I guessed at a salary range for a job, overshot, and got rejected

A reader writes:

After applying for a position, the hiring manager (who would also be my supervisor) emailed me saying that she wanted to interview me and asked me about my salary expectations. I researched average salaries for the position ($53k) and got back to her expressing my interest in the position, suggesting a few times for the phone screen, and with my salary expectations ($50k-60k). She replied, saying “Unfortunately the budgeted salary for this position is $40k. Thanks for your interest and best of luck in your search.”

The truth is, I’m relatively new in this field and would be okay making $40k. In fact, I anticipated negotiating the salary with my range as a starting point. Now I’m unsure of my next steps. Should we part ways, should I say I’m still interested, should I do something else?

And, more importantly, how can I respond when hiring managers ask me for my salary range in the future? What’s the point of this question when hiring managers have a range in mind? It feels like a game.

It is a game — an unfair, stacked-against-you game. They’re trying to get information without showing own hand, and they know that they’ve got you at a disadvantage because of the power dynamic, where they can basically require you to answer if you want to proceed.

You’re absolutely right to wonder why they’re asking you for your salary expectations if they have a range in mind. After all, they could just tell that range and you could self-select out if it didn’t work for you. That would make a lot more sense, especially since employers don’t have the same angst and stress about naming the range they plan to pay that job seekers tend to have about figuring out what range to ask for.

Employers will tell you that the reason they do this is that if they’re up-front about their salary range, everyone will assume they should be at the top of it, and then will be upset if their offer at at the lower end of the range because of their qualifications — whereas they might have been happy with the offer if they’d never heard about the top of the range. This is certainly a thing that happens, but (a) a good employer will be able to explain how their scale works and why they offered what they offered, and (b) to the extent that it can be a legitimate concern, it doesn’t trump the problems caused by not naming their range.

Of course, sometimes they have another reason too, which is that by getting you to name a number first, they’re hoping they might be able to get away with paying you less than the full amount they’re prepared to pay. I’ve talked with loads of hiring managers who say things like, “We’re prepared to pay up to $75K, but I’m hoping we can hire someone for around $60K.” So if they can get you to name a salary first and you say 60s, they might never need to tell you that there was room to go up to $75K.

So, yes, job seekers are in a crappy position when employers do this.

That said, you also overshot. If average salaries are $53K and you’re new to the field, asking for $50K-60K may have made you sound out of touch.

If you’d be happy making $40K, you could email her back and say this: “You know, I’m relatively new to the field and still refining my information about salary ranges. $40K isn’t prohibitive for me, and I’d be glad to talk further if you’re still interested.” She may or may not move you forward, but you have nothing to lose by saying that and might as well give it a shot.

Of course, there’s also a question of whether $40K is a lowball figure and they’re underpaying, relative to the research you did. But I don’t have enough information to say either way — it could be that your research wasn’t accurate (which is a really common thing if you were relying on salary sites, since they often paint with way too broad a brush), or that people new to the field start lower than what you saw, or all sort of other explanations. Or they could be under-paying. Since this is a different figure than your research turned up, you want to figure out whether your research is wrong (so you can recalibrate your expectations) or whether this is a lowball salary (in which case you’d need to decide if you’re willing to accept that in exchange for getting a toehold in the field).

As for what to say when this comes up in the future: As a first step, it’s smart to try turning the question around and asking , “Can I ask what range you have in mind for the position?” Some interviewers will tell you if you just ask! But of course, some won’t, and will continue to press for a number from you. If that happens, then yeah, you pretty much have to name a figure if you want to continue in their process. (I have advice on how to figure out the right range here.) That is crappy and frustrating, but also very often the reality of it.

{ 120 comments… read them below }

  1. anonykins*

    Ugh, this just happened to me as well, except I think that after I named a very high figure, they went back to the drawing board and decided to restructure and get someone currently in the org to do the job so they didn’t have to invest as much in a new hire. It was intensely frustrating, as before that they heavily implied I’d be getting an offer letter. You have my commiseration, OP.

  2. Artemesia*

    I used to do a lot of hiring for a position that required incredible qualifications in both education and experience but grossly underpaid. I could pay say 60-65 K but with someone who was extraordinary might get another 5 K. When people asked I would say what our range was – 55-65 and say if I thought the person was extraordinary (on paper not just in fact — being good was not enough to get paid more, but having some credentials might be) I would say, I could push to get a bit more but it is not a sure thing. If the person was not clearly qualified at the top of our range I would tell them we offered around 55- 60 and it was very difficult to go much higher. Then I would push to try to go a bit higher if we made an offer. It is really unfair, but typical, for employers to play this game without showing their own range.

  3. Marissa*

    I feel for you. I am 2 years into my first job and I took whatever my company offered me because it was either that or $0 and continued unemployment. I also didn’t bring much experience to the table coming straight out of school, so I didn’t really consider negotiating at that time. I feel underpaid, even after my small raise this year; so I will be looking for another job soon.
    It’s hard to get in the door of a company when they ask questions like that, but hopefully your second job hunt will be a bit easier in the future. I’m at least hoping that will be the case for me. When I start looking for a new job, I will at least be able to say, “I make $X currently, so I will need to be offered more than that in order to move jobs.”

    1. MinB*

      So, so glad to have run across that blog. I work for a small nonprofit with a massive turnover rate and poor hiring practices. Between AAM and NWB, I’ve finally gotten leadership to be willing to post jobs with the salary listed and more information than just “competitive benefits” (they’re not!). Applications are down but I feel like the people we are getting are more likely to stick around because they know what they’re getting themselves into.

  4. OP*

    Thanks! I replied with something similar to Alison’s suggestion, we’ll see where this goes.

    For the future, I’m worried that replying to the salary question by throwing it back at the employer (asking “Can I ask what range you have in mind?”) will seem evasive and uncooperative, especially over email. Thoughts?

    1. always anon*

      I’ve never had good luck with asking what range they have in mind. Some people have become really defensive and offended, and a lot of others did a more professional version of “I asked you first”.

      Hopefully you have better luck with the question.

    2. Florida*

      I have said, “I’d like to learn more about the specifics of the position and XYZ Company before we discuss that. How much did you have budgeted?” Nine times out of ten, they will tell me. If they say $40,000. You can say, “Based on what I about the position so far, I am still interested.” That’s what has always worked for me.

      In general, if you answer a question directly with a question, it seem combative or smart aleck. For example:
      How much does this car cost?
      What can you afford?

      But if you couch a sentence or two before your question, it comes across better:
      How much does this car cost?
      This car has a lot of different options, which obviously affect the price. How much were you looking to spend on a car?

      1. Florida*

        Now that I’m rereading my response, I can’t believe I used a car-buying example. Car companies should tell you what it costs, the same way employers should tell you what they pay. Hopefully, I still made my point with the example.

      2. Chinook*

        I usually add in “but I am willing to go lower if the benefits are worth it.” This seems to show I am open to negotiating and emphasizes that benefits do make a difference.

        1. Ms. Didymus*

          I almost always include a caveat that mentions benefits. Benefits can make a huge difference.

          For example, I changed jobs once that meant I took a 10 – 15% paycut (making about $39k to making about $33k). However, the new health insurance was great (and practically free), they offered more PTO, more work/life balance, better retirement, etc. If I was looking strictly at salary, I made not have made the move but the whole picture meant I came out ahead.

      3. Artemesia*

        I really like this because of course the salary is not the only consideration so coming back couching it in terms of the whole package such as medical and dental insurance (some places give it to you, some places charge an arm and a leg or charge tons to cover spouse and kids — some, like every employer I ever worked for don’t have dental insurance at all), vacation time, sick leave policy, matching for IRA or 401K accounts, life insurance etc etc etc — It is one thing to take 40 K with great medical and dental included, generous time off, and 401K matching and another if you pay $500 a month to cover your spouse on health insurance, get a week of vacation, no dental and there is no 401K matching.

        Another phrase that is useful after you have qualified with ‘depends on whole package of benefits’ is the ‘I have reviewed similar positions in the area and the range is X to Y and with my experience, I’d expect to be near the top of the range.’

    3. Ruth*

      Best of luck, OP! I think once you’re more established in the field, it’s easier to get an idea of salary ranges, although still not perfect. IME something along the lines of “Can I ask what range you had in mind for someone with my level of experience?” can work fairly well because it implies that there may be multiple ranges and you’re higher than some and lower than others (probably). This is from the other side of the table helping with hiring at my last job. One candidate was fresh out of grad school, one had been working for 5 years.

      Salary range stuff can be really hard too because of areas of the country. I just started a new job making X. I was making X + $4k at my last job in a similar but entry-level position BUT my rent is 1/2 what I paid in that area of the country, car insurance is 1/3, I’m walking to work, my health care plan has lower-copays, I basically got at least $15k raise despite the lower number. And yet both numbers are on just on either side of the “average salary” for someone in my position.

      1. OP*

        I feel you. That was another part of my mistake- I’m moving from one of the most expensive cities in the country to a midwestern city with an average cost of living.

        When I saw that the average salary for this job in the midwestern city is 53k , I thought it made sense for someone with my experience, since I’m used to a VERY expensive housing market. Since then, I’ve done a lot of research into cost of living in the midwestern city by looking at price indexes and talking to friends. If I knew then what I know now, the 53k average would have struck me as above what I’m worth.

    4. neverjaunty*

      I think you dodged a bullet here, honestly. “Play our guessing game! You guessed wrong, no interview for you!” That’s not a sign of a professional company that wants to hire competitively.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I don’t think it’s quite that though. Employers who ask this don’t think they’re playing a guessing game; they’re assuming the person has more confidence in their answer than they actually do. They hear she’s looking for $X, and they think “oh, she needs way more than we can offer; this isn’t the right match” and they move on. They’re not accounting for the fact that soooo many job seekers are throwing a guess of what they’re hoping might be reasonable; instead they’re hearing it as a firm number.

        1. neverjaunty*

          They’re also doing that in the context of “we’re not going to tell you what the job pays”, though. And in this case, it wasn’t that the hiring manager said ‘the job only pays $40K’ to see if the OP was mistaken or would negotiate.

          1. Florida*

            I don’t think this was a guessing game. They asked what OP wanted, she said $50k. They said we can’t do it. I wouldn’t call that a guessing game, or even a sign of an unprofessional company.
            If they asked what OP wanted, then OP said, “I don’t know. What does it pay?” And they said the equivalent of, “We can’t tell you. You go first,” then that’s a different story. That is a power play/guessing game.
            In this situation, OP didn’t realize that she could turn the question around and ask them.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Agreed. I think employers should offer the range first for all the reasons already discussed, but I don’t think they’re being outrageous for just raising the topic and asking the candidate what their expectations are … as long as they’re willing to hold up their side of the discussion too.

              1. Hophornbeam*

                I think that if employers have a fixed salary range for a particular position, they should be upfront about that. If they don’t, I don’t think it’s necessary for them to state numbers until the job offer, presuming that in the interview process they are trying to determine what the individual candidate is worth to them, and are making their offer based on that (essentially, how badly they want them). But in that case, they shouldn’t turn down candidates based on their salary expectations, unless they are wildly out of line with what the employer thinks their value is to them (which would mean a bigger difference than the $10k example from OP).

                I would expect the former type of employer to be the type that has fairly rigid salary matrices based on concrete qualifications (e.g., degree with # years experience), such as government, which in fact does post salary ranges in their job announcements. I would expect the latter type to focus on quality, performance, and what the candidate can do for the organization (e.g., education at an elite university with high GPA, record of success in past roles).

        2. Not So NewReader*

          I marvel at the fact that employers think employees just pick a number and that is what they want. I have had great difficulty arriving at a number and I see posters commenting here, “how do I figure this out?”
          I just don’t get how employers think people have a number and it’s set in stone. At best it seems like something so random and at worst it seems kind of judgey, as in “Oh Bob wants X amount. Well, we probably can’t discuss this with Bob because he’s not open to discussion, so we need to move on.”

          Maybe it is just me, but it seems like the person who opens the topic first is the person who “controls” or at least has some effect on the tone of the conversation. OP, why not be the first one to open the topic?

          1. J.B.*

            I had an interview once and they wanted me to fill out an application beforehand. It included my social security number (as required) and one box for salary (also required). I considered backing out of the interview entirely because the ssn was irritating. So I put a high salary number. They moved on with someone else and I asked them to delete my info. Definitely wasn’t meant to be!

          2. selena81*

            I am amazed by hiring managers who seem to think that everyone is either a cock-sure CEO *demanding* a salary, or an idiot who will happily work 30k under market range. It feels like a bad self-help book come to life.
            To me it signals that these hiring-people got their own job by pretending to be super-duper confident instead of based on their actual qualifications.

            I really really really appreciate it when employers put a range in the job-ad: and it’s absolutely not because i think ‘a range of 30k-40k? i can probably ask 45k then’ (if i am new to the field i would expect the 30k, i would even be willing to go lower if i know i miss some qulifications).
            I like it because it is a sign of professionalism on their part: they are looking for the best fit in the most efficient self-selecting way instead of trying to impress their own manager with ‘we got looooads of candidates’.

            1. sstabeler*

              not to mention that if you give a range in the ad, then it means that while you’ll no doubt get less applicants, the applicant pool is probably closer to the kind of employee you actually want, unless you’re being unrealistic in your salary requirements. (by that, I mean that if you offer a salary under market range, you WILL primarily get either desperate people, people who are basically trainees, or the incompetent. (Yes, for non-profits, you will occasionally get someone who is committed enough to your mission they will accept a lower salary, but they will be rarer than the three types I mentioned) By basically trainees, I mean you’ll get people who need experience in the field, so are willing to accept a lower salary until they have enough experience to get a better-paying job elsewhere.)

    5. Green*

      I usually say something deflecting before turning it back around. For example, when I was thinking about moving from a very high paying job to a non-profit job, I would just say “I am hoping for a competitive salary for similarly sized non-profits, which I understand will involve a substantial pay cut. Could you tell me a little more about what you had in mind for this position?”

    6. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Asking “can I ask what range you have in mind?” isn’t uncooperative! It’s a very normal and reasonable question to ask when they’re just brought up salary without revealing anything, and someone who gets snotty with you about it is playing by some really weird (and not typical) rules. They may not answer you, but normal hiring people will be polite about it.

    7. oleander*

      Whether you sound evasive is all in your tone and wording. (So many thanks to Alison for her advice on tone and wording!)

      Here’s my recent situation: I’m currently in the middle of interviewing for a position with a corporate employer in another state. It’s my first corporate interview process — I’ve previously worked only for non-profits and academia. I’ve done research on potential salaries, but as others have noted, ranges vary, and it can be especially hard to pick a number when you’re switching industries and/or geographic areas. A couple weeks ago, after I had had an initial 30-min phone interview with the hiring manager, the internal recruiter called me to check in and to set up more interviews. Out of the blue, he says “What kind of number are you looking for for salary?” I was entirely honest: “You know, I feel like I’m coming into this a bit blind because it’s a new setting for me, coming out of higher ed. It’s tough for me to know what’s normal. I’m flexible, but I would love hear what you generally have in mind for this position, first.” He was silent for like a beat — it felt like he wasn’t used to this answer — but then he was perfectly nice — said “Oh yes, that makes sense. Well, the thing with this industry is that you aren’t going to get rich — we usually start these positions around $Xk.” (Which is funny because because that is +$25k more than I am currently making, so it sure sounds rich to me!) I replied with, “Well, that’s definitely in the ballpark where it makes sense to keep talking. ” (Or something like that — I wish that I had said something specially about benefits playing a role in my decision. I’ve since had several more phone interviews and they want me to come for a site visit, so speaking up doesn’t seem to have hurt my chances.

      Anyway, point is, I think that the best way not to sound evasive or uncooperative is to just be as straightforward as possible — and as Alison always says — tone matters. Don’t sound apologetic about turning the question around — just be straightforward about.

    8. Geeby*

      I would advise next time not to have this conversation by email! Its actually a bad sign on the employer’s part that they asked you via email.

    9. Honeybee*

      I did this when I was asked for salary expectations in phone interviews, and it never backfired on me. The employer always responded by actually giving me the salary range/figure they were thinking of, which made me wonder why on earth they didn’t just say it rather than dancing around the number. (And in one case, I was really glad, because I would’ve really lowballed myself.)

      I responded with something similar to Florida’s response.

  5. Elizabeth*

    I wish hiring managers, when faced with someone who states a range outside of what they pay, would say something along the lines of “Our range is $X-Y, unfortunately, but please let me know if you’d still like to move forward.” Yes, a lot of people are going to want to opt-out at that stage if it’s less than what they want to be making, but let people make that decision for themselves.

    In my current job, I was asked my salary expectations at the phone screen stage and though I knew the salary for the job was definitely going to be less than I was making at the time, I was able to say “I’m currently making $X, but I know that this position is likely to be less given the type of role.” The HR person told me the actual range and then I was able to self-select into the rest of the interview process because I was still fine with that.

    1. Waffles*

      I’m guessing it’s based on the belief that if the person’s salary expectations are outside the range the company is willing to pay, they won’t be happy and will soon move on to a different employer if the opportunity arises.

      1. neverjaunty*

        But then why not give the range up front so those people will self-select out? And people may be willing to take a lower salary for other reasons, like better working hours.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          One of the reasons otherwise reasonable employers don’t want to give it up-front in the ad is that sometimes you’ll go higher for a really excellent candidate, but not the majority — but if you put that higher range in the ad, it’ll calibrate people’s expectations based on info that likely won’t apply to them. There are ways around that but they’re not perfect, and often employers just don’t think it’s worth the hassle, when it’s still so common to just not name a number at that stage.

          I’m sympathetic to that point of view, but then I do think you should talk salary in the initial phone interview (when you can give a higher range to your truly stellar candidates).

          1. Anonymous Educator*

            But can’t the hiring manager, once seeing the candidate’s qualifications, give an expected range without publishing it in the ad beforehand?

            In other words, let’s say they have in mind $40-50k, but they’re willing to go up to $55k for a great candidate and $60k for an exceptional candidate.

            If they see a candidate who potentially could look exceptional based on work history and the first 15 minutes of the phone screen, they could say the expected salary range will be $50k-55k. And then if their hunch that the candidate is exceptional (not just great) turns out to be correct, they could offer the candidate $60k.

            However, if the candidate’s résumé indicates she’s entry-level but could still do the job, they could say they could say the expected salary range will be $35k-40k.

            1. Honeybee*

              What I don’t understand is why they can’t just put that in the ad – something like “The expected salary range for this ad is $35-55K – on the lower end for our entry-level candidates with less than 3 years of experience and towards the higher end for our most experienced candidates with at least 7 years of experience. There might be some wiggle room for our most exceptional candidates; if you’re really interested in our position, please do apply and we’ll chat!”

              Or whatever. That way, if I’d be willing to accept $55-60K I’d apply to the job, but if I know I want $80K I don’t apply. And as Alison has pointed out before, job ads don’t have to be written in stilted, formal language.

  6. Mimmy*

    It’s been awhile for me, but it seems so, so common based on what I’ve read here, and it’s unnecessarily stressful.

    I’m going back on the job hunt soon, most likely next month, and this is one of my worries. My problem is the opposite of the OP’s: I consider myself a little naive and can see myself accepting whatever offer I am given. I do have a ballpark idea of what I’m hoping for. Complicating things is the fact that I’ve been out of the workforce for several years, so I’m sure the norms have changed.

    RE Salary research: If the typical salary sites “paint with way too wide a brush”, what would be a better way to research average salaries and hourly wages?

  7. Rubyrose*

    I applied to a job once and had the phone screen. I asked what their range was and it was about $20,000 under what I knew I was worth. I told them “it sounds like you want someone with a lower skill set than what I would be bringing. Good luck in your search.” I did have to stifle a chuckle. They asked me what I would want and I told them. I went on about my business, writing them off.

    About six weeks later they call me. They told me that they had done some re-evaluation and would I still be interested if they could provide what I had asked for? I was there for two years.

  8. SusanIvanova*

    Back in the days before the internet existed, there were three of us all new to jobs in general and Silicon Valley in specific who’d answered the Engineering VP’s question about salary requirements with something that would be great where we were from but woefully low for SV. And he’d had his house since the 70s so had no idea even what local rent was like. Quite by accident the CEO discovered it (I’d bought a car and was talking about how the down payment took all my spare cash) and maxed our raises until we’d caught up.

    1. neverjaunty*

      His spiritual cousins are the ones based in rural/low-cost areas who can’t understand why their salary ranges are out of line for candidates in NYC or SF.

      1. sstabeler*

        yes, but HE at least corrected the issue when he became aware of it. Which is a credit to him, actually- many employers would say “you should have asked for more when you joined” and shrug their shoulders.

        1. SusanIvanova*

          Actually in my case the VP shrugged; the CEO – who’s a she :) – is the one who fixed it.

          1. sstabeler*

            it’s to the CEO’s credit, then.- and a minor mark against the VP.(minor because most companies wouldn’t, but it’s still somewhat heartless just to shrug it off. How I’d handle it- assuming I couldn’t do anything to correct the issue, where the issue was that the employee was receiving a salary that caused them actual issues affording the cost of living in the area due to bad information during initial salary negotiations- would be to explain “I understand the problem- unfortunately, we were unaware of the cost of renting around here when we set the budget for your position, since mos of us own our own homes- but there’s not much I can do at the moment. I will, however, see if there’s anything I can do to correct the issue.I can’t promise anything, however.” and then I would bring it up to someone who can do something (say, the CEO to set something like the maxed raises until the employee i question had a reasonable salary. That, or if possible, an exceptionally large raise- on the understanding that this was to correct the mistake in the initial salary, not something to be expected routinely- to put the salary at a reasonable level immediately.)

  9. Tortuga*

    I just finished playing this game with a company. During my second interview for a System Admin position with a decent sized Midwest bank, the director asked me to send my range via email. I asked the two interviewers if they had a range in mind. They replied that they didn’t have the info in front of them (of course.) I did have a range in mind, based on the position market rate, and what I’d need to earn in order to leave my current position. I provided the range and rationale. I was very happy that their offer was right at the midpoint of my range. I was able to negotiate it up a bit, and accepted.
    I agree with everyone that says companies should just put their range in the job description. I had serious fears that their offer would be much lower than my range.

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      They replied that they didn’t have the info in front of them (of course.)

      That’s horrible and insincere. They may not have the exact numbers, but they can give a ballpark. I’m glad it worked out for you, but I would have pressed them for a ballpark range: within $20k give or take. I mean, even without the exact numbers in front of them, they know if they’re going to pay $40-60k or if they’re going to pay $80-100k.

      1. neverjaunty*

        Yes, and the fact that they were able to give the midpoint of that range makes it pretty clear they were adjusting based on former salary – not on ‘gosh we have no way to know that’.

        1. Tortuga*

          Agreed, it was a bit frustrating. They didn’t know my current salary though. The bottom end of my given range was a decent bump from that. I knew what I needed, and everything else about the job and company seem like a great fit. I’m willing to attribte it to either questionable advice or interview training.

      2. PizzaSquared*

        If you’re just asking interviewers, this is not necessarily the case. I interview people for positions throughout our company (many of which don’t report to me), and I often haven’t the faintest idea what the compensation range for that position is. Clearly if it’s the hiring manager, they should have some idea. But honestly, even when I’ve been the hiring manager, in large companies it’s typically the recruiter (or the compensation team) who deals with this stuff. I probably have a sense of what the salary bands are for the various levels, but if I have a lot of different roles reporting up to me, I might not have them all in my head, and it’s not something I deal with on a day to day basis. I wouldn’t be insincere to say I don’t know exactly what the pay is — that’s not my responsibility.

    2. TootsNYC*

      I think this is important.

      My husband was all but offered a job, but instead of naming a salary, they asked him for a range. He did come calling around, but he got two ranges, one high and one low. More people were coming down on the low range. I tried to get him to go with that one because I felt it was more in line with his experience in the field (he was moving from trade journalism to PR, so a rookie at PR, but not a beginner either), and also the level of authority, responsibility, and autonomy the role would have.

      But he came back with the higher range, and worse, he gave this rationale:

      “Since I’m leaving a field in which I’m very skilled and comfortable, you need to make it worth my while to take this risk.”

      He told me after the phone call. I nearly died–he’d been laid off, this was not an optional employment situation.

      They vanished. They just never, ever called him again. Not to say, “Sorry, but that range is really unrealistic,” nothing.

      I think they thought that this incredibly high range was bad enough, but if his attitude was “you owe ME because *I* am the one taking a chance,” that it was an indicator he’d be a pain in the neck. I don’t think he would have–he was just really not clear about who was in the driver’s seat.

      It totally scared him off of any negotiation. He pressured me into not negotiating at my current job, because I’d just been laid off (which they knew) and I’d been searching and not finding ANYthing–getting a few interviews, but also not others (for price reasons, I think). Now that I’m here, I realize that I could have asked for $5k and another week of vacation, and they’d have given it.

      1. TootsNYC*

        rats on all the itals! Sorry–I meant to put this phrase in itals:

        I provided the range and rationale.

        And leave the rest roman.

        The RATIONALE is a huge part of making this work. If you say, “In my area, I’d be asking $53k,” that can let them know that you’re recognizing their cost-of-living differential.

        Or if you say, “I’m a beginner, so I think I’d fall near the low end of the $50k to $60k range,” then they might stick with it because they’ll see that you’re accurate in terms of where you’d fall in ANY range, and that you only need to be educated about their range.

    3. Mike C.*

      They were a bank and didn’t have the financial information in front of them?


  10. regina phalange*

    My last salary negotiation was a new experience for me. I was unemployed and interviewing w/a company about 2000 miles away from where I lived. The recruiter asked me if I had any concerns and I said that yes, my concern was that the position was too junior for me and I’d be outside the salary range (without even knowing what it was). I also had nothing to lose being that up front because in the back of my mind, I figured that they wouldn’t want me anyway because I wasn’t local. So I said, “I can’t take less than X.” And they wound up giving me X, which turned out to be way outside the range, so luckily I proved my worth. But in the past, I’ve usually started with a number much higher than I thought I could get so that I had room to negotiate down (with or without knowing the range. Knowing the range I’d just pick closer to the ceiling).

  11. Anne*

    We have almost the opposite issue from many here. I work at a public university with insanely large ranges (i.e. 30k) we’ve hired in the past for a job that requires at least a bachelors and 2+ years experience and requires really technical skills at the low end (30-45) but since the full range is left on the job posting we’ve had finalists turn it down thinking they’d make 50-60k which is more than our senior employees! Unfortunately, it’s so underpaid for the type of role that we hire people who are qualified for the job as posted or people who could make substantially more and accept it anyway. Both scenarios have not turned out well and I’ve given feedback for the next time it’s available to shorten the hiring range and/or change the title/requirements be more entry level.

  12. ReadItWithSpanishAccent*

    I hate it. Everybody is capable to simply give a range in the job ad, such as “40 to 50k depending on experience and qualifications” and then is up for the prospective candidate to decide if this range is OK with him/her, and up to the chosen candidate and the company to decide a final salary. If not, most of the times candidates are just wild-guessing.
    My formal offer for my current job was delayed precisely because of that, I guessed a salary that might be right and turned to be around 10k more than they were willing to pay. Gladly, the hiring manager was adamant about her decision and succeed in securing this salary. But it could have very well turned otherwise, and I would have lost an opportunity I was very willing to take, even for a lower number.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Added, why not just say on the phone screen that the 50K is the top limit we will use and it is for an extraordinary candidate. That way the person knows the cut off is 50K.

      Just had a candidate very smoothly say, “I would like the upper limit number, but I am open to discussion on this.” That seemed pretty clear to me. (She did a great interview and she knows her stuff.)

      1. James M*

        One position that I hire for has a range where the upper boundary is 1.6 times the lower boundary, because we have to be able to budget for hiring the same position in *very* expensive locations. But we wouldn’t actually have the budget for anywhere near the top of the range in our location, and they aren’t actually hiring in London or Tokyo. So disclosure would potentially be misleading and unfair to the candidates.

        1. oleander*

          So..you can just give candidates a range for your particular location, right? They don’t care what your internal documents say about the job title, they care about what you’re willing to pay the person who gets the actual job they’re applying for.

        2. Honeybee*

          So just list the realistic/actual range. If the possible range is $40K to $65K (which is about 1.6 times $40K) and you know that your location will top out at $55K, just say that the range is $40K to $55K.

        3. selena81*

          are you saying you don’t know where the candidate is going to be stationed??
          because otherwise you can just give the salary-range for *that* specific location.

  13. I'm Not Phyllis*

    I’ve been at my current job for just over a year. When I was searching, I was already in a role with the same title (but knew I was making less than what most people in my position earn). I decided that I absolutely wouldn’t work for less money than I was making, so I increased it by a small amount (I think it was about 3K) and noted something along the lines of “salary is negotiable depending on professional development opportunities and benefits.” Not the exact wording but you get the idea. Well, every single agency I applied to said that I was asking for more than they wanted to pay, including my current one which actually ended up offering more than what I said I wanted!

    So, the point is … I have no idea why they don’t just tell you what salary they’d like to offer. I think Alison is right in saying that it’s because they can offer you a lower amount (especially in the NFP sector). But whatever the reason, it would be nice if they at least came back to you to tell you what they were offering, rather than just telling you that you’re asking for too much so you can’t continue in the process!

    1. Not So NewReader*

      It basically shuts down conversation when they do that. I used to wonder if there was a real reason and the salary discussion was a handy crutch to hide the real reason. I get cynical because of what I have seen. I was not given a promotion on one job because I would not climb on ladders. A coworker said, “Give her the job and I will do her ladder work.” No dice. Later found out the real reason was that I was married. Meanwhile I had to listen to a lecture on insubordination about the ladder thing. It was all a shell game to distract me from the real reason. Any time conversation is shut down hard, I have to ask “why?’.

      1. paramilitarykeet*

        Wow, that’s awful! Do you have any insight into why they thought that being married would render you unpromotable?

        1. SusanIvanova*

          Given the pronoun Not So NewReader used, I’m assuming they thought she’d be the one taking time out for childcare, which of course they can’t say without getting in trouble. Insert angry-face gifs here.

  14. art_ticulate*

    It’s SO frustrating. You have to consider what the average for the field is, your experience, cost of living if you’re moving, etc etc. It’s irritating to apply at places in major US cities that won’t just name a salary, and then when you finally get to talk to them, they offer so little that you can’t even pay rent there (at least in my experience). It’s a waste of time for everyone.

    1. James M*

      I once went through the entire process for a job in Boulder CO that ended up offering $85K. I would have been leaving $129K in a far lower cost-of-living location. I was speechless. I didn’t bother countering.

  15. KR*

    Our application to work here asks on the work history portion what the starting salary/ending salary was for each job and makes you put your desired salary in a box on the application before you even get an interview (which is especially ridiculous since we’re a government office and pay is minimally negotiable). I wasn’t hired like that, but it makes me cringe thinking of how many people applying to work with us are put in an uncomfortable spot.

  16. Tomato Frog*

    if they’re up-front about their salary range, everyone will assume they should be at the top of it

    This argument always gets me for two reasons. The first being that, even if it’s true, it’s dumb for the reasons Alison says. But also, I wonder how true it is in the first place. I can’t imagine most of the entry-level people I’ve worked with in my field assuming they should be at the top of a range. If someone had told me at my first job that the range was $40-50k, I would have likely hoped for/expected something like $43k. While I’m sure there are people who jump right to the top of the range, I have trouble believing they’re the majority, and I really wonder if they’re even that common.

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      Yes, if you can’t explain to a candidate why she isn’t in the top of the range, maybe you should instead of withholding ranges altogether. Otherwise, you lose out on top candidates who don’t want to play your mind games.

      1. sstabeler*

        For that matter, there are very few reasons I can think of where disclosing the range would cause problems that don’t have a root cause with the employers acting unfairly.

        exceptional talent would be put off? um, maybe you need to look at your range again (that, and if they are that talented, I’d have thought there’d be issues of them getting bored with the job)
        people having unreasonable expectations about their salary? if they won’t listen to you explaining they aren’t worth the upper range, they are probably not going to be a good employee anyway

        On the other hand, lack of disclosing salaries is often used so they can offer in the salary range the employee is expecting- even if they would be willing to pay far more. That’s a low tactic, especially when people would be worried about situations like in the OP, where their figure being too high shuts down discussion.

        1. Honeybee*

          And, people’s unreasonable expectations about salary might be tempered a bit if more employers put salary ranges in their ads. It’s much harder to have unrealistic expectations if every job ad for your desired role says $40K-60K than if none of the job ads say anything and all you have is mostly inaccurate Glassdoor or Payscale averages.

    2. neverjaunty*

      Also, isn’t that itself a screening mechanism? If the guy whose experience and work history being commensurate with a median offer is apoplectic that he doesn’t get the top of the range, that’s a pretty good signal that he may be overrating his capabilities.

      1. TootsNYC*

        That’s a bit what happened to my husband, I think–I told this story above.

        He gave as his rationale for asking for a very high number: “I’m leaving a field in which I’ve got a lot of experience, and I’m taking a chance, so you should compensate me more.”

        I think that, more than his being in a too-high range, is why they just never came back to him, after all but offering him the job and asking what he was asking for salary.

    3. Anonacat*

      I thought the same, even when well qualified, I would never expect to be hired at the top of the range. The same is true of most of my friends, too.

    4. Not So NewReader*

      I think the logic is flawed at the base. To assume people will want the top of the range and try to control for that seems control-freaky to me. Why not just use words and explain what the candidate can expect? The employer is entering into a hopefully long term relationship with the candidate. Why, oh, why start that relationship with something that says, “I KNOW what you are thinking so I am going take a preemptive strike against that thought.” This does not get the relationship started on a good foot.

    5. Honeybee*

      I was about to say the same. When I was job hunting I would assume that I was near the bottom of the salary range because I was entry-level. There were certain positions that wanted either an MA or a PhD or said “PhD preferred” where I hoped that I might get a small bump because of the PhD – but not a big one, maybe like if the position paid $60K to $70K that I’d get like $64K. But at those, I wouldn’t be surprised if they offered me closer to the bottom because of my lack of experience, and I certainly wouldn’t have expected the top of the range.

  17. Career changer*

    Any advice for someone who lowballed themselves? While playing this game (where the company wouldn’t give me a range), I gave a figure that was 10 – 15K under what had been budgeted. Since this was a job in a career switch for me, I wasn’t sure of the range unfortunately (even though I did do research).

    I have since found out that the competition for this position was down to me and one other candidate, but once they found out I would work for less, they went with me. Is it wrong to feel bitter that they didn’t at least offer me more than what I had asked for? Even coming up 1 or 2 k than I had asked for would make me feel better about the situation.

    In any case, I’ve been doing stellar work for he past 6 months since I was hired, and at my annual review plan to go in with some stats showing more typical salaries for the role in this region and ask for a large raise.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      No advice, but for bosses who are reading, it’s a bad plan to tell cohorts that you would have paid New Hire X more if she had pushed for it. Just so you know, someone does run and tell the New Hire.

      And the plan gets really bad when you tell the New Hire that they do not get a rise at the one year mark because they asked for so much money to start. The New Hire does remember that you told others you would have paid New Hire more to start.

      1. Career changer*

        Yeah, the whole HR story at my job would certainly make it’s own post – but yes, this NewHire will certainly remember all this and in fact, I have already decided I will start looking once I’ve put in 2 years there and have a solid history.

    2. Tortuga*

      I think if you can provide examples of the stellar work, then the annual review is a perfect time to discuss this. Not only are they presumably paying you below their own rate (and market rate, as shown by your research) but now they have evidence that you’re worth the higher pay level. A good company will weigh your performance against your experience and their pay scale, and make a decision. But they’ll know that deciding to keep you at this pay level could drive you to take your skill elsewhere.

  18. Jen*

    As a hiring manager, the roles I have tend to have a very wide range. What I usually say is “this role starts at 70k, and we have room to adjust based on the applicant’s qualifications.” Which is true. If someone is just starting in this type of role (which is not entry level, but it might be a transition from another area; we get a lot of IT analyst or marketing type refugees), I’ll offer them near the 70 range. If they’ve been doing a similar role in a different industry, I’d go up to 80. If they have been doing this exact role for several years in our industry, well, then that’s more than I was hoping for and worth me scrounging up more budget for 85-90k and possibly making it a “senior” role.

    If a very junior candidate came in asking for 90k, I would straight up tell them that for their level, I’d pay (whatever). If it’s not a good fit, they should look elsewhere. I’ve had it happen- people will try to move to my org from top consulting firms and our pay just isn’t that high (neither is the workload). So when a candidate told me she needed 100k despite no experience because “that’s what I make now,” I told her it likely wasn’t a good fit, but please let me know if there are other factors to consider. She said no, so we left it at that. I hired someone with 4 years experience for 95, and we were both very happy.

    1. Jen*

      I should add that as a candidate, intend to say “I’m currently making (number) including bonus which I have exceeded 5 years running. For this role, I’m looking for (fairly wide range) depending on (factors like bonus, stock options, details of role which we have yet to discuss, like how many people if have to manage and how much travel if have to do, work from home options, etc). There are a lot of things that would make me take a job for 20k less than I make now. If you told me I could WFH 2x/week, keep travel to <3 days/month and manage <5 people, I'd skip to the bank. Want me on the road 50% or more and to manage 10 people directly and be on calls with the offshore team all hours of the night? The offer is going to have to reflect it.

  19. MissDisplaced*

    I’m for posting salary ranges. However, even that may not fix the problem.
    I once interviewed for a job where the salary range was posted as being between $30k low $40k mid and $60k high/max, based on years of experience and time with organization. Well, $30-60k is a HUGE range! As a person with 15 years experience in that field I placed myself into the mid-to-higher range end, but when it came time to negotiate, the offer was only in the low rage and they were quite taken aback that I would EVEN THINK about negotiating for something higher.
    So, why post salary grades at all then if you’re only going to hire in at the lowest end?

    1. Anonacat*

      Yeah, companies often aren’t clear on the fact that they actually want someone entry level/junior.
      Or maybe they were just low balling you (also likely).

    2. AnotherAlison*

      We had people with the same outward-facing title making $150k. The highest paid person deserved it based on experience (30 years) but the 2nd or 3rd highest is a friend of mine who started in the industry 2 years before me (16 yr) and just negotiated well when he changed companies. It’s frustrating because I feel like my pay is where it should be, but then you find out someone you started out with is getting much more. A $70k range is a little weird.

      Thanks for the reminder to keep my free labor down this week. : )

      1. AnotherAlison*

        Don’t use greater than and less than symbols in comments! That originally said people made anywhere from less than $80k to more than $150k.

    3. Late To This One*

      Exactly. This has been my issue with the government. They have to post the range that the grade level is at, but often times they don’t have the budget to hire within the full range – only at the starting level. I didn’t know this when I applied for one job where I thought they would offer top range once I disclosed my current salary instead of only offering the lowest levels of the grade because that’s the only budget they’ve been approved for. It wasted my time and theirs, as they interviewed someone with tons of experience/skills but really only had the budget for someone that would be entry-level in my field for the high cost of living area that we are in.

  20. Rachel - HR*

    You’re missing some points from the employer perspective.

    I have in the past posted the minimum salary in the posting with the statement that it is dependent on candidate education and experience. You know what happens? I get comments as well as angry emails and calls from candidates about: 1. how dare we offer that salary when we require xyz (which is really listed in the posting as preferred). 2. They still say they need well beyond the posted price.

    I have posted the full salary range with the statement that is is dependent on education and experience. Then everyone without 0-1 years experience tells me they want to the top of the range.

    I have told the candidates where they would come in on our range and asked if it was okay with them. I then get candidates pushing back on how our salaries are structured or they agreed to an interview just to get out of their current jobs and will leave in a year for higher salary elsewhere.

    So I stick to asking people what they’re looking for which usually ends up in a discussion about what they currently make and whether we can meet or match that.

    All these comments about “games” and how horrible employers are is very biased. Try being on the other end and trying to find someone who will accept the salary you offer as small nonprofit and will actually stay a few years.

    1. Observer*

      If that’s the norm for you, then you aren’t doing your screening properly. Sure, you’ll still get some people who are unreasonable. But, if you do your job right then most people who get to the point of an offer will understand why they aren’t getting what they wanted.

      If you really are getting all of the people with no experience asking for the top of the range, then it’s time to look at your listing and your screening.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Some of these situations I think are part of the job and trying to avoid them is like trying to avoid the unavoidable. For example, the person who wants top dollar on no experience. I would think it would be expected to encounter such a person from time to time and it’s part of the job to say, “No, we can’t do that.” Leaving off a range on a job ad just to avoid telling people no seems like the hard way of doing things.

        TBH, I am on the other end. I am representing a small NPO that has a limited budget. I simply said, “We are a small NPO with a limited budget. This is what we can do. Does it make sense for us to continue talking?” (thanks for the words, Alison! The screens and interviews went great. Everyone knew what to expect and there were no surprises.)

    2. stevenz*

      Sorry, it *is* a game and the employer holds all the cards. Just your description of all the gyrations you go through make it clear that you’re in control, and the applicant is basically powerless. The lack of power of course a product of their complete lack of information regarding your internal processes, conversations, expectations, and limits.

      There are many factors that play into whether someone takes a job and stays a few years, pay being perhaps the most important but not only consideration. It’s a business relationship and it must benefit both parties to be successful.

      Still, it amazes me that applicants actually send angry emails and the like about an employer’s conditions. I wouldn’t dream of that; since you hold all the cards, it’s a matter of like it or lump it if you get rejected or an offer that is “beneath you.” Those who respond that way aren’t very professional, and are taking a big risk by being so aggressive.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Or there could be something else going on that is drawing this type of candidate. It’s hard to know, without looking at it closer.

      2. James M*

        In my last negotiation, I knew exactly, to the penny, what I wanted. I knew exactly what the local market would bear, exactly how difficult it is to recruit in this location, and exactly what I needed for an increase to make the new position attractive. I put this bluntly as a must-have, and the offer was rounded up from my demand to the next higher $10K step. I don’t believe I left money on the table, and I believe I was rewarded for making the negotiation simple for them.

    3. Ms. Didymus*

      I’m on the other side. I hire people. I experience some of the same issues you do, and yet I still insist that we post the range because I know that when I am looking I don’t waste my time applying if I don’t know if the range might work for me.

    4. F.*

      Before everyone jumps on me, I would like to state that my company is dysfunctional. This is NOT how things should be done. However, it is a good example of what happens at many small, cash-strapped companies.

      I am trying to hire an HR Manager (HR department of one) for a small for-profit with a limited budget. I first ran the ad, which specified 2-5 years experience as an HR manager at a company with 50-100 employees, with a detailed listing of responsibilities. No salary was listed because the company owner hadn’t decided on one yet. (Heck, it took him over a week just to approve the ad!) I received over 70 resumes. Well over 50 percent had upwards of 10-15 years experience. In the ad, I requested a cover letter providing examples of how their past experience fit our needs and requesting their salary requirement. Only about 40% bothered to write a cover letter at all, only 5 respondents tailored the letter to our needs and provided a salary requirement. When I followed up with the rest of the qualified (and over-qualified) candidates for their salary requirement, I explained in the email that we are a small company on a limited budget and that we didn’t want to possibly waste their time. I got salary requirements everywhere from $60-90,000 and up!

      So I reposted the ad with the salary listed this past weekend after pinning down the company owner on the salary: $39,500. This is below market value, but I can’t get him to budge. Over the weekend, I received a number of resumes from overqualified people, some of whom had applied to the first ad. I would really like to know what they are thinking. Do they think we are going to be so blown away by their 15 years of experience that we will magically make money appear out of nowhere to give them $60,000? Yes, I have had this sort of thing happen before.

      1. newlyhr*

        Depending on the size of your company, this salary is pretty low for an HR Manager no matter where you are You might be better off advertising for an entry level HR generalist, employment specialist , or technician, depending on your primary HR needs.

        1. F.*

          I actually did repost the ad as “HR Generalist”, though we still need someone with at least a couple of years of experience. As of this writing, I have received 27 responses, but only 3 are the least bit qualified. (sigh)

      2. Student*

        So, you want someone highly qualified, and you want to pay them like an entry-level employee. And you’re upset that job applicants aren’t co-operating with that plan.

        If you want to pay that much, you should look at people with little to no experience and expect some turn-over. And you should lower your standards on the cover letter thing. If you want to pay that much for that kind of job, you’d best hope for someone naive, someone less experienced who’s willing to work hard to get a foot in the door and will move on in 2 years, or someone who doesn’t pay close attention to details.

    5. sstabeler*

      1) if all your candidates are asking for a salary at the top of your range, you might want to re-evaluate how reasonable your range is.
      2) it still sounds, to be blunt, as if the point of not naming a range is to try to get an employee on the cheap- the salary for the role should not be dependant on what the candidate makes at their current job, but what the job is worth to you. (so, if they were earning MW at their current job, but the new job is worth $50k, even if said employee would be ecstatic with $30k, it doesn’t make it reasonable to offer only $30k to them.(this is assuming the candidate si worth $50k, of course)
      3) it’s still a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose of salary negotiations. the idea is for employer and employee to come to a figure acceptable to both people. If you can’t explain to the prospective employee why they get at the bottom of the range, either the prospective employee won’t be a good fit- in which case you’ve dodged a bullet- or you are being unreasonable about what the role is worth.

    6. Honeybee*

      I honestly don’t see how not posting a range would cut down on any of that, except that you just offload the conversation to the end. You’ll still potentially get candidates who go through the process and are offended by the low salary, except now they’ve spent more of their time on the process and may be even angrier. You can still get people who say that they need more than the salary range that you give them, or people who want the top of the range. And you will still potentially get people who will come in at that salary for 1-2 years and then leave for elsewhere. The only difference is that they don’t find this out until the end of the process, and maybe are less likely to say something about it, but that doesn’t eliminate the problem.

      Trying to match people’s current salary also doesn’t necessarily work, because they might be underpaid in their current role. I was a postdoctoral research fellow before I transitioned into my current role in research (which has much higher salaries), and when people asked me about my current salary I deflected the question by noting that I was in a postdoc role and that is a special role where the salary does not reflect my education or experience. Most employers understood that. I can give you a range, but what does my range matter if you’re not willing to pay in it? Then we’re playing a back and forth game that’s far more easily eliminated if you give me a range in your ad and then, perhaps, add a clear explanation of what gets you in the range (“The range for this position is $50K to $70K. Candidates with less than 3 years of experience should expect to be at the bottom of our range; candidates with 7+ years of experience will be closer to the top of the range”). That way you don’t have someone with 3 years of experience coming in demanding $70K – they know they’re not going to get it.

  21. stevenz*

    I have a standard answer to that question. I name a range then say “but I prefer to evaluate a package rather than focus on a number.” That shows that I’m flexible, which they like, and let’s them be flexible which is what they expect. It puts the ball back in their court and sometimes gets them to specify their range.

  22. BackintheSunshine*

    My current job is one where I work from home and can work from anywhere. When I was interviewing, I lived in western NY. When the recruiter asked for a range, I gave a very wide one (think 50K). The initial offer came in at 10k UNDER my minimum. When I said this number was too low, the recruiter justified it by saying I would be eligible for a 20% bonus which would put me in the middle of my range (which she misunderstood as only being 20K wide).

    I told her I never counted on a bonus as part of an annual salary. In fact, I’ve worked for several companies who offered a bonus “based on company and individual performance.” Only once, did the bonus materialize. I gave her a revised range and accepted a salary $15k over the initial offer AND still have the bonus potential.

    Three months later, I moved from western NY back to central Florida to be closer to aging parents. The lack of state income taxes really makes a difference.

    Summary – when considering an offer, consider everything in the package: salary, benefits, bonus, leave plans,

  23. MBA*

    I’m playing this game with a company right now. They are putting together an offer for a position for me but I have no clue what the normal pay for that position would be. The title is pretty low and similar jobs with similar titles pay around $45k. However, at this particular company jobs with similar sounding titles pay $70k and jobs that I believe are in the same pay grade at that company pay as much as $95k.

    They made me name a range which I did but it was really difficult to to do so… $60k is my minimum but the average out of my program is $85k and I know plenty of people with similar qualifications being offered $100k. Yes I would be willing to take 60k but you can bet I would be looking for a better paying job within a year.

    So yea… it’s one big giant guessing game which would be much easier if the company would just give me a range.

  24. Ashley Shaw*

    This is such a loaded question. I have been in interviews before where I have been asked what I am currently making and this can be equally tough. I would recommend doing your research on what you feel you are worth and why – When you can give an explanation to your answer when you provide it, it may help fill in some gaps for the interviewer. I also think it is important to include bonuses so they can get the real picture of where you are at.

  25. Adjunct anon*

    So, maybe someone can help me. I have gotten an offer to teach a graduate level humanities course at a private Midwest college. The offer to me was laughably low at “2,500” I am from the Northeast and my compensation previously ran from 4,000 to 5,000. I can’t seem to find any comps and ranges I am seeing are 2,800 to 8,000. I go in to negotiate on Thursday. Any information about per course compensation would be appreciated. I am at the top of my field.

    1. simonthegrey*

      I don’t teach graduate level, but as an undergrad level adjunct, $2600 is what I make per class per semester here in the heartland.

    2. Honeybee*

      $2,500 for an adjunct class in the Midwest sounds on the low end of reasonable. In my experience, graduate-level classes don’t necessarily pay much more than undergraduate classes, and there’s usually very little room for negotiation for per-class payment fees. Northeastern universities – particularly in large urban areas – pay way, way more for adjunct classes than other areas of the country. I’d expect the normal range to be somewhere between $2,000 and $4,000 in most other places. And I’ve never seen a place pay more than $5,000 for the non-VIPs, not even my Ivy League graduate school in one of the most expensive cities in the world.

      If you are a recognizable leader in your field, though, they may be willing to give some wiggle room especially if this is a brand-name private college (think Grinnell or Oberlin). If it’s a small tuition-dependent private college, they’re unlikely to go very much higher.

  26. newlyhr*

    I hate this practice too. The line that has worked best for me is to say something like “I don’t know enough yet about your expectations for the position to know how to answer that question. I understand that you’ve based the salary on the skills you need to do the job. Can we talk some more about the competencies you expect for this position and also what additional skills I have that would be valuable to you in this position. ” That usually gets them talking and often it makes it easier for them to state a range.

  27. James M*

    The salary range for my current job is a breathtaking amount of money on the high end. When interviewing my peers, I would _never_ disclose this. I mean, the high end of the salary in this band is intended to allow departments to budget for headcounts where they might need to attract or retain the best-and-brightest in NYC, London, or Geneva, and also so that there is significant headroom so that people can be promoted within the band. But that has nothing to do with _our_ budget. So, sure, I could maybe disclose that the career band offers X on the low end and Y on the top end, but I would then have to explain that the most qualified candidate in this location would be able to get maybe 10% more than the bottom end (which is what we’re aiming for, honestly), and not anywhere near the top end (which is almost double the salary.) Full disclosure would probably be counterproductive, since the range is a long-term budgeting tool, not a salary range for the candidate’s benefit.

    1. Honeybee*

      But you don’t have to put the actual full salary range in the job ad; you can put the realistic full salary range in the job ad. Let’s say the range is enormous – $50K to $95K, and you know that your actual functional range in your location is really $50K to $60K, then put that range in the ad. Or maybe give yourself some negotiations wiggle and say $45K to $65K, but there’s no need to disclose the entire range if it’s unrealistic for the level and location you’re posting for.

  28. lnelson1218*

    During my job search, when people asked me what I wanted I never had an issue telling them what I was currently making and would start from that amount, but then go into the benefits. For better or for worse at that point I did know what I needed to make to pay all my bills.

  29. Hophornbeam*

    When asked about my salary expectations in an initial phone screen or application, I generally say that I look at the entire compensation package, including paid time off, health benefits, employer matching of contributions to retirement plans, student loan reimbursement, and [insert benefit of importance to you], as well as the level of responsibility of the position, but as a rough point of reference, $X. The thing about taking the entire compensation package into account is totally true (IMO it would be silly not to), and it shows the employer that it is not a fixed number, but also that there are real, concrete factors that influence it, and I’m not just going to accept a lowball offer for a position with a high level of responsibility, which is also true.

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