how should I ask candidates their salary expectations?

A reader writes:

I work in HR and am somewhat new to the field, with less than 3 years experience. Part of my job is managing recruitment at my company. When I receive a promising resume, I will email the candidate to arrange a phone interview. In that first email, I ask, “What are your salary expectations?” If the person replies, “I am looking for salary between $X-Y” but I know the position pays (usually quite a bit) lower than that, I will advise the applicant that their expectations are higher than what the position pays and ask if they are still interested in the phone interview. Sometimes they are, sometimes they’re not.

I have read some of your posts and it seems many job-hunters are uncomfortable with revealing their salary expectations so soon in the recruitment process. So my question to you and your readers is, what is the best, most professional way to ask a candidate’s salary expectations? If you applied for a position and were asked for salary expectations, how would you respond?

Before you answer, I think it’s important to provide some context. First, most of the positions I recruit for would be considered entry-level, requiring only 1-2 years experience. Secondly, when I recruit for these positions, I always get quite a few who applicants, who, judging by their previous positions, likely earned a much higher salary, for example, a former director of regional sales applying for an obviously entry-level administrative position. I don’t want to get their hopes up or waste their time. Thirdly, my company does not like including salaries in job advertisements.

Rather than putting the burden on the candidate to tell you their salary expectations — at a point where they know very little about the job or the details of the benefits — why not just be straight with them and tell them the salary range you’re planning to pay? After all, that’s information you do have, as contrasted to their position of having really limited information at this stage. Say something like this: “I want to let you know that the salary for this position is $X-Y. If that works on your end, I’d like to set up a phone interview to talk more.”

Too often employers operate as if candidates have one salary that they’re seeking, regardless of the responsibilities and pressures of the job, the hours, or the benefits. But salary expectations should be significantly dependent on those things, and candidates really aren’t in a good position to throw out a salary number until they’ve had a chance to talk with you and get a much deeper understanding of those factors. By asking them to propose a number early on, before they have that information, you’re denying them the ability to name a salary that they’ll actually be comfortable with — which can result in unhappy employees who don’t stick around long, feel valued, or put in the extra mile.

(I do realize that you could argue that there’s a similar effect when the employer names a number first and the candidate agrees to proceed, but it’s just unfair to put the burden of coming up with a number on the candidate who has almost no context about the job, when the employer already knows what they’re willing to pay and is just being coy about it.)

So just tell them. “The salary range is $X. Does it make sense to keep talking?”

If your company absolutely won’t let you do that (although this is a different thing than their refusal to put the salary in the ad), then the next best approach would be to say: “Can you give me a sense of the salary range you’re seeking, with the understanding that that may change as you learn more about the job?

But I’d rather you just give them your range.

{ 267 comments… read them below }

  1. Mike C.*

    Seriously, why don’t you tell people what the job pays!? Why play the games and hide information?

    1. UKAnon*

      I suspect it’s that (some) companies would rather pay the lowest they can for a candidate, and in naming their max range they expect people to hold out for that, rather than being able to offer them the lower range.

      (Which is crappy on a person level but might be good hiring practice depending on how it’s done)

      1. Mike C.*

        It’s not though, because once someone finds out that they’re being underpaid (and they always find out), they start looking elsewhere.

          1. Mike C.*

            As terrible as it is, there’s a reason Silicon Valley exists in a state with very strict restrictions on non-compete clauses.

            1. Artemesia*

              The advanced software developers have however been hosed for years by monopolistic agreements among major employers.

        1. trilby*

          This is only true if the person is a super competitive, high-value job candidate with a diverse skill set who makes all job decisions based on salary. If the workplace is great, or if the employee doesn’t feel like going through the rigamarole of searching and switching to a new job, he will probably continue working there despite being underpaid.

          1. John Smith*

            This is very true. I stayed over 4 years at a place where I was underpaid, undervalued, and denied any kind of raise whatsoever. They actually had meetings telling us how lucky we were to work there, and that with their “amazing” benefits package, we were making 17 dollars an hour. Management was terrible, but I liked my coworkers, and I hate looking for a new job, so I stuck it out until I couldn’t take it anymore

      2. BRR*

        I think it’s could be that and could also be when people see $50K-$60K a lot see $60K. If they get offered $54K based on their qualifications they know the company was willing to pay more even if their skills can’t demand more. Often times this leads to resentment even if people accept the position.

        1. BRR*

          And I want to add the employer then just needs to explain that based on the skills they’ll only pay X (nicer wording). But few want to do that.

          1. Koko*

            Exactly – it’s really not that hard to defend your choice if the candidate pushes back asking for more. “We budgeted $50-60k for this position, looking for someone with a minimum of 5 years’ experience, 2 in management, and a minimum of a BA degree. These minimum qualifications correspond to the low end of the range. To get an offer in the high end of the range, we’d want to see additional years in management beyond the minimum requirement or an MA degree.”

            Assuming you have a rational process for calculating what a candidate is worth and you aren’t yourself just trying to arbitrarily offer the lowest possible salary you think you can get away with, regardless of the candidate’s qualifications, it should be fairly simple to share with the successful candidate one or two factors that went into determining the offer where they had not maxed out those factors and thus can’t max out the salary range.

            1. AndersonDarling*

              And this would be the time to discuss how reviews are handled and what kind of raises could be expected so the candidate could eventually be earning the top of the range.

              1. Laura*

                I was about to say that this is the problem.
                The candidate then thinks that it’s possible to jump 10k in a short time period if they say get a masters or after 2 years which brings them up to the ideal experience the employer was initially looking for. In an ideal situation, you could jump to the max point of the salary range but the truth is it’s hard to get more than a standard annual wage increase whether it’s because the salary range budget was for that fiscal year in which recruitment happened or because they can get away with it.
                Government jobs are appealing in that way – it’s very clear as to how much you make and how much you can make.

          2. danielle*

            +1 to your first sentence – if I give a range, candidates tend to latch on to the higher number. With the way my company recruits/budgets, there’s no rubric of “x skills = x salary”, so there’s no way to legitimately justify to a candidate. I fully understand we should be paying for the job, and not for the person, but realistically, that’s easier said than done, especially when you get into grey areas like marketing and sales, and tasks aren’t necessarily the same from one role to the next. And even if we could justify a specific salary by a specific skill set… try telling a candidate who believes they are “fully qualified” for the job (aka, most candidates who apply to jobs) that they’ll be making $50k when we told them up front we could go to $60k – it probably won’t go over well, and we risk losing a candidate if they that we’re undervaluing them – even though they would have been perfectly happy with $50k from the get-go. (To be fair, when I interview for jobs, I give up a salary range I’m looking for – so I’m not just playing this one-sided here!)

            1. Koko*

              I think the bigger problem here is that your company hasn’t figured out the value of the work it needs done. Even if that’s easier said than done, it still needs to be done. At the extreme end you could be opening yourself up to legal liability for discriminatory wage claims if you don’t have some sort of objective standard by which you evaluate employee compensation. If it’s all subjective and nebulous and undefined, what is stopping your company from consistently offer more to whites than non-whites, men than women, natives than immigrants, etc? Rather than solving your problem the easy way by obscuring the fact that you’re making salary offers arbitrarily, solve your problem by getting at the root of it: stop making salary offers arbitrarily.

              “Fully qualified” generally means you’ve achieved the minimum. Remind candidates that you wouldn’t even be making them an offer if they weren’t fully qualified – so of course they are fully qualified. That’s not what the upper end of the range is for. The upper end of the range is for people who have *more* than the basic qualifications and could likely be trained faster, take on more responsibility, or be expected to provide a greater revenue lift than someone with basic qualifications. It’s not so hard to tell a “fully qualified” candidate that you have 10 other candidates with the same qualifications, or that they don’t have enough above-and-beyond years of experience at a high enough level to justify paying the high end of the range.

              1. fposte*

                Seconding Koko (who is on fire today!) here. The problem is “there’s no rubric of ‘x skills = x salary.'” Of course people resent it if you can’t justify why you’re paying them less than you might.

                The solution isn’t to hide the salary range, it’s to develop a system where you can justify the steps within it.

                1. Laura*

                  I’m also with koko.
                  Not all jobs (in fact most) do not have very clear formulas as to salary and skills.
                  For example soft skills especially for sales type jobs, how do you explain to someone that yes you tick these 3 boxes but you don’t match some of the soft skills that make people invaluable and have to do with personality.
                  As long as my employer is OK with it, I tend to whenever possible offer a salary range during an initial phone screen if I think it’s relevant. Entry level type jobs but for a typical entry level candidate is not so important to discuss salary, but if I see a very overqualified person applying for an entry level job I will mention it because I want to make sure that we both aren’t wasting our time. During those initial conversations is when I may find out that the person wants to focus more on family commitments or better commute so salary cut was a given and they are more interested in potential career growth to make it back up their level, etc.

            2. Stranger than fiction*

              But , reasonable candidates should also know theres others who are willing to work for way less

              1. John Smith*

                While there are others who will work for less, you also need to pay people what they’re worth in order to get talented or loyal people. If you consistently low-ball, you’ll get less skilled or less reliable people

        2. fposte*

          I don’t think it’s that often, though, and I think that’s something that hiring managers should, well, manage. Ultimately, I think this is a rationalization that allows people to logic away something that they’re mainly just avoiding out of discomfort. But talking openly, calmly, and firmly about money is an important manager skill.

          This is kind of like yesterday’s thing with the auto-response, and sure, if a company is hiring the people they like with the non-disclosure approach they’re not likely to want to change. But this one bugs me more than that because I don’t think that represents people ducking a responsibility, and I think this one does.

          1. Mike C.*

            Indeed. So long as there is a concrete reason for paying 54 rather than 60 then it really shouldn’t be a problem.

            1. LBK*

              I think part of the issue with this, though, is that there often isn’t a way to justify more granular amounts (and I consider $1000 pretty granular once we’re at the $50k+ range) from either perspective. Often from the candidate’s side, an extra thousand could just be a matter of asking without having to detail out any specific skills or traits they have that are worth that much. How would you even do that?

              1. fposte*

                Agreed that at certain levels those aren’t about credentials, but that goes both ways, since it’s not about credentials if the employer says no. I think a manager can either use discretion available and say yes, or say “We’ve offered what we think is fair, and we’re standing firm on that; I hope that’s an amount that will work for you.”

          2. BRR*

            I agree that it’s something hiring managers should manage. If they can’t have this conversation what else are they possibly dodging. It might not happen that often because so many postings don’t list salary or benefits (it’s also incredibly frustrating when they list a pay grade but the details of the pay grades are internal only information).

        3. itsame...Adam*

          This is a problem only if you just say a range of 50-60. If you say, that candidates marginally fitting the requirements can expect about 50 and perfect fit candidates with additional skills can expect around 60, this will not create a huge problem. Explaining what those numbers mean based on your companie’s expectation will eliminate people thinking they are in the 60k bracket. But yeah, general negotiations are a min/max situation.

        4. Ad Astra*

          I realize you’re probably just making up numbers for the sake of example, but one thing that can help mitigate these situations is providing a very wide range. If the job is listed at $30k-$60k, it will be clearer in an applicant’s head that this number will change depending on skills, experience, and maybe even some specific duties that would be negotiable with that position.

          It’s easy to distinguish between a $35K candidate and a $60K candidate. The difference between a $50K candidate and a $60K candidate might be legitimate, but they’re close enough that they’ll seem arbitrary to a candidate. It feels like making less than the max is a shortcoming, like you’re being docked, whereas falling somewhere within a wider range feels more like an accurate placement.

          1. Sadsack*

            I think the range stated should be what the range actually is. 30-60 is so wide it seems implausible. How can one position have such vsriation? In pay?

            1. LBK*

              Yeah, I would wonder what kind of work the position could be doing that there could be such a wide potential range in responsibilities and tasks – I would be expecting a person making $60k to do so much more than someone making $30k that I can’t fathom they would be able to have the same job title.

            2. BRR*

              This is a technicality but I work at a university and we have pay grades that span that much. However there is a midpoint also listed and I believe you need authorization from somebody pretty high up to hire above the midpoint.

              1. Lia*

                Same here, and we have an awful lot of staff who have been at the same pay grade for decades, and they will be closer to the top end due to years where everyone got COL raises and bonuses got added to base salaries — both of which haven’t existed in the last 5-7 years.

                The most common grade here ranges from $37,500 to $79,000, but when you see postings for jobs at that grade, you will see $45K-$50K, for example.

              2. 2horseygirls*

                Yep. I’m at a higher ed institution, and the secret decoder for the pay ranges is: Regardless of your qualifications, unless the position/job description was written specifically for you by your buddy AND you have photos of the college president playing golf with Satan, you will start at the bottom of that range. Period.

                I have miles more experience and software expertise (my “skills test” for the position was to put ****5**** names in alphabetical order and create a mail merge with **2** names – seriously?!?! I pulled the mailing list for the credit schedule (75,000+ names) for years! *headdesk*) than anyone in my division, but my salary didn’t increase, and I know it’s lower than some who have been here longer, with far less prior-to-higher-ed experience, and far less skills.

                TOP TIP: If you are applying for a position at a higher ed institution, find the link to the Board of Trustees (usually in the footer of the home page). Search previous board agendas or packets for your position title. Depending on how quick they chew up and spit people out, you may be able to find out what the last person(s) in your position made, since all appointments typically have to be approved by the Board. Also, search for “compensation study” — that will tell you if the institution pays below, above or at industry average.

            3. Ad Astra*

              I’m sure this would depend on the role. When Gannett was “reorganizing” its newsrooms and forced everyone to apply for new jobs, positions like “Sports editor” were listed at huge ranges, something like $32K-$70k. The idea, I think, is that experience would be a major factor. (And in the case of a current sports editor being hired to stay on in the same position, they could presumably pay him whatever he was previously making.)

              Admittedly, this only works with positions like copy editor or reporter, where an entry-level applicant and a 30-year veteran would have the same titles at different pay grades, with different levels of responsibility. If your company has job titles like Customer Service Manager II, a wide range might not be so reasonable.

              1. Kate M*

                Yeah, but that’s to accommodate people that already worked there, I’m guessing? I know that in government there can be wide ranges on the basis of experience, but even those say that they start at the low end, unless there is a compelling reason for it to be higher.

                If you’re looking for a specific job that has a specified set of tasks and are looking for someone with x amount of years experience, you can get a much tighter range than that. And the offer within the range can be based on whether the person you make an offer to has different experience or whatever. But most places aren’t looking to hire someone for a specific position and is asking for anywhere between 1 and 15 years of experience.

                1. Ad Astra*

                  Many of those open positions ended up being filled with external candidates, but I have no idea if they stuck to the same salary ranges.

            4. Stephanie*

              It happens. OldJob called all the ICs “analysts” and we all made width varying amounts depending on our experience, ranging from $50k-$110k.

              1. Julie*

                Administrative Assistants have a huge range when you look at different companies, or perhaps even at different departments within a large company. But presumably for any individual admin assistant posting, the range would be much narrower.

                So, for example, there are admin assistants whose role is primarily to make photocopies, fetch coffee, handle reception, and sort mail. A posting for that sort of admin might have a range of, say, $25-30k. Meanwhile, there are admin assistants who function also like executive assistants or office managers, whose roles include preparing and editing documents, research, minute-taking of Board meetings, and assisting with the budget. For a position like that, I’d expect a range of $40-50k or even higher. The titles are the same, but the functions are vastly different.

                In fact, a lot of times it’s in seeing the salary range that you realize what a company is looking for. If you see a job posting for an administrative assistant with a salary of 40-45k, you know you’re gonna have a lot more responsibility and need a lot more experience to be competitive than for one where the range is 25-30k.

                1. Sabrina*

                  Right, but part of the problem is that they don’t publish the range in the ad. Further, I’ve seen AA jobs that are supporting a CEO or company president pay between minimum wage and $70K a year and everything in between.

                2. Julie*

                  Sabrina: Sure, that’s exactly my point. Presumably the minimum-wage admin assistant jobs are vastly different than the 70k admin assistant jobs. While the range of admin assistants *overall* is quite large, the range for any one position should be much smaller.

                3. Shan*

                  +1 I am an Admin Assistant, and I can definitely see the varying responsibilities between myself and my boss (who is also an Admin Assistant).

                4. Sabrina*

                  OK I see what you’re saying. Yes for one job the range should be small, but as a whole, you could have high level jobs that pay minimum wage and receptionists that are paying 70K and vice versa. I’ve seen both.

        5. Anx*

          That’s interesting.

          I always look at the bottom number. I have a hard time applying for any jobs over 40K a year, but once in a while will.

        6. themmases*

          I wonder if places that have this problem are giving the salary range for the position as it exists in the organization, when they should be giving the range of salaries at which a new hire could *enter*.

          I used to work at a place that would publish the salary range on most ads but I knew from talking to others that entering at higher than midpoint was completely unheard of– in effect, the midpoint of the range was the real maximum for new hires. The top half of the range accommodated merit increases for people who already worked there. People who reached the top of the range couldn’t get further increases unless a salary survey led to the range being revised; they got bonuses instead.

          Unless the probable salary is radically different from the maximum, I think I’d rather not see that type of range on an ad. It definitely seemed to lead to people feeling that the range they responded to was not really honest– and, in the “negotiating for women” seminar I attended where we discussed this, a lot of people were left wondering if they could have or should have tried for more. If the range is so large that the midpoint/probable starting salary wouldn’t even motivate the best people to apply, maybe the range is too big.

      3. lawsuited*

        Agreed. But I think it would be fine for prospective employers to say “the salary for this position starts at $X (min range)”. If I would never accept that, then I can move on or I can start a conversation to find out how much wiggle room there is between the min and max range.

        1. over educated and underemployed*

          Right! I recently interviewed for a job where HR informed me of just the bottom of the range, which was plenty for me to continue. (Then offered me the job with a more junior title and 12% less salary, but the same responsibilities…..)

        2. Elysian*

          Yeah, this is the wording I like. I don’t like the range wording, because I personally would only see the higher end. I would just give one number, the lowest one, and leave room to work up from there.

        3. Dana*

          YES. No one will be unhappy about getting more money and it avoids people only seeing the top number of a range.

      4. Kyrielle*

        I think some of it is being stuck in “(almost) everyone does it that way” mode, too. I gave a salary number early in the interview process recently and the offer I got was more than that number, with a bonus plan in addition. They didn’t give their range up front and asked me for mine – but they didn’t lowball me using that.

    2. fposte*

      It’s crazy, isn’t it? Can you imagine if, say, a utility operated this way? “How much are you *hoping* to pay for electricity? Oh, sorry, that’s too much for us. Good luck finding power!”

      I’ve heard people say that if you give a range people then expect to be paid at the high end, but if you can’t solidly justify your offer amount then that’s a poor job on the offer and that’s on you, not the applicant.

      1. Adam*

        Seriously. I have never understood why the white collar world so frequently operates this way. Maybe it’s because in America we tend to be very protective of how much money we make…or maybe just my house was. Growing up we kids never knew what the adults made, and asking about it was guaranteed to get you a very stern look at a minimum. Later on when I got my first post-college job I was telling my best friend about it and he casually asked how much I’d be making. I was initially surprised because I didn’t think people did that…Ok tangent over.

        But for your average company I’ve yet to hear any justifiable reason why companies can be so coy about this in the hiring process. Just as the organization is deciding what they’re willing to pay the candidate, we’re deciding if the company is worth working for. From where I sit letting the cat out of the bag with what you intend to pay people isn’t a problem unless you have serious issues paying competitively with the market.

        1. Koko*

          I feel like it’s similar to how certain commodities and services never advertise the price up front. Go look at the website of someone who does personal training and see if you can find even an inkling of the ballpark of their hourly rate. Or go to a restaurant’s website and compare the food menu to the cocktail menu, and marvel at how the prices disappear on the cocktail menu! For the most part I tend to assume “no price listed” = “too expensive for people who have an actual budget and can’t just spend whatever they want.”

          Likewise, I tend to think “no salary listed” = “too penny-pinching/low-balling for people who have an actual budget and can’t just work for funsies.”

          1. Adam*

            With professional services I think the hope is that they can get you to call in, sell you on whatever service they provide, and then hit you with a number after you’ve bought in. It makes it harder to say no at that point.

            And it probably is used the same way in reverse by some hiring managers. Really play up how great the company is and then get to brass tax after they think they’ve landed you.

        2. Snargulfuss*

          Yes, this! I’ve always felt that I must be making WAY less than my peers. They must be making double my salary in order to afford their houses, vacations, etc. I loved the How Much Money Do You Earn? discussion here a year or two ago because it reassured me that not everyone is making six figures right out of grad school.

            1. LBK*

              I think someone on here referred to it as “lifestyle creep” the other day – up to a certain point, people have a tendency to expand their lifestyle to take up their full budget whenever they start making more money. So you go from sharing an apartment with 3 roommates and taking the bus to work to sharing with one roommate and buying a car to living alone in a condo, all the while technically living paycheck to paycheck insofar as you have no money left after paying your bills.

              1. Adam*

                I think a lot of people end up falling into this. When you have money you can feel the impulse to spend it. I’ve heard it recommended that whenever you go up in salary you should not significantly change your lifestyle for at least three months and ideally as much as six, just so you can get a feel for your new income. Obviously individual exceptions may apply.

          1. Windchime*

            You’d have to also look at their debt. I used to be confused about this, too, but a lot of people finance those things instead of paying cash. I have a mortgage on my house but I don’t ever put things like vacations, etc on credit unless I can pay it off in full when the statement comes. I’m not making judgements against people who *do* put their vacations, boats, RVs, etc on credit; just saying that people aren’t always as rich as they appear to be.

          2. PK*

            A lot of people act rich but aren’t, and are in serious trouble if one person loses a job or there’s another financial emergency. The book The Millionaire Next Door talks about this quite a bit– genuinely wealthy people spend within their means, live modestly, in addition to investing and saving a lot. Other people spend not only all the money they have, but money they don’t have via constant car loans, credit cards and terrible mortgages, in order to have a big house and two BMWs in the driveway. These people barely make the minimum payments and probably have thousands of dollars in credit card debt and negative equity in their homes– and possibly begging for money from their parents who did save money.

            (Note I don’t say any of this to be judgmental, just an explanation that lifestyle is not indicative of salary)

            1. Stevie Wonders*

              The related book ‘Stop Acting Rich: And Start Living like a Real Millionaire’ elaborates on this again from a more recent perspective. Don’t be fooled, truth is most people trying to put on appearances are worse off than those that aren’t. (But then my grandparents would have called this just plain old common sense. Now you have to write a book to explain it!)

              I also long wondered how so many folks enjoyed affluent lifestyles given the highly concentrated income and wealth statistics that seemed to belie it. Stanley’s books totally confirmed my suspicions it was all appearances. The wider availability of credit no doubt makes it easier to pull off this illusion compared to earlier generations.

        3. Florida*

          You are right about being protective of how much we make (at least in America, not sure about the rest of the world). Money is the last taboo in our society. I’m convinced that most people would rather tell you about their sex life than tell you how much money they make.

          I agree that a company should tell you what they are offering up front. Can you imagine going into a retail store and nothing had a price? The sales associates say, “Just guess what it’s worth. If you guess within our range, we’ll sell it to you. If you guess too high above or below, you will be asked to leave.”

          1. Adam*

            Right? Even car lots advertise a price up front, even though “everyone” knows in most cases you’ll be negotiating on that should actually express interest in buying one.

          2. Meg Murry*

            Actually, the price tag has only been around for a little over 100 years – before that, everything was “let’s make a deal” and haggling. It was Quaker storekeepers who first started having price tags because
            1) It made things fair for all customers – Quakers are/were into fairness
            2) It way reduced the training time for store assistants – because otherwise the assistant had to learn the acceptable haggling ranges for each item in the store, or the shopkeeper had to do it all himself instead of having an assistant or letting one of his kids help out.

            There was an interesting story on NPR about this in the past month or so – I think it was on Marketplace from APM.

          3. Sigrid*

            People (in America) will willingly talk about their sex life before their finances! I have personal experience in the subject. In graduate school, I studied sexually transmitted diseases, and part of my research was asking randomly selected people very invasive personal questions about their sex life. We also wanted to know a ballpark number for their household income so we could stratify by socioeconomic level. We were taught — and it turned out to be true — to ask the money question *last*, because people will refuse to answer and stop the survey at that point. They will happily talk about sexual practices and partners for hours, but as soon as you ask the money question, they’re done. It’s weird.

            Also, from what we could tell — although verification of this kind is very difficult, so we might be wrong — people lied about money way more than they lied about sex.

          4. Cordelia Longfellow*

            Can you imagine going into a retail store and nothing had a price?

            I experienced this for the first time when I visited Harrods. No price tags in sight, and when I picked up what I thought was a modest little notebook, it turned out to be £80. Needless to say, I returned it the next day!

        4. Melissa*

          My theory is that the culture of not talking about salary serves employers more than anyone else. If we/they cultivate a cultural norm of not talking about salary, then coworkers don’t feel compelled to discuss and don’t know when there are huge disparities in what people at similar job titles/levels of responsibility are actually getting paid.

          I think it’s starting to break down a bit, though. I know the salaries of all of my close friends, and when I got a recent job offer, my friends asked my salary offer. It’s just something that my generation talks about a lot more openly for some reason.

          1. Ezri*

            I was coming here to say this. I’m in my 20s, and I don’t mind telling people what I make outside of my office (which does not have that kind of culture, unfortunately). The secret culture just makes it easier for employers to get away with shady pay practices and discrimination.

          2. Ad Astra*

            I’ve been specifically instructed not to discuss salaries at work, but it’s something I’m happy to discuss with my friends or parents. I’ve always thought it was weird that people guarded that information so tightly. I get that it’s nobody’s business, but the tales of kids growing up having no earthly idea how much money their parents (or anybody else) made are so foreign to me. Comparing notes can give you more context for your own salary and help you determine whether you’re being paid a fair wage.

          3. Anx*

            Do you think some of this difference may be due to an increased perceived need to discuss finances as a survival, not wealth building issue?

            I know that my parents and their cohort (middle class) balk at working for less than 40K a year and give me grief about working for less money than that. They’ve also made comments that let me know they assume young lawyers, graphic artists, and scientists all make bank. And they think any public employee is ‘set for life’ even though a lot of younger ones aren’t getting the benefits or security that older ones got.

            So while I’m sure there are a lot of factors that may influence this, I wonder if just a little bit of it is wanting to let people know that yes, you can be a PhD level scientist on food stamps or a lawyer who can’t afford their own apartment or a teacher who can’t afford health insurance.

            1. Ad Astra*

              That’s a really interesting point. I often hear people assuming out loud that entry-level lawyers are making huge sums, and it’s nearly impossible to convince them that many lawyers’ salaries are fairly low compared to their law school debt — especially early on.

              When I decided to go to journalism school, I went in with the assumption that “they don’t make much money” meant “they make about the same as teachers” because teachers are widely thought to be underpaid. As it turns out, entry-level copy editors and reporters make about $10,000 less than entry-level teachers in the markets I worked in. That was a fact I shared pretty widely with people who didn’t understand why I was so broke but their teacher friends were buying (sensible) cars and going on (domestic) vacations.

              1. Anx*

                Oh, I know that in some districts, new teachers have to work essentially double shifts in very stressful environments with a lot of out of pocket expenses, but I also know some in less stressful districts making over 40K straight out of school.

                Two scientists I know are looking to get their one-year teachers’ salary so they can make a a decent living as high school teachers. So being a teacher is necessarily a secure living, but it’s definitely more secure than other professions that may surprise people.

      2. Sharon*

        Or another silly example I just thought of: what if they were coy about the job duties?

        Employer: So, Sharon, now that you applied to our opening for Worker, what are you willing to do for us?
        Sharon: Well, I’m an experienced business analyst. Is that the kind of work you need?
        Employer: No.
        Sharon: I also have an extensive background in software engineering.
        Employer: We don’t need that either.
        Sharon: I have a certificate in project management.
        Employer: Sorry.
        Sharon: Do you have tasks in mind that you need done? What kind of worker are you looking for?
        Employer: What kind of work can you do?

        1. AW*

          But some of them ARE coy about the job duties, at least in the initial job posting. I’ve seen job postings that don’t really explain what the tasks are and then have an insane skills list. It’s impossible to tell what you’d actually be doing.

          I recently saw one that was actually really good until it got to the required skills section and they listed things that had nothing to do with the tasks they said you’d be performing.

          1. Melissa*

            My favorites are the ones that give you a two-paragraph spiel about the company itself, two sentences about the job duties, and then a really long list of incongruent skills and experiences they want you to have that no one actual human actually has.

            1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

              Most computer platforms are stable now – but in the IS/IT world – some decades back – it was commonplace for a job posting or ad to list qualifications impossible for anyone to have.

              Comparably today? An ad asking for someone with five years experience in Windows 8. There is no one in the world, save for internal engineers at Microsoft, that would have anywhere near that experience – but that’s done to disqualify ANYONE.

              1. Stevie Wonders*

                I’m not seeing any decrease in impossible qualifications for technical positions, quite the reverse. The worst are where two or three basically unrelated jobs are mashed together, and they want oodles of experience in all categories, which would take an entire highly unconventional career to acquire, for what is actually a junior to mid-level position. Clearly living on fantasy island.

      3. Mike C.*


        “What do you mean it isn’t your PASSION to buy electricity from us?! You’re only plugging things into the wall to charge up your phone and turn on your lights! You’re simply not a good culture fit for us.”

      4. NonPro Pro*

        But in that analogy, the roles are reversed. Here, the applicant in a sense is the service provider and the prospective employer is the buyer. If employment operated like retail or the service economy, the prospective employee would be up front about what he or she is “charging,” not the other way around.

    3. Chocolate lover*

      I think one of my former managers was on a power trip. She wanted people who were BURNING to work in our office, regardless of salary, and they should realize what a BIG DEAL it would be to work there (the emphasis is my own interpretation of her behavior and comments.) When I had to set up some candidate interviews, I pushed for telling them at least a range (especially since that office underpaid compared to other companies), but she wouldn’t budge. No surprise, we ended up wasting candidate time as well as ours.

    4. Spooky*

      I agree – just give them the range! It will save everyone a headache and lots of time in the long run.

    5. Marie*

      Some companies do not put a salary range because then every candidate will know the minimum the company has budgeted and will not take anything lower than that amount once it has been advertised. If the company puts a range of $40K-$50K on the ad, no candidate will expect to earn less than $40K. If they put no range, and ask the candidate for their salary expectations, you might get one candidate who says they are willing to do the job for $35K, and the company will save $5K from what they had originally budgeted.

      1. Adam*

        Wait. I’m confused. Are you basically saying that some companies won’t list their intended range so they can bait candidates into accepting the job for less than that?

        1. Marie*

          I guess it’s the cynic in me, but that is how I have rationalized a lack of salary ranges in job ads. There’s no other logical explanation for me. And I’ve definitely heard managers bragging about how they were budgeting $X salary for the position but got someone to do the job for $Y. It’s just the culture we’re in (or at least the culture I’m in) – jobs are scarce, it’s an employer’s market and they’re able to get people to do jobs for less money than what they would have accepted 3-5 years ago.
          Sure, talented and experienced candidates can eventually move on and get better paying jobs once they realize they are being underpaid, but not everyone has the luxury. My company pays a good 25% below market rate, which they get away with because they are looking for the cheapest candidate not the best. A lot of companies are also narrow-minded and just see the bottom line and don’t take into consideration higher turnover or lack of productivity from lack of experience.

          1. betty lou spence*

            “There’s no other logical explanation for me.”

            There is for me: competitive intelligence.

      2. Koko*

        But if the company thought the job was worth at least $40,000, they should be willing to pay $40,000. They may manage to get one candidate who will do it for $35,000 – but if the market rate for that work is $40,000-50,000, how long do you think that candidate will stay in the job before they realize they’re underpaid and start looking for a job that pays more? And then you’re back wasting time and resources on job ads and resume screening and interviewing and training a new hire all over again. You will lose more than the $5,000 you saved.

        1. Marie*

          It’s definitely not logical. Some people move on quickly when they realize they are being underpaid, but you often get people who will stay in low paying jobs for years because they can’t get anything else. A reasonable company will realize that higher turnover and a lack of productivity (from employee dissatisfaction or lack of experience) will cost more in the end but many just think in the short term – i.e. we saved $20K this year in the budget by low-balling salaries and cutting raises, high five!

          1. BRR*

            My husband with a graduate degree just worked a year in retail at minimum wage just because he couldn’t get another job. While he certainly was never going to stay long term because they would never pay enough many of his colleagues were unreliable. Crap in crap out.

          2. Shell*

            This makes me so, so grateful that my current job exceeded the salary range I asked for, then gave me–unprompted!–another $3600 raise after I passed probation.

            Companies should really look at the long game.

        2. Sadsack*

          This happened to me a few years ago. I already had accepted another role in the same company. When I was assisting my manager with reviewing applications for my replacement, I saw their salary expectations and asked him about it. He said I should have negotiated for more when I got hired. Incidentally, I did attempt to negotiate, but he didn’t budge. At the time, I really needed the job and just accepted what he offered in the end. So he got me for cheap and seemed quite content with that.

          1. Marie*

            This is what I’m getting at. So many people are unemployed right now and have been unemployed for awhile (some for years), and are desperate to get back in the workforce no matter how little they will be paid. I’ve heard so many stories of people taking a new job at less than 60% their last salary because they just wanted a job. And many of them will stay in those jobs for awhile because they’re scared of being unemployed again. We’re in a “be thankful you even have a job” environment right now in some places. It’s not about what’s reasonable all the time – many companies and many managers are not reasonable! Or maybe I’m just a huge cynic.

            1. Anx*

              This is me. I just applied for a job where I don’t fit the experience requirements exactly. They want a Master’s or a Bachelor’s with two years of exposure. I have a Bachelor’s in a related degree, a post bac in the field, and about a year of interning/and volunteering. That was about 5 years ago.

              I feel sort of bad that I’d be willing to undercut the salary so much, but I also don’t feel bad at all because I am in such an unenviable position. I would be willing, happy even, to work for half of the minimum range posted. I know it hurts everyone when people are willing to work for less, but I don’t think I’m in the position to be standing firm for a fair wage, with little experience, a huge gap in my resume, and making 4 figures for the past 5 years.

          2. the gold digger*

            My job two jobs back replaced me, at $51K, with a guy at $67K. I had to have a job and didn’t have time to do more looking, so I had accepted the initial offer, which was less than half of what I used to make. (Beware of being out of the workforce for six years.) But I started looking for my next job nine months after I started the $51K job. No way was I staying for that kind of pay.

            (The new guy, from all reports, has not accomplished anything.)

      3. Charlie*

        That argument always comes up when this topic does, and it seems really illogical to me – If a company is hoping to pay someone $35k, why not list that as the minimum, or at least within the range? ie: $35 – $50k instead of $40k – $50k. If your “minimum” is 40k but you want to pay someone less, $40k isn’t really the minimum.

        1. Marie*

          I’ve always worked for cheap companies. It was always about how little they can pay a candidate without crossing the “ridiculous” threshold. Even for senior level positions. I guess that’s why I am so cynical on this topic. Maybe it’s my field, or my city, but there’s high unemployment right now so people are willing to take jobs for a lot less than what’s reasonable. When you have 50 people that are unemployed for each job ad that goes up, someone along the line is going to be desperate enough to take a job for a lot less than what they’re worth, especially if they have been unemployed for quite a while. And they’ll stay in that position for awhile because they’re thankful at that point to be back in the workforce.

          This whole topic kind of reminds me of Chris Rock’s stand-up regarding minimum wage. This is what he says: “You know what that means when someone pays you minimum wage? You know what your boss was trying to say? “Hey if I could pay you less, I would, but it’s against the law.””

          1. Charlie*

            I don’t think that is an argument against listing salary ranges, though – I think it’s a really good reason why it should become standard! The type of company you are describing sounds beyond terrible, and like they don’t value their employees at all. (Not disagreeing that that type of company exists – but I hope that is the minority.)

        2. Heather*

          “If you want us to wear 35 pieces of flair, why don’t you make that the minimum?”

      4. nk*

        But that’s the whole issue – why should you pay someone below what you’ve valued the position at, just because they’re willing to take it? The bottom of the range should be just that – the bottom. Maybe in some rarer cases you might hire someone with less experience than you’d like but are willing to modify the position to suit their abilities. But that is a change in position, and so moving outside the range would be justified and something that is easily explainable between reasonable people.

      5. The Cosmic Avenger*

        Marie, if the company thinks that the job is worth at a minimum $40K, but is willing to pay someone $35K, or even $3.5K per year if they thought they could get away with it, then 1) the company is not one most people would want to work for, and 2) they’re going to train people, then have them leave after a few months once they can say they have experience in that job, and other companies are willing to offer them $40K and up now. If the company does think that maybe the job is only worth $35K, then they should make that the low end of their range, like others have said.

        1. Marie*

          I agree with your logic, but as we see very clearly from reading this blog, is that there are many unreasonable companies that exist out there, with bad management and bad hiring policies. There are still plenty of people working at those companies, some for longer than appears reasonable for what they are making vs. what their responsibilities are. I think the current job market proves that people are willing to work for peanuts and is some cases for nothing. For example, a Canadian newspaper released a news article last year about people being stuck in unpaid full-time internships for 1-2 YEARS in Toronto, which has an extremely high COL because they could literally not find anything else. Many internships these days (at least in Canada) are essentially unpaid full-time jobs, not learning experiences. Just free labour. The government is cracking down on this now, but many “reputable” companies were taking entry-level jobs, which they would have once paid someone $30K to do, and slapped the word “internship” into the title so that they could pay people $0 instead. And there was a high demand for these internships.

    6. MashaKasha*

      Seriously. I hate it when an interviewer asks, “so how much do you want?” Sometimes in a panel interview with my would-be peers present. How is that appropriate? They will ask it even when I know they’ve talked to my recruiter and are aware of how much I make and how much I’m looking for. Why? I’ve tried to pussyfoot around this question, saying things like “how much do you think I’m worth?”, “we can discuss it later if you extend an offer”, “we can discuss it through (recruiter)” etc etc and they just would not listen, and would press on till they get an answer. It’s a fairly recent development, too. I’ve interviewed pretty regularly throughout my career and only in the last 4-5 years have I been getting this question at almost every interview. Not that an employer would care about how this makes them look in the candidate’s eyes, but I’ll say it anyway – asking how much I want and then not taking no for an answer makes you look like you hope that I will lowball myself and you’ll then get away with paying me less than you originally intended. If there’s any way to politely get out of this question when being asked it at an interview, I’d love to hear it, because it’s getting really infuriating.

      1. Clever Name*

        I guess if I were interviewing and was already working at a job I was generally happy with, and they wouldn’t take my attempts to deflect, I would go with a number just below unreasonably high and see what they say. If they balk, then you can say, “Well, why don’t we discuss specifics if we have established mutual interest and you extend me an offer.”

      2. James M.*

        There is a reason for the saying “The first to give a number loses.”. However, you can hold an out if you’re pressed into this particular corner by saying “Understand, I carefully consider factors such as culture and benefits. I believe I can make a strong case for $X.” where X is a number you’ve researched and deem appropriate for the job. You may want to adjust the wording, so the key points are 1. mention that compensation is not just a $ amount and 2. assert that you can make the sale for $X.

        When your interviewer shoots back $X/2 but you’re still interested, say “Perhaps I’ve misunderstood the role, could we go over the salient details?” (I don’t see any good coming from haggling prior to receiving an offer). Then try to find out if you’re mistaken about the job or the interviewer is a cheapskate.

    7. PlainJane*

      Yes! And go one better: put the salary range in the job posting. That way people don’t waste their time applying for jobs that pay below their expectations, and you don’t waste your time reading those applications.

    8. Sara*

      This is one reason why I love being in a field that is largely unionized. I can almost always Google the contract for the employer I’m considering and find out what my salary would be (or a good estimate, if I can’t get my hands on the current contract).

      (Of course, it also means no negotiating when the pay rate is absurdly low. Just turned down a job because of that.)

  2. TotesMaGoats*

    Also consider that there might be a really good reason for a sales manager to want to take a step back in responsibility and salary if there are things going on in their personal life. Make sure you are giving those “overqualified” people a chance too. I would at least give a range up front to job seekers. It’s hard to know what you can reasonably set as your expectation when you don’t know what the employer is working from. There is no reason to keep that super secret.

  3. stellanor*

    I once had an interviewer refuse to tell me what the salary range was but insist it was going to be lower than I wanted even though I hadn’t told her what I wanted. I was confused.

    1. Chriama*

      If she’s going to come back lower no matter what range you name, just make it twice as high as what you’re actually hoping to get.

      1. stellanor*

        I went with “My understanding is that the salary for this position in this area is generally (range), but I am prepared to be a bit flexible for the right position.” I was straight out of grad school and desperate for work.

        I was later removed from consideration in the middle of an interview with the CEO because she didn’t read my resume before I walked into the room (I had to give her a copy) and as soon as she discovered I didn’t have startup experience she decided I wasn’t qualified (this had not been a problem for the FOUR other people I had interviewed with at this company). Turns out this 10+ year old company still identified as a “startup”… based on their glassdoor reviews it’s primarily an excuse to pay half the going rate for all positions and work everyone 60+ hours a week, so I’m kind of glad I didn’t get that one in retrospect.

      1. stellanor*

        I had just finished an MA (and decided not to pursue my PhD after all) and was trying to transition from academia to corporate, which seemed to freak people out re: my salary expectations. People did not seem to understand that as an ex-academic I had been working for slave wages as a research assistant or TA for the last few years and was actually incredibly easy to please.

        The only reason I didn’t take my degree off my resume was because otherwise people would wonder what the hell I’d been doing working as an RA or TA for the last several years. I already had to explain why I had a different job every three months (becaaaaaause the university hired me for different assignments every quarter, but they KEPT HIRING ME).

    2. Lucky*

      I just imagined Santa Claus working that way. “Hey kiddo, tell me what you want for Christmas. But before you tell me, I should let you know that I’m not going to be able to get you anything on your list. Oh yes, I’m going to bring you something, just not anything you’re about to tell me that you want. So, go ahead, ho ho ho.”

  4. grasshopper*

    Tell people what you’re willing to pay. Easy as that.

    When I was job searching, I factored commuting time into my salary considerations. If my commute could be less than 15 minutes, I’d be willing to accept far less in salary than if my commute would be an hour because my personal time of 90 minutes saved in commuting time is valuable to me.

    1. T3k*

      On top of commuting time, I take into consideration benefits. If they offer really nice, almost paid for benefits, I’d be willing to accept a lower salary. However, if no benefits/very low ones, no.

      1. BRR*

        This^. In my current hunt I’m worried I won’t get a high enough salary to make up for the benefits I have.

    2. stellanor*

      My commuting equation gets super complicated. Is it 30 minutes or less by bus? If no, I am not taking the bus (I get carsick, feeling like barfing twice a day every day is not worth it to me) so do I have to pay for parking and do I have to pay bridge tolls?

      I’m paying an exorbitant amount currently to drive 25 minutes to work instead of ride the bus for over an hour, and it’s worth it to me because I can afford it on my salary and my quality of life would be *so* much lower if I had to spend 2 hours a day commuting.

  5. Adam*

    Agreed 100% with Alison. In my opinion asking a candidate like myself what my salary expectations are is completely pointless. The vast majority of the time the position has a range and the company isn’t going to deviate from that for someone like me who is a great employee but not a high demand rocket surgeon. So either give a sense of the range in the ad or let me know fairly early on in the process what sort of range I’m to expect. I feel like so much time and awkwardness would be saved if companies just got this out of the way early on. You can always negotiate when it gets down to offer time, but when I try and research on the internet comprable salaries to a position I’m interested in prior to interviews the numbers I get always come back with such a sweeping range I’m basically just guessing the magical mystery number, and that’s really frustrating.

    1. BRR*

      It’s like asking what shape you are when they have the shape of the hole picked out and just won’t tell you.

  6. Kvaren*

    “The salary range is $X. Does it make sense to keep talking?”

    ^^^What I wish every company I’ve ever interviewed at would have said in the first conversation. Why is this question not a normal thing???

        1. BRR*

          In a world where I feel like I need to be compensated for my time by applying with an ATS, yes.

    1. SevenSixOne*

      I can’t tell you how many job postings and other documents I’ve seen lately that list their salary in company jargon. “Pay grade: 7/6-1” means NOTHING to me, why bother including it?

      1. Melissa*

        Sometimes you can look that up, but a lot of times the range is rather meaningless. I recently applied for a position at a university that was at “pay grade 12”; upon further investigation the minimum salary at that grade was $55K, but I was fairly certain that this particular skilled position paid quite a bit more than that. It wasn’t really a range.

      2. Julie*

        The only time I can see this as being in any way appropriate is when the pay scales are easily available online, like for the US government. So, for example, if my husband is a GS-5, there’s an easy way of looking up what precisely that means. (Though it would still be easier if they just posted the salary range.)

  7. Ihmmy*

    When I was job hunting, I very much appreciated the jobs that listed the salary range upfront. Mostly they were unionized ones with pay bands, but still – it was good to know if it was worth my time to pursue or not. Admin work (which I’m currently in) can range dramatically depending on the company and responsibilities, having an idea of the pay range gave me a sense of what I might be in for.

    1. Cheryl*

      I just want to say – yay unions! Being upfront with salary means that there is no hidden negotiations and mystery around salary and benefits. Mostly, it’s public info that you can find via Google. People think that they could negotiate more without a union, but that is rarely the case (as evidenced by conversation here) – in fact, unions putting their salaries out there helps increase salary expectations across the board for non-unionized workers as well!

      Sorry, my liberal is showing.

  8. Ad Astra*

    Yes, Allison, yes! Instead of trying to guess at what the applicants want or need, tell them what to expect and let them self-select.

  9. 42*

    Wasn’t there a discussion here a while back about how some companies might hesitate to name a number up front because they may be able to scrounge up another couple of thousand for a rock-star candidate that they don’t want to otherwise lose? Remember that discussion?

    How would that come into play in the context of the OP’s situation?

    1. Jady*

      Well I would imagine that if they sent a range and a candidate rejected it, the candidate would reply “Sorry, I’m looking for something around $Y.” At that point, it’s back in the employer’s basket. They can decide if they want to adjust their range and follow up.

      1. 42*

        Yes, agreed. But in the case that was discussed, the employer wouldn’t know what a rock star the candidate was _until they interviewed them_. Only at that point would the hiring manager think “we can not let them go!” and go to bat to raise the range in order to keep them. IOW:

        No salary in job listing, awesome candidate applies.

        Employer: We’d love to hire you, the range is $30-$45K
        Candidate: I’d love to accept it, but I honestly can’t take the position for less than $52K

        Employer thinks that this person is too perfect to let go; goes to the Powers That Be and is able to rustle the approval for $52K.

        Had the candidate self-selected out if the original $30-$45K range been posted, the company would have missed out on their rock star, and the candidate would have missed the opportunity to have a great job.

        This is the only scenario I can think of where it wouldn’t work. Overall I would LOVE to see pay range up front.

        1. MP*

          Isn’t that just a poorly defined range then? “We’ll pay up to $45k… unless we pay more” gives almost as little information to applicants as no range.

          1. 42*

            On the surface, yes it is. But maybe they don’t know that they’re willing to go higher, and had no intention of doing so, right up until Super Star walked through the door.

            Again, I’m thinking back on that discussion from a while back. The employer fully intends to cap off at $45K when they posted the ad.

        2. Jillociraptor*

          I think this is a risk, sure, but unless you know the exact specifications of that purple unicorn you can’t tailor your job search to finding her, right? It just wouldn’t be efficient. Maybe her deal breaker is telework and your website clearly states that all positions are located in a specific office. Maybe her deal breaker is not having to work with a specific program, and you list that in the key competencies.

          The most sensible thing to do is describe the position as you assume it will exist for the vast majority of qualified applicants.

          1. fposte*

            Right. Common things are common; rare things are rare, as the med school folks say. It’s more important to prepare for the common things than the rare things.

            1. fposte*

              In fact, along with the conversation yesterday, this takes me back to maximizing vs. satisficing. I think maximizing is like any kind of perfectionism, in that it can come at a substantial cost that it’s not worth. You will always lose some possible job candidates with your posting, no matter what you do; the goal is to make the best use of your resources to get successful candidates.

              And in my experience, rockstar types who are worth 50-100% more are the least likely to worry about the terms in the ad; when you’re confident and in demand you know you can sell your value and you’re not all that bothered by a longshot application not coming through.

        3. Lia*

          My partner recently got a job in just this situation. The posted range was a bit low, and we figured they’d offer the mid point (which was about a 20K a year cut, but a better company and part of the country with a lower COL). We were stunned when they not only went above the midpoint but threw a couple extra K in there too — because when they asked for the current salary and saw it was close to the high end of the range, they decided they had better come as close as possible to it to not lose out.

          That said, this doesn’t always work. A friend of mine has some very specialized software skills that you pretty much have to learn on the job and over a decade of experience. He got recruited for a job in a metro area of ~1 million people where, seriously, maybe a dozen people have his level of skill. The salary offer initially was 1/2 of what he was making — even after they bumped it up another 10K, he still turned it down, and everyone else with that skill set and the required years of experience around the area is easily commanding a far higher salary — the user group is small and pretty tight and they all know one another. The company is going to either have to recruit outside or raise the salary if they refuse to flex on the 10 years of high-level experience they want.

          1. the gold digger*

            I get really annoyed when I read stories that employers are having a hard time finding welders or whatever. I want to ask them, “Have you considered increasing the pay? Because most experienced welders/whatever will cost more than $12 an hour.”

            1. Clever Name*

              This. One of the managers in my company was complaining that they just weren’t getting qualified enough candidates applying to a particular open position, and they seemed surprised when I suggested that maybe the pay we were offering was too low for what they were looking for.

          2. Stevie Wonders*

            So they actually expected him to change jobs for 1/2 his current pay? I’m just not understanding the reasoning behind this. It seems like a collective insanity has taken over corporate recruiting.

        4. BRR*

          I agree that it’s the one scenario I can think of but I wonder how common it is/would be?

        5. SevenSixOne*

          Serious question: In this situation, if an employer absolutely cannot afford to pay more than $53K for the position no matter what, do you think it’s dishonest to name a salary range ~20% below the true maximum with the expectation that a stellar candidate could successfully negotiate for more?

          1. Melissa*

            Is it dishonest, in the truest sense of the word? Yes. You’re willing to pay more than you say you are, so you’re not telling the truth. Is it unethical or something that they shouldn’t do? I personally say no, although I think it’d be better if they simply posted a full range with a short explanation: “Salary range is $35K to $55K, with a midpoint of $45K. Starting salaries in this range, but above $45K, will be reserved for exceptional candidates whose qualifications exceed expectations” or something like that.

        6. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

          Sometimes that low ($30-45K) is offered because the hiring firm assumes “let’s start low, let’s see how desperate the guy is to get out of his current environment….”

          And when he says “$52K” they say “uh, OK” and sometimes “find” the money.

        7. Anonymous Educator*

          I would say you still just post $30-$45K in the posting. Candidates shouldn’t be stupid. If I see a job posting that range, I don’t assume that $46K is out of the question or even $52K. I do, however, assume that $65K or $90K is out of the question. Seeing that range (if I was okay with $52K) wouldn’t stop me from applying.

    2. AdAgencyChick*

      I think the way Alison puts it is still perfect.

      List the salary in the ad, and my guess is rock stars who are looking for $5K or less over the range may still apply, but those who are $20K over will not.

      Or at least say it at the beginning of the conversation, with a “does it make sense for us to keep talking?” attached. If the candidate would consider an offer within the range, she’ll say so. If she really wants an extra $X, she can then say, “I was looking for $Y, so it sounds like a no,” and then the recruiter can respond with, “We’ve gone outside the range for exceptional candidates before, so I’d still like to bring you in to meet the hiring manager. What do you think?”

      1. grasshopper*

        Yes to all this. If I saw a posting with a “salary range starting at $X” that was 5K underneath what I want, I would definitely apply assuming that their range goes upwards and there is room for negotiation. I would concur that within 5K is an easy negotiation, between 5-20K would depend on the position/candidate/company and anything more than 20K probably won’t happen.

      2. Koko*

        Yes! If I’m really interested in a job and the top of the range is $5,000 or less below what I’m looking for, I’ll almost definitely still apply and hope I’ll be able to negotiate up such a relatively small increase.

        But if the job doesn’t list a salary at all…I’m likely to not even apply. Because I have a job that pays me enough already. Why would I spend all that time putting together a personalized cover letter and tailored resume only to hear back that the job pays $10,000 or $15,000 less than I’m currently making? I need to know the range to know if it’s even worth the effort to apply.

        By not disclosing salary up front you’re dramatically reducing your appeal to people currently employed, reasonably content, and well-paid, and almost guaranteeing you’re exclusively going to be getting applications from people who are out of work, hate their jobs, or are dramatically underpaid. This is especially important because a lot of those factors have not-insignificant correlations with talent. While it’s true that there are some people who are currently employed but underperforming, and some people who are in toxic workplaces or underpaid through no fault of their own, on the whole you’re going to get a higher proportion of hard-working, agreeable, pleasant-to-work-with people in “currently comfortably employed” group and more lazy, unskilled, or chronic malcontents in the “out of work or hates their job” group.

        It’s one thing if your hiring process reduces the candidate pool via a factor unrelated or loosely related to employee value. It’s quite another if your hiring process reduces the candidate pool by a factor correlated to employee value.

        1. INFJ*

          Good point. I was recently in that category of employed/content, yet willing to apply for the right opportunity.

          For me, glassdoor did a good job of indicating what salary range to expect from my current/new job, even though nobody in the position I was applying for posted their salary. My current company in general tends to pay much higher than other similar companies.

          In my case, the company didn’t need to post their salary range in the ad to draw me in. However, I still think companies should do this for all the reasons you listed.

      3. Ad Astra*

        Absolutely. And $5K can be very flexible once you can take benefits into consideration. If a company offers health insurance at no cost to me and provides free lunches in the cafeteria, that $5K won’t be missed. If the insurance is incredibly expensive, I have to pay for parking, and the office isn’t within walking distance of a single restaurant, I’m going to want that $5K.

        But I can’t get a good feeling for this until I’ve interviewed at least once.

    3. 42*

      But note that while that scenario above might be the one way where a great candidate might self-select out before ever having an interview, I am pro having salary listed from the start. Most of the time that will save time and manage expectations on both ends.

      1. Adam*

        You could split the difference and let them know in the initial meeting and see if they wow you enough to consider being flexible after that. But I’m guessing the frequency with which offered salaries go above the pre-set range is probably a rare occurrence.

        1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

          Larger companies often have “off budget slush funds” – if a position is budgeted for $X but the hotshot wants $5K more, they often find it “off budget”. This doesn’t always happen – but sometimes, the money is found – SOMEWHERE.

  10. My 2 Cents*

    Because of this advice on here and elsewhere I have pushed my organization to start listing our salaries on job postings, which we have done for the first time in the last two weeks with two new jobs we have posted. It is interesting to see how it has changed the process because we are getting less applicants now, but the ones we are getting are better quality. People can now self select out if they don’t want to work for that salary and it’s working, and saving us a lot of headache.

    1. Mike C.*

      *monocle falls off face* I’m positively SHOCKED!

      By the way, I’m beginning to believe that any employer who doesn’t post the salary range cannot complain about all the useless applications they receive.

      1. Anonymous Educator*

        I’m beginning to believe that any employer who doesn’t post the salary range cannot complain about all the useless applications they receive.


    2. AVP*

      I also started doing that a few years ago, after I stared reading this blog, and it works really well. My employer pays at the lower end of the spectrum for entry level jobs, and I can’t change that – but letting people know what to expect upfront has totally changed how the tenor of our phone interviews goes, and the caliber of people who pass to in-person interviews is so much better.

      Frankly, I think what was happening in the past was that, without posting the salary range, I would get applicants that looked great on paper but would decline once they heard the details. Which leaves you with a much smaller pool overall, and the people left in it start to look deficient in comparison to the others, when really we shouldn’t have been looking at the others at all in the first place. When you reset expectations to reality, you can really look at people and find the right match.

      1. Adam*

        Also, while this varies of course, I think if person has been working a while and in a particular industry for a good amount of time they generally have reasonable expectations about a role they’re seeking should pay. And since pay can often give a fair insight into workload that’ll also give candidate a rough idea to decide is either too much or too little for them.

        1. AVP*

          totally…I think if you have a decent job description, you can learn a lot about what a job will be like, but the salary info (along with benefits and location if relevant) are really the keys that put all of the information into place.

      2. Stevie Wonders*

        That’s a very good point. This may help explain why so many employers think they should get senior level talent at junior level rates, because ambiguous ads don’t clarify at what level the job really is (not just salary-wise, but experience-wise too).

  11. AdAgencyChick*

    Seriously. Just freaking tell them. After all, you do tell them if they name a range that’s too high. (What do you do if they name a number below the range? Please tell me you then offer them something within the range if you proceed to the offer stage — and not something lower than that hoping they won’t find out.)

    1. Cristina*

      For what it’s worth, I always make an offer within my budget range even if they’re asking for less. I also offer slightly less than what I’ve decided their skills are worth so that they have room to negotiate. But if they don’t negotiate, I make the offer for the higher amount anyway. I’ve basically decided where I plan to land on salary before any offer is extended.

    2. Julie*

      If the applicant suggested a range that was significantly below the company’s expected salary range, that might point to a larger mismatch in expectations about the job, particularly when it comes to job titles that can encompass a wide variety of actual roles.

      If, for example, I applied to an executive assistant job asking for 40k and the range the company expected to pay was actually 50-60k, that might indicate that I didn’t really understand what the job entailed. Sure, the company *might* be over-compensating for the position. Or it might mean that the roles I’ve had in the past — even though they were executive assistant roles — were not comparable to the one the company advertised.

  12. YandO*

    My salary expectations are a lot more fluid than your budget 90% of the time. If I am a non-exempt employee with paid OT, short commute, option to telecommute here and there, lots of vacation, amazing health benefits, ability to expense food, etc then the salary I would want is very different from an exempt 60 hour week in super expensive part of the city with no telecommute option and mediocre benefits.

    A recruiter gave me a number in our first conversation and I said it was possible, but after learning about the job more I realized that is not possible at all.

    The way system works right now, I feel I have no choice but to go all out in order to get an offer and only then can I really evaluate it. Pay market rate and give me a range, but don’t expect me to just say yes to the offer, even if we discussed the range in the beginning.

    1. Koko*

      Perhaps the approach is, “I’m seeking a salary between $70,000 and $120,000 depending on hours, work-life balance, commute time, and benefits package.”

      1. YandO*

        Honestly, I think the approach is for companies to pay market rate, but nothing I can do about that.

        1. SevenSixOne*

          And even “market rate” is highly subjective, especially for highly specialized roles!

          If there are 150 employees in X role your company alone, plus your closest competitors employ employ a combined total of 2800 more Xs (and at least that many more employees in Y and XY roles), then you can get a pretty good idea of what the market rate in your industry/area is. But if are only 150 XYZ specialists in the COUNTRY, that’s not a large enough sample size to paint a fair picture of what the market rate is!

    2. BRR*

      I feel the same way about the total compensation aspect. It really is hard because you can’t list a large range. I always throw in “depending on benefits” because if I price myself out of their range I can be talked into it possibly and also just to have some wiggle room.

    3. JP*

      “My salary expectations are a lot more fluid than your budget 90% of the time. If I am a non-exempt employee with paid OT, short commute, option to telecommute here and there, lots of vacation, amazing health benefits, ability to expense food, etc then the salary I would want is very different from an exempt 60 hour week in super expensive part of the city with no telecommute option and mediocre benefits.”


      I was in a job almost identical to the first one you describe. The pay wasn’t great, but it came with a bunch of perks outside the salary. I interviewed and got an offer for a job more like the second one, but with a salary about 15% higher than the job I already had. I thought long and hard about what really mattered to me, and ultimately turned down the offer.

      Both jobs were the same title, similar work, and in the same area… but that’s where the similarities ended– which is why “market rate” comparisons are helpful, but not the whole story!

  13. Ad Astra*

    I once applied for a job at a very large organization where the online application required you to input “desired salary.” There wasn’t even room for a range. So I put in $35K because it was about $5,000 more than I was making at the time, and I figured it would be a good jumping off point.

    In the meantime, I did some research and discovered that the location of this job had a much higher COL (plus state income tax, when I’d be moving from a state with no personal income tax). A $5,000 pay raise would actually be a pay cut, according to my handy COL calculator. (The new city wasn’t much bigger or more metropolitan than the one I was currently living it, so I didn’t expect such a discrepancy. It’s not like I was applying for a job in San Francisco.)

    When they offered me the job, they said “Oh, it pays $35,500 so it’s a little more than what you asked for [about two months ago, before you knew much about the job or the city].” When I asked if there was any room for negotiation, citing the cost of living difference, they said, “Well, you said you wanted $35K…” and the best I was able to negotiate for was $36K and a bump from $1,000 to $2,000 in relocation stipend.

    I took the job, spent two years struggling to pay my rent and keep my car operational, and resented the company a whole, whole lot. There are a few things I could have done better, but my real point is this: Giving the company an unfair advantage in negotiations could save money in the short term, but it breeds resentment and distrust in the long term, and that’s not what you want.

    1. Melissa*

      I also applied for a very large company that required that you put a minimum salary requirement – NO range. The application also explicitly said that applications with 0s would be ignored.

      1. Ad Astra*

        So annoying! I can’t possibly know if the salary I’m typing into the ATS is one I’ll be happy with when you make an offer if I don’t know anything about the work schedule, benefits, perks, or environment. Why would you try to hold me to that?

  14. LizNYC*

    Just another observation: Are your job descriptions / titles clearly describing an entry-level position? It sounds like people who have vastly more experience are applying for these positions. Either they’re just hoping their resume is seen (unless they explain in a cover letter why they’d be taking such a step down) OR the job description / title makes the position sound like it’s more advanced than it is.

    Also, “entry-level” salaries, like many salaries, are drastically different by industry. If you can be kind to job seekers, just say a range upfront with “possibly more for the right candidate.”

    1. Erin*

      Maybe, but not necessarily. It’s probably likely they are in fact describing entry level, although I agree with your point that that will differ depending on industry.

      I’m a freelancer writer with a bachelor’s degree double major and I’ve had at least three different entry level admin jobs. Right now I have two part times, and I freelance on the side. These folks applying to entry level jobs may be doing freelancing or going to school in addition to their primary job.

      As Alison and others have pointed out, there’s so much more than just the salary. Not just benefits and commute, but after working in a really toxic work environment at one point my #1 priority was that I was treated well at work, and had an normal, functioning work environment. So, you just don’t know what might be most important to the candidate. Although admittedly, salary is probably usually the #1 factor.

      To answer the OP’s question from the job seeker’s point of view: Usually when I am asked what my salary expectation is I name a range, but I try to also say something like, “I’d be willing to consider lower if there is health insurance, or other benefits available at some point down the line.”

      With that I’m hoping to convey that I am flexible, open to discussion, and understand there might be a probationary period before benefits become available to me.

    2. BRR*

      This is a good point. I saw a position that was “associate director of teapot analytic” and right now I’m a “teapot analyst.” My initial reaction was intrigue then I read the description and it was clearly an entry-level position. Luckily it also had a salary range so I knew to skip it. Another place had a position called “teapot director” and the description was reading for a position that would typically have been associate director.

    3. Stevie Wonders*

      This is happening to me. I apply to jobs that appear to be near senior level based on the experience and skill sets requested, then find out salary wise they are really mid-level or somewhat junior. Sometimes even when the ad explicitly states “senior”. Appears to be a symptom of companies wanting it all talent wise, but paying much less than the substantial responsibilities deserve.

  15. Workfromhome*

    I agree this should be one of the first things out of the mouth of a recruiter when they call to set up a first interview. “The range for this position is X-Y would you like to proceed to the interview stage”. I prefer to see the range right in the AD. I know I’ve self selected out of some jobs that looked interesting but listed a range far below what I make now. It saved me and the employer a ton of time.

    I’ve also ended up in hour long interviews where they sprung the range on me at the end that was far below what I make. I probably wouldn’t consider that company even if it was a different position because of that. They thought nothing of wasting my time.

  16. Bee Eye LL*

    One thing my dad always told me about buying a car is that when the dealer asks for your budget, you NEVER tell them that number because that’s exactly how much you should pay. The same goes for a job hunt. You could say you are looking for $X when the employer might have been willing to pay more than that, and then you just shot yourself in the foot.

    As for places not openly advertising salary amounts, I would suspect it partially has to do with current employees not knowing what other positions are paying.

    1. MP*

      I think your second paragraph hits on why many ranges wouldn’t be advertised: it gives current employees some information and therefore bargaining power.

    2. BRR*

      Unfortunate you are not always able to defer. And if your phone screen is with HR, the position could be in a great department with a great manager but it’s HR who is playing this salary game so it’s not indicative of the company as a whole (although it could be). With a car you have the power because the vast majority of the time the salesman wants the sale.

      I think your second paragraph is a very good point.

    3. Julie*

      “As for places not openly advertising salary amounts, I would suspect it partially has to do with current employees not knowing what other positions are paying.”

      I recently interviewed with a company that was not quite a startup. They’d been in business for about 4 years and were looking for an office manager / executive assistant to take care of admin stuff instead of having it be spread out. Clearly they had no clue about this sort of position as they’d never had anyone in it before.

      I asked what the budgeted range for the position was and got faced with the traditional, “Well, why don’t you tell me what you’re looking for? How much do you think this position should pay?”

      I named a number I thought was reasonable. (I think I said $45-50k.)

      Normally at this point I’d expect to hear either, “Sure, we can work with that” or “No, sorry, that’s outside our range.” Instead what I got was, “Well, our budgeted salary would obviously depend on finding the right person, and on their experience. Any money I’m devoting to this position is coming out of other areas in the budget, you know.”

      I withdrew my candidacy, for that and for other reasons. To this day I have no idea what the budgeted salary was, and to be honest I’m not even sure the company knew what the budgeted salary was. :)

  17. Cordelia Naismith*

    You speak the truth, Allison. Employers, just post the range in the job ad! It will save both you and the job candidates a lot of unnecessary grief. If you won’t do that, then the burden should be on you to name the salary range, not the applicant. You’re the one who knows what your budget is and what kind of skills you’re looking for.

  18. mee too*

    I am in a very similar position as the OP but my organization does list the salary on the job posting. It is not even a range it is a set number (we pay X, with X benefits). It is shocking how many people don’t read the posing and don’t see this. As a few commenters above said lots of people make assumptions about the numbers given. That they can negotiate more than the posted range, that their skills will obviously be so great they will actually just make more, or will of course get the top of the pay range and shockingly that the number posted is only part of the pay and that it is really more (like unlisted bonuses or commission).

    I have struggled with how to say to candidates – nope this is what the job pays that is why we posted it…. or your skills meet the minimum qualifications so no you can’t expect to be at the top of the range. Any good ideas for woey made false assumptions about what they would get paid. People also often say they are ok with the range when they are obviously not but they don’t want to be cut out of the process so early. Any good ideas for wording?

    1. fposte*

      One possibility is that, when you’re inviting people for an interview, you can note that the salary listed in the ad is firm and there is no negotiation possible; if that salary will be acceptable, we’d love to talk to you, blah blah blah.

      If they raise it at the interview, just tell them the truth and move on–it’s annoying if your firm salary is a deal-breaker, but it’s not wrong of them to attempt to negotiate. “Sorry, as we stated in the ad the salary’s firm at $60k, and we don’t negotiate. We’ve nonetheless been a great place to work for our employees, and if you can work with that salary, I think it’s worth continuing to talk.”

      But given that the culture is that money isn’t firm, I don’t think you can blame them entirely for not realizing you guys unusually meant it when you said it was. I’d hold it against somebody who was a jackass about it once they were told, but not for testing to see if there was room for movement.

      1. Firm Salary*

        I actually just saw this on an ad. It said “firm offer”, which came off a little strong. I think “firm” suffices.

  19. Eliza Jane*

    How do you handle the situation where you are hiring to build a team, and the salary you offer can and will be tailored to the correct candidate?

    I’ve been involved in hiring before, and it tends to be a situation where we’re growing a team and looking for new perspectives, and the amount we’re willing to pay is generally, “Whatever we think this person is worth.” In one job search, we made offers to both a 23-year-old recent grad with potential to grow a low and a high-energy attitude and a 60-year-old seasoned professional with years of experience to pass on. Obviously, the two candidates were offered very different salaries (the experienced candidate turned us down, so we moved on).

    Part of the process of deciding to hire someone has always been, “what level would we bring this person in at?” because of the flexible nature of our searching. If someone asked, “What salary would you expect for this job,” the answer is probably “between $60-140K.”

    1. Elysian*

      By the time you’re talking to them, you probably already have their resume and have a sense of their experience level. If you’re willing to hire people at different levels, can you tell the candidate “Since we’re hiring at all level for this position, we’d be looking to start someone at the lowest level for 60k. For someone with your level of experience, it would probably be higher, but it is difficult to gauge at this stage.” If the person is obviously much more experienced and wouldn’t even be near the lowest level, give them a higher “low” figure so they don’t decline to continue. Even if you can’t pinpoint it, that’s because you don’t know what you want, that’s not the candidate’s fault. You still have WAY more information than them about how their potential experience could fit your needs.

    2. YandO*

      I am dying to know what position and industry this was, where an entry level person would be competing with seasoned professional.

      1. Eliza Jane*

        Software engineering. And it wasn’t a specific position, it was, “we need people to help contribute on this project.” With junior people, they’d take on lower level tasks. With senior people, they’d take on an architectural role. When you have an 8-person team of “individual contributors” in software, the next “individual contributor” can often contribute in any of a half-dozen ways. The structure of the technical team was basically, “tech lead at the top, everyone else in an interconnected web beneath.” Tasks were picked up from a priority queue based on the ability of people to complete them. More skilled people could move more complex items through the pipeline more quickly, but people at any level could and did contribute.

        1. Kyrielle*

          Oh yes, I’ve seen that from both sides now in software engineering – hiring and being the candidate. At $OldJob where our software had some weird techniques, a more-junior person who had specific classes/training/experience, or who had a flexible mind set, could also end up being more valuable than a more senior person whose experience didn’t line up as well, or who was less flexible. (Of course, when we hired senior people who were flexible, especially if they had any relevant experience, they were *awesome*. As you’d expect. But…just to say, ‘more experience’ didn’t always win, there. It was about fit to the team and product first.)

      2. Melissa*

        In addition to software engineering, I applied for one job at a think tank. It was a general “analyst” position, but the job ad explained that they were hiring at three levels: analyst, research associate and senior research associate (or something like that). The experience and qualifications required made it clear that the senior research associate would make quite a bit more than the analyst role. I could certainly see a range of $50K to $110K making sense in that role, depending upon who they hired. What wasn’t clear was whether they were trying to hire people at different levels, or whether if they got enough they would hire all senior research associates if they could.

        I’ve also seen this in academia – open-rank professor positions. The department could choose to hire a brand-new, untenured assistant professor or they could hire a full professor with 20 years of experience, in which case the pay would differ. I always hated those postings because we junior folks assumed they meant “we’re really looking for a senior professor but we’ll hire an assistant if we can’t find one.”

        1. Koko*

          I like the approach of actually breaking the ad down into three tiers like that, or even better, just listing three ads. Because really the issue that Eliza Jane is describing isn’t hiring for one position – it’s hiring one person for one of several possible positions. It’s possible that HR is overly rigid and is making you just write one job description since you’re only planning to hire one person, or maybe they insist you have to hire for every job opening you get approved and can’t keep submitting 3 positions for approval every time you want to hire 1 person and then taking down the 2 unfilled ones every time you make a hire, but it seems like ideally you would have 3 job descriptions at varying experience/skill/payscales, but knowing that because of budget constraints you might only hire 1 Senior Analysts or 2 Associates, rather than it being an explicit goal to fill all 3 positions.

          Candidates will naturally tend to gravitate towards the job description that best matches their own skills, experience, and what they want in their next job, but you’d also have the flexibility to tell a candidate, “I think you’re overqualified for the Analyst position but would like to bring you in to interview for our Senior Analyst position if that interests you,” or “I don’t think you’re the right match for the Analyst position, but I’d like to bring you in to interview for our Associate position if that interests you.”

          1. Julie*

            I agree with Koko. Breaking down the posting or — even better — having multiple postings seems to make the most sense. I don’t think anyone would look at a posting where the range is $60-140k. But if you had three postings, one for a junior teapot assembler at 60-80k, one for a teapot assembler at 90-110k, and one for a senior teapot assembler at 120-140k, that should give you a good range of candidates. You know for yourself that you might only hire one person, but at least the candidates will self-select into the appropriate category and the junior assembler won’t be led to believe that he could enter the company at 130k.

    3. BRR*

      I would maybe try and go into some detail. Something a little more than “salary commensurate with experience.” There’s the specific point that people want to know so they’re not wasting their time plus most people work for money. But candidates also value transparency.

    4. over educated and underemployed*

      Maybe explain this, and be honest? I posted above that I was in a situation similar to the younger candidate recently, excepted they “tailored” the offer to below the bottom of the range quoted to me, and that was disappointing. Honestly I do think what they offered was market rate for my experience level, but the title and salary offered were not what I thought I was interviewing for, even though the responsibilities and reporting structure were the same, so that sends a really mixed message.

  20. Anonymous Educator*

    According to the conventional wisdom of this site, salaries should be determined not by the candidate’s need (paying expenses) or salary history (what she was paid before) but by the market rate for the position. So, in theory, asking the candidate for her salary expectations makes no sense. In reality, of course, we know that candidates, when deciding whether to apply for or take a job, do factor in their expenses and salary history.

    I think it only makes sense for you, as the potential employer, to offer your own range and ask if it’s worth continuing a conversation, unless you really are willing ot pay a very wide range. In other words, if your budget is $30,000-40,000, don’t ask what the candidate’s salary expectations are. Just say what you’re willing to pay. However, if you’re willing to pay $30,000-40,000 for a normal candidate and $50,000-65,000 for a stellar candidate or even up to $80,000… then you can ask the candidate what her salary expectations are, because you have genuinely wide wiggle room.

    1. Retail Lifer*

      The one thing I can appreciate about my current employer is that they immediately disclosed to me that the budget for my position was tight and there was no wiggle room for negotiations. Before I even had a phone screen they told me what the pay was and it was my choice to proceed or not.

  21. Anonymous Educator*

    I was job searching earlier this year and had some interesting experiences around this. My job at the time was paying $X.

    I was interested in a certain job, and I saw in the job description it would pay between $X-45k and $X-40k, so I didn’t even bother applying. Yes, I thought that place was being cheap (especially with the cost of living in my area), but I appreciated that they didn’t waste my time by not listing what they’d budgeted for the position.

    Another job I applied for was a step down in responsibility from my previous job, and the organization was interested in me. They had me for a phone interview and an in-person interview, but they absolutely refused to tell me any kind of ballpark range for salary. I even prefaced it with “I realize I am going to take a pay cut, but I just want to get some idea, even within a $20k spread of what kind of cut we’re talking about.” Nothing. No information. That ended up not panning out, but how do you not even give a $20k range at all?

    The job I finally ended up taking had a hiring manager who was very upfront about his concerns. He knew I was making around $X, and—as before—I told him I knew I’d have to take a pay cut for the change in responsibilities. He asked me what I would require, and I gave him a range based on what the market rate was (somewhere around $X-25k to $X-20k). He ended up offering me $X-17k, and I took the job.

    Have a sensible conversation abotu salary with your candidates. No games.

  22. AW*

    If you applied for a position and were asked for salary expectations, how would you respond?

    “I would like to wait until an offer is made before discussing salary.”
    “I would like to wait until I have a better idea of what the job requires before discussing salary.”
    “Market rate, depending on benefits.”

    Same with online forms if it allows text. An online form requiring numbers is going to get a very large range.

    1. Firm Salary*

      Would love this, but I’ve read on here that with some employers, that can backfire & you can push yourself out of the running. Pretty much every time I’ve ever used statements like that, it lead to a follow-up request for specific numbers. I guess it depends on whether or not someone would want to work for an employer that pushes for numbers.

      1. AW*

        that can backfire & you can push yourself out of the running.

        So can putting a range that’s higher than they want to pay. The risk of that (or of putting something too low) is not insignificant when you haven’t had a chance to discuss the position.

  23. Annalee*

    First, most of the positions I recruit for would be considered entry-level, requiring only 1-2 years experience.

    This is tangential, a job is not “entry level” if it requires 1-2 years experience. Please don’t call it “entry level” if can’t be done by someone who’s entering the workforce.

    If it can be done by someone fresh out of school with a little bit of training, please, please don’t require 1-2 years experience. You’re limiting your talent pool and contributing to a culture of unpaid internships that discriminates against people who can’t afford to work for free. Be a good corporate citizen and onboard people into the workforce ethically. We all needed a first job.

      1. Marie*

        Just to add, I often will filter job postings to just see “entry-level” positions, and will come across jobs that require 3-5 years of experience in a specialized field/skillset. Or I’ll see unpaid internships that require 2-3 years of experience in the field. So depressing.

    1. BRR*

      Comment of the day!

      You can even add in work experience preferred or office experience preferred. I can accept that. But entry-level positions (with entry level salaries) shouldn’t require 1-2 years experience.

      1. S*

        THANK YOU. Recent-ish grad here, now fully employed and happily so, but this time last year was absolutely miserable, when I was right out of college but no one would hire me, not even as an administrative assistant, because my multiple semester-long internships, in both non-profit and corporate settings, apparently didn’t “count.”

        1. BRR*

          I got super lucky. I got an internship through my graduate program and then they were hiring for the exact same thing I was doing. I was fired from that job but even with 6 months internship and 6 months professional experience it was enough to get me in the door other places. The first job is the hardest to get.

          1. S*

            I accepted a full-time political fellowship last August that went through spring this year. I had multiple offers from “entry-level” positions 2 weeks before the end of the program. These were positions and companies that wouldn’t have acknowledged my application 9 months ago.

    2. Melissa*

      + 1 million.

      At least put 0-2 years so people with no experience know that they can apply.

    3. Dana*

      It was just craigslist, but just today I saw a job with the words “no exp needed” in the headline…only to scroll down to the requirements where they had “X years of customer service experience”. UGH.

    4. This*

      Millionth-ed! I am looking at entry-level right now, and the laundry list of prior experience + software proficiency is far, far above a ground-floor job in my opinion. It’s making me feel so old & with lots of regrets that I didn’t stick with office work prior to entry-level meaning Graphic Designer/Web Designer/Receptionist/Admin/Personal Assistant. It’s honestly a little depressing.

    5. Steve G*

      Well the thing I am finding in my job hunt is that they don’t actually want/need the 1-2 or 1-3 years FT professional experience, but usually just some combination of PT work, internships, non-related work experience that lumps together into something resembling FT work experience. Heck, I even phone screened with people who wanted 2-5 years experience with xyz, who, as it turned out during the phone screen, didn’t actually want “that much” experience, they were more entry level (maybe with an internship and/or one other low level job) position. So I think this is more of a societal trend of bad job ad writing as a method to control the # of applicants, and I can sometime sympathize. As a subscriber of Linkedin Premium, which shows the #of applicants applying via Linkedin, I have looked at entry level jobs for s*** and giggles, and seen 500 + applicants for any job that looks like it is truly entry level (the most I saw was 1250 applicants), but about a 100 for those asking for the 1-3yrs experience… I get why employers write the ads asking for experience they don’t really need.

    6. Ad Astra*

      I’ve always been taught that “1-2 years experience” is, like, code for “entry level.” Of course, in my field, you’re likely to finish college with about 1-2 years of experience through internships and campus publications and such. I assumed it meant “1-2 years experience if you majored in something totally unrelated and did not hold any relevant internships in college.”

    7. Clever Name*

      Seriously. We often hire for entry level folks, and those jobs are truly entry level. The people we hire are fresh out of college, or if they have work experience, it’s from summer jobs in related or even unrelated fields.

  24. Teacher Recruiter*

    One thing to keep in mind is that once a company does put out salary expectations, it goes both ways. Before even a phone interview, I always email candidates and say the starting salary is $X (I don’t give a range for many of the reasons/issues discussed above). I would assume most candidates would think this is somewhat negotiable (only with a couple thousand dollars), and then make a decision from there.

    While I have plenty of candidates who bow out if the salary doesn’t match their expectations, I’ve started encountering a number of candidates who proceed with the interview process and then either at the phone interview or the in-person interview try to negotiate way more (like 30% more once! And they don’t even have an offer!). I literally stopped an interview mid-interview as he attempted to negotiate way more and said – “It sounds like we’re not on the same page with the salary. Knowing you can’t take $X, I’m not sure it makes sense to proceed with this interview.” I’m all about not wasting a candidate’s time and being transparent – I’d like the candidates to do the same!

  25. Case of the Mondays*

    I guess it just comes as no surprise to me that companies want to pay as little as they can get away with and candidates want to make as much as they can. Hence the dance.

  26. Retail Lifer*

    Please offer the range up front, with some brief clarification as to what experience would earn the high end or the low end. I’m job hunting right now and all the time spent on an application, redoing my resume and cover letter, and spending time for phone interviews is often a waste of everyone’s time when I find out the job pays $11 or so. Granted, I don’t expect an amployer to care how much time *I* put in for all of those things, but the time they spend reviewing my info and then talking to me on the phone should count for something. It could save everyone some time if they would just admit what pay range was, or at least what the position’s pay can start at.

  27. Gene*

    Civil Service employee simple.

    Here’s the salary you’ll start at.

    Here’s the structure for salary increases.

    I’ve been topped out for a long time, and just got my last longevity increase (started my 25th year this month). Only raises I’ll see from here until retirement are COL or promotion.

  28. Jo*

    Arghh. I had an interview last month where towards the beginning of the interview, before I had a chance to ask my questions and find out more about the job, he asked me what my salary expectations are. I shot out a number just based on my research in the field and I even low balled the number that what I normally would have said. And then he comes out and says, “Well the position only pays this …” And that number was lower and there was no negotiation. Why did you even bother to ask what my salary expectations were at all? Did it even matter what I said since you already knew what the number was? The interview felt awkward after that so I said: “well my salary expectations really also depend on the hours, benefits, and the work is involved. Could you tell me more about the job responsibilities and etc…” But I still felt like a shot myself in the foot or I was set up to fail. I haven’t heard back from them at all (which also drives me crazy. even if I didn’t get the job at least tell me that.”

    1. Julie*

      I have to wonder, though, whether it really WAS worthwhile continuing to talk to that company. If you’d already lowballed yourself and they came back with a non-negotiable number that was even lower, would it be worth it to continue? I agree that if they knew the number they should have just said it without asking you, but at that point wouldn’t you have realized that this probably isn’t the job for you and walked away? Or was it really that amazing of a position?

  29. Lfoli723*


    OP here. Thanks Alison for publishing and responding to my question! Really appreciate it! And a big thank you to all of the readers for their input and responses, it’s very helpful! I’m actually a little surprised my question generated so much conversation.

    I probably will bring Alison’s suggestion of just stating the salary range to candidates sooner, to my direct supervisor. I also liked the suggestions of explaining to people of (politely, professionally, and with tact) what a $50K candidate looks like to my company, vs a $60K candidate.

    I wanted to take a little time to address some of the general comments I’ve read. It seems some think I’m trying to be coy with candidates, play games with them, or try to hire someone for the lowest possible salary. I can assure you I am definitely not trying to do any of those things. When I recruit and interview candidates I honestly want to make sure that the position they are interested in is a good fit, that they will be happy in the job, and compensation is a big piece of the puzzle. As a recruiter I feel that I have a responsibility to the candidate and my company to make sure we have the right person for the right job. The challenge I have run into multiple times in the past is that some candidates seem surprised that I even bring up the topic. And this just boggles my mind.

    I had a couple of other questions I would appreciate getting feedback on from readers:

    What do you do if you have a great candidate apply for your job, but they likely made a lot more in their previous job? Should I even reach out to them?

    If my supervisor agrees with Alison’s suggestion of just disclosing salary ranges sooner, rather than requesting a candidate’s salary expectations, when is the best time to provide the candidate with that info? During my initial email when I try to arrange a phone interview? Because if we did it then, wouldn’t I still run into the same problem of candidates just throwing out a number before they fully understand the position and benefits?

    Thanks all!

    1. Ad Astra*

      If they bothered to apply, it’s probably worth reaching out to see what their salary expectations are. As people have mentioned above, they could be looking to take a step back in terms of responsibility, or they’re looking to change industries, or maybe they were grossly underpaid at their last job and wouldn’t find your salary range as shocking as you think. You won’t know until you ask.

      1. Koko*

        I agree with this. I’d reach out and be candid–not only about the salary discrepancy, but also in making it clear that you need to know why they’re willing to take a pay cut to alleviate your concerns about them possibly misunderstanding the role:

        “My guess is you’re probably making more in your current role than we could offer. This position has a range of $X-Y, and also has considerably less responsibility than you likely have right now. Knowing that, are you still interested? And if so, can you give me a little bit of context for how you see this role fitting into your career overall?”

    2. Student*

      My husband took a job with a substantial pay cut. He did it on purpose. The main motivator was to reduce stress levels related to responsibilities he didn’t really want. It also “looked” like a bigger pay cut on paper than it really was for our finances, because we changed locations and costs of living dropped dramatically from a city to a rural/suburban area.

      This is something people with a serious interest should be expressing in cover letters, or something they can answer in a brief phone screen. If they get caught off-guard about the salary, it’s best for everyone to know that quickly.

    3. Macedon*

      Reveal the range on first communication, asking if they’d like to continue. Don’t waste their time if it’s a role that they might not be interested in pursuing for your pay. Perhaps after the interview/if advancing to stage #2, ask where in the salary range previously provided they place their expectations. Be as transparent as possible at all times, and you’ll find most candidates willing to do the same.

    4. Anonymous Educator*

      What do you do if you have a great candidate apply for your job, but they likely made a lot more in their previous job? Should I even reach out to them?

      Yes, you should reach out to them. As I mentioned in an earlier comment, my current job was a huge pay cut from my previous job. I knew it, my soon-to-be manager knew it. And it worked out best for everyone (I like the new job better than my old one, and my manager considers me a good hire).

      But he was very upfront from the beginning that salary would be a concern, and we discussed it early on. My concern was I knew I’d be taking a pay cut… just how much. His concern was he knew I’d be taking a pay cut and how much could he up the salary to meet a reasonable cut.

    5. Retail Lifer*

      Personally, I’m just projecting my salary negotiating frustrations on you. ;) I’m really glad you’re concerned about this. I wish my potential employers were.

    6. CAjun2core*

      In addition to what everyone else said, sometimes some people are so desperate to get out of a job, they will take a pay cut. I did it.

      If the person is currently unemployed, they may be willing to take any job even if their previous job (from which they were laid off) was at a much higher salary.

    7. RE: follow up question*

      “What do you do if you have a great candidate apply for your job, but they likely made a lot more in their previous job? Should I even reach out to them?”

      Yes, please do. For example, my former title sounds pretty impressive, but I was actually paid far below market rate and under the poverty line. You’d never know this unless you worked for my employer.

      Takeaway: If they sound like someone you want to meet with, meet with them.

    8. ModernHypatia*

      I’m two months out of my most recent job hunt.

      I’m a librarian, and so some places I applied had very clear (public) pay scales, some had very specific union-agreed scales, and some, it was totally up in the air. This is complicated by the fact that at some places, the job I was applying for was very standard, and there were a bunch of people with similar positions, and some places where it was a unique role (again, true of my current job) which makes guessing about pay scale tricky.

      I loved it when people posted the range, but I was also fine with a detailed job ad that gave a good idea of the things that might affect salary (hours, supervisory duties, how much stress and annoyance there might be) and especially if I could get some idea of the workspace from public information (for libraries, you can often find at least some photos/floor maps/etc.) My current job didn’t post a salary range, but the recruiter asked what I was looking for in the initial phone screen, and I gave a 5K range based on my knowledge of similar jobs in the area.

      I’m also someone for whom salary is necessary to the degree that I can afford to live reasonably at a reasonable commute from work, but it matters less to me than the job duties, and things like ‘have the work computers been replaced in the last 5 years’ and ‘do I have a reasonable size monitor to work with’ and ‘is this an open plan workspace which I do not work well in or do I get an office or some other way that I can focus when not doing public service desk tasks’?

      The places where I could get some idea of that before we started talking direct salary felt a lot more interesting to me, because they also signalled things about the general work environment to me that matters.

  30. Chickaletta*

    As a current job seeker who is getting burned by the salary games, here’s my honest thoughts:

    “What do you do if you have a great candidate apply for your job, but they likely made a lot more in their previous job? Should I even reach out to them?”
    Yes! I made 30% more at my last place of employment than what employers are offering now because my last job was in a city where the cost of living was high. So when employers ask me what my previous salary was, I get nervous and hope that they see that salary was in a different part of the country. Also, the reality is that I need a job, and even if it pays less than before it’s better than nothing. My willingness to take a pay cut is my decision; I know myself better than they do. Also, times have changed and may job seekers realize that companies have tight budgets and salaries are not going up. Everyone knows this, so hiring managers shouldn’t ask questions that imply that this is still happening.

    “when is the best time to provide the candidate with (salary) info?”
    I wish, more than anything in my job search, that companies disclosed the salary range upfront. If not in the job posting than at least in the first contact with the candidate. Why? Because then I can decide whether or not it’s worth my time and your time to pursue the job, and because it gives me time to mentally adjust if I still want a job that pays lower than I expected (which benefits the employer because they’re getting an employee who can work up enthusiasm for the job instead of someone who feels let down at the last minute). Also, be honest if there’s room for negotiation and feel free to counter their offer if you think it’s too high. Candidates might be playing a negotiation game when they throw out the first number and state something intentionally high because they think you’re going to bring it down. If someone throws out a number that sounds to high to you, that might be what they’re doing. They’re expecting you to come back and say “I can’t do X, but how does Y sound?” Two weeks ago, I got an offer and threw out a high number because I expected them to counter. Instead, they shut down communication with me. It’s an incredibly frustrating experience.

    1. Retail Lifer*

      I’ve had that happen, and I’ve also completely screwed myself by going too low. So incredibly frustrating.

    2. LBK*

      I think some companies’ thought process in confirming people will be open to taking pay cuts is exactly your reasoning why you would agree to take one, though – that getting paid anything is better than nothing, so the candidate will be willing to take any paycheck temporarily and then be back out the door in another 6 months once they find a job that pays more. It’s not worth it to the employer to go through the process of onboarding someone who’s not going to stop job hunting once they get hired.

      1. Chickaletta*

        But the problem with that is that the company is making all these assumptions about me. They assume that I’m going to keep looking. They’re assuming that the salary is the most important factor for me and that the company culture, the people, the benefits, or the job itself don’t counter-balance a lower salary. Also, they’re assuming that there’s higher paying jobs out there that their employees would leave them for, in which case anyone they hire could leave in 6 months once they discover that. That’s why I hate, hate, hate the question about what I used to make. It’s so loaded with assumptions.

  31. Another Jim*

    I’ve never had an HR recruiter give me a salary range. I’ve always been asked what my salary requirement was. It’s always given me the idea that the role of the recruiter was to save money on salary. I have always wondered if they get a bonus based on how much they can low ball candidates.

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      It may depend on whether it’s an internal recruiter or an external one. I used to work for an external recruiting company, and we always wanted the highest hiring salary, because we got commission based on that hiring salary (so, the higher the salary, the higher the commission).

  32. Cassie*

    I’ve been looking at postings at universities lately (I work at one myself) and I like when the posting not only lists the salary range but also specifies a target salary range that the hiring manager/dept is willing to pay. For example, our dept is looking to fill a position where the salary range is $40K to $80K. It would be good to let candidates know that our dept is looking to pay in the mid-40s so that anyone who is expecting 60s and above can decide whether it’s worth applying or not.

  33. Vicki*

    I had a fun call recently from a recruiting/sourcing firm abut a contract position. He asked me what I wanted (hourly rate). I told him “I prefer X/hour”. He said “That might work…”

    He then told me that the client had rejected a candidate they’d sent over recently who asked for X+5/hour as “asking for too much”. BUT the kicker is that the client did not tell the candidate (or the sourcing firm) what number they’re willing to pay. It’s a terrible came of “Guess the Rate!”

  34. AD*

    I’ve recently started job hunting and several online applications have required me to pick from a list of $5k salary ranges. That is a seriously narrow range for senior level professional work. All I know is what I was making in my last job (and they all require me to share that as well). There’s no way to put a number on a job without knowing more about it.

  35. Workfromhome*

    I think that it is going to rapidly become the norm for candidates to go to online salary sites and come to interviews with information on what the job “should pay” based on the market.
    Employers should most certainly disclose a rage but if they refuse and you are asked about salary it would be a good practice to say:

    I went to and the salary range in the market for a teapot maker in anytown with 5 years experience is 50-70 K. If you pay market level salaries I’d be interested in continuing.

    It would be very interesting to see the result if they were trying to get a teapot maker for say 40K. I mean what are the responses?
    1.Those salary sites are no good
    2.Uhhhmm sorry we pay way below market.

  36. mel*

    So if entry level is 1-2 years experience, where do the applicants get those 1-2 years? Just wondering

  37. Anon, good Nurse, Anon*

    Try to post the range, I really wish employers would do this. It sucks to get an offer from a company you want to work for and find out that it will not work for you and that the company never had any intention of getting close to your range.

    One thing I might do is post a range a tiny bit lower than the actual range. Someone posted about employers not liking to give ranges because everyone thinks they should be at the top of the range. So if you say range is $X-Y but you have an amazing candidate you can always offer more than Y just don’t the upper end so low that you get over looked by those amazing candidates

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