If they don’t know, I ask if it’s OK if I check back in two days to give them time to find out. I think this works because it really uses the same tactic employers are normally using — asking you something inappropriate (your current salary), but using a breezy, normal tone which makes you feel like the crazy one if you aren’t comfortable answering it. Use the same tone with the person doing the hiring and it’s quite difficult for them to avoid giving you a real answer. And I don’t feel even an iota of guilt about it, as it’s something they ought to be doing in the first place.

    I sincerely hope this practice diminishes over time, as everyone seems to know it’s wrong. And yet it’s extremely common.

    Reply
    1. cheluzal

      As a teacher, our salary is public record, but since we’re not paid properly according to degree and time served, I would want any other job outside of education to beat it!
      Benefits used to be awesome at 100% but that has changed so much lately, that our checks actually went down for about 4 years in a row.

      Reply
  14. JGray

    I think that fury and seeing it as a red flag if an employer requests this is an over reaction because you can very easily say I am looking for a salary in the range of X or X & above. Employers should do their research before deciding on a salary for a position but that doesn’t always happen (I think more often than not someone decides we should pay X for no reason other than that’s what they decided sounds good) so as job seekers we need to also do our research. For instance, in my area most employers only want to pay $10- $13 an hour for a bookkeeper but usually require the person to have at least five years experience. Well that pay range is well below what you should even offer someone who has a year or two of experience. That is really a slap in the face to everyone and if someone went to school even a two year school that should give them some more value. This is part of the reason that I think there have been a few high fraud cases involving money theft in my area. So do your research and be prepared to give a number. An employer will either tell you that doesn’t work for them or proceed.

    Reply
  15. AdAgencyChick

    Everybody knows why employers do this. Whoever names a number first loses power. And yes, employers should name their range first because there’s such an imbalance of information in favor of the employer. The employer probably has access to much more salary data than the candidate has — even small employers, unless they’re hiring for the very first time, at least know what they paid the last person who held the job.

    But I agree with Alison that OP’s anger is misplaced, and that an employer who insists on candidates naming a number first isn’t necessarily a bad place to work. For one thing, the person or people setting the policy on salary negotiations is often not the hiring manager, and your working experience has a lot more to do with how good your relationship with your manager is than with how good your relationship with recruiting or finance is.

    Of course, a lot of your job satisfaction down the road depends on whether the employer gives raises at appropriate times, and how big those raises are — but I still don’t think making the candidate name a number first is a guarantee that an employer is going to be stingy down the line. It’s just so common a practice that I think both stingy and generous employers do it.

    Reply
  16. Employment Lawyer

    I don’t see how this could possibly be called a problem much less create a fury. We all do it, right?

    We have all probably interviewed at multiple companies. We have all found Company A marginally preferable to Company B. And we have all taken salary into account: Sure, Company A is better… but at some point if Company B pays you enough then you would rather work for Company B. (This is also how things work w/r/t college admissions and scholarships, to use yet another analogy.)

    This is the same trend, in reverse. For most jobs there are usually multiple people who are fairly well qualified and (within a reasonable range) similarly desirable. Employers are perfectly rational when they use pay as a factor.

    For example, imagine that you’re the employee equivalent of Company B: you’re fine, but not their top choice. Nonetheless, if you’re willing to work for quite a bit less than the wages demanded by your similar competition (employee A), they would rather hire you because the pay savings outweigh the differential.

    Therefore this question benefits those who are marginally good candidates, provided that they are sufficiently self-aware to know it.

    What is missing here is not “what the position is worth.” What is missing from your analysis is what YOU PERSONALLY are worth, and how well you can demonstrate that to others.

    Reply
    1. Roscoe

      I disagree here. Most employers have a max number they are willing to pay, or at least a range that has been approved. So its definitely an imbalance there. I think if employers just laid out their range in the first place, then people can self select out. If the listed max is more than your minimum, then most people won’t apply. But making the candidate name a number first puts them at too much for a disadvantage.

      Reply
      1. Employment Lawyer

        Do you also agree with this?
        If employers employees just laid out their requirements in the first place then people employers can self select out.

        If not, why not?

        Reply
          1. Shadow

            The balance of power is with whomever is less desperate. If you already have a good job or other good options then it’s on your side.

            Reply
            1. Willis

              Exactly…and the OP’s case it sounds like she is pretty desperate for a job, so has less power overall, not just for salary negotiations but with other aspects of the job as well. I can understand being mad at the situation but it doesn’t seem like fury with the employer is warranted.

              Reply
          2. Employment Lawyer

            That’s ridiculous. The logic is the same no matter what the power dynamic.

            Moreover this is universal. Literally every time I shop for something, I consider price. It’s almost always one of the top 3 factors; it is often the very top factor.

            New employees? I consider salary. New job? I consider wages. Which Broadway show? Well, there’s a reason I haven’t seen Hamilton yet, and it has nothing to do with a lack of interest.

            And pretty much everyone does that. The laws of economics are not subject to “what you want”, they just are what they are.

            Reply
            1. Not So NewReader

              If you haven’t eaten in a couple weeks the rules change, likewise if you have no fuel for heat. It’s not fun to play guess the right number when food/heat are at stake. It can make people feel put down and even mocked.

              Reply
            2. Florida

              Every time you shop for something, you consider price. But every time you shop for something, the vendor (i.e. employer) tells you the price.
              Hamilton set their ticket prices, and you self-selected out. Wouldn’t it be annoying if Hamilton said, “Tell us what you are willing to pay and we will tell you if we can give you a seat for that price.”
              You say, “$100-$200.”
              So they say, “Would you be willing to be a little bit flexible on that?” This goes back and forth.
              No one wants to do that, so they say, “Tickets range from $250-$500.”
              Likewise, employers should say, “Salary is $70-80k.”

              Reply
            3. Florida

              And another reason it makes more sense for the employer (rather than employee) to say the range, the employer has a better idea of what the job involves.
              When you apply for a job, you have a job ad to go on. You don’t know if this job is going to be a 40 hour job or a 60 hour job. Sometimes the job is a glorified admin, but the job ad makes it seem like a manager or director level. There are many things that you don’t know when you apply (but will hopefully figure out in the interview process) that the employer already knows. So in the phone screen you say you would be willing to do the job for $50k based on the information you provided in the ad. But after two interviews you learn more about the job and decide that you wouldn’t do it for less than $70k because it’s going to require you to work 60 hours a week, which they neglected to mention in the ad. But you’ve already told them you want $50.
              It just makes more sense for them to say the range first.

              Reply
              1. Rusty Shackelford

                And another reason it makes more sense for the employer (rather than employee) to say the range, the employer has a better idea of what the job involves.

                Also, the employer knows the maximum they can/will pay. The employee does not, most likely, have a maximum they will accept.

                Reply
        1. krysb

          It’s not just a balance of power issue (though there is that, as well). The employer puts forth a job ad and potential employees respond. The employer has to expend the effort to create a job ad, regardless of whether or not they list a pay range. An employee usually doesn’t get to ask about pay until an interview. If I’m in an interview and find out the pay is a downgrade, I’ve already expended a lot of time and energy for a job I don’t want. That time and energy could have been saved on both sides, since the employer could have preempted the issue.

          There’s also a secondary issue that bothers the hell out of me. I’m that nerd who does a lot of research to determine my market rate based on knowledge and experience, and whatever other factor that may be involved. I am going to ask for pay commiserate with that. A lot of employers don’t want to pay market wages or continue to pay them market wages throughout the life of their careers – and that’s crap.

          Reply
          1. Employment Lawyer

            The employer has to expend the effort to create a job ad, regardless of whether or not they list a pay range.
            Yup. Some employers will be more interested in attracting applicants than in paying less; they obtain the desired outcome by listing a high pay range. Other employers will be more interested in having more power and they will ask employees to go first. The decision to weight one way or another is based on their business needs.

            Personally I don’t usually list salary. If I list a salary range then I run the risk of having people refuse to apply even though I might hire them at some agreeable salary. In my life I’ve opted to train very under-qualified people (and pay them below the advertised range) and I’ve opted to expand the position and pay more than expected. Those folks would possibly have been deterred from applying by a salary posting. And in any case that trade-off (of applicant type) is my call.

            There’s also a secondary issue that bothers the hell out of me. I’m that nerd who does a lot of research to determine my market rate based on knowledge and experience,
            Apparently not quite an economics nerd, though: Your market rate is what you get paid. You’re not a fungible commodity. The concept of a market rate is that a “10 year engineer is worth $XXX,” but as anyone can tell you, all 10 year engineers are not alike–either in ability or salary demands.
            I am going to ask for pay commiserate with that.
            Ask for whatever you want! I hope you get it. However, when you say
            A lot of employers don’t want to pay market wages or continue to pay them market wages throughout the life of their careers – and that’s crap.
            this goes to show that you actually don’t understand what “market rate” is.

            Reply
      2. Shadow

        Not true. You’d be surprised how many employers don’t really understand what it takes to find the skills they want. It’s sort of like buying a house or a car. You want all these bells and whistles at what you think is a reasonable price. When reality hits you end up sacrificing more money, time, and/or quality than you expected.

        Reply
  17. Lisa

    Using the words “pure fury” over something so minor is frankly concerning. How is the reaction when something not so minor crops up?

    Reply
    1. Not So NewReader

      I assume this issue is tangent to many other issues. Or it could be life experience.

      My husband worked for a company that said name your price. He picked a price. He heard through the grape vine that they would have paid him more if he had asked. Silly him, he did not ask. (Why was he told that he could have gotten more???) But the benefits were wonderful. Yeah, Okay. Back to the elder care insurance for $2K per month. The benefits were useless ornaments.
      Like tumbling dominos this story gets worse and worse. And it started with, “Let’s play guess how much we are willing to pay you.”

      Reply
    2. Ego Chamber

      A lot of people sure are weirdly more fixated on OP’s use of hyperbole when describing a difficult situation than on the situation itself. Keeping in mind that OP is unemployed, and job searching, and job searching is stressful, and different people react to stress in different ways, using the words “pure fury” to describe a difficult situation is a lot less concerning than if OP had mentioned punching a wall or something.

      Storytime. I went to an interview last week where I was told that the hourly rate of “up to $15/hr” listed in the company’s advert wasn’t exactly inaccurate, but it was a general advert that they run whenever they’re hiring and the most they were willing to pay to hire anyone for the job I was interviewing for was $8/hr. When I got home after the interview, I floor-cried all my expensive mascara off. Concerning? Absolutely, but that’s how I respond to stress. I wish I could have called a friend and raged about it instead. Unfortunately, I’m not wired that way.

      Reply
      1. Rusty Shackelford

        A lot of people sure are weirdly more fixated on OP’s use of hyperbole when describing a difficult situation than on the situation itself.

        Agreed.

        Reply
  18. Anonanonanon

    My current job is my first where the staff is represented by a union, and man, had I completely underestimated how great it is to not have to deal with the salary negotiations dance. The job posting had the salary range within $5000 based on the few steps they were authorized to hire for, the steps are determined based on qualifications specifically outlined in the contract. The interviewer was able to tell me on the phone screener exactly how much the salary would be based on my qualifications if they were to hire me. I’ve never had less stress around the issue. (I have also never been paid better, for what it’s worth.)

    Reply
    1. nonymous

      I work in the public sector, and it’s great! when we hire new people the HR person tells them what quals (usually educational, but in one case it was previous public service classification) will get them into a particular band and the interview committee (SME) can just rank applicants based on relevant skills. The real negotiation is with HR to get the job classified appropriately.

      Reply
  19. Althea

    Has anyone ever spoken up about the practice in their own workplace? My employer is decent, but never gives a range on the job description and usually asks for expectations from the candidates without sharing on our side. And this is despite the fact that we do have an internal range in mind!

    This has always bothered me. I did once speak up about improving salary transparency, but was shot down quickly :( People said that apparently employees would be jealous of the employees in other countries making more than them – even though it’s perfectly understandable that the cost of living in another country is different.

    Reply
    1. Veronica

      Several of us at my job spoke up, collectively, before we posted a slew of jobs. We’re in a niche department at a public university, so our salaries are a matter of public record anyway. I would expect any candidate who’d excel in this line of work would be savvy enough to look up a range, but why go through the song and dance? Many of these jobs were entry-level positions where there really is a ceiling on how much we can pay, so it makes sense to tell candidates up front the range. HR agreed.

      Now, we do have some positions (not that we’ve hired for recently) where we essentially could hire an entry-level person or a very senior person, and obviously the pay for that range would be different. I’m not sure what we’ll do the next one of those is posted because I think we’re all in agreement that being upfront is best.

      Reply
    2. Not So NewReader

      I am on a board. When I suggested it, they thought I was from outer space. Will circle back to it later.

      Reply
  20. Bee Eye LL

    I think it’s a little shady. I recently applied for a job via a recruiter and it turned out to be they were hiring on behalf of a former employer. The advertised salaries were WAY more than I know for a fact the employer actually pays, and during a brief interview they asked what my salary requirements would be even though they advertised a number. I have a feeling the company will get the applicant’s info and circumvent the recruiter to avoid paying them, but that’s just a hunch. Once I realized who I was actually applying to, I told the recruiter “never mind” and warned some other former coworkers. Not that ALL businesses who do this are shady, but when you catch one in the act it definitely makes you put your guard up.

    Reply
  21. BlueWolf

    My current job asked my for my “salary requirements” in the initial phone interview. I gave a range and they came back with a bit lower number. However, it was still more than my previous job, plus a great benefits package. I had to fill out some paperwork and it asked for my salary requirement again. I put a number in between the quoted number on the phone and the low end of my salary range. That was what they ended up giving me in the offer letter. They did make it clear on the phone that it was considered an entry level position, and experience-wise I was slightly above entry level. They also ended up giving me a substantial raise with a promotion less than a year later, so it wasn’t like they were trying to low-ball me.

    Reply
  22. Database Developer Dude

    I really don’t see an issue with an employer asking for your salary expectations. Current salary? No. “What are you looking for?” is a valid question. I’d rather them name a number first, but I’m not going to lose sleep if they don’t. I’d do my research first, and tell them “I’m looking for X$, plus or minus 10-15% depending on the benefits package”.

    Reply
  23. NaoNao

    I’ll be honest, I’ve had flashes of outrage over having to fill in an application that has blanks for “starting wage” and “ending wage” for a professional job history and one time, having to submit *proof* that I made the $$$ that I said I did.
    To me, the outrage came from two places:
    Panic that I was *this close* to getting further in the job search and it might be slipping out of my hands for reasons partly out of my control
    The tone HR or recruiters asked it in, especially if they pressed past a “well, I was asked to keep that confidential…” (a brisk, school nurse-like, pursed lips “Mmm-hmm. And what are you currently making, PLEASE?” type deal. Ugh).
    The sinking feeling that yep, yet again I was being forced to lowball myself. Once you get one job that pays less than industry standard, it takes years and a few lucky breaks to get out of the lowball zone. And I know for a fact this happens to women, POC, and other minorities far, far more often.
    The feeling that employees are using their relative position of power to force me to lowball myself. Rage-inducing.

    Reply
    1. Kathleen Adams

      Well, but that’s quite a bit different from what the OP is describing, at least if I’ve understood the letter properly. What you’re describing is definitely egregious and pretty dang awful. But just asking “So what kind of salary are you looking for?” isn’t even in the same ballpark. Annoying, sure – the employer really should just supply the salary range already. But not awful, and not something only an awful company would do.

      Reply
    2. Janelle

      I would never submit proof. Ridiculous. Maybe if asked I’d say “sure go ahead and give me your pay stubs and I’ll bring mine in”.

      Every. Single. Time. I have refused to give prior salary I have never heard from the company again. No matter how I word it, how nice I am about it, I am always met with anger from the employer. Drives me bonkers.

      Reply
  24. JanetM

    I make a LOT of assumptions here, but I note them as such.

    I can absolutely understand “pure fury” and “dick move.” In my head, at least, it goes something like this:

    LW is unemployed.

    LW may be having a hard time finding an appropriate job (we don’t know this, but it’s in my head).

    LW may feel zie is being asked to jump through hoops (granted all applicants are, but bear with me).

    LW may be feeling disrespected by not getting interviews or offers (we don’t know this, but it’s in my head).

    LW has other stresses in zir life (we don’t know this, but it’s in my head).

    And now here comes a potential employer who is asking LW to take all the risk in a negotiation when the employer knows perfectly well what range they are offering (straw breaking the camel’s back).

    Suddenly, there is a level of fury and outrage that may or may not be out of proportion to the single issue, but perhaps not so much when surrounding circumstances are considered.

    But note: LW did calm down and provide a salary expectation range, and also wrote to ask if zie was over-reacting.

    Reply
    1. MissDissplaced

      Well, it is definitely harder when you are unemployed and maybe don’t want to say you’re unemployed (because any salary beats unemployment, right) or some states will force you to take ANY offer.

      But still, you need to do your research and be prepared to know what that position (and yourself) are worth.

      Reply
  25. PNW

    In June of this year, Oregon governor Kate Brown signed H.B. 2005, Oregon Pay Equity Act into law. This prohibits discrimination on the basis of protected class. Our HR department sent out a memo to all management staff that due to this law we are no longer allowed to ask for pay history. I was told by someone outside of HR that this is because women and other people in protected classes are often paid less for the same job so if you base their new salary on their old salary we will always be paid less.

    Reply
    1. Eli

      Same thing here in NY, effective this month; employers can’t ask for salary history. Democrats in Congress are pushing for it to become federal. I really hope it does.

      Reply
    2. MP

      Yes but we’re not talking about salary history here — we’re talking about salary requirements, which is totally different.

      Reply
  26. Wildcat

    One thing I like about being in public education is not having to do salary negotiations ever again.
    In the private sector, I worked for a firm that paid me $52,000 and promised a raise later, when they could afford it. A year later, they hired my friend, who has less experience and no degree, at $67,000. My friend got drunk and told me, which she shouldn’t have, but she did. I immediately asked for and received a raise to bring me to where she was.
    The whole thing left a bad taste in my mouth, and I lost trust in my employer. I left a year later.

    Reply
    1. Where's the Le-Toose?

      I’m in the public sector as well and the salary negotiation at my last private sector job was much like your experience Wildcat.

      My friend started at this employer 4 weeks before I did, and even though we had the same experience level, my offer was $5,000 less than my friend’s salary. My boss revealed that he knew the offer was $5,000 less than what my friend was making, but he said he had to reward my friend for her last month of service. Whaaaaaaaat?!? I was underemployed and needed a stable pay check, so I agreed. The boss told me that at my 6 month review, if I was doing as good work, he’d give me a raise and add $5,000 to it to make up for it. Over the next 6 months, I came into work before my friend, and continued to work after she left for the day. I busted my rear doing everything I could to justify the raise. I did the math, and over that 6 months, I put in about 6 weeks more time in the office than my friend, so I was confident that I’d get the raise the boss promised me.

      At my friend’s review, she got a $10,000 raise. I figured I’m going to make out like a bandit. And then at my review, I got a $10,000 raise. The boss’s response was that he had to reward my friend for the original 4 weeks head start she had in the office. Notwithstanding the fact that I more than made up for that over the prior six months. I knew that this wasn’t the place for me. So I changed my hours to match my friend’s hours, and in less than 12 months, I was gone to start my career in the public sector.

      Reply
    2. CMDRBNA

      Yup. I worked at a company that lowballed everyone and basically punished people for not negotiating – and because it was a company that employed mostly women, this worked in their favor, and they didn’t do salary adjustments that were BLATANTLY out of line. For example, they hired someone with barely any experience and an irrelevant degree for almost 8K more than someone who had a relevant higher degree and had been there a year. (I believe that the more experience employee being a minority also had a lot to do with it.)

      Reply
    3. the gold digger

      Same numbers! When I moved from Dept A to Dept B at OldJob, Dept B offered me $85K. I had been making $51K in Dept A. Dept A boss said he could get me up to $54K.

      When I left, they replaced me with a man whom they paid $67K. (And who, based on OldJob’s website and his LinkedIn profile, did not accomplish the main function of the job, which was to license new companies outside the US to sell OldJob’s product. Not one. He did not add one new licensee in two years.)

      I am no longer at OldJob.

      Reply
    4. cheluzal

      If only we were paid what we were worth in public education! I could make over 20K more in any other field with my master’s (and almost PhD). I hope to soon, and will have to negotiate for the first time. If they went by previous/current salary, I would be screwed.

      Reply
  27. Lesson Learned

    During my job search this past summer, I was asked my salary expectations during a phone interview. I wish I’d had the presence of mind to counter by asking them what the budgeted salary range was, but I was nervous and blurted out my range ($45k-55k). I followed up with, “Is that acceptable?” and the HR rep said, “Yes, that’s fine.”

    Things progressed to the offer stage, and they offered… $38k. The person who made the offer was not the same person who had done the phone interview, and he acted quite surprised when I informed him that I’d given the low end of my range as $45k in the initial phone interview and had been told that was acceptable. He said the HR person “shouldn’t have said that.”

    I needed the job (refusing it would have ended unemployment benefits), and I really liked everything else about the job and company, so I managed to negotiate up to 40k and accepted the job. And it has been great so far, so I’m glad I did despite the pay cut (I’d been making $47k at my last job). But boy, was I ticked. Lesson learned – never again will I give my range if I’m in this situation. I will ask them for their budgeted salary range instead.

    Reply
    1. Steph B

      I’ve had early phone call screens with HR people where I do try and defer answering and ask for the range, and every time the HR person manages to out defer me into giving a number. It is way harder than you think it will be in the moment, because you are nervous and have no idea whether or not it’ll be an exclusion factor or not.

      Reply
      1. AdAgencyChick

        Yeah, not only do HR/recruiters have more *information* than job seekers on how much a position should be worth, they also have more *experience* in turning the question around to the job seeker.

        Reply
  28. NyaNya

    I get the LW’s feelings – the prospective employer already has so much power over the hiring process and by forcing the applicant to show their cards first, it feels to me like they are hoping for a windfall should the person go lower than they were willing to give. They could state their range of salary while clarifying that the actual number will likely vary and the number would be in their budget and therefore not harm them the way it could harm the applicant.

    A friend of mine was asked about salary expectations when a law firm called to schedule an interview and wasn’t expecting it. She blurted out a number since she’d only just started job-searching while studying for the bar exam only to realize she’d undersold herself when she checked the market in that city. I give huge kudos to that interviewer because when he brought up the topic of salary and looked at his notes, he actually spoke up to say “Did you mean to say $XX – XX? I think this is too low,” which let her fix the error without needing to backtrack. I would normally say that’s just decent behavior, but the other attorneys at the firm, as she discovered over the next few miserable years, were evil overlord types and there’s no way they wouldn’t have taken advantage.

    Reply
    1. LJL

      That’s happened to me a couple of times. Most recently, my current employer gave me an offer that was $10K ABOVE (yes, above!) the high end of my expectation. So it is not always to screw you over; sometimes it’s to make sure you’re on the same page.

      Reply
  29. Faith

    I am not sure that I agree with such a strong negative reaction from the OP. As long as the question was about salary expectations and not salary history, I would have no problem answering it. I am, however, in a field where industry salary guides are available so I can relatively easily benchmark how much a white chocolate teapot design manager with my number of years of experience can expect to make working for a mid-size company in my metro market. You can usually get a range and then get a pretty good idea where you fit within that range based on how closely your skills align with the job description. Last time my “guesstimate” was within 5K of what my employer ended up offering me (they offered slightly above the median of the industry range).

    Reply
  30. Allison

    No one wants to waste their time with the interview process, when the candidate wouldn’t accept something in the budgeted salary range. It would be awesome if we could all sell ourselves so well that the employer would pay anything to have us, and I can see wanting to have that chance, but the reality is that HR has a budget for each role open – something they work with the hiring manager and the finance department to determine before opening the role. There might be some flexibility if an amazing candidate needs something slightly over that maximum, but only a little.

    So when people ask what I’m looking to make, I tell the truth, and often add that I could consider something slightly lower if the benefits package is really good. I could also be slightly more flexible if I can work from home a few times a week and/or the office location is amazing. But if I’m looking for 65k and the most they could offer me for the role is 50k, I don’t care what the benefits are, that’s not a job worth pursuing, so it’s good to learn that early in the process.

    Reply
  31. RVA Cat

    This would all be so much easier for all concerned if each job had a “sticker price”, or more realistically if the pay bands were public information. I don’t like how government employees’ individual salaries are public but I do like how public-sector jobs explicitly advertise the pay range.

    Reply
    1. Coalea

      I had to take an HR management course as part of my master’s degree program, and I remember that we had a very spirited debate in class about the pros and cons of making salaries public information. Classmates were in all types of fields, some public sector, some private, and there was really no consensus.

      One thing that I noted was that at my then-organization, there were so many gossips that if salaries became public, business would grind to a halt because everyone would spend 40 hours a week sniping about “how can Jane afford that expensive handbag with her salary,” and “Why can’t Fergus contribute more for staff gifts with his salary,” not to mention sharing opinions about who is over- and underpaid.

      Reply
      1. Rusty Shackelford

        One thing that I noted was that at my then-organization, there were so many gossips that if salaries became public, business would grind to a halt because everyone would spend 40 hours a week sniping about “how can Jane afford that expensive handbag with her salary,” and “Why can’t Fergus contribute more for staff gifts with his salary,” not to mention sharing opinions about who is over- and underpaid.

        Oddly enough, in the public sector, where salaries are public information, people manage to keep working…

        Reply
  32. Stable Goat

    I’m currently hiring for a director-level position at a public university. Normally, I feel VERY strongly that the employer should post their range, or throw out the first number, depending on context. It’s a philosophical and moral thing for me. However, in this case, I posted it as “commensurate with experience” and asked candidates to name their salary expectations in their cover letters, and here’s why: it gives me more flexibility to make a higher offer for the exact right candidate. If I post this position with a range, I can’t legally make an offer that’s over that range. I just can’t. And most of the time, that’s okay – that’s our budget. But in this case, if I get a super magic unicorn candidate who is absolutely perfect, I have the opportunity to advocate for more resources to get a higher salary. If I had posted the range, my hands would be completely tied. I suspect we’ll still hire within that range, depending on the candidate pool.

    Is this a rare set of circumstances, especially in public higher education? Absolutely. But I hope it helps the OP see that sometimes there can be reasons behind that choice that are more thoughtful and nuanced, and framed as advocating for a perfect candidate, rather than trying to rule people out and be exclusionary or unfair.

    Reply
    1. EH

      ” If I post this position with a range, I can’t legally make an offer that’s over that range. I just can’t. ”

      *Legally* can’t? That’s a pretty significant factor I don’t think I’ve run across in discussions of salary negotiations before. Can you tell us more? Is this part of being at a public university, or does the law apply universally?

      Reply
      1. Not So NewReader

        I have never heard of this, so I am interested also.
        It would seem to me that there are ways of working with this, though. Such as posting a ridiculously high number and stating that actual pay would probably be lower.

        Conversely, maybe you can tell the applicants what you are doing and why. Just say the truth up front, reference the law # or reg.

        Reply
      2. KC

        I assume it’s a similar situation to hiring internationally in Canada. If there is a chance you’ll need to hire a foreign worker, you need to post an ad that clearly states the salary range (for when you apply for a Labour Market Opinion, to ensure you’re paying fair wages). When you apply for your LMO, you have to prove you did everything possible to attract a Canadian/Canadian Permanent Resident.

        For example, you can’t post for a software developer for $50,000 – $75,000, find no candidates and then hire someone internationally for $100,000. Otherwise, a Canadian/Permanent Resident could say “Well, I would have applied had I known I could have made $100,000”.

        Reply
  33. beanie beans

    A reminder that GlassDoor can be a good tool when you feel like you have to pull a number out of thin air. Research either job titles and their salaries at that specific company or general salary ranges for job titles to get a sense of ballpark salary ranges. Helps you go into a job application or interview with at least an idea of what they might pay.

    Reply
  34. EH

    This whole thing stressed me out enormously the last time I was jobhunting, and I am sure it will in the future. It’s a big deal and there’s no right answer, and having that same “argh!” reaction over and over during my jobhunt made me sensitive on this and similar topics.

    My big worry is always this: if I’m unemployed and a job is offered to me at a lower rate than I want, I cannot refuse the job without losing my unemployment insurance payments. Since I need those to pay the bills (like a lot of folks, I basically live paycheck to paycheck), it feels like I’m in a position with very little power when it comes to salary negotiations. How do you negotiate without the ability to say no and walk away?

    Employers have all the cards in this game, and when you are desperate for work, that gets infuriating in a damn hurry. I feel you, LW.

    Reply
    1. Y

      My big worry is always this: if I’m unemployed and a job is offered to me at a lower rate than I want, I cannot refuse the job without losing my unemployment insurance payments. Since I need those to pay the bills (like a lot of folks, I basically live paycheck to paycheck), it feels like I’m in a position with very little power when it comes to salary negotiations. How do you negotiate without the ability to say no and walk away?

      You don’t. You can’t. What you do is you take the job at less than your ideal salary. Now you can afford to say no, so now you start looking for another job paying you what you actually want. Only now you have the bargaining power because you can walk away and not starve.

      Reply
  35. Esme Squalor

    I’m honestly shocked by this letter and the comments. Prospective employers asking for the candidate’s salary range is so, so common in my industry that I’ve never thought twice about it. A few employers in my industry post salary ranges on job listings (including my current employer), and that’s great. But I think of that as a nice-to-have going into salary discussions. The idea of reacting to a request for salary requirements with “pure fury” is completely foreign to me.

    Reply
    1. Bethany G

      OP is, per the letter, in dire straights financially. Any game playing is standing in the way of keeping a roof over his/her head.

      Reply
      1. Esme Squalor

        I guess I just don’t see this as a game. To me, this is a standard step in job hunting. Again, maybe my field is weird for this, but when I’m pursuing a new job opportunity, I usually have a very precise range in mind, within $5K, based on what is industry standard and what I want to make.

        Reply
      1. Esme Squalor

        I agree. When I’ve been the hiring manager for roles in the past, HR has asked this question early on, and I would be very put off if I got the sense that the candidate was outraged over it. (Though, again, my company does pay salary ranges with its job descriptions). Maybe my field has more standardized salary tiers than others? People working in my industry generally have a very precise understanding of how much they should ask for, based on experience and level.

        Reply
  36. MissDissplaced

    I think you’re overreacting a bit to be furious about this.
    When I was recently job searching I was often asked either my salary expectations or range in the first phone screen. Sometimes I would flip this and ask for their range, but if they didn’t tell me I was ok with giving my minimum (usually broadly such as “My minimum is mid $X). Actually, I find this helpful early on.I’d rather not waste time with interviews and writing or other tests if we are not on the same page with salary. I’d be much more furious if I went through 3-4 interviews only to find out they’re only willing to pay $20k less than I’m making!

    Reply
  37. perplexed-boss

    I honestly do not know what to offer college hires right now. I’ve lost good people because I made offers that were too low, too early in the process, and they decided not to counter because they figured I didn’t know what they’re worth. When the industry is growing, as it is now, you don’t know what people are actually looking for unless they tell you, because surveys are retrospective and don’t keep up with trends fast enough.

    Based on current salary surveys, I’m apparently paying in the 96th percentile, and still have people with B+ GPA’s who are turning down offers over compensation. I have HR guidelines for what to pay people, but they’re about a year out of date and generally don’t help. And that’s a company that should know better, at a small company without resources, I wouldn’t even have that.

    On the “you must know what the budget is for the position”: I have never had a budget for a position, and I’ve been hiring for 21 years. I have a budgets for a team of people, for multi-year projects. Within reason, I could pay people more than I do, but when I run out of money, they run out of work. This year’s ~12% increase was a shock, and means I’ll end up hiring two or three people instead of four, or risk having to lay someone off next year. It doesn’t mean I’ll tell four people that they should accept something that’s less than they’re apparently getting offered.

    In terms of thinking that asking someone must mean I’m looking for a bargain – personally, when pushing out multiple offers for similar people, I round them all up to match and then round to the nearest K, rather than being a cheapskate and giving the people who didn’t ask something low. Otherwise, though, I don’t see what’s wrong with paying people what they think they’re worth. I’ve offered as much as 20% more than what someone asked for, and just had someone rendered speechless by their offer (in a good way, apparently).

    Reply
  38. Bethany G

    One perk of working for a privately owned company is that my salary is part of my confidentiality agreement. If I ever choose to look for another job, and they ask me for my current salary, I can’t give that information without violating my employment contract. I think that will provide me with the incentive to stand up to pressure to reveal my current salary. I’ve always caved and provided that info in the past, despite internally screaming at myself to shut up. I’m certain it has hurt my case, since I was underpaid in at least two jobs.

    Reply
  39. Me--Blargh

    I just got sent an application for a job I threw a resume at (I don’t want it I don’t want it it’s front desk I don’t want it please kill me now) that I have to fill out and then email back. The application asks for salary at each job, and desired salary. Uh uh, sweet summer child, you tell me what it pays. Then we can talk. If I even bother, I’m leaving those blank. Because come on.

    Oh and there’s a spot for SS# too. No fooking way.

    Reply
  40. Not myself today

    I tell people a range. And then I pay them as high in that range as I can persuade my boss to offer. That’s because it’s much easier for me to get someone a higher initial rate than a catch-up pay rise later. If I lowball someone now, I risk creating a pissed off person who leaves in a few years. No, thanks.

    Reply
    1. CorpRecruiter

      Exactly this. I determine the offer amount or appropriate range for a candidate and present it to my HM. There has been a few times my HMs wanted to offer too little and I pushed back and explained the reasons why the too-low offer is a bad idea, for the reason you stated. And the fact it would create internal equity issues when the offer amount they want is out of line with what other employees with similar experience are earning.

      Reply
  41. CorpRecruiter

    I’m a corporate recruiter in healthcare and I always discuss salary with candidates during the phone screen to avoid flying someone in for an on-site interview and wasting my hiring managers’ time before finding out that we’re too far apart on salary. However, I volunteer pay info first. I talk about the pay range, that we factor years of experience, relevant qualifications, and internal equity to determine the offer amount then ask if the pay range fits within their salary requirements. Sometimes they will just say yes or no and sometimes they give me their desired range, either response is fine. This process has worked well.

    Reply
  42. KC

    The problem with ranges is that everyone automatically assumes they’re entitled to the max. “Well, if they have the budget for $50 – $75k, then they should pay me $75k. Easy”. Yeah, that’s not how it works.

    During the first interview, I’ll get a general idea of someone’s skills, and I’ll ask them to give me a salary range that they would be happy with. I tell them I won’t hold them to that number, but I want to understand their expectations. Most people will demure and ask me to give the first number, but I explain that until we do a technical test, I can’t asses their level, and as such, I don’t want to give them false information. I reiterate that I’m not holding them to the number, and they can change it after doing a technical interview once they get a better idea of our tools and technologies, but I want to make sure that everyone is aligned. Once they give me the number, I can say “yeah, there’s no way we can match that”, “that actually seems to be in range for similar people here with your background” or “wow, that’s lower than I expected. I’m sure we could make you an offer that would make you happy”.

    I think there should be transparency both ways.

    I like to use the babysitter analogy. You’re looking for a babysitter, and you’re willing to pay between $10 and $20/hour, based on experience. Of course, everyone is going to assume they’ll make $20/hour. After all, you said you’re willing to pay it. In reality, you’ll pay your neighbour’s kid who just completed a Red Cross Babysitting course $10/hour, and the university student who is studying Early Childhood Development and just spent the summer nannying in Europe $20/hour.

    I’ve given out ranges before and got burned. No one wants to hear that they’re not worth the most amount of money an employer is willing to pay.

    In a perfect world, would we share the ranges? Absolutely. Even though I’m in HR, I do wish we could be more transparent. However, as a few other people have noted here, it could also scare off people who wouldn’t otherwise apply, even though for some extraordinary cases, we can pay a bit more for the right skills.

    It’s a song and dance on both sides, and neither really has a clear advantage.

    Reply
    1. Rusty Shackelford

      Have you tried clarifying it like “candidates who only meet the minimum requirements will get offers in the lower half of the range, and the upper 25% of the range is reserved for candidates who meet minimum requirements, all other listed desired skills, and fart rainbows?”

      Reply
  43. CM

    I’m speaking up for the OP’s fury, since there are so many comments saying it’s an overreaction! Job candidates SHOULD be furious when when employers, who hold most of the power in this situation, force their hand and make negotiations more difficult for them. (And personally, call me an anti-capitalist or whatever, but I think it’s wrong that your ability to negotiate a job offer should be reflected in your salary and benefits. Just pay people what they’re worth.)

    That said, Alison’s comment definitely matches with my experience: “There are lots of wrong-headed hiring practices that are so common that you can’t draw broader conclusions about what working there will be like.” So I don’t think the OP is in a position to express her fury to the employer.

    Reply
    1. Esme Squalor

      I agree that companies asking for your salary history is intrusive and over the line, but I can’t understand why asking for the range you want to make is an outrage. It’s important to make sure early on in the hiring process that the company’s budget and the prospective employee’s salary expectations are compatible. I can’t imagine job hunting as an experienced professional without having a range in mind for what I’m worth.

      Reply
  44. Marley

    I’ve had this experience recently–thankfully, it was over e-mail, so I demurred and asked for their salary range for the position, noting that I had worked in the industry for some time and thought surely we could find a reasonable agreement should I be the best fit for the job.

    I got the answer I needed–now to see if I get the job!

    Reply
  45. MJLurver

    I had a potential employer- the OWNER/ PRESIDENT of a 220 person company, call a previous employer incessantly, like, non-stop for an entire afternoon to ask him what they had paid me. My previous boss called me and left a message saying “John Smith is blowing up my phone asking for your salary when you were here- let me know if I should even call him back, or let me know what you want me to tell him.” I thought that was in such poor taste and so against general work etiquette and regulations but I swept it under the rug. I ended up being hired by the company but I started with such a sour taste in my mouth and always felt like I didn’t quite belong. They were so atrociously cheap and ridiculous about money, communicating, training, and everything else that I really shouldn’t have been surprised when they asked me to take a pay cut when I had been there for 2 months, despite (finally, after much negotiation) agreeing to an original salary that was already 10% lower than my previous job since I really wanted to work in the niche area/department. I refused the pay cut and was told it wouldn’t effect my employment status. (A Much longer, torrid story for another post!)

    Three weeks after I refused the pay cut, I was let go (fired) due to the “mistakes” I had made in my short time there. Huh?? I had been doing this specific job at 3 other organizations for a total of 22 years, I’m very good at what I do, and not once did anyone mention any egregious mistakes (or any mistakes at all for that matter) in the 3 months I had been there. Not a single mention or heads up about anything at all. I asked for some examples of these “mistakes” and the (truly heinous) HR manager gave me a few random examples that sounded like she had rehearsed saying them: 3 issues that I had nothing to do with besides being on the periphery after a problem had already arisen, and one that did happen, I absolutely did make this one – it occurred during my first week on the job and was fixed almost immediately and caused zero negative effects for my company, our investors, or anyone else. (Don’t get me wrong- like any new job, of course I made many “that’s how you learn” mistakes while trying to figure out this company’s (antiquated) processes and databases, but never did anyone mention a problem. My boss would say “don’t give it a second thought!” or “that’s how you learn!” cheerfully. Literally everyone in the department made small daily mistakes due to our specific roles in the firm – that was unavoidable.)

    I was in shock since I’ve never had as much as a poor performance review – never mind been fired from/let go – from ANY previous employer. I was fired for mistakes that didn’t happen or happened when I was brand new and it’s VERY coincidental that it was a mere 3 weeks after being asked to take a [refused] pay cut from my already minimal salary for my experience/skill/knowledge base. The company was just so incredibly cheap- I found out after the fact that the 4 other people in my department (who had all worked there for anywhere between 3 – 9 years) all earned under $48,000 annually. AFTER WORKING THERE FOR THREE TO NINE YEARS!! What??!! No wonder they wanted me gone- I was making 28k more than everyone! Maybe they hired me hoping to reduce my income after the fact? I have no idea – it was a director position and that salary was so low to being with.

    So, there ARE cases where these questions and actions in the beginning/interview stages *can* be an clear indicator of a painfully frugal organization. I *so* wish I had paid more attention to the original B.S. at the beginning but I really wanted this job, and roles open up so infrequently in my niche area that I think I had blinders on. Oh, if only we could see into the future. So many mistakes could have been avoided.

    Reply
  46. The Person Who Submitted This Question

    I’m the person who submitted this question. I wanted to provide an update.

    I didn’t get the job. Was a runner-up. Was told it was very close decision, no reason given why it shaded to someone else but I know how these things go and it could have been someone with just a smidge more experience on this particular topic or anything else. While I *don’t* think it was a factor the point is, I don’t know if salary requirement were a factor. Maybe the deciding factor is the person said they’d take $10k less than me? I don’t think that’s why but of course I don’t know.

    Some people took issue with how i described my reaction as “Fury.” I suppose I could have said “extreme annoyance.” My reaction was in part due to the timing…We’ve had an interview, I took a test, they *already* scheduled the second interview and booked the travel. So demanding salary requirement *at that stage* should have had nothing to do with seizing up if I’m a mismatch for the job because the tickets were already purchased. That ship sailed if we were a total mismatch. Otherwise it does just make me think this isn’t about finding a comfortable number (what they want to offer vs what I’d accept) but just putting another chit on their side of evaluating me as a candidate. “Okay she wants xx-xx” and the reality is that you CAN’T show how much your worth until they are ready to hire you. You may be worth $5k more than they originally figure but once they set their stock on you…they may go there. But if you come in before they picked you set a number, you can show why you might be worth more. They’ll just see the $$ amount. Like I mentioned, my previous job I negotiated them above their range. I was the best candidate, I was already earning close to what they were offering, but they didn’t know I wanted to leave that place and probably would have done it for the same amount. But because I showed I was the best candidate, I could push them to their max. But had I said “I want XX” and it’s above what they put in their range? Then I’m out before the first interview.

    Want I wanted and I’m glad Alison clarified for me, is that basically this is so wide-spread you can’t really judge an office based on them doing this.

    I have had some bad-bad-bad experiences with employers in the progressive sphere. This organization also had a progressive mission which was another reason I was super upset they acted that way. In the meantime I’m still on the job market and trying to find a job so I don’t have to give away my pets and lose my home.

    Reply
  47. boop the first

    I understand the anger. Most things about job hunting are frustrating, and when you do it for a long time with nothing good ever coming your way, even a well-meaning piece of “advice” from a family member can be infuriating.

    You can always try retail/hospitality. At least then, you’ll know it’s minimum wage, regardless of how many decades of experience you’re bringing to the table. I’m forced to take a pay cut every time I change companies

    (which is why it’s so infuriating when family/friends say “why dont you just get a different job?” Yo, because it’s more than $100/month pay cut??? Hello!)

    Reply
  48. Abby

    A senior colleague reported her answer to this question as, “Well, if you offered me $low it would be hard to say yes, and if you offered me $high it would be hard to say no.” and reports that she got offered a salary much closer to the $high end of her range.

    Reply
  49. I get it I really do.

    You have my absolute sympathies – I was recently in a similar situation! In the initial application, I was asked to name a salary range. I did some research, named a figure (50-55k) and was invited to interview. The job was with a non-profit, so in the interview they explained about salary sacrifice and getting a higher amount tax free, so it would work out closer to 49k and I said that was reasonable and acceptable to me. I know I nailed that interview.

    The recruiter, who had been in the interview with the director, called me a week later and said that I didn’t get it. When I asked for a bit of feedback, particularly because I felt it had gone extremely well, she told me that they’d (and this is verbatim) ‘picked someone with less experience who they could mentor’. When I expressed some quite reasonable surprise and shock at that as a hiring rationale, especially when the director had banged on in the interview about looking for someone who could step into the role instantly, the recruiter further explained that the candidate they’d chosen had a lower expected starting salary, and that had tipped the scales in that direction.

    To this day I’m still stunned that they continued to interview me if I’d name a figure outside their range, and that the recruiter so blatantly told me it was a money decision.

    Reply

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