why employers won’t name a salary range first

So why the hell do so many employers refuse to name a salary range but insist that job candidates do so? Why not just list a salary range up-front in the job ad?

Employers who advertise a job but refuse to say what it pays are one of the biggest frustrations of job-seekers

Adding to the frustration, many employers expect job-seekers to name the salary they’re looking for – some even requiring it before an application can be submitted online. This, of course, puts applicants in an incredibly unfair position, and makes most of them worry that they’ll lowball themselves or ask for so much that they’ll be removed from the running. It’s particularly infuriating when you consider that most employers have a salary range budgeted for the position. They just won’t disclose it.

So why do employers make such a secret out of what they’re willing to pay? What not just list a salary range up-front in the job ad?

Employers who play coy on salary will tell you that it’s because if they list a salary range, all candidates will assume they should be at the top of the range … and will then get upset or be disappointed if their offer comes in lower because of the level of their qualifications. In other words, if an employer advertises that a job pays $50,000 to $60,000, they fear that every applicant will think, “Great, low 60s. That works for me.” But if an applicant ends up getting an offer for $52,000 because that’s where his or her experience places him or her, he or she will feel that he or she is being lowballed because, after all, he or she knows the employer is willing to pay up to $60,000. The applicant may have been happy with that offer if he or she had never heard about the full range available.

Now, a good employer will be able to explain how the scale works and why the candidate fits into it where he or she does. But employers who don’t want to disclose their full range believe that too many people still won’t be satisfied, and that they’ll be creating dissatisfaction that otherwise wouldn’t exist.

And that’s not all employers worry about. Sometimes they don’t want to list a range in their ads because they’d be willing to pay more for the right candidate – but not for most. For instance, if they list a salary range of $50,000 to $60,000, the candidate who won’t consider anything below $70,000 might never apply. And if that person is good enough, the employer might be willing to meet those salary demands. But since they wouldn’t pay it to most candidates, they don’t want to put it in the ad. As a result, they conclude it’s better not to list a range at all.

So what can candidates do in the face of so many employers who won’t reveal the salary for a job, when salary happens to be a major consideration for most job-seekers? One key is to know what jobs like the ones you’re applying for typically pay. You can often get a solid sense by talking with recruiters, checking with professional organizations in your industry and even just bouncing figures off of other people in your field. Once you come up with a range for your experience level and in your geographic area, you can feel more confident naming a salary figure first, without the worry that you’ll be wildly off in either direction.

And second, assume that at some point the employer is likely to ask you about what salary you’re looking for, without telling you their own range first. Too often, job-seekers assume that the employer will name a figure first and they can then respond to it – but by knowing that often isn’t the case, you’ll be better prepared, less likely to be caught off-guard, and more equipped to negotiate a fair salary for yourself.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 58 comments… read them below }

  1. AdAgencyChick*

    And if a candidate happens to come in whose salary expectations are BELOW the range, many employers are happy to meet those lower expectations and never disclose that the candidate could have made more. I’ve definitely worked at places that keep on paying below range to anyone they can get away with — but of course that lasts only as long as it takes for the employee to find out what others are making (and she can make by going somewhere else).

    1. Mallorie, the recruiter*

      I don’t doubt there are a TON of companies that do this, but thankfully, I work at a company whose salary ranges have a DEFINITE minimum. Not sure if other large corporations have similar guidelines, but we (per our own policy) must pay each new hire at least the minimum of the pay grade. It makes my conversations easier with candidates. I do ask them what they are looking for, but I can at least give them an honest assessment – even if they had accidentally undercut themselves. That’s always a fun conversation too…. “Oh, well I hope X is ok for you!” They are always really excited to hear more. Not as much fun the other way though :-/. Does anyone else work for a company like this?

      1. themmases*

        There is a definite minimum for each title where I work, too. I started my job here as a part-time/contingency research assistant– a type of job for which I was paid $8.50/hour as an undergrad in an area with a much lower cost of living. So I asked for $10! I still cringe when I think about it. My now-boss called me back a couple of days later and told me that the minimum for my position was several dollars per hour higher. Promotions come with (I think) a 5% raise or whatever is needed to bring you to the minimum for your new job title, whichever is bigger.

        That doesn’t mean there’s no way to be taken advantage of– the biggest thing I see is classifying or even openly advertising for people doing much higher level work than their job title. (And not just “not my job” type stuff– my department hired a woman with an MS in statistics to be a research assistant, promising to promote her, then never did even while consulting with her instead of the titled statistician in our institution. Yeah, she left pretty quickly). But I think that’s pretty common in support roles and in non-profits generally. And it’s partly a culture thing, not always deliberate exploitation.

      2. jesicka309*

        The new role I accepted last week did this.

        My own salary range was far too low, and in the phone interview, the HR person told me what their minimum was (higher than what I’d stated). I spent an anxious 3 weeks going through the interviewing process, wondering if they were going to lowball me based on my interview answers…

        Offer came through. Matched their minimum. I was over the moon – I was so grateful when the HR person told me what their minimum was, instead of just giving me what I originally asked for, and pretending that’s how much they were always going to pay.

        1. lmnop*

          When I was fresh out of college, I applied for and got a job as a Field Representative in a State Assembly office in California. I had worked there during school as an intern and later as a secretary. I found out accidentally that there were pay ranges for each position and that I was being paid below the low end of the scale. I told the Chief of Staff (who, I’m sure, already knew about it because he hired me – he was also an openly sexist jerk), and after a little back-and-forth, they agreed to bring my salary up to the bottom of the range. I was really naive at the time, and I didn’t realize that state government jobs usually have pay scales for each position.

  2. Prima Facie*

    Lately when I get a phone interview this is the first question asked (sometimes before they tell me about the position). Employers have a range that’s acceptable for the right candidate and employees have a range that’s acceptable for the right job. It’s a stupid game that has cost me jobs before but next time I might give a huge range (49-60k) just to keep playing.

    1. Joey*

      I think its best to say something like: “I’m looking for something starting in the 50-60k range. Its hard to be more specific than that without knowing the details of the rest of your compensation package like your retirement plan, benefits, etc.”

      1. No More Agencies*

        This is probably best . A friend once told me to never disclose first but this just seems like a quick way to piss the recruiter off.

      2. Prima Facie*

        You put it perfectly.

        I’ve also had employers give a range then tell me they weren’t interested in people who wanted a salary at the higher end. At least the honesty was nice.

          1. Joey*

            I do that sometimes because of a few reasons:

            -That’s the “official” range.
            -someone who is promoted internally might end up at the top end.
            – If I bring in an external I want to bring them in at a lower rate if I’m over budget on salaries or the market is saturated.
            – and I want to show the “official max” so people know there’s growth potential to the max.

            1. Prima Facie*

              Do you really think this shows growth potential? It seems dishonest to me. Tell me what you are willing to pay me today. If that is what I can hope to make in a few years say so in the job description.

              Recruiter: They’re willing to pay up to 52K
              Me: I was hoping to make around 55K
              Recruiter: Well they actually want to hire someone under 50k.


              1. Joey*

                Why is it dishonest if I tell candidates I’m looking to bring someone in between say 40-45k, but there’s potential to get to $50k depending on performance?

                If I did it the other way people might not apply because it doesn’t look like there’s growth potential in the position.

                1. Bea W*

                  What you tell them is the starting range is 40-45k, because that it what it is. If 50K is only attainable through raises after a length of employment, then say that.

                  It only confuses people to something like the range is 40-50K when you are only willing to go up to 45K to start, because it is commonly assumed by job seekers, a new hire could be started at anywhere within that range. Just keep it straightforward and simple by using only the true starting range, 40-45K. That doesn’t stop you from talking about raises or bonuses or potential salary growth in that position.

                  Recruiter: They’re willing to pay up to 45K
                  Me: I was hoping to make around 50K
                  Recruiter: They might not be willing to start at 50K, but you may get up to a 5% annual raise based on performance. They also offer an annual bonus of up to 10% of your base salary.

                  That sounds so much better than
                  Recruiter: They’re willing to pay between 40-55K
                  Me: I’m hoping to get 52- 55K.
                  Recruiter: Well they actually want to hire someone under 50k.
                  Me: O_o

            2. Mike C.*

              As long as you make it clear that it’s growth potential, I don’t see too much of a problem with that. Hell, I like seeing what it’s possible to earn given good performance.

              1. jesicka309*

                Yes! This. It’s good to hear about the internal policies for raises early on – it’s great incentive, as so many companies don’t give raises based on performance.
                In my curent role, I took a salary that was fair enough for my experience, figuring as I became more skilled, and worked hard, I’d eventually get my pay up to a decent rate. But it has hardly changed in three years – I’d have liked some notice about that.

    2. AmyNYC*

      The problem I’ve had with this is the employer offers you the low end of your range ($49 in this case) and if you negotiate they’ll say “but what we offered is in the range you gave us”
      The bottom of your range should be the lease you’ll accept.

        1. Mallorie, the recruiter*

          Very good point Amy. I mean, as a recruiter, I do always try to remember that at the end of the day, most of us are working to support ourselves (and hey, if you are one of the few working for the fun of it, GOOD FOR YOU!). If I were job searching, I would make sure to not offer a range or number for less than what I could afford to make- and if that is not in range for the job, then I guess I know then its not a fit. And in line with that, as a job searcher, you have to be realistic to the jobs you are applying for… ie, if you MUST make at least 35k to live, applying to entry level jobs that pay 9-10 an hour is not a fit. I run into a lot of candidates who NEED to make 15 or more an hour, but they are so desperate in the job market, they are applying to PT jobs that pay 9 – its a tough situation to be in.

      1. Joey*

        “After learning the details of the job and the rest of your comp package I think a fair offer is x (which includes an extra few thousand).”

        1. Esra*

          Yes, this here. The low end of your range usually has some other perks thrown in there. Ex, you’ll take 50-60k, but the 50k would have extra vacation, or flex hours, or wfh, etc.

      2. Broke Philosopher*

        But that seems ridiculous! Maybe I’d accept 49 if I got great benefits, regular hours, or whatever I really want, but would require higher pay otherwise in order to accept the job. I can’t know from an initial phone screen what the minimum I’d be willing to work for is in most cases. If it’s possible that I’d accept 49K, then I should be allowed to say that without a hiring manager throwing it back in my face if I later negotiate.

  3. Sabrina*

    What would you recommend for people like Administrative/Executive Assistants where the pay can vary widely? I’ve seen some where they want several years of experience and are only wanting to pay $10/hour, and then other jobs where you could make $50K+ for the same amount of experience. I would assume this is one thing where you have to “know your worth” but I’ve had HR people scoff at minimum salary requirements, that I think are pretty low.

    1. JLL*

      As an EA, I tend to look at salaries of people in comparable positions and companies. No sense in looking at the salary offered at a tiny non-profit compared with a large, international corporation; they aren’t gonna match up.

      1. NylaW*

        Industry and company size are important factors in the salary of any job, as well as the state or country it’s in. You can end up with a big apples to oranges situation for salary when comparing a small company of 1500 staff to a Fortune 500 company.

        1. some1*

          +1. IME, the industries where salaries for all positions are generally on the low paid end (government, non-profit) will have admin salaries that pay lower than industries where all people generally make higher salaries (private law firms, finance).

      2. SB*

        That is one of the hardest things about pricing your “worth” as an EA, there is no market parity. I work in a corporate office for a c-level exec. I previously went to an interview for an EA position for a CFO of a major media corporation, and they wanted to offer $15K less than what I was already making and would have expected me to be on call all of the time. They pointed out that lots of EA positions pay $30K or less. I think the term EA is applied to frequently. There is (or should be) a big difference in the corporate world between what an EA is and what an admin or receptionist is. I’ve seen people post jobs with duties that exactly describe a receptionist (sit at front desk, answer phones, greet customers/clients, with no actual interaction with an executive or executive-level functions) that are listed EA and pay $12/hr. That really brings the market average down and makes it difficult to know where you sit.


    This process is so RIDICULOUS. I usually answer the question with “negotiable”. I explain I do not have a set number and would be more willing to discuss it when I know more about the job. It usually works and gets me to the face to face interview. I also have had HR people tell me the range and ask if if it was acceptable. At that interview I was more willing to take that pay due to only having to work a 4 day week.

    1. WWWONKA*

      In my field I have seen pay from around 35k to 80k at one company that actually paid their salary people overtime.

  5. Mike C.*

    A couple of points to hiring managers.

    1. If your business has a standard way for paying people in a particular position, based on their skills, experience and market rates, there’s no reason not to disclose this. By saying, “this is what we pay everyone, and here are the standards we use to determine this” you have nothing to worry about.

    2. If you’re so worried about people throwing temper tantrums over not getting the higher pay rate, why are you hiring toddlers? Shouldn’t you be hiring adults instead?

    1. Briggs*

      Yeah, that’s what I was thinking too. If the major reason employers aren’t disclosing salaries is because they don’t want to “deal with” employees who think they’re worth more than the employer does … then maybe they need to examine their hiring procedures.

      I’ve always expected the salary conversation to be … well … a conversation. I assume we both participate in the negotiations and give reasons for our numbers. It’s usually worked in the past, and if a company doesn’t want to treat this piece of the interview process in an honest and straightforward way, then it’s a huge red flag.

    2. Prima Facie*

      In my industry and city there is a salary matrix HR people use. They also all belong to an organization to share salary and industry information but actively discourage employees from sharing this information.

  6. Scaredy Cat*

    I found an even more frustrating kind of interview.
    The company interviewed me (HR and practical), seemed to like me well, bar one detail (which I knew would be a sore point). Strangely enough, not one word regarding my desired salary was discussed, but taking into account said detail I decided not to “press my luck” too hard.

    After a month, they call again, full of apologies, but ready to discuss salary in person. Only snag, I wanted to be paid as an employee not as a contractor. Unfortunately, this was a deal breaker, so the whole “negotiation” lasted 10 minutes, and that included the weather-related pleasantries as well.

    Frankly, I considered the above quite a waste of time, which could have been avoided if I had been asked about the salary at the first interview.

    1. Judy*

      OK, odd question here: Why would you want to be paid as an employee vs a contractor? In engineering, contractors are paid 30% to 50% more, since they are not getting benefits.

      I personally have no illusions that being an employee would give me any more job security than being a contractor these days. I also don’t think many companies are offering defined benefit pensions to new employees any more – all just 401ks. So beyond health insurance what does being an employee give you?

      1. Scaredy Cat*

        It’s not about job security, but rather the extra things to solve with paperwork, which I loathed.

        At the time I was interviewing, I was being paid as a contractor. And there was a lot of hassle with having to solve a tonne of paperwork every year ( it has to be done personally), and the bureaucracy in my country is terrible.

        In the end, I managed to negotiate the same salary I was earning as a contractor (which is at the higher end of the range for my profession and experience) with a different company, so I’m not sorry I insisted on it.

      2. SB*

        Part of the reason contractors are paid “more” is not just a job security issue. As a contractor not only do you not get benefits, you end up paying more to get them. Health insurance out of pocket is far more expensive.

        On top of that you pay more in taxes, often a lot more. If you’ve never been a contractor or been self-employed it would surprise you how much of your tax burden is paid by your employer. Then to add insult to injury you have a lot more paperwork to keep up with and are more likely to be audited by the IRS.
        When you add it all up, that extra % you thought you would have as a contractor has either shrunk or disappeared entirely.

        The last place I worked, I was a contractor. My hourly rate at Old Job was actually higher than my hourly pay at Current Job, but my take home pay is actually more at Current Job.

        1. Scaredy Cat*

          I didn’t have any problems with the taxes and health insurance, since they were considered refundable expenditure by the company. But the hassle with the paperwork was annoying me to no end.

          Also, some of my colleagues told me horror stories related to banks approving loans for buying a house (i.e. apartment/flat).

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Plus, as a contractor you don’t get things like severance pay or unemployment if you’re laid off. Which the higher pay can make up for if you save properly, but not everyone considers that.

  7. JenTheNiceHRGirl*

    At my company, the hiring managers will often times tell me that they don’t have a specific range, because they are willing to pay whatever it takes to get someone who is a great fit. This is because in my field, we often times hire people who are very specialized in a specific area. That makes it hard for me because 9 times out of 10, when I ask a candidate what sort of salary range they would want to be in, they flip the question back around on me or give me some sort of vague answer. I imagine that this is because of some of the points mentioned in this article. They want to know what the min and max is so that they have a better idea of what kind of offer they can expect. Fair enough. I just hate it when the hiring managers don’t give me a range and the candidates don’t give me a range. It is like a game of poker and nobody wants the other to see their cards. I like the suggestion in the article about doing homework on what similar positions would pay and come up with your own range based on that plus your experience level. From a recruiting standpoint, what I usually do when the managers wont give me a budget for the position, I just look to see what we have hired individuals with similar responsibility and experience level and that way I can tell the candidate “The hiring manager has not given me a salary range for this position; they have told me that they can be flexible for the right individual, however I do know that in the past, individuals hired in with similar background and experience fall in this range XYZ”. That way the candidate at least has somewhat of an idea of what they could expect.

  8. Anon - 345*

    I know of a past employer that wouldn’t disclose because they didn’t want their competitor to know how much they are paying because the competitors always stayed 25 cents ahead of every position and another that didnt disclose because they didnt want the current workers to find out what the new workers were making.

  9. Warren*

    You explained well the employers flimsy excuses for not disclosing salary, but you did nothing to address their insistence on forcing candidates to state their salary requirement. Nor did you address the fact that EVERY job interview adviser clearly states that no candidate should ever have to say first what the company’s salary range should be. Your article serves mainly to justify unfair hiring practices.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s not intended to justify anything; it’s intended to explain their thinking.

      I’ve written extensively here about why it’s BS that employers make the demands they do on candidates to reveal salary history and/or name a number first.

      1. WWWONKA*

        What about on an internet posting that asks for past history and desired salary? Sometimes on the desired I put $1.

  10. THW*

    And sometimes you are doomed from the start when you are the most qualified person in the field. Literally – this is a highly-specialised job, with only three companies in the market, and other incumbents/external candidates have no comparable training or experience. Researching similar roles in other countries (markets) often does not help – even allowing for exchange rate and cost of living differences, invariably employers do not want to pay what you are worth because they simply have not had to in the past.

  11. Poster formally known as Jane Doe*

    I don’t know if I’m just lucky, but I’ve never had to name a number first. My industry is a bit hard to to find out salary ranges for, because there are a million different titles and they mean something different for each firm. So generally what I do is have some sort of idea of where I’m at so I don’t get ripped off, but when it comes time to talk money, I explain that I’ve done some research and the numbers I’ve found have really varied. At that point, they’ve all thrown out a number, and it’s either good or it isn’t.

  12. MJ of the West*

    One reason that wasn’t clearly articulated is for employers who really have such an incredibly-wide range (based on experience and skill) that for us to name a number would be useless. For the same job opening, we would accept a range of maybe 4 job levels (skill/experience). And that could equate to 3x the salary from the lowest level to the highest.

  13. excruiter*

    This game wastes so much time. On the recruiting side, I wasted time with over and under qualified candidates when companies refused to give me a range. On the candidate side, I applied for and set aside time for interviews for positions I would never have considered had I known the salary.

    Around here, offering minimum wage for 5+ years of experience and a four year degree is apparently excused by some companies by terming the position “entry level”. I wouldn’t apply to such a company if they were up front about that. I was told that I was being unreasonable when I once pointed out that I wouldn’t consider a move unless it matched or beat my current salary AND was in some way an improvement on my current job.

    1. Stevie Wonders*

      It is very odd how companies expect you to switch jobs for less money, seems to be an emerging trend since the ‘Great Recession’. I really wonder what their reasoning is. Psychic income?

  14. Brton3*

    “But if an applicant ends up getting an offer for $52,000 because that’s where his or her experience places him or her, he or she will feel that he or she is being lowballed because, after all, he or she knows the employer is willing to pay up to $60,000. The applicant may have been happy with that offer if he or she had never heard about the full range available.”

    That paragraph is what I call “he/she madness.” I am not normally a fan of “he or she got his or her” constructions in the first place; but there are five of them in one sentence in that paragraph! Sometimes you just gotta pick a pronoun or give in to the temptation to use “they.”

    Just my nitpicking opinion.

  15. Maria*

    just had a phone interview and when asked for my salary expectations I think I gave a lower number than I should
    Since there is one more interview before a potential offer, should I bring the salary discussion up and give a new number?

  16. Marty*

    I am very sick of telling these people what my “requirements” are. I’ve decided that I am now going to answer that question with “about the middle of what you have budgeted for the position” or “why don’t you tell me the budget for the position first”. I realize that many would caution me against this but I just can’t take it anymore; These people want me to dress in a costume and grill me on work history, asking me trick questions and questions know one can answer truthfully off the fly, but not before making swear by oath that all answers to my pre-employment questions are true, doing a background check, listing ten years fo references, address history, providing two forms of ID which I had to call faraway states for, taking a personality test, taking a proficiency test, sifting through my urine later to make sure I haven’t smoke pot while unemployed (cause let’s face it, that’s really the only thing they can find in that pee), make me stop at the library to print my resume, and they want a personalized cover letter to show how serious I am about this position. All of these fiery hoops to jump through and I don’t even know THE PAY, how can they expect me to be so SERIOUS about this position when they provide me with no info and paint me into a corner where they get to see how much a fresh college grad thinks he’s worth and then check that against what they are willing to pay. That is completely unfair, so I think asking them their budget is NOT rude it is merely sticking up for yourself. It’s an employers market and they are really stuck up and condescending about it and will expect the whole world from you for maybe a chance at a job with mystery pay. It makes me sick!

  17. Bubba*

    Question. If a company lists a min and max salary range on a job post then is it possible to put the max and list a range from the max and a little above it? The hiring manager that is offering me a job said this to me: I saw what you were making at your last employer (a little over 6 figures) and our budget is not going to allow for that kind of salary at this time, but may be able to come close. Please let me know what you are looking for as we try to wrap up the process. The max they posted for the position is: $41.63 / $7244 / $86929.

    Its a great company and I want to work for them but I don’t want to lowball myself nor do I want to go over a range that they will not want to hire me.
    Any assistance would be appreciated.

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