how to answer job candidates’ questions about salary when I don’t have a range to provide

A reader writes:

I work in HR for a small company and typically am involved with the phone screen and in-person interview portion of the hiring process. During these phases, we are not provided any information with regard to salary. Our CEO generally provides that information to me upon hiring and handles determining pay rates on his own.

Recently, I had a candidate inquire about pay range, to which I responded (this was all via email):

“I can certainly understand you wanting that information at this point in the process. Unfortunately, I’m not able to discuss specifics right now. Generally speaking, we determine salary based on an individual assessment of the position, the finalist’s skills and abilities, and the current market. What I can tell you is we are aware of the salary requirement you listed in your initial application and have continued to move forward with interviewing you as a serious candidate.

In addition, I believe you mentioned in your cover letter that you’d be willing to negotiate salary based on the overall compensation package. I find this information to be just as important as the base salary because it provides a fuller picture of compensation in a broader sense. When we chat next week, I’d be happy to discuss our benefit package a bit more to give you an idea of what we offer to our employees.”

It was my intention to provide as much information as possible without having anything concrete to share.

She replied:

“Please remove me from consideration. I am firm believer in equal pay for equal work and a ‘secret’ salary that can’t be discussed upfront is not in keeping with those guidelines.”

I was taken aback by this harsh assessment of my company and false allegations of our pay practices and felt that my communication had failed miserably in this instance. I know this will continue to be a question (I don’t fault people for asking). How can I handle this differently in the future?

Talk to your CEO about how he’s handling salaries.

He should have a range in mind up-front, and he should provide that range to you. Even if you’re not proactively giving it out to candidates (and frankly you should), you need to know what the general range is so that you’re able to tell candidates if their expectations are in the ballpark or not. It’s not reasonable to expect candidates to invest time in your process if you’re not even willing to answer questions like “I wouldn’t leave my current job for less than $X — is that in line with your range?”

I don’t know how robust the HR function at your company is — you said it’s a small company, so I realize that you might just handle payroll and benefits and so forth and not bigger-picture HR issues like salary benchmarking and salary equity. But someone there needs to be looking at those things. Otherwise you risk making under-market salary offers, which will limit your ability to hire and retain the right people, and you risk baking illegal salary inequities into your system. If the CEO is just deciding what to offer people case-by-case, is there any mechanism for ensuring that you’re paying people equally for equal work? If it turns out that, for example, you’re paying a man more for the same work as a woman (because he negotiated better, or the CEO had better rapport with him, or whatever), that’s illegal. With the system you described, my hunch is that no one is watching out for that.

Right now, your CEO has put you in a position where you look like you’re playing coy with candidates, not being transparent, and possibly not being fair.

If your CEO is the owner, it’s possible that he’s just still using the system that worked okay when the company was a couple of people, and he hasn’t realized that now that the company is big enough to have an HR person, it’s big enough that it needs to have stronger practices around setting pay. It’s worth talking to him about it — framing it as (a) a way to be more competitive with strong candidates, (b) a way to stay up-to-date because norms on this are really changing (in fact, California just made it illegal to refuse to provide the salary range to candidates who request it!), and (b) a way to avoid illegal inequities sneaking into your pay structure.

{ 715 comments… read them below }

  1. Bend & Snap

    Why does everyone hide the range? I had a recruiter refuse to give me one last week. Just say what it is.

      1. Spooky

        But we have a cereal bar in our break room AND a foosball table. We’re “cool.” That’s much more important than dirty old money, right?

        In all seriousness, I think the candidate’s response was absolutely perfect, and I’m saving it in case I need to use it later on. Companies like this make me see red, and they absolutely need to be told that what they’re doing is not acceptable.

        1. Anonymoose

          “In all seriousness, I think the candidate’s response was absolutely perfect, and I’m saving it in case I need to use it later on.”

          Me too!

          OP, I would send him a link to this thread if you suggest public ranges and he gives you the stink eye. And I realize as a smaller company CEO he is still in that blissful ‘I control my dominion’ phase, but if he expects to dominate his field in truth, he’ll need to modernize his hiring practices, full stop.

        2. Former Admin Turned Project Manager

          I’m thinking of putting a picture of the fancy coffee machine in the breakroom in with my phone bill next month instead of actually paying it. Verizon will appreciate that lattes are more important than money, right?

        3. Stranger than fiction

          I thought it was a little harsh. There are still so so many companies that do this and it’s going to take a while formthe new laws and ways to become the norm.
          The Op did drop a pretty big hint, despite her limitations, that the candidate was in the right ballpark. That’s ultimately what you need to know in order to decide if you want to move forward.
          I agree and wish everyone would list a range, but irl they just don’t. Just like irl they don’t always let you know if you’ve been rejected or are still in the running.

          1. Stranger than fiction

            And before I get piled on too much, I’ll add I do realize some companies bait and switch people and later lowball them despite knowing their desired range. The Ops place doesn’t sound like that to me.

            1. Fortitude Jones

              The job seeker doesn’t know that for sure, though, so I completely understand why she withdrew from the process. Why waste time with a company that may or may not pay you fairly when you can use your PTO time for interviews at companies that are upfront about compensation? And if the job seeker is in demand, she really wouldn’t want to waste her time on the off chance that she’d be missing out on better opportunities.

            2. Marthooh

              That woman’s response was exactly harsh enough: it got the OP to question current practices.

              And obviously she can only judge by what she’s seen of the company, not by the letter we read, so saying “the OP’s place doesn’t sound like that” is irrelevant.

            3. Chelleski

              It sounds to me like the OP doesn’t actually know if the salaries are fair (and therefore, neither can we).

          2. Hey Nonnie

            Nah, not harsh. Factual — secret salaries ARE a way to institutionalize pay disparity and get away with it, intentional or not — and the candidate exercised her right to choose. Nothing changes if we don’t demand change; it’s only changing now because of candidates like her who refuse to play that game anymore.

            And good for her. I want to buy that woman a beer. There are a lot of people who are not in a financial position that they can afford to make that choice, even knowing that they’re probably getting taken advantage of. Those who CAN walk away are supporting and lifting up those who can’t.

            Also, this is much less about bait-and-switch — at least that tactic is obvious, and you lose nothing but the time you spent interviewing — than it is about secretly having pay scale A for Young White Men who are go-getters that remind the boss of himself, and pay scale B for women, and pay scale C for people of color. Transparency leads to accountability.

            1. LadyCop

              I’m by no means a fan of secret salaries….but pinning the falsehood of pay inequity on it is not necessary to get rid of them.

              1. Hey Nonnie

                What are you talking about? There have been multiple studies proving the wage gap. Women get paid less than men, and women of color get paid less still.

                I mean, this entire thread was generated from a candidate refusing to play into pay disparities. If you think she was wrong, I don’t even know why you’re here.

                Feel free to google “pay disparity” “wage gap” or “implicit bias.” You might learn something.

                1. Spudulike

                  I thought lady cop meant that even if there weren’t -ist pay gaps, salary secrecy would still be bullshit.

              2. JustMe

                While I agree wage gaps are often over exaggerated due to other reasons women often end up getting paid less, there is proof that a wage gap does exists in some cases – and really any wage cap at all is too big.

          3. Marie

            The fact that it *was* a hint would be a red flag for me, too. The candidate didn’t ask for hints, they asked for a concrete piece of information. The OP provided a wordy, indirect, ambiguous response to a basically close-ended question, which comes off as evasive. And knowing the real answer, it clearly was meant to be evasive! OP communicated the REAL reason clearly to us — they covered in two sentences what they took two paragraphs to avoid saying to the candidate.

            I’d walk away from that response assuming this company tends to dance around conflict. The response from the candidate is so direct, clear, and succinct in comparison that regardless of salary, it’s clear the candidate would not have been a good cultural fit (and they knew it!).

            1. Mad Baggins

              This exactly. If I were the candidate, my takeaway would be that when I ask for a raise, they’re going to dance around the exact number and give me vague hints until the CEO decides how much “seems fair”, and I won’t know what that is until I get the check. If this company can’t set basic, transparent rules for /how much they pay employees/, what else can’t they do?

          4. Wintermute

            I don’t think she was harsh enough! This practice is such a giant, red flag that it belongs at the North Korean People’s Games that as a woman she’ll be earning 60-80 cents on the dollar to her male colleagues. I love the fact she indirectly called this out, but I would have been explicit about it myself. “This practice is how companies hide terrible things in terms of racial, gender and other disparities so if you’re not getting with the times and changing, then you’re telling me you engage in discriminatory hiring and pay and I want no part of it.”

          5. C.

            The candidate the OP writes about coupled with Alison’s blog coupled with the laws changing are exactly what employers need to hear now (and over and over again) in order for it to BECOME the norm. If you don’t want to post the salary range in the actual job listing (even though I don’t really agree with that either), fine, but if a serious candidate is asking you about the salary range after you’ve spoken to them and you’re still playing coy at that point, that’s completely ridiculous and a waste of everyone’s time–especially as interviews are becoming more and more of a time investment (phone screen, one or more in-person interviews, hiring exercises, etc.).

        4. MJ

          In all seriousness, I think the candidate’s response was absolutely perfect, and I’m saving it in case I need to use it later on.

          YES! I’m not quite confident enough to use it right now, but I dream of the day when I can pick and choose and drop out of interview processes. The candidate is my hero.

      2. Sally

        What if there really, truly, isn’t a range, because you are looking for talented people more than for specific roles to fill? Do you just give a range of $30-100K or something?

        1. Turquoisecow

          That’s not the greatest way to hire, either, because that means that the boss/owner may change his idea of what needs to be done, and makes it hard for all involved to determine whether the candidate/employee is actually doing the job they were hired for.

          1. Sally

            This is the main thrust of the famous business book “Good to Great.” First, you get the right people on the buss, and then you figure out where to drive the bus. “First Who, Then What.” It’s an established business management theory.

            1. Dragoning

              How are you supposed to know who the right people are if you don’t even know how to drive the bus yet?

              1. Falling Diphthong

                And what if you need a duck boat?

                Also, if I’m a person, why do I want to get on this bus? Why would I get on if I don’t know where it’s going, and neither do you? What if I have theater tickets for Friday night?

                1. RegularGoneAnon

                  As someone who works in mariner credentialing, I just want to let you know how much I appreciate seeing a reference to duck boats outside of my everyday work!

                  For the record, if you’re driving a duck boat on land & water- you need a CDL and a merchant mariner credential… you’ll need at least 90 days of sea service BEFORE you qualify. No matter how great of a job candidate, your “Good to Great” hiring practice can’t (legally) fake sea service experience and training.

                2. Anonymoose

                  Duck boat tour in Seattle = surprisingly relaxing (non-tourist local) during summer months.

            2. Mike C.

              Just because it’s “established” doesn’t make it useful or something to be emulated.

              1. Big10Professor

                Lol, anyone citing Good to Great should go take a look at the companies profiled therein. One of them was Circuit City, if you catch my drift.

            3. Anon Today

              Yes, but usually those are in pre-established roles. You look for great people for the roles you have and who have potential to help steer the bus in the right direction.

              I see a lot of problem with organizations (especially smaller organizations) that create new positions, and they are so poorly defined that the person in the position fails because they don’t know what they are supposed to be doing or contributing.

              1. MeanieNini

                This happens at my organization all the time. We’ve created roles that have job descriptions (most of the time) but since no one really knows what it takes to do those specific tasks they don’t know how to use these individuals in these roles so they just make it up as they go. This causes both the supervisor and the employee to be extremely frustrated with one another. And, of course, it’s all good when you decide you want the person to do Y when you hired them to X, but a lot of times that causes the individual to start looking for another job because they don’t really want to do Y. They were excited and skilled at X.

                1. Hey Nonnie

                  I was written right out of my own job description at least twice in my career. I don’t know what they expected to happen when they hired someone with [creative skill set] and assigned them work requiring [IT and networking skill set], but what did happen was that I was terrible at the job as it now was, not having any education or experience or even basic-level understanding of IT, and I was angry that I’d been misled during the interview process. I never would have knowingly accepted an IT-related job, because I know nothing about IT.

                2. CanuckCat

                  @HeyNonnie – we’re twinning over here. At badjob (which thankfully I just left), they hired me to do marketing and communications but the feedback I kept getting in performance reviews was that they were surprised that I didn’t have high level web design and IT skills and that they were disappointed I had zero interest in picking them up because hey, guess what? They didn’t hire a web designer, they hired a communications person (ostensibly to do communications work, not web design).

                3. sssssssssss

                  Happened to my friend. Graphic tech, but not a designer. It was clear when she accepted the job that there was no design but… “Why can’t you design?!” with the threat of being fired three times until she changed departments where she could do what she was hired for. Everyone was unhappy up until that point.

              2. One of the Sarahs

                Plus if a role is completely tailored to one person’s skills, how does the organisation cope if they leave/win the lottery etc?

                1. Nanani

                  Or if the organization grows and now you really need to split the role down by function but some of those functions weren’t in the first person’s skill set so the company worked around it and now it’s a big mess

            4. Turquoisecow

              Ok, but if my job is Llama wrangler and I’m qualified to llama wrangler and then you decide halfway through hiring me that you want me to herd ducks? That’s not going to work out well for either of us.

              Also, how do you possibly know what to pay me, if llama wrangler is worth $85k and requires certain credentials and specific training, but Duck herder doesn’t require specific licensing and only averages $50k in the same city? Am I now expected to have a pay decrease, because you don’t know where your duck boat is going? Or am I going to be a grossly overpaid duck herder, thus upsetting your other duck herders who would also like to make $85k.

              And what if, by the way, I want to be a llama wrangler because I went to school for ten years and worked my way up the chain, but you just want my talent so you have me doing some other stuff that’s not even my expertise?

              This idea is stupid, is my point.

              1. Indoor Cat

                +1

                I don’t have anything much better to add, but this whole concept is ridiculous and I’m surprised that the book is so popular. It almost makes me want Alison to toss in some negative / critical book reviews in with her Friday recommendations, because there are so many business books that just have terrible ideas.

                (Recently, “You Are A Badass” topped the business bestseller list, and that book is like ‘The Secret’ meets Feng Shui and it’s so terrible.)

                1. Tyche

                  +1 to you, Indoor Cat.

                  I’d like to read some reviews and criticism about “business” book and similar.
                  It helps if I have to decide what to buy.

              2. Traffic_Spiral

                “This idea is stupid, is my point.”
                It’s also a cop-out for lazy employers who prefer TED-talks to actual management work. Figuring out exactly what the job needs is work – often boring, tedious work. Just finding “cool” people and figuring all the details will show up later – why, that’s way more fun! It’s also sorta useless, because sometimes you actually do need to put in the work, yanno?

              1. Mallory Janis Ian

                I mean, it was a good idea for the person who wrote the book and presumably got a fat[tish] check for their efforts, but that’s about as far as the good goes.

                1. Hey Nonnie

                  This is exactly what the “self help” industry is. The author helps themselves to a fat paycheck by selling platitudes to people who want easy formulas for Life; and then can point to their success as an author of self-help books as proof that their formula works.

                  The whole business is built on circular logic. They’re selling air.

              1. Falling Diphthong

                What if the bus is like the party bus on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend? (In which the answer to “What should you do if you don’t think you’re fitting in?” was “Pole dance!!!!!” and surprisingly that turned out to be a really bad answer.)

            5. Definitely anon

              A little late to this comment, but this is how CEO of CurrentJob “manages”. Basically we* look for people who will subscribe to the “Cultural Values” of the Company and have some skill at X. Then we put them on a team and decide what that team will do. If the needs of the Company change, then the team needs to go do that thing over there instead. And we assume that the new people will need next to no ramp up time or training. It’s supposed to be very agile. /sarcasm

              * When I say “we”, I mean upper level management which does not include me at all.

              1. MJ

                Oh my Lord. I’m actually reasonably good at quickly self-training and turning on a dime but everything about this gives me hives. (Mostly the ‘cultural values’ part.) My condolences :/

            6. the gold digger

              Yes. The specific examples that go with this premise are

              1. The Marines do not turn bad raw material into good Marines. They look for people who would make good Marines.

              2. A steel mini-mill company decided to build in farm towns instead of big cities. “We can teach someone how to make steel,” they said. “We cannot teach someone how to have a work ethic. People who get up before dawn to milk cows and then plow a hundred acres before lunch know how to work.”

            7. Robm

              It might be established but it’s absurd. You don’t know who the right people are until you know what it is you need to do. Moreover, many talented professionals know their own strengths and weaknesses and they will want to know that a role is interesting to them before spending time on the recruitment process(this also speaks to the OPs ‘secret salary).

            8. Wintermute

              that seems to ignore a lot of important facts and be very clearly set up around a total “tech dude bro” mentality.

              How do you know how much gasoline you’re going to need if you don’t know where the bus is headed? How do you make sure you have enough money to buy enough gasoline? (E.g. “if you don’t have a concrete business plan then how do you know how to budget, how do you know how far your investor money will get you, and how do you know how much money you can pay me if you don’t know how much money it will take to get the bus to the destination?”)

              How do you know your Bus is going to get you there if you don’t know where ‘there’ is. (E.g. “how do you know your corporate structure and product management will effectively reach your target market and navigate the business landscape if you don’t know what those things are?”)

              How do you know that your motley assembly of crew has the skills and experience needed to keep the bus going until we get there? Are we going to be 10 miles out of Memphis on the side of the road realizing none of us know how to change a tire? (E.g. “If you’re hiring for a general plan without having a concrete idea of where you’re headed, how do you know you have the skills necessary to get there, are you going to realize we’re NOT the right people only when a crisis occurs?”)

              And most importantly, unless I’m in Gary, IN (Substitute any other town you’d take ANY bus to get out of as you like) how are you going to convince me to get on the bus if you don’t know where it’s going, don’t know who is responsible for doing what, don’t know if you have enough gas to get there, don’t know how much money that will take and thus don’t know how much you can pay me, and don’t know the chances of getting there at all as opposed to ending up broken down on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere… If I’m a desirable passenger/bus crew, I’m not getting on that rattletrap.

            9. The Other Katie

              An awful lot of the businesses profiled in From Good to Great have failed in spectacular ways. Just sayin’.

            10. Liz T

              Bus drivers still have market rates for their salary. I’ll bet you that range is narrower than $30-100K.

          2. Totally Minnie

            It’s also a great way to end up with a position that’s nearly impossible to rehire for when someone leaves. If you let a single person’s skill set determine what the job entails, you’re going to have to either find that person’s clone or restructure everything when that person leaves. I’ve worked for a company where that was the case and it was a nightmare trying to find a replacement.

          3. Stranger than fiction

            True, but we just hired for a role like that. It was a brand new role doing a hodgepodge of stuff. But we tend to pay on the high end of things anyway. It’s a trade off, though, because not much opportunity for growth here. (clearly I’ve been working here too long, I know) I tried to get them to post a range, but they said they needed to speak to some candidates first to get a better baseline of what they’re looking for vs what they were looking for. In other words, they didn’t really know what all they were looking for until speaking with a few people and saying to themselves afterward “aha! Their experience in X would be awesome. I hadn’t even thought of that”. In fact, based on this we updated the job description at least once. We did give out a range to people who asked, of course, but never posted it for this one.

        2. Florafauna

          I may just be dumb, but I’m failing to see how this works. How do you hire someone if you don’t know what you need them to do?

          1. Mirth & Merry

            I see this often for engineering positions (and probably other places, I only look for engineer jobs lol) and my company would do it too. The department needs another body and if they could hire an “engineer IV” for example that would be great and they can have the larger/more complicated/whatever projects, however it’s also cool if we find a more “engineer I” level and already experienced employees would shuffle smaller projects to them and take on the larger projects.

            Sometimes you need specific experience, sometimes you just need manpower and can figure out how to assign the work accordingly.

            1. Florafauna

              This makes sense, but you at least have an idea of what, like, area you’re looking for, i.e. engineering, project management, etc. I was reading Sally’s comment as saying they were just bringing in 15 people and then saying, “Okay, you’re gonna be the art director, and you’re gonna be in charge of client relations, you’ll be our HR manager…”

            2. ReanaZ

              But then the appropriate response would either be “The role is still being sized*, but we will give you a salary range att he next interview.” or “Here are our salary ranges for engineer I and here are engineer IV, with the level determination made on hiring.” Neither of those sounds a fraction as dodgy as this nonsense.

              *is this term used outside Australia? I’ve never heard I didn’t have hiring roles before I moved either.

                1. Apari

                  I have heard it here! Although my workplace is very stringent about having that worked out before we can advertise, as recruitment is only approved for specific positions.

              1. Tau

                Yeah, I’ve seen ads for junior/mid-level/senior software dev with a correspondingly massive salary range. I can generally work out for myself which of those three categories I fall in and roughly which portion of the range will probably apply.

            3. Observer

              But you still have a limited set of options you are working with. You also know what your baseline and ranges are for both the skills and pay scale.

          2. Nichole

            You might need a lot of people, with a range of experiences. Ideally you’d be able to provide a range for a specific experience level, but I can see how that would be more in flux/you’d want to talk to someone to get an understanding of their experience level.

          3. Lily in NYC

            We often don’t decide if a specific role we are filling will be AVP or one step lower until we start seeing candidates – but we make it very clear during the hiring process and we are transparent about the salary ranges.

        3. Antilles

          Two thoughts:
          1.) Possibly excepting a few very specific industries (e.g., Silicon Valley software development), “We’re just hiring talented people” isn’t really a line that works. Any experienced talented candidate would expect to know what they’ll be doing, how they’ll fit, what the role entails, etc…and if you can’t answer that, that raises all sorts of alarm signals. Wait, does the company truly not have a role in mind? Well, how will I be judged? What skills should I bring to this position? How can I be successful in this role? How do I know this isn’t going to require skills I don’t have and result in me needing to leave in six months anyways? Your company might not always have the exact answer, but you should certainly have some general idea how I’m going to fit.
          2.) You almost certainly have a general range of experience and salary in mind already. Know how I know that? Because you have an annual budget! You know how much the group/department/company makes in money, you have some sort of idea how much you can reasonably afford to pay out. And presumably you have some kind of reason for hiring someone, because you could easily find an alternative use for the money if there wasn’t some kind of need dictating that “it would be good to have another warm body”.

          1. Antilles

            To be clear, while it may not be clear at the *start* of the hiring process (well, we could really use any good Teapot Engineers since we’ve got that new project starting soon), as soon as you get past that initial feeling out phase, it should be pretty easy to provide details on the work – well, you look like a good fit for our Senior Teapot Engineer role, which typically does X and Y.

        4. Jessie the First (or second)

          But… that “management theory” (in scare quotes because my understanding of it is that it’s a neat but vague bestseller that is based on some research but certainly not really thorough research) doesn’t mean you can’t know what you need to spend to get those right people. It doesn’t mean you can’t have a range in mind to pay them.

          If you literally have no idea whether you would pay 30k or 100k for a job, you aren’t going to be getting 100k-type candidates, so, there’s that.

            1. Hey Nonnie

              Instead they’ll be getting $30k candidates thinking that $100k might be a real possibility…

        5. Serin

          If you don’t know whether it’s a $30K job or a $100K job, then not only do you not have a salary range, you also don’t have a job description. In fact, it’s hard for me to see how you could even have a title.

          1. Natalie

            Seems like you’d also be lacking a budget, so who knows how long the business is going to last. Literally, who knows? There’s no budget.

        6. Elizabeth West

          To me, that would just sound like they want talent but don’t want to pay for it and they’re going to make an offer that’s ridiculously low once they do trot it out there. Why not take the time to figure out what they want to pay the employee in that position and let us decide if we’d take it?

          Which, by the way, should also have a comprehensive and up-to-date job description.

        7. Cedrus Libani

          In my field, it’s not unusual to have a position advertised as “open level”. (Too many llamas, not enough groomers, but it’s easy enough to direct the more challenging cases to the more experienced people.) There will be multiple ranges, depending on what level you’re hired at. You’ll see something like: “Stablehand, $30-40K; Junior Groomer, cosmetology degree required, $50-70K; Senior Groomer, cosmetology degree and 5+ years large animal experience, $70-100K”.

          1. MotherofRaccoons

            I just want to say that I work in the animal care industry and the job levels you came up with are actual pretty much on-key with actual job titles and experience required. Unfortunately a little high on the salaries :)

        8. many bells down

          The part-time teaching position I accepted in February said they “didn’t have a range” and they got an applicant who wanted her private lesson rate of $150/hr. They’re paying $20.

      3. Hills to Die on

        I do it for the sheer love of the executives and their hefty annual bonuses. I wake up every day and think, ‘what can I help my CEO buy his wife that she doesn’t already have?’
        You’re all just being selfish.

        1. Gadget Hackwrench

          I worked at a startup right out of college for a few years… and that was pretty much what they expected to hear, that and they felt like all their employees should feel like the company was doing them a great service by employing them and they should be great-full enough to ‘give back’ in the form of a lot of expected gifting-up.

          I eventually got let when the recession hit because “it’s not working out,” by which I’m pretty sure they meant “the economy tanked so now we can hire someone with similar skills for way less money because they’re desperate, and they will be less likely to resist pitching in to buy the CEO another expensive gift to show how much we’re grateful to work here.”

      4. Zennish

        Seriously. I work in a largely non-profit field where it is very common not to give the salary or range in a job posting, and where it is almost always a red-flag when they don’t. (No, I’m not just here for the public good…I like to buy food and housing and stuff.)

        I’ve learned that when someone says they pay “commensurate with qualifications and experience” it almost always translates to they pay “as little as we think we can get away with”.

        1. Starwatcher

          I did have one non-profit admit to me at the interview that they weren’t paying enough to live on, and were looking for people who didn’t need to live on their paycheck and could afford to, essentially, volunteer for them in exchange for a bit of fun money after they paid for their commuting expenses. So, essentially, young people right out of college whose parents were still happily supporting them, or SAH mothers looking to get back into the workplace, but not needing head-of-household money – and those were the only ones who could get in at the ground floor.

          Then they later publicly wondered why they had a diversity problem along multiple divisions of class/race/gender/age brackets…

    1. EA

      My theory with this is that some places won’t admit to candidates (or themselves) that money is a huge factor. They want people to pretend it doesn’t matter and they work for passion and good feelings. I think that intentionally or not this is taking advantage of people.

      1. OP

        I disagree, in that we know what their pay requirements are, and only move forward with candidates for which we can accommodate those requests.

        1. Sheryl

          So you make them tell you their salary requirements, but won’t tell them your salary range?

          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            I agree this is bad practice, but it’s also really, really common, so let’s not beat the OP up for it as if it’s something she invented.

            1. Roscoe

              True, but OP seems to be very defensive about their bad practices. My company has some bad hiring practices too, but I can admit that they are in fact bad.

              1. DaniCalifornia

                But OP is asking for advice and commenters are just saying how awful it is. We need to acknowledge she may not have any power over the situation or how its handled, even in the future. She may feel personally attacked by everyone commenting how awful it is and she’s not the one who instituted it or likes it that way.

                1. Roscoe

                  No one is attacking her personally. people are attacking the policy. And some did say her response was bad. But no one is saying “you are a bad person”

                2. Observer

                  Well, step number one for the OP is to understand that the practice is actually pretty bad and not conducive to getting the best candidates.

                  Ideally, the OP would take that new understanding and use it to convince the CEO to change his ways. In the real world there is a good chance that that’s not possible. But in the short term the OP will then need to come up with a better response to good candidates. And in the long term, recognize that they may want to keep a clear eye on the development of the company and be cognizant of the fact that things could go less well than they expect.

                3. Traffic_Spiral

                  “But OP is asking for advice and commenters are just saying how awful it is.”

                  But that’s because it *is* awful. It’s disrespectful to waste interviewers’ time like that and make them play an extended “guess what’s behind door #1” game for salary. Put the salary up front so that people can see whether or not you’re wasting their time.

        2. Roscoe

          But just knowing their pay requirements, you still should be willing to say something about what you are offering. I may be willing to take the right job for 70k, but I still want to know what the possible range is. Just because you meet their minimum, doesn’t mean they are taking the job.

            1. Detective Amy Santiago

              Depends on what kind of work you’re doing and where you live. That would be a great salary where I am, but it would probably be difficult to survive on in NYC or LA. Especially if you’re in a profession that requires a degree/licensure.

                1. Kate 2

                  That’s the median people get, not what you can rent a 2 bedroom apartment and pay for health insurance and non-ramen food. Plenty of people all over get paid minimum wage, that doesn’t make it a decent wage.

              1. Liz T

                I live in NYC and have the best-paying job of my 36-year life and it is under $70k. I couldn’t support 3 people on it in my current neighborhood though.

            2. Millennial Lawyer

              You have to keep in mind industry standards, the education and experience required, and cost of living of the location.

            3. LBK

              I don’t want to rehash the lengthy discussion about relative salary that was had a few weeks ago but suffice to say this depends on so many factors that you can’t really conclusively say that $70k is “a lot of money,” especially not enough that you’d do virtually any job to make that much.

              1. iglwif

                That’s fair (and I missed that discussion, but should probably go back and look for it). And I was exaggerating a bit, in that I would of course not take a job that involved slaughtering animals or repossessing people’s houses even for more than $70k.

                It’s just … I live in a pretty expensive city but that’s still (especially if given in US$) significantly more money than I’ve ever made at any job below executive level, and isn’t a salary I can imagine feeling I was stooping to, IYSWIM.

                I mean I guess if you wanted to own a house and a car where I live, you’d probably need to make more than that. But the whole point of living here is that you don’t need a car and there are lots of home ownership options that aren’t an entire freaking house.

                1. Starbuck

                  Sure, and who knows how many thousands (or hundreds of thousands) of dollars in students loans you might have to take out to get the education required for the job that pays that much. I’m at a point in my career where I could (very probably) make more money if I went to grad school, but it would take tens of thousands of dollars in debt for me to get there. Trade offs.

            4. Ask a Manager Post author

              If you’re in a field where you’ve been earning $150k (or whatever), it’s a different thing. And there are huge differences in cost of living by region. There are fields and regions where people would say the opposite of what you’ve said here (that they wouldn’t take a job for $70K and that it’s not a lot relative to what they know to be their earning power). Personal circumstances really matter on something like this.

            5. Mr. Bob Dobalina

              Where I live, $70K is what an experienced administrative assistant makes. … all relative…

            6. AnonforThis

              I am an attorney in a niche field. 70k would put me far below industry standard for my field and experience level. I am not materialistic or greedy, and if it was a good cause (pro bono or non profit), it wouldn’t be bad, but a normal law firm offering that would be insulting. But it is not immoral to expect to be paid what you are worth.

            7. The Rat-Catcher

              I see what other people are saying, but I live in a rural area and it’s like with you. 70k is Good Money here. My husband could quit his job and go back to school full-time and the four of us could live off of just my money. Between the two of us now, we bring in around 50.

          1. Roscoe

            It really depends on where you live. I’m in Chicago, and that isn’t a ton of money. Its doing pretty well, but cost of living is pretty high. If you’ve been working for a while, that isn’t an amount where you’ll take any job

            1. CmdrShepard4ever

              I agree it isn’t an amount where I would take any job but everything depends on individual circumstances, job type, experience, education etc. In Chicago the median income for a household is $47 and $54 for a family. The cost of living is higher then other areas of the US. I pay in Chicago for a slightly larger place double what I paid in Buffalo, NY.

        3. SarahTheEntwife

          Putting it on the candidates to state their pay requirements without giving the same courtesy in exchange is not fair to them. You surely have a budget for the position even if it has some flexibility.

        4. StillWork

          If you know you can accommodate those requests, then you have a salary range. Otherwise you wouldn’t know that you can accommodate their salary requests in advance. That’s… math.

          1. LBK

            I think the difference is that a range has a specific minimum, whereas if you only set a maximum, you leave the candidate open to lowballing themselves. Presumably if someone gives a low salary requirement the OP doesn’t say “actually, we’d be willing to pay you at least $10k more than that”.

            1. Susie Cruisie

              And that’s a huge problem, and only results in more problems. If your range for the position is $50-65K, and you find a well qualified candidate who was making $38k and is happy to get an offer of $42K, when they find out about the disparity you’ve sent a horrible message to the (now) employee. You’ve disrespected and devalued their contribution. The salary range needs to be set by the employer, based on how they value the successful contribution of the position. It has nothing to do with the candidate or their salary history. If I was working as a technical engineer, making $90k annually, and I take a position as a file clerk, the employer is not going to pay me commensurate with my past pay, because that role just isn’t worth $90k to the employer. Additionally, if the range for the file clerk position is $20-25k annually, I may be offered the low end of the range since I have no specific experience, whereas someone who has worked as a file clerk elsewhere may be offered the higher end because they require less training and have a proven history of success. It really is all up to the employer to determine the value of the role and be straight forward about that information.

              1. Elizabeth West

                The salary range needs to be set by the employer, based on how they value the successful contribution of the position. It has nothing to do with the candidate or their salary history.

                THANK YOU.

              2. Seven If You Count Bad John

                But if you were working as a technical engineer, they wouldn’t offer you the file clerk job anyway, because you’re “overqualified” and “will get bored and leave”.

              3. Stranger than fiction

                Yes, true. I guess I just have a slanted viewpoint because not all employers do that. We don’t post range but give generous offers.

        5. LBK

          That’s still hoarding all the power – if someone comes in $20k below what you’d actually be willing to pay, are you going to offer them the full amount, or are you going to offer what they said they’d accept?

          1. Detective Amy Santiago

            This.

            And minority candidates are far more likely to lowball themselves which leads to pay disparity between genders and races.

              1. Detective Amy Santiago

                There’s a scene in the One Day at a Time reboot on Netflix that demonstrates this beautifully and of course I couldn’t find a clip.

                Basically, Penelope (a Cuban woman) finds out that her (white, male) colleague is making more than she is. They are both nurses and she has been there longer. The doctor they work for says “Well, to be fair, he asked for more”.

                1. Wedges

                  This reminds me of an episode of Grey’s Anatomy where Meredith Grey receives her contract when she becomes head of General Surgery (season 11-12? Not sure). When her colleagues see it (all heads of their discipline), they are shocked (but are not immediately forthcoming why. It becomes clear that Dr. Grey’s paycheck is a lot on the low side).
                  Dr. Webber finds out and is angry at Dr. Baily (head of surgery) for not offering Grey what she’s worth. Dr. Baily disagrees and says a real feminist/person that wants equality should just ask for the correct salary. (paraphrasing: “As did all the women before. That makes a feminist.”).

                  I HATE that and I sincerely disagree. As if asking makes you a feminist and not asking makes you not a feminist? As if a person who doesn’t ask doesn’t want equality?

                  To me, a real feminist is a person that wants equality for all, without asking. Just give the standard salary. Sure, it might be a bit lower when someone starts in a new function without experience. But don’t insult them by giving the bare minimum you (as a company) can get away with. You want them to do a decent job, then give a decent paycheck as well without the possible employee begging for it.

                2. Brock

                  When I was just starting out, my then-boyfriend (married him!) told me a rule that his mentor taught him. Been using it for 25+ years.

                  The person who names an amount first, loses.

            1. RealNameHere

              So…even though I’m *older*, I’ve only attempted to negotiate salary twice (and I’ve had several jobs). The first time, 15 years ago, I was ignored – the salary remained as offered and was not brought up again in discussion. I accepted the position.

              My second negotiation attempt was done on-the- fly/under duress as I was about to sign the job offer. (Salary had not been discussed up until this point). I foolishly assumed that it would be a reasonable offer, as it was a very technical/challenging programming job. I was so shocked by the low-ball-ed-ness that I counter-offered to the next multiple of 10, which was only $4k more than the offer. After much weeping and gnashing of teeth by the employer (I’m sure), the salary was approved. I was paid that number to the *penny*. I no longer work there – long story.

              As a female / 50’s/ minority applicant, I’m starting to think that I’m not in high demand, even with years of experience and a B.S. in a technical field. Note that I live in a relatively small city in the mid-west, but still….

          2. OP

            Actually, yes. I still do all of the necessary compensation study research and look to the market to see what the salary range should be and we offer within that range based on experience and skills the candidate will bring to the table. I just hired another position way above her ask.

            Thaaaats the frustrating part. I think in actually paying people fair and well, we’re doing a great job. My company cares about its employees. I just get the sense that it’s far too cautious to give any info that it doesn’t deem necessary to ‘outsiders.’ Again, I’ve said it before… it’s all just very weird.

            1. Dust Bunny

              If you hire them, they’re no longer outsiders (or they won’t be, at least, in very short order). You can’t expect people who might be interested in working for you to make a decision without this information.

              1. Elizabeth West

                Agreed. It’s very short-sighted of the CEO to not let them know. When a company is cagey about that sort of thing, I end up assuming I can’t trust them. :(

            2. Name Required

              You might be paying fairly and you obviously believe that your company is doing a great job. From the other side? Not so much; it feels as if you are hiding crucial information. The impression received by the candidate is that you are not upfront and that leads to believing the company does not have integrity and is not worthy of my trust. I too would withdraw from consideration, particularly after receiving your email response.
              Please understand, this is not beating you up, it’s asking you to view from the other side of the desk. YOU know your company and the candidate is learning about your company. And your company is looking very shady with this practice. Many of us have had enough bad or toxic bosses and work environments that we look for pink and red flags of this sort. As AAM said, you’re going to lose good candidates with this practice.

              1. Glowcat

                This! The candidate has no way to determine what’s going on, and thus if the company is acting in good faith. They *may* want to assume good faith, but why take the risk?

            3. LBK

              I’m honestly confused then, because it seems like this contradicts what you said in the letter:

              During these phases, we are not provided any information with regard to salary. Our CEO generally provides that information to me upon hiring and handles determining pay rates on his own.

              So are you giving him all that research on market rates and that’s informing his decisions? Or are you doing that for your own benefit, meanwhile the CEO has always just lucked out and landed in the acceptable range you came up with behind the scenes? The way you described it in the letter (and your response to the candidate) makes it sound like the CEO is the Sorting Hat and you don’t have any clue what the salary might be until he whispers his decision in your ear.

                1. Hera Syndulla

                  You want more pay just to trow a Rooster to a basilisk? Isn’t that a bit outrageous ;-)

              1. 2horseygirls

                Wait a minute …. the Sorting Hat is not a valid management tool? Well, that explains quite a bit about the last two years of my life!

            4. Anon Today

              I just had this fight with our HR department about a year ago. Our practice had always been to ask for salary requirements from candidates and not share a salary range. And vetting resumes was always a pain in the neck. Because if someone didn’t provide their salary requirements our HR personnel would follow-up with them (if they were a decent candidate), and then we were busy discussing salary ranges rather than the actual job. And, we ended up losing a few good candidates who appropriately didn’t feel that they could name a figure without knowing more specifics about the position.

              I’m happy to say that we publish salary ranges with at least some job postings now. And I do think it helps. We get more appropriate candidates. Sometimes a salary range can provide a clue to people about the level of seniority of a position, and they can better determine if they think it’s a good fit for them at this point in their career.

              1. Amber

                This is wonderful to hear. I find it very useful to see salary ranges up front. If it’s too low then I know it’s not even worth applying for because it won’t pay my bills (we both save time up front because if it wasn’t listed and I did apply then I would have dropped out later in the interview process because it’s too low).

                And on the other end if the pay is too high (yes that is a thing) then I will take a serious look at the job description and wonder why, perhaps it is above my skill level. Or perhaps I’ve been undervaluing my own skills. Also because salary ranges are so secret, I sometimes have no idea what a position is actually worth. Examples:

                When I was a junior visual designer in the San Francisco Bay Area, I made about $45k a year. I had no idea how much senior visual designers made, I assumed probably in the $70k range and I assumed that directors probably made about $100k.

                Now a few years later and having seen more and more job descriptions with salaries, I now know that the senior level makes closer to $100-$120k and directors $150k. If those jobs didn’t list salaries and I applied for one of them, I would VASTLY undervalue my work which not only might mean I’d be hired for less pay but I might also not even get the interview because the company would assume I’m not skilled enough because my asking price was so low.

            5. Is It Spring Yet?

              Its just so much safer as a candidate to assume the company is being “shady” rather than giving you the benefit of the doubt.

              At the interview stage its really about building trust on both sides. Not everyone has time or safety net to take a chance or give you time without something concrete in return.

              While the email you got was blunt, its really what people are thinking about vague responses to deeply serious questions. Its a really valuable piece of feedback that people rarely give. I hope your company and future candidates benefit from it.

              1. Antilles

                While the email you got was blunt, its really what people are thinking about vague responses to deeply serious questions. Its a really valuable piece of feedback that people rarely give. I hope your company and future candidates benefit from it.
                +1
                This is basically the hiring equivalent of “why customer feedback is important” – for every person who’s straightforward/confident/gutsy enough to openly call you out, there’s typically many more lurking in the background who felt the exact same way but kept quiet…you just don’t realize it because they focused harder on another job and accepted that instead or declined an interview or pulled their application or just didn’t even submit in the first place.

                1. Specialk9

                  Yeah, I would have demurred without telling them why, but I’d spread the word to friends that they’re not to be trusted. That woman did the company a favor.

              2. Robm

                “While the email you got was blunt, its really what people are thinking about vague responses to deeply serious questions.“

                — exactly. An interview is a two-way process and this candidate is telling you that your CEO has in their mind done the equivalent of turning up for interview drunk.

            6. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

              I suspect you’re going to lose more qualified applicants this way. You’re asking folks who don’t know you well (the applicants) to take it on faith that you’re going to hire them at a “fair” wage. Except your company is engaging in practices that are often associated with employers who operate in bad faith. Unless the company is egregious/notorious, applicants are not going to be able to determine from the hiring process whether you’re a good or bad employer because hiding the ball sounds like the same tactics that bad employers use.

              I understand that that might not be what’s happening operationally for your employer, OP. But an applicant doesn’t know all of the details about the process that you know, and they can’t assume that your process results in fair salaries. As a woman of color, I can’t assume that a prospective employer will be beneficent when all of my life experiences have showed me that I won’t be paid fairly unless there’s some transparency regarding salaries during the hiring process.

              1. LBK

                Completely agreed – the OP seems to be getting defensive because she knows from the inside that people are paid fairly, but she doesn’t seem to be recognizing that from the outside, her company is doing the exact same things as companies that don’t pay fairly, including basically telling the candidate “I can’t give you a number but I promise it’s fair.” Can you really blame the candidate for not being willing to take the risk that you’ll keep your word? You’re basically a stranger who holds her entire livelihood in your hands.

                (As a side note, PCBH – I totally did not realize you were a WOC! Maybe because I always just pictured you as Lisa Kudrow.)

            7. Observer

              If you are really doing such a great job you don’t need to hide this information, even from “outsiders”. And your boss is hiding this FROM THE HIRING MANAGER (ie you.) Your explanation makes no sense.

              I’m not accusing you of lying. I’m pointing out that your company is engaging in behavior that is a legitimate red flag.

            8. laylaaaaaaaah

              Yes, but if I’m applying for your job, I don’t know that. I just know that I’m a butch lesbian, and hoo boy is that not the kind of person who tends to get offered upper salary ranges. If your company won’t tell me up front what it’s going to pay me, before you see me in person, I assume you’re going to try to shortchange me later (and you would not be the first place to, not by a long shot), meaning you’re not worth my time.

              (Still bitter about the job that would only offer me £20k for doing ALL their European HR. In London. Grr.)

                1. laylaaaaaaaah

                  Oh, they were. The worst part was they clearly /knew/ they were way, way underpaying it- after I turned the job down, the advert appeared on job boards again later that week for £30k.

            9. Robm

              From the outside a company that pinky-swears it pays fairly but can’t tell you for /reasons/ and does pay fairly is indistinguishable from a company that pinky-swears it pays fairly but doesn’t.

              Great candidates won’t bother finding out. Candidates from minority backgrounds who are used to being undercut this way certainly won’t feel excited to deal with that.

          3. sam

            Yep, and this is why it’s now illegal in New York for employers to ask about current salaries. It’s on the employer to determine how much they are willing to pay a person for the JOB, not to perpetuate unfair and potentially systemic discriminatory effects of years of unfair pay practices on candidates.

        6. Falling Diphthong

          So… you do have a range for the job?

          Or is it that the CEO checks their applications for things including desired salary range, and only hands you back the resumes that are within his secret salary band and various other unknown requirement bands, so you can’t deduce from this whether someone was rejected for salary or other reason?

          Were I a candidate, I would surely take “we can’t tell you salary” as a sign that that salary was terrible. (Or its cousin, that the company isn’t prepared to deal with employees who work for reasons as base as money.)

        7. Alienor

          But do you *tell* them that you only move forward with candidates when you can accommodate their salary requests? If I’d named $70k as my minimum required salary, and the company refused even to confirm that it was a possibility, I’d be very worried that I’d go through the whole interview process and be told at the end “sorry, that’s not in our budget, but we can offer you $40k instead.” Which is something that happens a lot.

          1. Stranger than fiction

            She did tell the candidate they only move forward with candidates in the right ballpark, which I liked. But I now realize there’s seems to be more companies that still lowball people despite this (or add to the job responsibilities) than companies that make fair or generous offers despite this.

        8. Sunshine on a Cloudy Day

          Can you just be more upfront/firm in saying this? I think that’s what you were getting at with: “What I can tell you is we are aware of the salary requirement you listed in your initial application and have continued to move forward with interviewing you as a serious candidate”, but I’d be pretty off put by this wording (personally – might read fine to others).

          This wording reads to me (though I’m sure this is not the intent!) – that we want you to continue to interview with us, but I don’t want to validate/commit to in writing that your salary request is in the range we have. Then cynical me mentally adds “because we plan to lowball you at the end”.

          I would still, absolutely, follow Alison’s advice and try to push back on this with the CEO. However, if you can’t make any headway there, then I think you might have a bit better luck at least try to be a bit more direct and maybe acknowledging that not being able to give a salary range is not ideal. Something along the lines of “I apologize, but I am not at liberty to disclose our salary range at this point, however I can assure you that your requested salary of $XXXX (or requested range of xxx-xxx) can be accommodated (or is within the range, or something?)”.

          I’m still not going to be thrilled by a company refusing to provide salary range, but I’d be much more open to a company that clearly acknowledged that my requested salary is in the ballpark (that way I know it’s not a complete waste of time for me), rather one that refuses to acknowledge that at all.

          1. Audrey Puffins

            This. If you can’t confirm a salary to a candidate, then explicitly telling them you’re both in the same ballpark comes over as a lot more reassuring than hinting around the idea that you’re probably both in the same ballpark but you’re unwilling to commit at this stage.

        9. Sas

          But respect goes both ways. And you are asking people for their opinions. People are giving them. People are going to get up in arms about at the least, frustrating things they have experienced such as having to answer how much they think a job should pay. I was once pressured to answer that question or share past salaries. One job was as a retail manager. “Umm, how much do you think that job payed ,”is how I felt like answering.

        10. The Rat-Catcher

          Another point from the opposite side for not advertising your pay:

          I went on an interview with a job that basically asked if I had open availability. That was a difficult question for me because I have two small children and my husband works too – we would have to rely on family to babysit. Other positions in my area similar to this one pay about 40k, so I was counting on that when I answered.

          I didn’t find out until almost the end of the interview that the job paid around 70k. For that, my husband could have stayed home, gone to school online full-time, and the whole childcare issue would have gone away. I am still kind of kicking myself because I’m pretty sure that’s why I didn’t get that job and it could have totally changed the game for us.

    2. OP

      We currently hide the range for a number of reasons – we’re regional and our employees stay connected with our job postings so they’ll easily see if we’re posting a job at a higher rate than what they currently earn and immediately be discouraged, even though they make work in a region where the pay is completely fair and comparable, just different from the region the job is posted for. (i.e. Montana vs LA) – not that extreme but you get the point.

      1. Captain S

        But those candidates who would be turned off are not the candidates who are going to take the job anyways – you’re intentionally hiding the salary range so that people won’t know you can’t pay them what they need/want.

        1. Specialk9

          I’ve always used a Cost of Living calculator when looking at jobs in different regions. It feels really paternalistic to say that you want great qualified people, but you assume they’re inqualified (too naive? dumb? impulsive?) to use readily available tools on the internet.

          It also feels really disingenuous. Here’s the thing – YOU may not be lying or trying to play games or screw people over, but your system does exactly that.

          You asked if the job seeker was out of line for calling you out. Instead, you’ve been told that what your company is doing is indeed problematic, and why. Nobody thinks you’re a bad person, or necessarily the CEO is, but it’s a bad system.

          The candidate was right, and you should either fix the system (if you can) or find a healthier company (if you can’t).

          1. Captain S

            I feel like we’re saying the same thing here – that intentionally hiding the salary range under the guise of “but won’t don’t want to turn people off” is not the right way to look at this. Did you mean to reply to me?

        1. Y

          Maybe it’s not to do with cost-of-living, though, but differences in supply and demand in the different regions.

      2. Fuzzyfuzz

        This doesn’t seem like a good reason to keep salaries hidden. Keep compensation fair and on pace with market norms in order to not alienate current employees. I know I could be making more money if I left my job, but I value my good work environment, exciting work, and benefits–so it’s worth it to me. However, my salary isn’t wildly out of step with market norms. If it was, I’d be more likely to be discouraged.

      3. fposte

        But plenty of fine companies are in the same situation and *don’t* hide their ranges. I suspect this is more your CEO’s grab for justification of a policy he really likes rather than an actual reason.

          1. fposte

            Yeah, I realize you are just the messenger on this one. We’re just arguing with your CEO through you.

          2. nonymous

            If you did want to push back on this idea, perhaps looking at how the federal jobs handle this might be helpful? So Job X can have the same base regardless of location, and then each location can have a % locality adjustment. For highly specialized jobs that are difficult to hire for even with the locality adjustment, there can be a addition % supplement.

            1. Anna

              I don’t know how common it is in academia, but a local community college publishes their range and then makes a note that most hires are brought in at the lower end of the range. While I see the conflict in posting a range and then turning right around and saying it’s actually narrower than listed, I do see the benefit in giving all the information.

              1. nonegiven

                I think that usually means that if you keep working there, you might eventually get raises until you reach the upper end of the range.

                I think BIL is hitting that with the government, now. He is at the top of the range after working there since college. He is stuck with COLA without getting into senior management.

            2. Mad Baggins

              My company does this as well. Base salary is X, with a “cost of living allowance” so it can be adjusted for different regions. But it’s clear that the job itself is worth X.

          3. Observer

            So, the first thing you need to do is to stop justifying this – to yourself and to others. Which leads to the second step, which is to recognize that your candidate was right, and that others are going to react the same way, even if they don’t tell you so.

            Once you have some clarity, you can decide what to do. You can try to convince your boss. You can start looking for a new job. You can find a different explanation to provide to your candidates (knowing that you are still going to lose some good ones.) These are not mutually exclusive, and there are probably other options you have as well.

            Whatever you decide, just understand what you are dealing with. It makes life much simpler.

      4. AMT

        But candidates know that salaries in general are different in different regions! If they ask, you can tell them honestly that the cost of living and job market in each area varies and the salaries are in keeping with that. Is that the only reason you don’t make the range public?

      5. Dan

        It is expected that there will be locality differences in pay when a company operates in multiple regions. That’s no excuse for not posting the range for a particular job. I work in tech — and Silicon Valley pays insanely high, at least compared to what I make. But have you looked at the cost of living there?

        It’s also a bit difficult for me to negotiate salary when I apply for jobs outside of my high COL area. If I do a nationwide job search, I’m applying all over the place — at first pass, I simply don’t have the time to do a “detailed” analysis of what exactly I need to make to make moving worthwhile. I’m actually willing to move to a lower COL area for no pay increase, or perhaps even a slight pay cut. I prefer that companies make me their best offer, and let me assess where that is on my “willing to move” to scale. Don’t make me name a figure that is out of whack with the area just because I misinterpreted something.

      6. Ainomiaka

        Perhaps you should also consider cost of living raises (and yes, being honest about cost of living adjustments if they exist). As a new candidate I would have first assumed that you offer below market rates, and your reason would cement that impression. I realize these are not all within your personal control, but personally if all of your employees would be unhappy with salary transparency the problem is the company not them. Alison’s advice to talk to your CEO about how this looks is good and I hope you take it.

      7. Hey Karma, Over here.

        This argument isn’t helping. It’s the exact opposite of what indicates a reasonable, competitive salary package.
        Instead it indicates that your CEO acts like a benevolent despot who thinks he is bestowing upon his staff what he deems worthy of them. And then you say that you hide the salaries (actually HIDE) from your current employees because you may have to have an uncomfortable conversation with an employee about compensation. That he or she has not been as graciously bestowed upon. And we can’t have people unhappy in the work place. So we will avoid that by hiding critical information from them.
        Honestly, I would feel played as well. This is the next five to twenty years of my life, and I have to hope that the odds are ever in my favor about my salary?

      8. Engineer Girl

        Then post the region along with the pay bracket.

        That doesn’t discourage employees because they know that Montanta is less expensive then LA. Transparency is your friend.

        1. Daughter of Ada and Grace

          And employees who don’t understand this are probably employees you don’t want anyway. You’ve just gotten an earlier indication of this.

          1. OP

            Please also consider we have employees from all walks of life and levels of education and exposure to these types of things. For many of us, this information is very common, but there are so many who truly don’t understand.

            1. Captain S

              I’m with you on the rest of this, but this seems a little patronizing to me. You presumably employ adults. If an adult does not understand this concept and expresses concern, you should be able to explain it to them so they understand.

            2. Dust Bunny

              . . . so when are they going to learn?

              That’s still not a good argument (and it sounds a bit like “they’re too dumb/ignorant to handle it”, which is not very winning). It’s a thing. They need to know about it, anyway.

            3. Specialk9

              Again, this reeks of paternalism. “They’re not very educated, so we hide information from them so they can’t do research or negotiate higher pay.”

              Riiiiiight.

              The more I hear of your CEI’s excuses, through your mouth, the less I buy that he’s trustworthy.

            4. nonymous

              see here’s the thing. If I heard someone say “But Techs at OtherLocation make $X more! why don’t we?” I’d tell that person point-blank that they are certainly qualified and would be a strong candidate when applying for that position, but the company does not offer relocation assistance. And if they wanted to stay in the lower COL location, they were welcome to stay, because the company valued their contribution to the team. full stop, no judgement.

              There will be some people for whom the budget calculus falls in one direction and others for whom it doesn’t. I personally moved to a higher COL area and even with a 20+% pay adjustment have a slightly simpler lifestyle even so. However, I save $$ overall because I’m not flying out as much to take care of Mom stuff, and both my Mom and MIL help me in return. It is not the responsibility nor feasible for the company to do that analysis.

              1. Marie

                @nonymous Exactly. This not only discourages good candidates, but deprives current employees of the opportunity to consider lateral moves. Frankly, if I worked for an employer with multiple regional locations, I’d consider that a potential benefit, because it would give me the opportunity to try living in different areas if that’s something I was interested in doing — locating a job is such a HUGE impediment to moving. The way this is right now, that’s a benefit you’ve chosen to make invisible to your employees, and employees who want to move to a new location where your company operates may assume they have to quit your company to find a better paying job rather than realizing they can stay with you.

                This policy is a really, really effective way to lose opportunities to hire and retain good workers. Making salary information available may lead to some complicated conversations (that are totally dealable), but I literally can’t see what benefit keeping that information hidden provides to the company. Especially because I guarantee for every response like this the OP receives, there’s five more candidates who said nothing to the OP but removed themselves from the process for the same reason, and they definitely told their friends.

                If your company pays well, it makes no more sense to hide that than it does to hide whether or not you have PTO, or health insurance, or casual Fridays, or any other benefit. Why in the world would you hide the exact things that make your employer desirable?

            5. A Teacher

              This comment comes as a bit condescending. You employ adults, right? Adults understand that different jobs make different pay–they may not like that but most get it. It seems disingenuous at best to hide the salary.

              1. Detective Amy Santiago

                Adults also understand that the COL in Des Moines, Iowa is going to be lower than Washington, DC.

            6. Bea W

              What’s there to understand? You give an employer your time and labor, and the employer gives you money in return.

              It’s not unlike buying a car. There are many factors that determine the selling price of any particular car. If you went to a car dealer, and they refused to disclose a price range on the make and model you’re interested in seeing until after you’ve done the test drive and decide you want to buy it, you’d probably go somewhere else.

            7. Lady Russell's Turban

              So…if Lizzie and Lydia are expected to do the same job at the same level but Lizzie has an MA and Lydia only has a BA, Lizzie receives more money? Or one has more experience than the other? I know paying someone with a higher degree is common in an academic setting (though not just for academic jobs), but it has never seemed fair to me. If there is the same performance and deliverable expectation of each person, they should be paid the same if they start at the same time. Sure, with COL raises the person there longer will out earn the new comer, but merit raises should be based on performance so if Lydia out performs Lizzie, she should get a higher raise. Now, if someone comes in with a higher degree and more experience, performance and deliverable expectations should be higher for them and their compensation should reflect that.

            8. Bend & Snap

              ughhhhhh really? “People are dumb” isn’t a good reason to deny them information critical to their livelihood.

            9. Tacos are Tasty

              Wow. Just wow. You aren’t taking any of this sage advice onboard are you? Why did you bother asking of you wish tp dismiss advice. Your excuses are quite flimsy at best.

            10. Jadelyn

              I think you’re really underestimating the capacity for understanding that your employees have. Sure, you may have to have some mildly awkward conversations to *explain* this information to people, but it’s a simple concept to grasp once it’s explained. Does your company do annual increases at all – either COLA or merit-based? Because that would be a great time for managers to have that conversation with their staff preemptively, if you wanted to go that route.

            11. Observer

              Do you realize just how classist and condescending you sound?

              Just because someone is “blue collar” or doesn’t have a degree, etc. doesn’t mean that they can’t understand this stuff. The people who keep up with job posting generally ARE capable of understanding this stuff, even if they are of (what you perceive to be) of lower status.

            12. Traffic_Spiral

              This seems more like a “you are bad at explaining things” problem, then. If you can’t explain this sort of thing to a candidate, you aren’t really qualified for HR. You can’t just hide information because “well, they wouldn’t understand how this is for their own good,” or something.

      9. Gaia

        But you could explain that to your employees and they would understand that. My company has the same situation. We pay people in office A $X and people in office B $X+20% because the COL in office B is 20% higher than in office A. Would people in office A like to earn 20% more? Sure, but because we can clearly lay out why we do it and how we got those numbers reasonable employees don’t object.

        What reasonable employees do object to is hiding salaries because that makes it seem like there might be a darker reason (not saying there is, but when there is secrecy around something as important as pay speculation can run wild).

      10. Kalamet

        Hi OP. Thanks for coming to the comments and giving us more information!

        In your original post it sounded like you were upset that the candidate judged your company so harshly, and that’s reasonable. But I’d ask you to try and look at this from an outside perspective. Not giving a salary range and making vague statements like “we’ll consider your salary requirements” are the kinds of behaviors that (historically) are used by companies to engage in pay discrimination. Even if your company is completely aboveboard, it _looks_ bad to the candidates and will turn them off.

        Similarly with hiding the range from internal employees to keep them from becoming “discouraged”. It’s kind of condescending to hide information from employees to manage their job satisfaction – I don’t think that’s your intent, of course, but as an employee I’d be bothered if I found that out. At my last company we were told not to talk about salary with coworkers for the same reason. Legality of that aside, it’s a really bad sign, culturally, and part of the reason that I left.

        1. OP

          I appreciate your kind response. You’re absolutely right – it’s not my intent to be condescending or discouraging – quite the opposite in fact. That’s exactly why I reached out to Alison to try and figure out how I can better handle these situations in the future. I also fully acknowledge I didn’t handle this situation well and want to do better.

          1. Kalamet

            For what it’s worth, I think you’re responding to the comments here very gracefully. There’s definitely room to improve, but it also sounds like a great deal of this is out of your control. It’s awesome that you are trying to fix the situation, though.

            1. OP

              Appreciate it. It’s the reason I wrote in! There’s always room for improvement… even if it does come by way of a verbal lashing from the AAM pros :)

          2. Specialk9

            Again, none of us think YOU are the problem. We think the setup the CEO has created is a big problem, and you’re thinking it’s normal or ok.

            1. OP

              I look forward to providing an update in the coming months… I’m hopeful for positive change moving forward.

              To add context, my HR position is new and higher level than we’ve had before so I do think I have the pull to make the change. Onward and upward.

              1. CoveredInBees

                I worked at a non-profit that refused to list salaries (because people can pay rent with warm fuzzy feelings, eeek!) and was able to push my employer into listing a salary range when they replaced me. I sent them an article from a non-profit focused blog. The article is titled ‘When you don’t disclose salary range on a job posting, a unicorn loses its wings’ (I don’t know the etiquette of posting other blog links in AAM). If you aren’t in non-profit, I’d suggest still reading the article as a jumping-off point for approaching the higher-ups about changing your company’s policy. Best of luck!

                1. Jadelyn

                  Oooh, that’s a good one. I’m in a California-based nonprofit so we now legally have to provide the range – *if a candidate asks*. And that seems to be our leadership’s strategy for how to handle this, keep the range to ourselves unless someone asks us about it. I’d much rather see us just list the range upfront, and I’ve been trying to figure out how to broach the topic with my manager/VP, so this will be helpful!

          3. Jessie the First (or second)

            But I don’t know that you can handle it much better – your hands seem tied. The issue is with your CEO, and you can tinker with the response you give but it won’t change the fundamental problem that the boss’s process sucks.

            You have to be able to give a range. You can finesse it with all sorts of qualifiers – such as “it depends on what other aspects of the total comp package are negotiated/whether the level of the position changes from what we envisioned when we posted/whether the location changes from what we initially posted” but without a range, you won’t be able to manufacture an answer that won’t piss off a fair number of candidates, because it will look secretive (which it is) and rife for abuse (which it well also may be).

            FWIW, the candidate who responded to you didn’t hurl any “false” allegations – what she said was true: that the way you explained your pay system is not in line with guidelines on how to ensure equal pay for equal work. That does not mean your CEO deliberately pursues pay inequity – it means his system is designed in a way that makes pay inequity more likely, even if it is inadvertent.

            1. Amber T

              I agree here. You can gently point out that you seem to be losing pretty good candidates by not having having a range, especially if this has happened multiple times. You can point out the growing trend in transparency in employers with sharing salary ranges up front (drop an AAM article or two in his lap!). But really, there’s nothing you can force him to do, or or nothing you can really do differently with regards to communicating with potential employees. It sucks that your CEO put you in a difficult position, but it seems like he needs to do a lot of changing across the board.

              1. Amber T

                Actually, if I’m being nitpicky I might drop the line about negotiating. That sorta comes across as “we’re happy you mentioned negotiating, now we’re going to low ball you on salary because of our benefits.”

                1. Jadelyn

                  The benefits line got me, too – if I got that from a company, I’d interpret it as “we have great benefits, so we’re going to offer you a crap salary and expect you to still be happy because ~total compensation~”, even though my mortgage company doesn’t accept vacation days or 401k matching in lieu of payments. It would immediately turn me off of the company, because it just comes off as disingenuous or an attempt to preemptively distract me from actually discussing salary.

          4. Wintermute

            Also please keep in mind that no one here is saying YOU are any of these things. We’re saying “this is a part of a sick system that is propping up and camouflaging the bad actors out there”. Your company is not alone, your CEO is not alone either and you certainly are not alone.

            But your company isn’t just one company either, the net aggregate effect of industries full of this sort of behavior is that racial and gender pay disparities are reinforced. It’s like a washboarded-out dirt road– at first little bumps cause a car’s suspension to to go up and down, which causes differences in pressure on the dirt road, which causes the road to become wavy, which causes cars to have their springs move even more severely, which causes even more differences in pressure on the dirt, which causes the road to become even MORE wavy.. and pretty soon the roadway looks like, well, a washboard.

            It’s the net effect of many, many people travelling down this road that makes gender and racial pay differences more and more extreme over time. So you can’t really blame the candidates that have the freedom to do so for opting out and refusing to be one more car down the road.

      11. Millennial Lawyer

        Not to pile on, but at least in the legal industry (which is not known for salary transparency) it’s extremely common for a large law firms to follow different city norms for cost of living, and the salary is openly different.

        1. lawyer

          It’s interesting you say that, because I think one of the biglaw’s virtues (few though they may be), is that salaries are typically completely transparent across firms, at least for associates. When I graduated from law school, essentially all AmLaw 50 firms in NYC paid first-years the same amount, and everyone knew what it was. Salaries increased annually in lockstep, bonuses were the same for everyone in the class year and were publicly disclosed…it was super-different than any other industry I’d worked in. Then I became a partner and it all became super-murky.

          (Unless you work at Jones Day which at least used to be notorious for not disclosing salaries or allowing them to be discussed.)

          1. Millennial Lawyer

            I agree – I think that the norm of lockstep salary has definitely increased the salary transparency. But besides the lockstep salaries, particularly with bonuses, I hear things (granted, not personal experience) that unsettle me (i.e. one associate having her hours calculated in a different way than others, etc.).

            1. AnonAtty

              I interviewed there once in my brief flirtation with BigLaw (I saw the dollar signs but realized the lifestyle wasn’t what I wanted). It was definitely not a good fit for me.

        2. Jennifer Thneed

          I used to work for A Huge Bank, and that’s how they did it as well. I think they did the “base salary + city differential” thing. But it was hardly a secret to anyone that it costs more to live in some places than in others.

      12. hbc

        Not wanting to publicize it for all your employees doesn’t explain why you won’t tell a candidate personally by phone or email what the range is.

        I know you say “a number of reasons,” but that one doesn’t stand up.

      13. Amy

        I worked at a place where this was an issue but the pay bands for each office were public so you knew why your job in an other region was paid more or less. We had two high ones (NYC and DC) and others that were much lower. Almost every job was posted internally with the pay band and range. I really preferred it to other places where all that info is generally kept need to know.

      14. FrontRangeOy

        That’s kind of nonsense still, OP.

        My spouse works for the federal government. A GS 6 (a specific level of education and experience) just in the Front Range region can earn a range of salaries based on which city/cost of living area they fall into. For example, if a GS 6 employee is linked to Cheyenne WY, their pay is noticeably different from a GS 6 paid out of Denver. People are sensible and understand that different areas have different costs of living and appropriate salaries reflect experience, education, and place you live.

        Regionality is not an excuse to hide information about salary bands.

      15. CoveredInBees

        Please consider weighing the fact that you’re chasing away applicants against the possibility that employees might be discouraged and not know about regional pay differences. It has been my experience that the people least likely to put up with the runaround are the ones who are more experienced and/or skilled. They know what they’re worth and a company being cagey about what they’ll pay (especially when requiring a salary range from applicants!) can often feel like the company is hiding something.

      16. Someone else

        I disagree with this reasoning, but it also makes me think of something else. Even if you’re not totally national, and not in California, and this candidate were not in California, the point about the new law in California may be helpful to you in trying to convince CEO his policies on this topic are unreasonable. The fact that it is a law in California (and I think variations on same are also laws elsewhere) illustrate how things are moving in a direction of forcing transparency. So if he has any aspirations of going fully national, or doing business in California and having Californian employees, like it not, his method ain’t gonna fly. Which is all the more reason to try to get it out of his head. It might not work if the dude is unreasonable anyway, but it could be a tactic worth trying: not only is his way not best practice, but it’s straight up illegal some places and becoming more so.

      17. laylaaaaaaaah

        Oh, so it /does/ cover for systematic pay inequality.

        If you have employees in a high-cost area, why not pay them a HCA weighting? My company does that, and while there’s some very minor grumbling about where the line is drawn around those HCAs, it does mean that everyone gets the same base rate of pay, and feels fairly compensated.

      18. Observer

        Please. That doesn’t explain why you cannot tell a serious candidate what the pay scale is, much less why the boss won’t tell YOU what the pay scale is!

        You do realize that this logic just reinforces the perception of shadiness. If the only way you can keep your people happy is by hiding the particulars of pay, then you are doing something wrong. Either you are hiring people who are too stupid to understand that pay scales vary by location, or your pay is not equitable.

        As a practical matter, if you are in the US, you really cannot keep people from finding out what others get paid, though. Not unless you are willing to do something illegal, anyway.

    3. Artemesia

      They do it so they can lowball candidates and can pay women less than they pay men for starters. Companies that do this want to prey on the negotiating weakness or desperation of candidates. I’ll bet they have no trouble paying less qualified male applicants more than long term productive female employees. There is no good reason to do this besides the opportunity to lowball candidates. I thoroughly approve of the response of that applicant. The OP should present it to her CEO and note that whether the goal of the company is to underpay women or lowball candidates THAT is the message that is coming across.

    4. jk

      It’s a really American thing I have noticed. In the UK I’m able to get salary immediately most of the time. It’s even advertised upfront for most job postings. I live in the states at the moment and it’s often top secret until the last minute.

    5. AlwhoisthatAl

      Sorry to come late to this, but in the UK – normally a salary is advertised. If you don’t you waste everyone’s time. The only job interview I ever ended prematurely was when they hid the salary until the interview and it was way too low. I really don’t get why the salary is hidden – the only reason I can think of is that it’s too low.

      1. laylaaaaaaaah

        Same here. In my experience, hidden salaries have only ever been because a. they wanted to pay me too little, or b. they wanted to pay someone else too little (as at my previous job, where the top performer in our office- a portly woman in her 50s- discovered that I and our younger, less experienced colleagues were getting 2k more than she was. Also that our line manager was stealing her commission.)

    6. Not Rebee

      My current company was super secretive about the salary as well, but I think this is because, like OP’s company, they didn’t actually know the range when I asked. They did, however, want to pin me down to a number, so I gave them a 10k range with the bottom starting at 5k over what I had been making. Astoundingly, they beat even the top of my range (by a couple K more) when they did actually offer me the job, so don’t think companies that are trying to hide the numbers or who don’t even know what the number will be when they start interviewing are doing so to try and be sketchy! They could just seriously not know the number yet.

  2. Detective Amy Santiago

    I would have removed myself from consideration with that response as well.

    1. Annie Moose

      I would also not be interested in interviewing for a company that couldn’t even get me a range. It would make me strongly suspect they’re going to underpay me.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago

        Yup, I would assume that they were reluctant to give a number because they wanted to see how much they could lowball me.

        1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

          Especially with the comment about how glad the OP was that the candidate was open to negotiating salary based on the overall compensation package.

        2. Not Rebee

          A counterexample, though: My current company was super secretive about the salary as well, but I think this is because, like OP’s company, they didn’t actually know the range when I asked. They did, however, want to pin me down to a number, so I gave them a 10k range with the bottom starting at 5k over what I had been making. Astoundingly, they beat even the top of my range (by a couple K more) when they did actually offer me the job, so don’t think companies that are trying to hide the numbers or who don’t even know what the number will be when they start interviewing are doing so to try and be sketchy!

        1. New Hire

          I generally agree with this sentiment, but to throw out a counterexample, I recently encountered this kind of response from a company that is known to pay high for the field. When at the offer stage, they asked for a range I was looking for, presumably to make sure we were in the same ballpark, saying they customize salaries for each individual based on experience/qualifications so there is no single standard. I ended up deciding to give a number because I wanted to move forward (fair-to-high for the position, I thought) and the HR rep said readily, “Oh good, we can work with that.” And then they came back with an offer that was $20k higher than my number. (!!) I have to think they were asking just to make sure I wasn’t wildly out of their already high salary range.

          I have never heard of this happening anywhere elsewhere, but it happened with me, so ymmv.

          1. JB

            Yes, if you’re a company that already has a reputation for paying highly, you can credibly say “We will pay you highly but can’t tell you exactly how much at this time.” That’s what having gone through the work to be a well-known company, and cultivating a certain reputation, will do for you.

            That option is not available to most firms.

      2. Name Required

        I too would strongly suspect they’re going to underpay. The portion of the response that states “we are aware of your salary requirement and are moving forward with you as a serious candidate” would indicate to me that I’d seriously lowballed myself. Particularly as a woman.

      3. Kathleen_A

        I like the response very much, except – and judging from some of the other responses, I know this may not be a popular opinion – I think the “equal pay for equal work” jab went a little too far. Asking to have her name removed from consideration because the company won’t provide a range is perfectly appropriate – so, yaaaay! applicant.

        But the “equal pay” clause moved the response from assertive into rude, IMO. It’s not right to accuse somebody of sexism (or whatever sort of -ism the writer had in mind) out of the blue like that. Yes, the OP’s company absolutely should be able to provide a range, and not doing so is just silly, but the reasons not to do so don’t necessarily involve sexism or racism or any of the -isms. They do involve lots of short-sightedness, though, and are a definite red flag because this practice absolutely gives the impression that the company intends to low-ball applicants. And that’s not good. I mean, jeez, what’s the point of wasting everybody’s time by not at least providing a salary range?

        1. baseballfan

          Yes, this. That response was just plain rude. It’s possible to be direct without accusing the company of any kind of “ism.” Hiding the salary range is a bad way to do business. That doesn’t mean the applicant was being discriminated against.

          1. Wintermute

            No but it’s that SYSTEM that leads to pay disparity over time. If you don’t want to be accused of being a duck, floating around in a pond wearing webbed feet and a bill isn’t the way to go. If you don’t want to be accused of having racist or sexist pay, then don’t do what companies that have those things do in order to hide it…

        2. Not a Mere Device

          It’s not necessarily “you are sexist and/or racist,” but “this policy tends to support discrimination, even if you aren’t biased, and in fact even if you’re making an effort not to discriminate.” That’s because unconscious bias is a real thing, and because secrecy about salary gives cover to the organizations that do discriminate.

        3. Natalie

          A practice can perpetuate discrimination without the active -ism being a factor. Being upfront that this practice isn’t in line with “equal pay for equal work” is true, and it’s not the same thing as suggesting the company is deliberately discriminatory.

        4. Marthooh

          “I am firm believer in equal pay for equal work and a ‘secret’ salary that can’t be discussed upfront is not in keeping with those guidelines.”

          That’s not an accusation: it’s harsh, but it’s true. The candidate was saying that she won’t deal with a company that has that policy, because it is often used to disguise pay disparity.

        5. Mad Baggins

          I thought it toed the line very well. “You’re coming across as xx-ist.” That’s not assuming it’s true, it’s assuming the company doesn’t want to appear that way to candidates. It’s a great way to communicate one’s standards for culture, transparency, equity, and diversity as well.

        6. Grad Student

          This response wasn’t rude just direct which I know a lot of people confuse for rude when they’re not a direct person. It’s not rude to explicitly say something and no where in the reply did the candidate imply the person they were speaking to or that the company was sexist. I say good for her for standing up to a ridiculous policy directly and professionally.

          1. Kathleen_A

            I’m actually very comfortable with being direct – both my boss and my husband would agree with that statement. But while part of the applicant’s note is both polite and direct, the part that assumes the company is concealing the range for nefarious reasons is rude, at least to me. But hey, YMMV.

        7. Wintermute

          I think they did them a favor by mentioning it. They were certainly thinking it, other well-qualified candidates were probably thinking the same when they withdrew themselves from consideration because of this.

          they didn’t say they were racists, they said that their business practices were not in-line with best industry practices because they can create racial disparities. That’s the difference between saying “you burn people alive!” and “I’m concerned about your lack of a sprinkler system so I’m out.”

        8. Kathleen_A

          I knew my original post wouldn’t be met with universal acclaim. :-) Let me say again up front that I absolutely think the OP’s company ought to provide a range. That is only fair, and it’s silly and shortsighted of the CEO not to realize how bad it looks when you don’t. The disagreement is in how to convey concern about this policy.

          I actually am a very direct person, and “Please remove me from consideration. I am not comfortable interviewing at an organization that isn’t transparent about salaries” is both direct and perfectly polite.

          But it is rude to assume ill intent without any data, and therefore the statement that implies that the company doesn’t pay people equally for equal work goes over the line into rude. Or so it seems to me, but as I said originally, I knew I wasn’t going to get everyone to agree on that.

          If someone steps on your toe, it’s perfectly polite to say “Ow! You stepped on my toe!” (The polite toe-stepper-oner will then say, “Oh, I’m so sorry. I hope you’re not badly hurt.”) But it’s not polite to say “Ow! You stepped on my toe! You did that on purpose! I never want to speak to you again!” unless you could actually discern intent.

          The applicant can’t discern intent here, at least not as far as I can tell, and therefore responding as though she knows the only reason anybody would do that is because they plan to pay her badly if they can get away with it is rude.

          1. Nanani

            Nobody is assuming ill intent. The applicant -correctly- pointed out that hiding salary goes hand in hand with pay inequality. Nobody, not the applicant, and not this thread, accused the company of being discriminatory.

            It is about recognizing that hiding salary goes hand in hand with discriminatory PAY. Disparate impact is a thing, no cackling villany required.

            1. Kathleen_A

              But it also goes hand in hand with a lot of other things – e.g., that weird aversion to talking about money that many companies have in the early and middle stages of hiring. I think this aversion is silly, but it definitely exists, and it exists in companies that are otherwise not bad places to work.

              I am not saying that the applicant *intended* to accuse the company of being discriminatory. But what I am saying is that her wording certainly seems to imply that to me, and to a few other commenters, too (though admittedly we are not the majority). I think it would have been very easy for her to make exactly the same point without implying that this company doesn’t believe in equal pay for equal work, and that’s what her wording says to me.

          2. SittingDuck

            I do not believe the applicant is implying that the company has ill-intent.

            To put it in other words:
            Generally understood principle: Lammas are sheared with scissors
            Employer: We can’t disclose how we shear our llamas, but we think it is in line with what you want.
            Applicant: Please remove me from consideration. I believe in shearing llamas only with scissors, and I choose not to align myself with a company that isn’t transparent about how they shear their llamas.

            (‘Shearing llamas with scissors’ being a stand in for ‘equal pay for equal work’)

            So basically she isn’t accusing the company of any ill-intent – she is just stating that she chooses not to align herself with companies that don’t follow the equal pay guidelines.

            1. Kathleen_A

              All I can say is, it definitely sounds as though she’s implying ill intent to me and to a few (though perhaps not very many ;-) ) other commenters, too. Saying the company isn’t being transparent (as you did here re. llama shearing) is fine because it’s polite and direct and factual. I mean, obviously the company isn’t being transparent.

              But that’s not what the applicant wrote. What pulls the message into “rude” (and frankly even a bit smug and snotty) for me is the crack about “I am firm believer in equal pay for equal work,” because it clearly implies – at least to me, and I’m not completely alone here – that the applicant believes the OP’s company doesn’t share that value. Well, maybe it doesn’t, but she doesn’t actually have any evidence for that. All she knows for sure is that it’s not being transparent – she has very obvious evidence for that – so she should have contented herself with making that point. Then she could have been both direct and polite.

              1. Mad Baggins

                ‘”I am firm believer in equal pay for equal work,” because it clearly implies – at least to me, and I’m not completely alone here – that the applicant believes the OP’s company doesn’t share that value.’

                Well… the applicant doesn’t know, does she? The applicant is saying, “Your policies are not in line with my values. Your values may line up with my values, but your policies don’t.”

                It sounds like you think even implying that the policy can enable discrimination is out of line. I disagree because I don’t think OP/OP’s CEO would be taking this as seriously if the applicant didn’t point out this issue. It’s not just “you are doing bad practice” it’s “you are doing bad practice that goes against what is socially and legally acceptable, and it is driving away candidates with integrity.” That extra punch is important to get it taken seriously and show it’s not just a picky applicant.

              2. laylaaaaaaaah

                She doesn’t have hard evidence, no, but statistics show that the majority of companies who are less upfront about their salaries are engaging in pay disparity. Pointing out that that is how they are coming across- whether it’s true or not- is direct and even helpful.

                1. Kathleen_A

                  Perhaps, but I think it’s helpful for the applicant to know how her words come across as well. To many commenters, they come across as direct and to the point. To me and a few others (including, I think, the OP), they come across as direct, to the point, and rude. And that’s really all I was trying to say – that while I agree that all this rigmarole and obfuscation about pay is silly and counterproductive, I can also understand why the OP found the wording more than a bit off.

      1. topscallop

        Me too, and the quick jump to “but our benefits are great!” further reinforces the sense I’m about to be low-balled on salary.

        1. all aboard the anon train

          Definitely. Any time a company has been evasive about salary and then jumped to talking about benefits has resulted in companies with less than great benefits or other issues going on.

        2. Detective Amy Santiago

          Especially when they won’t actually share details about the “great benefits” either.

          1. Darury

            I had this discussion with a few places last year after I was laid off. Yes, we want to pay you 30% less than what you were making at your last job but we have great benefits. Unfortunately, vague “benefits” don’t pay the mortgage\car payment\utilities. Even when I got my real job, it came in about 10% under what I told them was my minimum for interviewing. I’ll give them credit, they got creative with cash bonuses, so while my “salary” is still a bit lower than I wanted, it’s offset by annual bonuses.

        3. Merida Ann

          Yeah, reading the first paragraph of the OP’s response, my thought was – this is kinda annoying, but it might still be worth going along and see what they say in the end. But then the second paragraph about the applicant’s willingness to negotiate and the benefits is what raised flags for me. It felt like “Ooh, goodie, you’re willing to negotiate, so I’ll be able to talk you down to a lower price and make it sound okay because of the benefits.” It sounds like making excuses and too much soothing when a shorter response might have actually gone over better.

    2. Edina Monsoon

      Me too, if the letter writer had been honest and said we don’t know yet, it will depend on experience or I’ll ask the CEO and get back to you when I know then that would have been better than what I can only describe as verbal diarrhoea.

      1. Lil Fidget

        I think it may have been the length of the reply that made it feel a little defensive, which got my hackles up. If the response had been, “the exact amount is set by our CEO, but I confirmed that your number is within our range,” that might have seemed more straight-shooting, maybe.

        1. Detective Amy Santiago

          Someone pointed out below that it comes across as a little condescending too. Like, sure, we all know how pay ranges are determined.

      2. Murphy

        That seems a bit harsh. Outside of actually providing the range, I think OP answered as best they could.

        1. Akcipitrokulo

          Definitely OP answered the best they could! But it’s still a reasonable response to say “oh hell no!” from the candidate!

    3. Katniss

      Yup. Why would I waste my time interviewing and practicing for interviews if I have no idea if they’re going to pay me enough to be worth it?

    4. LBK

      Same. No way I want to be a part of a company where salary is basically determined by the CEO’s whims.

    5. K.

      I might use different wording, but I would too. As has been said, companies that pay well don’t hide it.

      I literally just had an email exchange with a recruiter this morning where I asked what the range was and he gave it to me. It was so refreshing! I said “Thanks for reaching out [he reached out to me out of the blue]. What is the salary range for the position?” He replied “It’s between $X and $Y.” Okay! Great! That works! That’s how it should go.

      1. Specialk9

        Yeah, I put a recruiter in my book when he just straight up gave me a range. Cool, straight shooter, you are in.

    6. TCO

      I would have withdrawn, too. That response just makes it seem like OP’s company is hiding something… and companies that hide their salary and benefits information usually do it because they know they’re not competitive. I don’t trust employers who say things like, “Just believe me when I say our package is competitive,” because I’ve seen packages billed as “competitive” that actually aren’t, and why should I trust a company that I don’t know at all?

      I say this not to pile on OP, because I get that it’s the CEO’s fault, not hers. There are some good phrasings from other commenters that might work better with candidates. But OP, you’ll just need to accept that as long as the CEO carries on this way, you’re going to lose out on a lot of great candidates. That’s always going to be a limitation of your job unless the feedback you’re getting here and from candidates could be used to change his mind.

      1. DecorativeCacti

        I once saw a job posting looking for a bilingual (Chinese/English) bookkeeping/marketing/admin assistant with at least two year’s experience that promised competitive wages. They paid minimum wage but promised a raise would “be discussed” after 90 days.

    7. Anon Today Anon Tomorrow

      Ditto. The comment about the base salary and benefits actually really put me off.

      If I provide a salary requirement in my cover letter that is subject to change based on the benefits. It’s not the lowest I’ll take including benefits.

    8. Anon Accountant

      Exactly. I’d have felt like that was a waste of time and don’t like the “run around”.

    9. Nesprin

      I did exactly that two weeks ago. I turned down an interview because the hiring manager wouldn’t tell me what ‘competitive for the region’ means.

    10. AnotherJill

      I’m surprised that so many would remove themselves from consideration. I would not have removed myself if I felt an interest in the company. Not telling me a salary range is unusual, but I don’t think it necessarily indicates that the company is just going to try to low ball me. If I were interested, I would continue with the process and wait to get a full picture and what any potential offers would look like.

      1. Jennifer Thneed

        It depends so much on whether you have the time. For people who are working and have to use PTO for interviews, it might not be worth the “wait and see”.

      2. Laoise

        If I were desperate for a job because I was unemployed, I might still interview.

        Even if my current job sucked, I’d be looking for improvement. It’s possible this company would be an improvement…

        but if their first communication to me is 200 words of justifying a tactic used for generations to avoid fair pay to marginalized people, they are so very unlikely to be a good place to work.

        Whatever my interest in the work is, I’m not interested in working for a place waving that big of a red flag.

    11. Nicki Name

      It pretty much sums up my current attitude too. I’m a woman in an industry that systematically underpays women, and I have a job I love except that I’m still underpaid. You want to pry me out of it? Your one point of leverage is money.

    12. Alli525

      That response was BALLER. I loved it so much, and admire the guts it took to type that out and send it.

    1. Junior Dev

      I know, right? Really upfront. I said something similar when an HR person tried to get me to disclose a salary “you’d be excited about” but I don’t think I was nearly so eloquent. I did call them out on having women in tech events at their office yet perpetuating pay inequality.

      1. Alienor

        Ooof, that’d be a tough one. I’ve been working for 20+ years and have been rejected from more than one job recently because even matching my current salary is “too expensive.” There’s no way anyone’s going to want to hear a number that would actually make me excited.

        1. Sloan Kittering

          I have been noticing that none of the jobs that required me to submit my salary expectations with my application have called me back :( I assume there is always someone else low-balling themselves and the company moves on to them without ever letting me state my case. I don’t really want to start asking for less than what I know I deserve though.

          1. Elizabeth West

            Mine won’t, because I made nearly twice at Exjob what I made at OldExjob. And I’m hoping to get as close to that as I can, or over, depending on the job.

    2. OklahomaSpeaks

      I came here to say this. Good for the candidate, but bad for all applicants who have to put up with stuff like this while job searching bc hey, everyone got bills to pay.

    3. irritable vowel

      YUP. Kudos to her, and I hope she lands a great job at a company that is transparent about how they are striving for pay equity.

    4. Jesmlet

      It was the perfect response. OP – you did not communicate poorly, your company’s policy simply sucks. This is obviously not your fault but you’re going to find that a lot of the best candidates will not be willing to spend their time on multiple rounds without knowing any salary information.

  3. Captain S

    Yeah, I can’t blame the candidate for withdrawing, though I’m not sure citing “equal pay for equal work” was the way that made the most sense to do it.

    Still though, if I got your response as a candidate I would definitely think you were playing around with a really low compensation package because it just IS really evasive (I recognize that’s not OPs fault though).

    You’ll definitely lose the best candidates this way – they’re generally the ones who are going to be the most selective in what interviews they take, and the ones you’ll need to impress the most up front. Keeping salary a mystery until the end just won’t allow you to woo those candidates the way your CEO presumably wants you to be able to.

    1. Millennial Lawyer

      I think it makes tons of sense. As Allison’s response goes into, a case-by-case basis of salary negotiations reeks of potential imbalance. If I was a woman, I’d be afraid a man was getting paid more than me if I received that response.

      1. Specialk9

        One has to weigh words carefully when you’re in a relationship of some kind. When you’re rejecting someone because of red flags, one should be professional, but being open that it seems like a system designed to promote income inequality is fair. Because it IS ABSOLUTELY exactly that.

        1. Irene Adler

          Yep. Long ago my Dad coached me to ask of anyone offering me a job: “Now, how much would you pay me if I were a man?”

          I never actually did this. But he makes a point.

        2. Millennial Lawyer

          Yes – I think it was a professional while also conveying the real reason why there was an issue.

      2. ouinne

        Maybe it’s just I’ve been unfortunate in my employment but I would not be afraid they’d pay a man more.

        I’d be certain of it.

        OP, you’re losing candidates with this policy, because a lot of us wouldn’t have bothered to even tell you why we’re not interested in moving forward.

    2. LBK

      I think that reasoning makes sense – pay disparities are pretty much only able to persist because of a lack of pay transparency.

      I do also agree that when I hear “we have a great benefits package that we really consider part of your total compensation” I translate that as “we’re going to underpay you”.

      1. Captain S

        I also think the reasoning makes sense! I’m just not sure what the candidate said (in the short, brief way it was said) was the way it made the MOST sense to get the point across is all.

        I think just throwing out phrases like “equal pay for equal work” can have exactly the result it did here – the intended audience gets offended and defensive (“false allegations”). I’m not saying it was a terrible thing to say or that the candidate was wrong.

        1. Starbuck

          I don’t blame them at all for the phrasing, because a company that really WAS committed to equitable salary practices would be transparent with salary ranges. I think they made a valid point- you really can’t claim, as a company, that you value equality if you make it impossible for anyone to verify that for themselves.

      2. einahpets

        I agree but would also like to point out that the other big reason for pay disparities continuing is that one gender is oftentimes judged unfairly for asking about pay directly. And that gender isn’t male.

        1. LBK

          I think that’s part of why they start, but they persist largely because companies get away with basing your new salary on your old salary – if you got underpaid at your first job because you were afraid of being penalized for negotiating and every company after that gives you 10% more than your current job, you’re gonna miss out on a ton of money compared to a male candidate who started out in that first job getting paid $5k more than you.

          1. Nanani

            “I think” has jack shit to do with anything. Do the research.
            A LOT of people, consciously or not, judge women as bitchy or harsh or mean or whatever for negotiating pay, even when the exact same words are used as a man in an equivalent situation.

            1. LBK

              Whoa, pump the brakes – I don’t disagree with any of that, but my point is also correct. You should do the research too before you come for me. There was even a federal case about it, I’ll post a link in a reply.

              Women being penalized for trying to negotiate is also problem, and I never said it wasn’t. But employers basing new salary on current salary is also a huge problem insofar as perpetuating the wage gap – because if a woman couldn’t negotiate for a higher salary to begin with, she’s probably never going to be able to catch up to a man who did. It’s not one or the other, it’s a mix of issues.

      3. Dust Bunny

        This. I hear, “We expect you to accept [range of inane so-called perks that I may or may not be interested in using] in lieu of actual pay”. One job for which I applied considered the ability to park for free on the street near the location–provided I had an early shift before everyone else who worked in the area got there–to be a “benefit”. Right. Otherwise, I paid full fare to park in their garage.

    3. Hey Karma, Over here.

      I think the one benefit of going pretty much nuclear in the response is that it brought the issue to the attention of the OP enough to write to Alison about it. Things continue the way they have because nobody questions it.
      “Our company doesn’t give a range.”
      Why not?
      “It’s our policy.”
      So, your policy is to lowball women and minorities?
      “No, we, wait, what? No, we just don’t tell people what they will be paid.”
      Why not?
      “Because the CEO prefers to make a salary offer after the applicant has been offered the job.”
      So after they have turned down other opportunities and are stuck?
      “No, not that.”
      Well, why?
      “Because the CEO wants to.”
      Why?
      “Not for a bad reason!”
      So for what good reason?
      “Because he wants to.”
      and then it progresses to,
      “Hey, we don’t even tell employees what salary ranges are company wide.”
      Why not?
      “It’s bad for morale.”
      Because women and minorities are consistently paid less?
      “No! Because of cost of living and other reasonable explanations.”
      If they are reasonable, you should state them.
      “Well, again, the CEO prefers employees not discuss salaries.”
      Why?
      “…”

        1. Jesmlet

          Literally this. Only thing I would’ve added is, “So you can meet me in person, see that I’m a younger minority, and low-ball me even more than you would’ve because I’m a woman?”

      1. Name Required

        I was actually just thinking that I wished there were a like button I could hit. You wrote out exactly what everyone is thinking.

        1. Edith

          Yep! Even if they don’t intend to, waiting until they know the gender and ethnicity of the new hire practically ensures unequal pay. Study after study after study has shown this. Unconscious biases are a bitch.

      2. Ironically Anonymous

        Funnily enough, I recently had almost this exact conversation, verbatim, with a hiring manager. He told me (young, non-white female), “Don’t bother looking at the published salary ranges or talking to any one else in the company. The only person you should be talking to is me.”

        Yeah, buddy, that’s what my abuser said, too.

      3. Starbuck

        You nailed it. Any company that was actually committed to pay equality in practice would be transparent with salary ranges. Otherwise, why should any candidate (or current employee, for that matter) believe them?

      4. Student

        Nailed it.

        OP – I get the impression that you have some gut feeling that pay is fair, and your CEO has a similar gut feeling that pay is fair, because you’re personally invested and you aren’t actively evil and you believe your CEO isn’t actively evil.

        The thing is, these pay disparities don’t usually come out of active evil. They usually arise out of negligence and out of near-subconscious tribalism (favoritism, liking people who are like yourself, old boy’s club, common interests, call it what you want).

        Have you actually looked at what your company actually pays different people doing the same current actual job, in a comprehensive and standardized way? You can bake COL adjustments into such a study.

        1. beanie beans

          Right – if you feel like your pay range is fair, then there’s no reason not to share what that range is.

        2. echidna

          Thank you – I was thinking exactly this.

          OP, what are the results of the existing process? Are employees actually paid equitably?
          You need to know this with hard data about the pay of all of your employees, not with a description of benign intentions behind a skeevy-looking policy.

          For the record, I would bet my bottom dollar that inequity is rife, and that this would be an underlying reason for salaries being hidden from existing employees.

        3. Nanani

          Thiiiiis

          “This white male reminds me of my younger self, I’ll offer him more”
          vs
          “This lady just seems kinda, IDK, fake? I’m not going to offer her as much”

          CEO does not need to be an MRA to do this.

    4. Wintermute

      Why? it’s a reason they’re turning down a potential employment opportunity, that’s a big deal. The candidate owes them nothing, so it’s a kindness to share their reasoning. Feedback for anything is like restaurant food. For everyone ONE customer that complains, assume that 20 more just suffered in silence and decided never to come back and maybe tell all their friends about how awful you were.

  4. Roscoe

    I probably would have reacted similar. If I ask a range, and someone says they aren’t able to tell me that now, I’m not wasting any more time on them. It surprises me that this is the first reaction you have had this way.

    Now, with the context you provided, I understand where you are coming from. But these candidates don’t, and your answer is too vague to really merit consideration.

  5. Dinosaur

    You really should have a range that you’re able to provide people when they ask, and agree that you should talk to the CEO and figure out a way to get that information. It’s out of sync enough to push back on the CEO’s current way of doing things.

    Nevertheless, stating things that candidates already know about determining salary might be coming across as condescending. Candidates know all the things you added in your email (“Generally speaking, we determine salary based on an individual assessment of the position, the finalist’s skills and abilities, and the current market,” and “I find this information to be just as important as the base salary because it provides a fuller picture of compensation in a broader sense.”) and stating those things while also not giving them an actual answer might be part of what turned the candidate in this instance off. I think if you have a guide to the benefits package that you could attach/link to in your response email, that might go a long way toward transparency/not making the candidate feel like you want them to be in the dark.

    1. OP

      Thanks for your comment. I completely agree and have been asked not to provide the benefit package one-pager I created (intending to provide to candidates). It’s all very frustrating for me as a practitioner.

      It’s a small company but I come from a larger company where I was responsible for compensation and benefits so i’m well-versed in best practice but am trying to figure out how to operate with these new parameters.

        1. OP

          Our CEO is used to hiring candidates who are more focused on the job than benefits and prefers it that way. He’s a bit quirky and particular with this sort of thing (he considers it a red flag when someone asks). I agree it doesn’t make sense.

          1. JB

            Push back against him. He sounds like the source of what is honestly really terribly practices that are going to scare away the top tier of candidates.

          2. Lil Fidget

            Oh dear. Although it’s not your fault, it sounds like this candidate was right to bail out now.

            1. Mildred

              I really agree! The benefits are very important to me. For some reason, many employers are surprised when I have said that I need to know what the benefits are before I decide whether to take an offer. That’s crazy!

          3. Detective Amy Santiago

            It is not a red flag for someone to want to know that they will be able to pay their bills.

            1. MommyMD

              Right Amy. This whole thing sounds like a burning red flag. It’s such a privilege to work there that pay and benefits don’t matter. My eyes are rolling so far back in my head that I can’t see.

          4. Akcipitrokulo

            I’m sorry you’re stuck in the middle. For me, a ceo who thinks it’s a red flag when someone asks is someone I would run, not walk, away from as an employer.

          5. iglwif

            I used to work for someone kind of like that: he distrusted people who asked about salary up-front because he thought we should be looking for “mission-driven” employees. (It was a not-for-profit company.) As you can probably guess, “mission-driven” was code for “will work for not very much money.” Even that guy didn’t object to giving out benefits info, though — we had A++ benefits through our parent org, so he wanted everyone to know about them.

            I now work somewhere else and make the same amount for fewer hours and way less stress, and still get to do work that feels worthwhile and non-evil to me.

            IMO your boss considering interest in salary and benefits a red flag is … a red flag :P

            1. Newt

              So much this.

              If I’m a strong candidate – a person with excellent qualifications, work history, skills and references – and I’m looking to change roles, I have options. I will probably be applying and interviewing for roles at various employers, and I can reasonably expect to get multiple interviews and job offers. I’ll be dealing with all that at the same time as I’m working my current role, spending my free time polishing applications and researching companies, and possibly taking vacation time or flex time to cover phone and in-person interviews, as well as travel times and costs to interviews and so on.

              A single vacancy I apply for might mean 1 cover letter and application, 1 initial call, 1 telephone interview, 1 or more in-person interviews and then follow-up questions and negotiations. That’s a significant investment in my time and energy.

              So why would I risk wasting that time and energy on a role if, as far as I know, there’s every chance the “great offer” I’ll get will be less than what I’m earning now, or have fewer benefits, or might not pay enough to cover my living expenses, or might just straight up be a bad offer in several ways? I’m better off investing that time and energy in a vacancy that I already know will pay me a fair and reasonable amount.

          6. Millennial Lawyer

            OP, that phrasing “focused on the job” can be interpreted to mean that your company would not be friendly to those who have child care responsibilities or need information about benefits for similar reasons. I think there’s a reason you received a response specifically noting “equal pay.”

            1. Dust Bunny

              This sounds like a boss who expects you to work a billion hours and take his calls all weekend/night/over holidays for as little as he can pay you.

          7. Feotakahari

            In a roundabout way, this sounds like discrimination against applicants who have chronic illnesses. They need to know if they’ll be covered, but if they ask, they won’t be hired.

          8. Kalamet

            Ouch. Your CEO definitely has a toxic viewpoint about work.

            If you’ve already tried to draft more information to give candidates (a benefits summary is a great idea) and he’s refused, there may not be much you can do. If you think he’d be receptive, what I’d push back on are a) the legal angle (how to avoid discrimination) and b) the talent angle. Experienced and talented people tend to become _more_ selective re. pay and benefits, because they can afford to be.

          9. LBK

            That’s not being “quirky,” that’s megalomania. Your CEO needs to get his head out of his ass and understand that once you get past the “startup in a garage” stage, you’re hiring people who are working for a paycheck, not people who are working for your vision.

          10. Ask a Manager Post author

            Wanting candidates who are more focused on the job than the benefits will mean, in practice, screening out people with health issues or spouses/kids with health issues. Maybe single parents too, and others I’m not thinking of right now. It’s very, very bad practice. And even to candidates who are very focused on the job and less on the benefits, if they’re savvy they’re going to take it as a danger sign that you’re not being transparent and forthcoming about benefits.

            People work for money and benefits. Pretending they don’t won’t help you hire strong candidates.

            1. LBK

              Honestly, it sounds to me like that will just screen out most human people. There’s very out there who work for the work, especially if you’re not at a non-profit.

              1. Dust Bunny

                Yeah, this. I’m single and childless and my first thought is that I will be working every single evening, weekend, and holiday that parents didn’t want to work.

              2. Falling Diphthong

                Thirding so hard. At this point in time, my husband’s salary is a lot higher than mine. If I’m deciding between three different freelance jobs, one of which might be more interesting but the pay–or any other aspect!–is a secret, that is a huge red flag.

                I’m that person who cold-bloodedly refused to attend any condo-presentation-for-waterslide-passes event on any vacation.

              3. Lil Fidget

                Who will take this offer is entry level people who are desperate to get their foot in the door. I know I took deals back then that I would never take now.

                1. LBK

                  But someone who has no choice because they need the money is the epitome of someone who’s just working for the paycheck – that’s the opposite of what the CEO ostensibly wants.

                2. Beanie

                  That’s what got me about this practice. A company that wouldn’t disclose benefits (and who would judge me for asking about them) would have been able to hire young-naive-fresh-out-of-college-with-zero-experience me. The me of today, with additional certifications, training, and 20+ years of experience? You’re not going to get me to leave my current job unless I see an obvious increase in either pay and/or benefits.

                  This attitude the CEO has towards pay/bonuses might minimize complaining among your lower skill positions but is seriously hurting your ability to hire the rock stars at the other end. How could you attract a qualified person away from their current job if you don’t give them a tangible reason?

                3. As Close As Breakfast

                  I agree with Lil Fidget. It’s a nice pipe dream and all, but in reality, the people that don’t ask about pay and/or benefits are those that so entry level they don’t know any better or are so desperate that it doesn’t matter.

                  Your CEO is not going to achieve what he’s after with this method.

                4. Marthooh

                  There’s a post from last October about this: “Is it okay to be honest about just being in it for the money?

                  I guess it’s not okay with CEO.

                  ———
                  (Link in reply)

            2. Case of the Mondays

              While I agree with you, I’m in law and one of those people with a chronic illness and I’ve learned I have to play the game. I have to apply and interview and learn all about the firm and tell them everything about myself before I get to find out if they offer benefits/salary that I would consider accepting. We were explicitly told in law school to not ask about salary or benefits until the 2nd or 3rd interview or even the offer stage. As I get older, I have way less patience for that BS. When a recruiter calls, my first question is always “what does it pay.” Let’s not waste each other’s time.

          11. paul

            Your CEO is being inane (and that’s generous). Yes, I evaluate salary and benefits when looking at offers; if you won’t discuss them till I sign an offer sheet or w/e then I’m going to be *very* leery of your company. I’m bluntly not in a position right now to just remove myself from the running if it did happen, but it’d be pretty concerning.

            1. OP

              I don’t disagree with you but just to clear it up – I invited her for a short Skype interview and this prompted the conversation – we were not in the process of offering the job. Salary discussions always happen prior to job offer.

              1. Anonanonanon

                It sounds like someone who has been burned in the past and has no tolerance for nonsense anymore. Wanting to know if the salary will be at all close to what she is looking for before investing a large amount of time and energy into the interview process makes sense, especially if she is a good candidate.

                1. Newlywed

                  Yeah, I don’t go to in person interviews if the salary range hasn’t been established yet. I don’t have time to waste prepping for an interview, driving there, potentially taking PTO (depending), spending time there, and then find out at the end that the range is wildly off from my expectations.

              2. Jesmlet

                Just going to chime in and say that I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting to know a salary range before meeting in person. People who are more in-demand are presumably better hires, and would really not entertain this type of secrecy regarding compensation.

              3. serenity

                Sorry, OP, I don’t mean to pile on but from your responses to comments (and also in seeing what you haven’t responded to) I just want to make sure you understand what bad practice your CEO’s hiring and pay process is. You do get that, right?

              4. nonegiven

                If she possibly has to take a half day of PTO for a Skype interview, at least tell her it’s worth her while, first.

              5. echidna

                You do realise that by not discussing salaries upfront, you are asking candidates to buy a pig in a poke (invest their time in an unknown quantity). Hoarding information from applicants and employees is not a winning long-term strategy if you want people who are not gullible.

          12. Amtelope

            People work for money and benefits, not for the opportunity to do the job. Employees aren’t volunteers.

          13. einahpets

            Personal experience: my first job out of grad school paid terribly. I didn’t even know how terribly until my next job paid significantly better, and my current job is paying **double** the salary I left at that first job a year and a half ago.

            I suspect that one of the biggest factors involved in why my current job pays better than that first one include the fact that my new company’s corporate headquarters are based in New Jersey, where an equal pay law is going into effect.

            The gender pay gap is real, and it hasn’t changed since my parents’ generation because people still think it is uncouth to ask upfront about how much they’d make in a position.

            So, hearing that a male CEO considers a female candidate asking for the salary range for a position is a red flag? Whoa.

          14. Someone else

            Do you think you might have any success in explaining to him why what he’s doing is the red flag? When I was interviewing for my current job I remember one of the interviewers being thrown by my asking about benefits and it took him a week to get me a one-sheet. I nearly didn’t take the job just because of that, not only how long it took them to get an answer but also because while the salary we’d already discussed was in range with my expectations, I’d end up paying $3k a year more in premiums at this job than my previous, so all of a sudden that target salary no longer made any sense. It’s really weird that a CEO can’t fathom how significant that kind of math is, at least in the US.

          15. Parcae

            And from the candidate’s perspective, that attitude is a red flag about the CEO. In a way, it’s good for both parties that the top candidate withdrew; she probably wouldn’t have been happy working for your boss. That’s not much consolation for you personally, but it does seem that your boss’s system is working as designed.

          16. Bea W

            Your CEO isn’t the bright bulb in the lamp. One can be focused on the job while still being interested in salary and benefits. In a world where someone has multiple prospects, they’ll take other information into account to make decisions – culture, benefits, pay, company reputation, etc.

            Let him know he lost a top candidate over this.

          17. animaniactoo

            You might try asking him if he wants the person someone who is decently good and effective, or if he wants someone who is really good and effective at the job. Because if it comes down to it, he might only be able to get one.

            If he says he obviously wants the really good and effective person, then you can talk to him about the idea that he is lowering his chance of getting those candidates – who would be willing to work for the salary and benefits he’s offering! – by having them self-select out. Because they know what they’re worth and they’re not willing to invest time in a process that might not be worthwhile to them. They know it’s not the most effective use of their time – so they just pass. Which is in fact, the kind of mindset that you probably want for someone in that position – the ability to recognize when something is not worth spending time on given the intangibles. Why hamstring your ability to get THAT person. Why let the competition get them instead of you?

            (On a separate note… what a privileged point of view. That it’s a red flag for someone to want to know how much they’ll be able to work with to pay the rent/mortgage, groceries, afford day care or college, or vacations or hobbies. What a privileged point of view… which you might want to point out to him in some fashion. “I understand why you want people who are focused on the job. But sometimes people need to make sure they’re going to be able to afford day care if they take on this role they’re really interested in, and it would make sense to give them a better idea of that.”

            1. Beanie

              Off topic but funny: I’m reminded of the scene in The Office where they’re interviewing for a new manager and one really stingy guy spends the entire time asking detailed questions re benefits (“and when I make long distance calls, will they be monitored? Or is it on the honor system?”) Love the fact that the character was played by Warren Buffett :)

              So sure, there is a level of passion you want to see from a candidate about the job itself, but a basic disclosure of salary/benefits is just mandatory.

          18. Falling Diphthong

            Something that came up in a previous discussion of working For The Money–even people who are doing a job they love wouldn’t keep on just as they are now for no money. If they suddenly inherited enough to live comfortably they might still write, or carry out medical research, or teach, or whatnot, but with a lot more time off, picking and choosing only those projects they really wanted to.

            And the great twitter eruption a few months back, where someone in Canada got removed from consideration because she wanted to know the salary before the second interview–the job involved online takeout menus. Staffing a business solely with people whose passion for promoting and coding online takeout menus is so great they would do it for free is not a very sound plan.

          19. Specialk9

            “Our CEO is used to hiring candidates who are more focused on the job than benefits.”

            Oh dear. OP, you know deep down what’s going on here, don’t you? That’s why you wrote in. This is not ok.

            1. einahpets

              I actually am not generally curious about the industry + general demographics of this company.

              I posted above about my own experiences with pay inequality from a former job. Another thing that I think stands out on that job was that my own manager, her manager, and our department director were all female, while the C-level employees were all male. When I did work up the courage to do the ‘what do I need to do to get a raise” talk with my manager, I was met with the attitude that ‘the company will offer a raise if/when it deems that you should have a raise, just like it has for each of us’.

              The pay gap was in part perpetuated at that company by maybe well meaning managers that definitely held to the somewhat gendered notion that it wasn’t well looked upon to be female and asking for a pay raise. OP, if your small company is generally female, this is also something to consider.

          20. In Todd We Trust

            Oh, the old, “it’s a privilege to work here” line which really means “our pay and benefits suck”. The candidate doesn’t realize just how lucky she was to bail out early and not waste any more time.

          21. MommyMD

            That’s ridiculous. Candidates should be focused on pay and benefits because it is a JOB. They have to provide for themselves and family. Your CEO is arrogantly out of touch in requiring people be more invested in “the job” than their families and selves.

          22. ArtK

            Your boss is an idiot and is seriously hurting his own organization.
            My response: “It’s tough be excited about any job when I don’t know if I’ll be able to pay my bills. Excitement doesn’t put food on the table.”
            Another response, building on one I gave in an earlier thread: “I look at a job as a whole, not just one or two aspects. My excitement about the job, the salary, the benefits package. It all adds up.”

          23. Elizabeth West

            A bit quirky. No, he’s a parsimonious jerk. >:( It is NOT a red flag to ask about benefits! Or pay! That is why people work!

            Not yelling at you, OP; he just makes me so mad.

          24. Jerry Vandesic

            I think “He’s a bit quirky” is just another way of saying “He’s a bit of a jerk.” Benefits are a key component to overall compensation, and not sharing them is very very sketchy. Ignoring the problems with salary range, not sharing the benefits would cause me to send a “thanks but no thanks” response.

          25. General Ginger

            FWIW, what you just said about the CEO would be a huge red flag to me. It pretty much says, “the CEO wants me to work out of the goodness of my heart, because I’m so focused on the job and not at all focused on actually being paid for the job”.

          26. Leela

            I assure you you will be very hard pressed to find someone nowadays who cares more about the job than the benefits because childcare and housing costs have become astronomical in many areas, everyone’s terrified about money, and in general the cost of living, the cost of insurance, the cost of Everything has gone up so much more than wages have. Prioritizing what you do over your compensation is a very nice idea but not a viable one for people my age and younger.

            1. Leela

              Also while it may or may not be true for your company, most job seekers have been expected to accept lower pay for benefits that are at best very standard, as if they were absolutely amazing. Some are but we’ve been burned with this type of offer so much I can see why the candidate shut down in response to it.

              OP I love that you’re here for advice and I don’t think this is your fault, but you’ll see it over and over until this policy is changed

          27. Marie

            Ohhhhhhh no that’s not good. And to be candid, it’s exactly the work culture I would’ve assumed existed if I had gotten the response you sent to the candidate. So, good/bad news is that candidates are getting an accurate picture of the workplace?

            Did the CEO found the company? Sometimes I think founders forget that not everybody has the zealous focus and passion they do for the work — if they did, they’d be starting their own businesses rather than working for the founder. And it also conveniently ignores that even with a genuine single-minded dedication to the work, a CEO is getting paid more than everybody else in the company. They may not think those two things relate because they might have been willing to keep doing this work for far less, but at some point they made a decision to divert profits into their own compensation and then continue to increase it, sooooooo clearly *just* the job isn’t enough fulfillment for them.

            If they aren’t a founder, I sure am curious if they asked about benefits or salary during their candidacy, or if just being a CEO was rewarding enough.

          28. Marthooh

            “Our CEO is used to hiring candidates who are more focused on the job than benefits and prefers it that way. He’s a bit quirky and particular with this sort of thing (he considers it a red flag when someone asks).”

            OH, GOSH IT’S ALMOST LIKE THAT CANDIDATE WHO TURNED YOU DOWN WAS RIGHT!

          29. purlandcrystal

            ‘Our CEO is used to hiring candidates who are more focused on the job than benefits and prefers it that way.’

            So in other words, as well as the potential for your racial and gendered discrimination, your company’s hiring is *explicitly and deliberately* classist? Because that’s the outcome of your CEO’s policy: selecting for candidates with enough financial privilege to be able to accept a job without worrying whether it will let them pay rent.

          30. Not a Mere Device

            The combination of “you mentioned in your cover letter that you’d be willing to negotiate salary based on the overall compensation package. I find this information to be just as important as the base salary because it provides a fuller picture of compensation in a broader sense” with “he considers it a red flag when someone asks” [about benefits] doesn’t sound like someone who is trying to treat employees and applicants fairly.

            Lower salaries but better benefits is a tradeoff that some people might take, depending on what those benefits are. I’ve done it. But that’s only convincing if you tell me what they are: there’s a difference between more that matching my 401(k) contributions, which is unusual and valuable (in the long term, but significant) and letting me buy my monthly transit pass with pre-tax dollars or telling me I can wear jeans on Friday.

          31. Traffic_Spiral

            “Our CEO is used to hiring candidates who are more focused on the job than benefits and prefers it that way. ” = CEO has no respect for his employees and expects them to kiss his ass for the favor of working for him.

        2. Mr. Bob Dobalina

          OP, is the CEO also the founder of this company? Sounds like something akin to Founder’s Syndrome, where the company is his baby and his life’s work–the founder requires the employees to not only feel passionately about the mission, but expects corresponding sacrifice the way he sacrificed. The founder wants to maintain complete control over everything as well.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago

        That’s shady too. I would strongly encourage you to push back against your CEO’s desire for secrecy. It’s out of the norm and in the current economy, when unemployment is so low, you are going to lose out on good quality candidates with these practices.

        1. OP

          Totally agree – thanks. Plot twist – I’m also really new here… so I’m really trying to effect change as much as possible. This is one of the many scenarios. I will absolutely continue the conversation and push for more pay transparency.

          1. Fluffer Nutter

            Good luck OP. By way of example for your CEO: I’ve never paid more than $100/mo or so for medical ins before. I took my current job without knowing because we’re a small org that buys into a larger group policy so it depends on the person. You don’t see the amount until you have already accepted the job. Anywho, I thought “maybe it will be $150.” $400/mo my friends. FOUR HUNDRED!!!! Went up to $450 in January. If I weren’t in a 2 income household, I’d have had to quit 1 month in, costing them a lot of time and aggro. We get on the hubby’s new insurance in 3 days- even seeing the benefits sheet it’s still very hard to calculate with the coinsurance and all that nonsense, but I should be saving $300/mo at least, which is the difference between contributing to retirement and not.
            So maybe your CEO will relate to this real life example.

          2. ScoutFinch

            I admire you for trying to bring your company in line with normal HR practices.

            Please do not take the commenters’ (and candidate’s) words personally. We all know that you are the messenger, trying your best to work within the parameters that your boss has set for you.

            If you can affect some change there, BRAVO!

            But there is no shame in not being able to make him see the light & choosing to move on to a more sane situation.

            I really appreciate you writing in. I can tell that you are trying to do the right thing. Good luck.

          3. nonegiven

            How did you feel when you had to decide to take the interview without knowing anything about compensation or benefits?

      2. Dinosaur

        Gah, your boss sucks. That sounds super frustrating! I hope you’re able to shake things up a bit and push the organization toward more transparency, but if TPTB like things as they are it’d be totally reasonable for you to look for something new. Good luck, and I’d love an update later on!

        1. OP

          Looking forward to shaking things up and providing you all with an update at some point. Stay tuned 

          1. Tabby Baltimore

            I’ve read most of the comments, and all I can say is, I think we’re all rooting for you as you start the process of trying to change your company’s hiring practices. What I hope you’ll consider is that your first conversation doesn’t have to be the last. Your CEO sounds like someone who’s going to bat you away the 1st time, the 2nd time, might give you a little more time the 3rd time, maybe some more the 4th time … What I’m trying to say is, think of this topic as a *series* of conversations you’re going to need to have with him, not just the one, and don’t expect victory first time out of the gate. You might have just be content with “planting seeds” at the beginning, before you can start the more vigorous “weeding” of his bad habits and outdated assumptions.

            Also, is there any way you can monetize this? I’m thinking along the lines of, say, trying figure the # of candidates who bail as a %-age of the total number called for interviews. Once you have this figure, then you can move to estimating how much time you spend (in general) on handling the packages of bailing candidates. Then, multiply the number of hours you spend handling candidate packages by your hourly rate, and then you can give your boss a pretty good idea of how much it’s costing the company to hire “his way.” Think of how much money he’d save if he’d only give the candidates the information up front!

            I’m sure there are other, probably better, angles to come at this from, but if your boss if very money oriented (and it sounds like he is), this may be one way to reach him. Anyway, good luck, and please let us know how this works out.

      3. fposte

        Unfortunately, I don’t think you can get what you want here with these parameters; no amount of great communication skills can fix this basic obstacle.

        I get your CEO’s impulse, I really do–I’ve historically been a “default to not telling anything” person myself. But this is bad on several levels: it’s treating candidates poorly, it’s losing you some qualified candidates, and it’s making your company look dated and out of step.

            1. fposte

              Yes, good question. I just plain think he hasn’t thought this through. You *want* candidates who are good enough to have choices; you also have to provide them with a candidacy experience that makes them choose you.

            2. Ask a Manager Post author

              Yeah, that’s my question too! OP, how specific and detailed have you been in pushing back with your CEO? Have you really tried to make a detailed case and push this? Or are you kind of resigning yourself to it without a real push first?

              1. OP

                I just mentioned elsewhere in another comment but I’m brand new to this company so I’m attempting to affect change in a number of areas (this comment section would implode if I went into detail – trust me) – so yes, I’m pushing but I’m also being strategic with my approach.

                Yes, he knew she was my top choice and as I said previously, he viewed it as a bullet dodged.

                I will definitely continue to push the issue. I have before but have mounting evidence to back up my recommendations 

                Thanks all!

                1. Name Required

                  Your CEO is correct in that this was a bullet dodged. But the bullet seems to have been dodged by the candidate, not by the CEO or company. I have worked for people like this and my experience has not be great. I wouldn’t willingly and knowingly work for someone like this again because it shows they have an inherent trust of people and that they likely lack integrity. I think you can tell from all the comments here that I’m not the only person who feels like this. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that as you work there longer you’ll probably start to feel this way too.

                2. animaniactoo

                  I think that until you get this changed, you’re going to have to get comfortable with seeing good candidates withdraw. Because even if you manage the language better, the reality is STILL that good candidates are going to withdraw if you can’t give them something pretty solid to hang their hat on beyond “Your listed salary is within the balkpark”.

                3. Work Wardrobe

                  Did *you* know your salary range before *you* were interviewed in person?

                  Did you learn about benefits *before* you were made an offer?

                  Did you negotiate your offer?

                4. I'm here

                  OP, I just read your post and find myself very curious…WHAT makes this company so great? Seriously. Because you have hundreds of comments relating only to a refusal to discuss pay and benefits. But in my reading of this comment I see you say “this comment section would implode if I went into detail” in regards to the number of areas you are attempting to affect change. Looking that, it sounds like this company might just be one really big no.

                5. nonymous

                  My anecdote from my current employer – a notoriously difficult geographic region to hire in – is that we look for people with current ties to the area. So it’s not enough that someone has XYZ skills, we want to see that their spouse works at local uni or has a career in the larger city 30 min down the road or grew up in the area. A lot of successful applicants are people who have elderly parents within a three hour drive. We’re a family-friendly employer, pay decent (not great but not awful) salaries and middle of the road benefits.

                  I think a lot of this is about knowing your audience. So if the CEO wants to hire people for whom pay is not a deal breaker, what other incentives would encourage solid performers? Frankly, I’d give strong side eye to saying “we’re niche!”. Maybe the company is niche for the area in which case the locale is the attractive quality. I’m wondering if your CEO developed his philosophy on hiring during the Great Recession, when a lot of applicants would give lip service to this mantra. Current unemployment statistics are very low (link in name), so employers really need to offer competitive work environments to attract the best, this means offering emotional and financial rewards for working there.

                6. Gingerblue

                  An excellent candidate with better options pursuing them is a bullet dodged? What a loon.

                7. echidna

                  As suggested above, use hard data of your employees across the company to check that pay scales are equitable.

                  With those ridiculous policies, I’ll bet they are not. If I were you, I would make it my mission to protect the organisation from the legal and personnel issues that would arise from inequities coming to light. Not by hiding the information, but by fixing the inequities.

          1. Gaia

            Your CEO needs to know that his way-out-of-the-norms requirements are losing him top candidates.

            I would bail so fast if I was told it was a red flag that I was interested in pay or benefits. That would be like it being a red flag to me that the CEO is interested in my skills. I provide my skills and in return get compensation. That is an equitable agreement and it isn’t a red flag on either side to ask about what they are receiving in return for what they are giving.

          2. CBE

            Then you need to flat out tell him that his crappy hiring practices are costing him damn good candidates and setting him up for discrimination claims.
            Instead, you’re here *defending him* – which makes you look bad.

      4. Dan

        I don’t think you can effectively operate in the environment that you describe. You have a system that your boss created that turns off candidates.

        As candidates, we assume that companies are clear about things that they’re actually proud of — e.g., if you have a solid salary and benefits package, you’ll talk about them with an appropriate level of detail. For example, my company provides a 10% 401k match and 4 weeks PTO to start. They don’t hide it. Why would they? If my company told candidates that they benefits package was “competitive”, we’d probably think 4% 401k match and 2-3 weeks PTO. The company actually is at a disadvantage if they hide the package.

        Point being, if you are not clear with people, they assume you don’t have much to offer. You can’t change that perception within the parameters you have to work with, and the little communication that occurs in the earliest stages of an employment conversation.

        1. all aboard the anon train

          Exactly. I tend to steer away from companies that just say “competitive” because in my experience, a lot of them don’t offer competitive salaries or benefits. They’re just mediocre.

          I’m always fully invested in the companies that outline all their benefits and salaries upfront because I know I’m not wasting my time.

          1. Gaia

            This. I read “competitive” as “we only compete with other companies that pay terribly and offer little to no benefits.”

            If you were really competitive you’d be showing.

        2. GG Two shoes

          I totally agree with this. If you are hiding both the salary range and the benefits package while interviewing until the very end, I’m going to assume neither is very good or on par with the industry standards.

        3. LBK

          And not only turns off candidates, but specifically turns off the best candidates – ie the people who will have the option to say “no thanks, I’m going with another offer”.

        4. LizB

          Yep. I advocated to be able to make a one-pager of benefits to give to candidates in my department, because just saying “we offer excellent benefits” didn’t do justice to how excellent they actually are. It’s a shame the OP’s CEO told her not to give out a similar document — even if her company offers truly outstanding pay and benefits, the CEO’s policies are really hamstringing her ability to communicate that to candidates.

        5. Arielle

          Exactly. “Competitive benefits” means nothing, “zero deductible PPO plan with $40/month premium” is something to advertise. Why would you NOT want candidates to know that’s what you’re offering?

        6. Leela

          Oh yes! It’s the same flag I get if I ask about the culture and they dance around it or just say “it’s great!” but won’t get into specifics: makes me very weary that they believe it’s good.

      5. Bea W

        I hope you can talk some sense into your CEO. Benefits are big selling points for job seekers, especially if the market is very competitive. As one corporate recruiter told me before giving me an overview of the benefits package, “Everyone pays about the same around here, and money only goes so far. We know we have to find other ways to attract top candidates.” (Then she proceeded to highlight the awesome benefits package.) Even in an iffy market, this information is important to candidates in making the decision to apply or continue further along into the process.

        1. OP

          Thanks. You’re speaking my language. At my last company, I was over comp & benefits and took every possible opportunity to tout our benefits (and they were phenomenal so it was easy.)

          1. CmdrShepard4ever

            I agree at my current job the pay is lower than I would like/normally accept, but the benefits package is beyond superb, it is probably worth $15/$20 if not more. It is honestly one of the big reasons that I left my last job and took this one. Our benefits include 100% employer paid health, dental, and vision insurance for myself and my whole family. Six months of paid maternity/paternity leave at 80% and 3 months of paid FMLA at 80%. After hearing from other people I have accepted that I may never get benefits this good again and will need a pay increase of $25-$30k to switch jobs.

      6. BRR

        I feel like the comments are a little harsh on you when it sounds like your CEO sucks. Candidates are most attracted to jobs that disclose the pay and benefits. I hope you can push back against the CEO.

  6. limenotapple

    I don’t apply for jobs any more (academia-libraries) unless there is some kind of range posted. Higher Ed jobs are super labor intensive in the application process, and I’m at the stage of my career where I can be picky. I think it is possible to lose good candidates in the first place by not being upfront with salary.

  7. Ann Furthermore

    I will never understand this. Why can’t employers be honest with candidates about what they’re willing to pay? I’m about 2 weeks into a search for a new job, and very few listings provide the salary range. LinkedIn has estimated ranges for some jobs, but only if you pay for the premium access. Being open saves everyone a whole lot of time. Why take the time to go through the interview process if you don’t know up front if the candidate will be willing to work for the salary you offer them? It’s so dumb.

    Yesterday I got an email for a phone interview. I followed up with a question about the amount of travel required, since it wasn’t included in the listing, and told the recruiter that I can handle about 25% travel, and if this was a travel-heavy position, I didn’t want to waste anyone’s time. She responded and said that the travel could be up to 75%, so I thanked her for her time and asked her to withdraw my name. About 5 minutes of emails, rather than hours and days of interviews.

    1. Pretend Scientist

      Exactly–everyone’s time was respected. It’s really good on her part that she didn’t try to downplay the travel–I’ve seen employers try to “oh, it’s a few conferences and client visits a year” which can make candidates think perhaps quarterly travel, but once the job begins, it all of a sudden jumps to every three weeks.

      Everything tends to work out better when all parties are transparent–why doesn’t this apply to the salary process more frequently? Is it worth losing candidates over saving a few thousand dollars, or not getting the best candidate because they would like to have a fuller picture?

    2. Works both ways

      I find that even if candidates know the available range they think it doesn’t apply to them. We are in the process of hiring — one of our top candidates listed a required salary range where the low end was still $5k more than our high end. Before setting up an interview, I directly explained that — listed the high end of our budget – and asked whether, that being the case, they still wanted to move forward with the interview. They said yes.

      Fast forward, they were our first choice and we have offered them the position. Now they are coming back saying the salary is too low (a x% pay cut, which, if true, they are making more than what their requested range was). That’s annoying. I was honest with the candidate and now we may have to start the process over because they weren’t honest with themselves.

      1. Ann Furthermore

        I can understand your frustration with that. Honesty should go both ways. It’s the only way to avoid frustration on both sides.

      2. beanie beans

        I get that frustration, but without giving a range upfront, you’d still be in the same boat, except that situation might happen a lot more often.

  8. MissGirl

    I just interviewed and the recruiter told me minimum of the range. It was so refreshing to not wonder if the interview process is a waste of time.

    OP, you mention in your sample letter the candidate’s range was in line with the position. How do you know this if the CEO hasn’t let you know the range?

    Allison, what should someone do if a company refuses to budge on this. I know at my current job, HR policy wouldn’t let them name a range.

    1. OP

      Thanks for reiterating my question, MissGirl.

      I have advised the CEO and am still not able to provide a range so I want to know how to better handle the current situation moving froward.

      I have some pull in determining salary but cannot make final decision. I did market research and know what my area pays for the job. I was 100% confident we would at least accommodate the applicant’s required salary. It’s part of our practice that if they’re asking too high, I have a conversation with them about pay prior to bringing them in for in-person interviews. It’s all very funky… the process.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        If your CEO flatly refuses and you’ve explained everything I talked about in the post, then all you can really do is say, “I don’t have a range to give you at this stage, but I can tell you that the figure you named is in our ballpark.” (Although do you definitely know that to be true, if the CEO won’t give you a range? It’s going to suck if you’re guessing about that and then he offers them something lower.) That response is going to annoy candidates, but if it’s all you’re allowed to say, that’s all you can really say. Also, you could add, “That’s something you could discuss with our CEO in the next interview,” if he’s going to be talking with the personal himself and is okay with that.

        But I’m concerned about your other comment elsewhere in the thread that you’re not allowed to send a benefits one-pager, and I’m worried this issue reflects a whole bunch more of them.

        1. Jennifer

          Especially when she pivoted from an inability to discuss the salary range to talking about total compensation. Why bring up benefits if you can’t discuss those either?

      2. Akcipitrokulo

        I suspect that you’re doing the best possible given the really bad practices under which you’re forced to operate. So don’t feel bad – this isn’t on you. You’re doing the best you can; any problems which come from it – such as losing good candidates who *quite reasonably* don’t want to be involved with your company – is not on you :)

      3. Nacho

        Just be straight, and drop the excuses/”I can’t give you the salary, but I’ll tell you the benefits next week.” stuff. That would raise a lot of red flags if I was interviewing with you, since it pretty much always translates to “We pay significantly lower than market range, but [incorrectly] believe that offering fair benefits makes up for that.”

        And maybe that’s not true with your organization. I don’t know. But I certainly wouldn’t be willing to bet on it if I was an applicant.

    2. Ask a Manager Post author

      Do you mean what should a candidate do? At that point you have to decide if you’re willing to proceed or not. Unfortunately it’s a pretty common thing for companies to do. You can also say “I’m looking for a range of X. Before we both invest more time, are we in the same ballpark?” But of course, then you have to talk on the burden of naming a figure and possibly undercutting yourself later.

      1. MissGirl

        I meant what should the OP do. It sounded like she doesn’t have enough sway with the CEO to change his mind.

    3. hbc

      If I was the candidate and didn’t need to chase this job, I would have pretty much done what the candidate did–withdraw and state why. Hopefully my voice would be one more bit of evidence that sways a company to change.

  9. thunderbird

    In Ontario a bill was introduced that would require all publicly advertised job postings to include a salary rate or range, bar employers from asking about past compensation and prohibit reprisal against employees who do discuss or disclose compensation. It would also require large employers to track and report compensation gaps based on gender and other diversity characteristics, and disclose the information to the province. This hasn’t passed yet, but standards and ideas around this topic are changing quickly.

    1. LBK

      Yep, it’s illegal in Massachusetts now to ask for someone’s salary history. Not sure if the law has actually gone into effect yet but it did pass.

    2. iglwif

      This is such a great idea. I was never told to ask for candidates’ past compensation, but at my old job I was strongly urged not to give salary ranges up front, they never posted the range with the job posting, and everyone was strongly discouraged from discussing our compensation with one another. It was … not good.

    3. Sunshine on a Cloudy Day

      This is so true! When I started out (about 10yrs ago) – it was the height of the US recession, and I really struggled to get anywhere salary wise. I kept getting low-balled (and accepted out of desperation) and the fact that each job kept basing my pay on my last job really held me back. Then – I somehow lucked into a role that just about doubled my current pay and honestly – the role was not ideal but the main reason I took the job was the pay. I knew that it put me at the place where I should/wanted to be, and that all future jumps would be based off of it (because of the current model).

      Then… my state passed the law about not being able to ask about past salary. Don’t get me wrong – I 110% support it and I know this is better for everyone. But I couldn’t help but be a tiny bit disappointed (on a totally internal, personal and completely irrational level) that it came into effect RIGHT after I put myself through a pretty tough couple of years in a job that was not great just to get myself to an appropriate salary level.

  10. Naptime Enthusiast

    I think that your response was very good based on what your CEO’s policy is. Unfortunately, his policy is going to alienate quality employees that know their worth and have other opportunities available to them.

    Your company might end up being the best offer around but if they don’t know it and it looks like you’re avoiding a very reasonable question, when everyone else is straightforward, you’re going to lose out.

  11. GG Two shoes

    While this response was a little harsher than I would have done, I totally stand behind the stance. The fact that she brought up the equal pay is important as biases are often implicit and need to be pointed out. I hope you can talk some sense into your CEO, OP.

    1. Lil Fidget

      I do fault the candidate somewhat for answering in quite this way (although I suppose at that point, she knew she was walking anyway so she felt that she had nothing to lose). While understandable, it wasn’t quite as professional as I’d like to see. I might have gone with something like, “I’m sorry, but I’m not able to proceed if we can’t be clear on the salary and benefits” without the “equal pay / secret” parts of her response. It certainly sounds like she wouldn’t have been a good fit for this CEO though.

      1. Yorkshire Rose

        Exactly. Salary range is one of the first things I ask when a recruiter contacts me. I’m not just out of college and willing to take any salary. Being upfront about the salary saves both sides an incredible amount of time. The candidate’s reply email was a bit harsh but the underlying message was on target.

      2. Specialk9

        Yeah, but she had nothing to lose, and as a result OP is having her suspicion confirmed about the high number of bees at her new job.

        It’s weird that you expect one side to be so polite that they actually hide their recognition of a red flag situation, while the red flag guy gets to waggle-waggle his red flag all over the place.

  12. anon..

    Hi OP,

    I understand you’re in a tough situation, OP. If your CEO is able to give you a range that you can disclose, that’s obviously the best solution. As Alison said, there’s a whole slew of reasons why the way the CEO is determining salaries is an issue. You should of course alert him to this and see if you can push back.

    That said, if you do not have standing to push back (or if you do but it’s unsuccessful), then you could try telling candidates something like: “We haven’t fully nailed down the salary for this position, but the range you put on your application for expected salary is definitely in line with what we’re thinking.” So long as that’s true, of course.

    1. OP

      Hi Anon, I appreciate your suggested approach on how to handle the situation in the future. I hope to continue the conversation with my CEO to encourage transparency but for now, this will help!

      1. Agent Diane

        Perhaps showing your CEO the responses here might help convince him, or perhaps a “I asked around and most people find it really weird we can’t disclose the range at this stage of the process”.

        And longer term you need to win him over to publishing the ranges for each region. Yes, the people on a lower range will not like that colleagues elsewhere get more, but that’s regional weighting and a conversation to be had. (In the U.K., some places have “London weighting / inner London allowance” which makes it more obvious the higher range is because London.)

    2. Anonanonanon

      I think that wording might work better. This wording: “we are aware of the salary requirement you listed in your initial application and have continued to move forward with interviewing you as a serious candidate. In addition, I believe you mentioned in your cover letter that you’d be willing to negotiate salary based on the overall compensation package. ” suggests that the company is going to try to negotiate the candidate down and also sets up the negotiations as very one sided since the employer is giving no information until a significant amount of the candidate’s time has been invested.

  13. Akcipitrokulo

    I am somewhat in awe of the very wonderful candidate who removed themselves when faced with this nonsense approach. Bravo!

    1. jk

      /agree ! She wasn’t up for playing games. She’s my spirit animal. So much time I’ve wasted.

    2. Whitlow

      Yup! This candidate was awesome, and actually really lucky that they got the red flags of this company waved at them so vigorously by the OP. They dodged the bullet and can find a job somewhere much, much better.

  14. Fabulous

    The “Unfortunately, I’m not able to discuss specifics right now” is where you went awry, OP. Yes it’s the truth, but because it’s worded that way, it makes it seem like you’re hiding the salary. If it comes up again, I’d suggest wording it more like, “Unfortunately, a salary range has yet to be determined.”

    1. President Porpoise

      Substitute “finalized” for “determined” and you could make that work. But honestly, as a candidate, if we’re further than the very initial stages of the process, I’m going to think you’re either really disorganized or BS-ing me.

    2. Ainomiaka

      I would still be pretty skeptical. How do you know that you can hire anybody if you don’t know the budget? Changing the wording isn’t going to change the phenomenon mentioned by other people-we assume that companies talk about things they are proud of. Not talking about salary is always going to seem like looking to lowball.

    3. Fake old Converse shoes (not in the US)

      Yeah, if there isn’t a salary range yet, then why the position was posted? That would raise my lowball flag on the spot.

    4. sin nombre

      I would put in a plea to drop the word “unfortunately”. It’s not any kind of an accident that there’s no salary range, it’s a deliberate decision; words like this sound evasive, like you are trying to distance yourself from what you’re saying because you know the hearer isn’t going to like it. “Unfortunately” may be my least favorite word in the English language.

      /soapbox

      1. Leela

        Major applause here. I had a bad but nice manager at a bad (but not nice) company and every time she handed down another horrible policy she said “unfortunately”. It always came off like “I’m not doing the right thing but I get points for me easy, free ‘unfortunately’, right?”

        She said it so many times it really grates on me to hear it in a professional context at all

        1. Audrey Puffins

          Yeah, I’ve always worked to not include “unfortunately” in my professional communications. It’s like the difference between “sorry for the wait” and “thank you for waiting”; if you frame it as a negative, it’s going to read as a negative, whereas if you frame it more neutrally, it’s more straightforward and even less emotionally charged.

  15. LouiseM

    I love this response from the job candidate. Recently I’ve noticed several all-listserv emails in my field where more established people call out institutions that are offering poor pay and benefits (invariably for jobs that require at least one advanced degree) and I *love* it. Those of us who have the choice to opt out of hiring practices like this should be doing our part to make the industry better for people coming up.

    1. Akcipitrokulo

      Very much so! Candidate didn’t just do themselves a favour – they help everyone with that stance :)

  16. Bea W

    This would raise red flags for me. I expect if a position is posted someone has already determined how much their willing to pay for the work. Not giving a range or failing to say the candidate’s own salary requirements fall within the range comes across as suspect on multiple levels.

    I think pointing out she was willing to negotiate based on the total package actually made it worse even though it wasn’t your intention. The whole thing could be easily read as “we’re going to bargain actual salary down to as little as we can get away with” rather than “we want to pay you what the job is worth”. A candidate would question whether the company pays below market, hence the emphasis on benefits.

  17. MK

    OP, the harsh assessment of your company is accurate and the candidate did not in fact make any false accussations of your pay practices. You seem to have taken the response to mean that they think you don’t pay fairly, but that’s not what they said; I think they meant that your practices do not promote the “equal pay for equal work” guideline and Alison’s answer points out exactly how that is pretty accurate.

    Also, your response to the candidate had two problematic points, in my opinion. You basically said “we know what you want and we haven’t ruled you out”, implying that they must not be too much off base, I suppose? But how can you even know this, when you don’t even have a range? And what if a candidate takes this to mean that their salary expectations are basically ok? Also, the point about negotiation and the overall compensation package is pretty irrelevant, unless you actually have a range. There are some salaries that can’t work for the employee, even with the best benefits in the history of employment attached.

    1. Junior Dev

      Thank you! I was bothered by that part of the letter too. There was no false allegation anywhere.

    2. LizB

      Your first paragraph is exactly what my thought was. Maybe the OP’s company does pay fairly — but if a company didn’t, they would probably use the exact same practices that this CEO has implemented in order to hide the disparities. The candidate wasn’t mean or rude, just blunt about how these practices (rightfully) come off as super sketchy to job seekers.

    3. LBK

      Agreed – fair pay will come about by establishing things like providing salary ranges as standard practices. She didn’t say she thought you paid unfairly, but rather she doesn’t want to engage with a company that doesn’t follow those standards and thus contribute to the overall cultural shift that will support pay equality by making those standards the new normal.

    1. Peter Cottontail

      Unicorns have horns; Pegasuses have wings.
      A unicorn can’t lose the wings that it doesn’t have.

      1. Putting Out Fires, Esq

        Precisely the problem! All those job postings without salary range have deprived us of winged unicorns.

  18. all aboard the anon train

    I would have responded similarly to the candidate.

    The second paragraph of OP’s response got my hackles up, because it sounds as if they’re looking to negotiate a lower salary than the candidate requested, and that in addition to a refusal to name a range indicates they might be looking to low-ball candidates.

    Benefits are great, but base salary is still important, too. I’ve seen one too many companies who try to pull the “great benefits” and low base salary to really trust the “I’ll negotiate based on benefits” line. If the benefits aren’t in line with what I want, it’s not going to matter as much.

    1. Lil Fidget

      Yeah, also I’ve been fortunate in my benefits in the past, so if someone says they have “great benefits” my expectations are really quite high. It usually turns out that they have what I’d consider average benefits, which in no way compensates for the lowball salary they’re trying to offer.

      1. all aboard the anon train

        Definitely. I had one company who went on and on about how their base salary + benefits was competitive, but their health insurance, 401K, and vacation time was less than great. Maybe it was great for the industry, but they were trying to court me and I was coming from a different industry with much better benefits.

    2. k.k

      That part hung me up too. I don’t think it’s what OP intended, but it comes off to me like, “You told us what you want, and we’re keeping you around, but only because you said you’d negotiate.” I think it’s because while OP said that they’re aware of the candidates requirements, they never say those requirements are in their range. Perhaps worded differently the candidate would have reacted better.

      1. TCO

        Agreed–when I give a salary range as a candidate (which I always try to avoid given the strong possibility of undercutting myself), I’m generally expecting an excellent benefits package because that’s standard in my industry. (And benefits seem to be getting stronger in many industries, actually.) Implying that I’d be willing to negotiate a lower salary because you promise the benefits are excellent, even though you can’t provide any details about those benefits, doesn’t impress me. Great benefits are a given when I job-search in my field, not an additional perk.

        1. all aboard the anon train

          The only time I’d actually negotiate a slightly lower salary is if the benefits were truly outstanding and unique. Say, 10% 401K match with immediate vesting or paying off my student loans or giving me a three month paid sabbatical after a few years employment. Otherwise, I expect good benefits and I’m not going to take a pay cut just because you have health insurance and dental.

    3. K.

      Right! If the base salary isn’t enough for me to live on, it doesn’t matter what the benefits are.

    4. No Mas Pantalones

      I got the same feeling. “We’ve got great benefits that I’m not allowed to tell you about.”

      And maybe they DO have great benefits, and maybe they DO pay really well and it’s a completely golden unicorn type of job. The CEO insisting on hiding the salary range and benefits is a big ole poop covered red flag right on top of that golden unicorn. No one’s going to know it’s an awesome, golden unicorn job because it smells like crap.

      1. Linzava

        This.

        At one place I used to work, the owner claimed we had the same number of days off as the State of California. We did not, we had 6 holidays, 1 less than the standard. He would add our holiday, vacation and sick days together and the total equaled the holidays the State offers. The insurance was the cheapest possible and worse than my minimum wage jobs. Definitely the worst benifits package of any job I’ve had and he claimed it was amazing.

        To this day, I appreciate my awesome pay and benefits. It’s extra special when I have the day after Thanksgiving off without having to burn a vacation day.

  19. Adereterial

    This is where I would hate to try and find work in the US. Salaries (or ranges) are generally included on job adverts in the UK and it’s rare to find one that doesn’t have it.

    Not putting the salary on is just ridiculous, in my view. I’d have withdrawn from that vacancy as well.

    1. Akcipitrokulo

      Also UK -I’ve seen a few with “competitive salary” on it – they are definitely the exception. I *might* be looking in the next year or so, and I wouldn’t bother applying for them because I’m at a stage in my career where I’m valuable enough not to waste my time on a position that’s playing games (unless there’s something *really* special about it!)

      I think the benefits thing is bigger in the US than here though – here they tend to be a bit of icing on the cake rather than something you actually need! So that may come into it… but surely that’s *more* reason to be up-front?

      1. Adereterial

        Competitive salary usually means just above National Minimum Wage… and I avoid those like the plague!

        The benefits thing is definitely less important here as there’s no need to negotiate for health or dental insurance, but some perks are worth having to some people. I’d take a slightly lower salary for flexi-time or extra holiday above the 28 day statutory minimum, or a decent employers pension contribution but not that much less. I’m public sector anyway, so all salary ranges are on the job ads as a basic requirement. That’s the best way to do it.

        1. Akcipitrokulo

          Yep – even at low-paid jobs, places that pay £1 over NMW will advertise their pay.

    2. Akcipitrokulo

      (And yeah, not putting on an advert is one thing, but I’m being interviewed and ask, and I *still* don’t get an answer? I’d withdraw too.)

    3. Macedon

      Depends on the industry — most UK listings in mine are a ‘helpful’ “DoE”.

      One of my first questions on being asked to interview is on salary, to decide whether I even want to go in.

    4. Edina Monsoon

      I think in the UK there’s much more emphasis on work/life balance and understanding that people work for money and aren’t expected to work for the love of the job.

  20. lisalee

    I think your impulse to give a lot of information here actually hurt you. When I hear a phrase like “we can’t tell you your salary but our benefits are very good” that makes me think that the person is being defensive because they know the salary is below market value. Over-explaining sometimes sounds suspicious.

    If you REALLY can’t get your CEO to change his ways, I’d say something like this instead: “I don’t have an exact number as our CEO prefers to make a final offer to our top candidate depending on experience and skillset. I see you have $X listed as your desired salary and that is in line with what I expect the offer to be [if that’s true, of course.]” You could also name past salaries for similar positions. But keep it short and sweet.

    1. OP

      I can see your point. In an attempt to be as helpful as possible without being able to give any information at all, I made a mess of the communication. Again, why I was writing to Alison… want to know how to better communicate in this situation.
      Thank you for the recommended language to use in the future.

      1. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws

        To be fair, I don’t think you “made a mess” so much as the situation is generally messy. Not being able to share a salary range looks shady because, well, the decision is in the hands of a CEO who thinks asking about a benefits package is a “red flag” — which is shady! But that’s not your fault. I think there have been a lot of valuable suggestions about wording, so you have some fodder for negotiating future situations like this one, hopefully with better outcomes. But I really don’t think this one went sideways because of clumsy wording on your part. She wanted transparency, your CEO doesn’t want to be transparent, and you’re stuck between the two. Don’t beat yourself up.

      2. Specialk9

        Please do NOT take ownership of this. Your CEO is the one messing up, you’re just trying to make it all work.

        If your boss were to insist that you drive the company car with 1 wheel made of wood, you might find inventive ways to make it limp along, badly, for awhile. But all your heroics of engineering won’t make that wooden tire reasonable. And the failure will be on the guy who insisted rubber be swapped for wood.

  21. DaniCalifornia

    I know overall that the situation kind of sucks and the CEO needs to give OP more information. Yes I agree that companies need to be transparent about their salaries. But this isn’t going to magically change overnight. I thought the candidate’s response was a bit severe. Especially when the OP sends, “What I can tell you is we are aware of the salary requirement you listed in your initial application and have continued to move forward with interviewing you as a serious candidate.” As a candidate this would tell me that (ideally) they are willing to work with my salary requirement so I will continue until I hear otherwise.

    I actually thought it was a really good way for the OP to give the candidate as much information as possible in an indirect way. I recognize that some companies might still go forward and then try to low ball you, but sometimes that’s the game. (Again it shouldn’t be but…) Perhaps the OP is not missing out on a good candidate after all if that’s how they respond to an honest answer.

    Also I think when we are in a candidate’s mindset we need to remember that not everyone we talk to in the hiring process will be privy to all the information. I have been in the OPs shoes, it’s not fun nor would it be my choice. If the CEO does not change one thing after this situation and OP is left in the same boat, what would AAM readers suggest she say? (Honest answer as it might be helpful to others)

    1. Akcipitrokulo

      Honest answer – given the circumstances, she’s doing the best she can. I don’t think there’s a magic way of putting it.

      1. No Mas Pantalones

        Agreed. Makes me wonder if there isn’t a better place out there for OP. This CEO seems … well, like a nutjob.

      2. Falling Diphthong

        While I agree that the root problem is above her, I think something like “Your stated range is acceptable. Our CEO will decide a salary for this new position when we make an offer, so I can’t give you a more precise number at this point” would have been a lot clearer. Because I definitely took “We are aware of the salary requirement you listed” as “…and we are way below it, but when you hear that our office is like a family then you’ll realize mere money can’t replace that.”

          1. einahpets

            Eh, we can make arguments either way. The original letter from the OP is cagey about whether the range the candidate gave is even acceptable. “we are aware of the salary requirement you listed” does not equal “your stated range matches what we would consider for the position”.

    2. Roscoe

      I think you are responding with the context of what the OP said in their letter, which does make sense. But if you just look at that response to a simple “what is the salary” question, then it makes sense why the candidate reacted how they did. It seems that they are hiding something. Saying “I’m not able to discuss specifics” is like something you see when someone has a pending lawsuit and they are being interviewed. It just comes across badly.

      1. DaniCalifornia

        Unfortunately I work in a field where the salary range is wide and varied. And job descriptions can be vague. I’ve applied to jobs and received the same response and have had to make a decision like the candidate did. I’m not saying the candidate was wrong. I personally just would not have said it the way she did. I probably would have just said “Without more information regarding salary range I think it would be best to remove myself from consideration.” The second line about the secret pay stuff (while totally accurate!) comes off as childish and bratty to me. I would never say that no matter how awful the company’s hiring practice is because you never know who networks with others in a field.

        1. LBK

          I think it’s pretty bratty of the company to stomp their feet because someone wants to know what they’re going to get paid for their work. I never buy that a company truly can’t give you a range because it’s just far too nebulous – surely if I say I want $1M you’ll say no. So okay, $500k? No? $100k? Well, maybe. Okay, so let’s start there.

          The point about skills or experience is also unconvincing to me because at some point, the person that’s going to do the job well enough for you to hire them is going to need to have a certain amount of skills or experience. If you say you’d pay someone anywhere between $25-75k for a job depending on who they are – do you really want the $25k person doing that job? Or is the $75k person wildly overqualified and going to leave you in a month once they find something better?

          I just generally find the justifications for not having a range start to fall apart if you actually start walking the path of hiring someone for the role.

          1. DaniCalifornia

            I don’t know if the OP is trying to justify it. I just know she/he came here for advice and while all the comments/opinions/diatribes about employer’s not letting candidates know at least a salary range are 100% accurate, it’s not as helpful to the OP. Especially if she cannot get her CEO to change their policy.

            1. LBK

              Oh, I was speaking specifically to *you*, not to the OP.

              There isn’t really any way to help the OP. Her CEO controls the process, she can’t control her CEO. There isn’t really anything to do except resign herself to it and not take it personally.

              1. LBK

                Or rather, I was disagreeing that “that’s just how it is in my field, jobs are vague and ranges are wide” is a justifiable industry norm.

                1. DaniCalifornia

                  Gotcha. I agree it’s not justifiable but I if I limited myself to only postings that had salaries well…that’d be 1%. At the moment to find a better job I’m willing to play the game. And hopefully I’ll be in a position one day where I wont have to play the game and search through crappy listings. That and I’ll be able to provide more information if I ever am in a position to hire someone.

                2. einahpets

                  DaniC — at the point of job posting on a career site, sure. But my understanding is that it was beyond the time of just posting, but before the final interviews. I think it is reasonable to expect an employer to have a salary range at that point especially if they have already asked the candidate for their salary range.

        2. Mediamaven

          I agree. Whether or not the OP’s strategy is the right one her response was FAR more abrasive than it needed to be. I wouldn’t want to hire someone who answered me in such an accusatory fashion. The tone was not necessary.

          1. Just want an honest wage

            Ok, but if your inclination is “I’m being accused of something I’m not doing” the course of action should be “Make the business more transparent so that they can’t be accused of thing,” not “Get mad at someone for calling the business out for having policies in practice to hide the very thing they are being accused of.”

          2. einahpets

            I always find it helpful to read emails like these in terms of people saying them aloud to me politely, like in a face to face conversation. I figure it is easier to misinterpret an email as being said as not kind than visa versa, so I definitely lean towards I don’t think it is meant to be taken the way I could maybe take it here. (And I try and never immediately jump to – oh hey, this person must be high maintenance / a brat because they didn’t respond how I liked to something.)

          3. Marthooh

            Neither the OP nor the company was being accused of anything. The candidate refused to bargain with a company that keeps salary range a secret, and she said why she refused. That response was just as abrasive as it needed to be.

      2. The Other Dawn

        “I’m not able to discuss specifics”

        That’s what would make me feel as though the employer is being coy. I’m not sure what better phrasing would have been, but I think it can be improved upon.

        1. Lil Fidget

          Yeah knowing what we know from OP, I totally see why her email was phrased the way it was – but from the candidate’s perspective, it’s just going to seem like the company is super evasive about salaries and benefits and is probably trying to lowball candidates.

    3. hbc

      I think the only thing OP can do is be honest and give anything that can be used as backup. Like, “I actually don’t know the range because it’s determined by our CEO after interviewing, but in my time working with him, the offers have all fallen in the normal salary range for title, location, and experience. Your requested salary is within that same range.” Or “I’ve had candidates shop around for a counter offer and all but one has taken this job as the best offer available.”

      But it sounds possible he might even balk at that level of disclosure, so OP might be stuck wordsmithing what s/he has.

    4. LBK

      I think the OP probably is doing the best she can in the circumstances – she just needs to accept that the circumstances are such that she will lose good candidates and it’s beyond her control. Either leave or learn not to take it personally.

    5. M from NY

      You’ve completely skipped over the second paragraph that mentioned “willingness to negotiate along with benefits”. This implies attempt to lowball salary even if that wasn’t OP intention. If employer is interviewing based on a range given in application then the job does have range and refusal to answer is the owner/CEO is playing games. OP should be very upfront that current practices will continue to cause them to lose candidates and accept that unless the rules change they will lose additional potential employees.

    6. OP

      DaniCalifornia – I’m so grateful for your comment! Thank you for not dragging me through the coals. I really was doing as much as I felt I could, given the restraints I am working with.
      I don’t fault candidates for asking pay questions at all! I understand we all need to make a living and I was basically just trying to confirm to the candidate that we were on the same page (albeit, I got the message loud and clear that could have been communicated better).
      I actually think this candidate was a little abrupt in making such a harsh assessment of the company and possibly burning bridges in the future. The candidate has every right to withdraw from consideration – no problem – but it’s not wise to be so sharp with hurling accusations based on one email correspondence… and thus, maybe it was a bullet dodged (not because I don’t want people to care about salary – but I want people to tactfully handle difficult situations).

      1. LBK

        I think it would behoove you to read some of the discussions about the “accusations” you think she was hurling – she wasn’t saying your company pays unfairly because obviously she has no way to know that. She was saying that businesses engaging in that kind of obfuscation of pay data is what allows companies that *do* unpay to get away with it, because companies like yours perpetuate that as the norm. You may be one of the good guys, but right now you’re covering for the bad guys.

        No one is dragging you through the coals – everyone understands that the CEO is the issue here and that you have very limited control here, if any. Yeah, maybe you could rephrase your communication a little, but it’s still basically polishing a turd. I think you might be taking it personally because you believe in the company from the inside and you’re not feeling like there’s a lot of empathy for your situation, but consider that in hiring, the company has pretty much all the power – maybe have some empathy for the candidate who has to make a potentially life-changing career decision based on extremely limited information. She doesn’t know what you know about actually working at the company.

        1. Marthooh

          And actually, the policies your CEO espouses ARE likely to result in gender-, race-, and disability-based pay inequities. Even if that’s not the result he intends, what he’s doing still sucks. Go back and reread the comments on dinosaur’s post.

        2. Mad Baggins

          “…companies that *do* unpay to get away with it because companies like yours perpetuate that as the norm. You may be one of the good guys, but right now you’re covering for the bad guys.”
          Beautifully put!

      2. Engineer Girl

        You do realize that pay disparity in tech is a super hot topic right now? It’s front and center. That means great candidates are hypersensitive to anything that smacks of game playing. That’s especially true where there is a male CEO and a potential for a “bro” culture.

        A lot of high performing tech women have become weary of this game playing. While your intentions were good, you acted like a player. So you were judged as one.

        1. OP

          I’m not sure if this was a miscommunication but my industry is as far from tech as you can possibly get… just to clarify.

          1. Engineer Girl

            But it is spreading to other industries. For example the “Time’s Up” campaign.

            This topic is in many people’s minds right now. Acting like a player is hurting your company.

            1. Specialk9

              It’s totally understandable to feel like we’re attacking you, OP, but we’re really really not. We are giving your boss hard side-eye, and sympathize with the hard place you’re in.

              EngineerGirl has a really important point about the current cultural resonance and how it may be intersecting with your situation, and with your expectation of how ‘Nice’ that woman should have acted.

              I’m not in tech – laughably far from it – and I’m a high performing woman whose patience is *done* by now, just like EG was saying. I feel like this is a really common sentiment in 2018. We’re realizing that we *don’t* have to slog through sexist bullshit like we thought, and we’re damn well not going to anymore. And we’re not going to make being Nice more important than our livelihoods. And since the economy is on our side, and not on boss’, finally, we don’t have to suck it up like we used to.

              So OP, yeah, part of this is that your boss is playing by the old rules, and failing, because *we’re* not anymore. We recognize his nonsense and are calling it out. Getting mad at the one speaking truth, instead of the one trying to enforce a creepy feudalistic power disparity… well, that’s a choice, but maybe not the best one.

              But I also think that in a week or two, this will all have settled a bit, and you’ll have had time to sort through the advice. And I suspect you’ll realize you need to find the next job sooner than you expected.

          2. I'm here

            I’m not in tech either, but I am still very aware of the pay disparity and, as a woman, I will not work with companies – tech or not – that cannot be straightforward and transparent with me. It is not an industry thing, it is a fight against gender discrimination.

        2. einahpets

          This, so much this!

          The line above in OP’s comment that just seriously raised my hackles: “thus, maybe it was a bullet dodged (not because I don’t want people to care about salary – but I want people to tactfully handle difficult situations)”

          OP, I do feel bad that you are the bystander getting the flack directed toward your CEO/company here.

          But I also hope you can step back and consider whether you’d ever be saying the same thing you said in this thread if it were a male candidate. We have this inane cultural notion that women should be able to do all the technical work for a job/situation AND all the emotional/soft work for a job/situation so that nobody’s feelings get hurt.

          1. DaniCalifornia

            Why even bring up your last paragraph? This is not what the OP is asking about or talking about at all. She was clarifying she wasn’t in tech. And it seems that no matter the candidates gender she would have said the same thing if asked.

            1. LBK

              I think einahpats was just referring to technical labor in general (eg the actual “work” of the job), in contrast to emotional labor. The point is that women are generally judged more harshly for not doing emotional labor than men are, so in a situation like this where the candidate’s wording was fairly blunt and not softened, it’s worth questioning if the OP would find it equally as offputting if a man had said it, because culturally we don’t expect men to put as much energy into sounding nice.

              1. ouinne

                Yeah the whole ‘she was so mean!’ thread in the replies to the letter are making me have some side-eye.

                She was direct. This is business, not telling your eighty-year-old aunt she looks lovely in her hideous new hat.

            2. einahpets

              Sorry, OP made that comment about the job not being in tech while I was posting my reply (1 min before mine and maybe I made an error in not refreshing before I posted?) — LBK is correct that I didn’t mean technical work so much as the actual work of the job.

              If the OP would have judged a male candidate for saying ‘no thanks, I’m not interested if you aren’t transparent about the job salary range’ as she admitted she is judging the female candidate for doing so, then she can totally disregard my comment. I didn’t mean it to be a pile on and admit I could have worded it better. I have to keep myself (a female with two small female offspring) in check on a ton of cultural baggage about women in the workplace.

              1. DaniCalifornia

                Hey, no you and LBK clarifying makes sense! And as a current admin professional studying to go into a tech field I think it’s great that the awareness of pay disparity is growing and not being accepted as a norm. I’m not really looking forward to that part of switching careers. Glad you are looking out for you and your daughters!

              2. Specialk9

                I thought this was highly relevant. Expecting women to be nice and to do emotional labor is a trap SO many of us fall into, and only realize that when we stop and ask – or are asked – if we’d have the same expectations of a man.

                I’m a woman who’s very aware of sexism, AND I catch myself being sexist all the time, because that’s the messaging I absorbed growing up. Like I’ll think “Oh wow that skirt’s really short for work. — Oh dammit, that one. Ok, so, let’s unpack that…”

                The difference seems to be, as in most -isms that permeate a culture, whether one fights those initial reactions or feeds them.

                In this case, pointing it out and saying, ‘hey, have you thought this one through? It’s problematic because of this reason’ is something that all of us need.

      3. DaniCalifornia

        I think that this is definitely a well debated and hot topic (as seen by all of these threads). And of course all of us commenters read into your letter with our own opinions and experiences applied to the situation at hand. I am hopeful that you can have a good conversation with your CEO and perhaps gear him towards you knowing a salary range that you can share with prospective candidates upfront!

      4. Roscoe

        I think you are still taking this way too personally. No one has dragged you through the coals. We have said the policy sucks, and your wording wasn’t great. Now, the fact that you are saying she is burning bridges and calling it a bullet dodged, that makes you sound very petty here. She reacted to what was, in her opinion, hiding the salary, by saying that she believes in equal pay, and you think that was bad?

        Maybe you are a bit too entrenched in this to see things clearly right now.

        1. LBK

          Agreed 100% – the OP’s ire seems disproportionate. She’s definitely taking it very personally, which seems weird given that the whole problem is that the issue is out of her control.

          1. Elizabeth H.

            The OP doesn’t seem “irate” at all! She seems calm and reasonable! I too think the candidate’s reply was a little harsh, and so do some other people, and I don’t think the OP seems ignorant or myopic or stubborn about this issue just because she’s not holding forth sympathetically about the injustice of her company’s policies and behavior.

            1. LBK

              The candidate has every right to withdraw from consideration – no problem – but it’s not wise to be so sharp with hurling accusations based on one email correspondence… and thus, maybe it was a bullet dodged (not because I don’t want people to care about salary – but I want people to tactfully handle difficult situations).

              It’s comments like this that cast the candidate as outrageous and unreasonable (“hurling accusations” and “bullet dodged” are pretty strong characterizations) that make me view the OP as irate – she seems very worked up on a personal level that the candidate disapproved of company practices that the OP has no control over.

      5. Safetykats

        So – this confuses me more than a little. Firstly, surely you have some idea when you (the company) post a position, what you have budgeted for that position. A company that doesn’t know what it can afford to pay is not going to stay in business very long. If the company has done its homework, you also know (even for a one-of-a-kind position within the company) what you’re going to need to pay for the experience you’re requiring. Either one of those things can guide the salary range you advertise. However, the problematic thing (particularly about small companies that think they are posting one-of-a-kind jobs) is that the budgeted salary can be way out of alignment with the going rate, for all kinds of reasons. But if your boss knows his budget, and you know he going rate, then there is no practical reason for not posting a salarya range. So it’s not itbofbline for a candidate to assume that what’s going on is either cluelessness or gamesmanship.

        It’s also interesting that you would assess what the candidate did as potentially burning a bridge. It’s true the email could have been worded more equivocally. But “burning a bridge” implies that you think the candidate is somehow going to need a job from this company some day, or at least from you. If you’re a small company, unless you’re planning on being a really big one relatively soon, that’s probably not the case. But honestly, as I think you can see from the comments, it’s so outside the norm to be unable to quote a salary range or provide a benefits summary, I think I would also be quite put out by a company that refused to do so. (Although, as I commented elsewhere on this post, I would be very unlikely to even apply for a job that didn’t list salary up front.)

        1. Marie

          Yeah, since this was a top candidate, well, the company should have some concern for whether they burnt a bridge with her. People at the top of their field have influence, political/social capital, and likely a good professional network. The negative opinion of an in-demand professional (who is apparently direct and vocal) can have a big impact on a company’s reputation. The company may need to consider whether they should be the ones doing some bridge building to top candidates, rather than assuming they’re a coveted destination or industry player that top candidates need to impress.

          That a top candidate didn’t feel a need to cultivate a positive relationship with your company is potentially cause for concern!

    7. Elizabeth H.

      I thought this way too. To me the sentence that they were aware of the candidate’s indicated range and continuing to move forward as a serious candidate would have said it all to me, as a candidate. Like, if I had previously told them I was looking for 55-65 and they said they wanted to move forward with me as a serious candidate, why should I assume that they’re not operating in good faith and are going to try to get me at less than 55? Seems paranoid.

      It benefits each party more to know the other person’s number without having to reveal their own, but you can’t have BOTH. In general I definitely think job postings should include salary info. But I would have been fine with that response as a candidate (assuming I had been interested enough in the position to get that far in process).

      1. Just want an honest wage

        ” Like, if I had previously told them I was looking for 55-65 and they said they wanted to move forward with me as a serious candidate, why should I assume that they’re not operating in good faith and are going to try to get me at less than 55? Seems paranoid.”

        Because many, many companies bring you in for interviews, then say “our highest we can offer is $52k, but we also offer free LaCroix and half-day fridays in the summer!” and expect you to want to take an 8k paycut for those “perks.”

        Companies do this alllllllllll the time. That’s why you should be wary of a company that refuses to give you a concrete salary range.

        1. einahpets

          Also the email response seemed unnecessarily vague on acknowledging the salary range because the OP isn’t committing to anything.

          From the follow up comments by the OP here – the CEO doesn’t want to commit to any range so she can’t say whether the range would work. The OP doesn’t know that the CEO will choose the range or not. He may low-ball the range completely.

          I’ve received emails / phone calls (usually external recruiters) that basically say they can’t give the exact range, but they always have also said that my range is definitely in line with their understanding of what is budgeted for the position. If the HR person can’t at a minimum say that, I don’t think the candidate is wrong to walk away.

        2. Specialk9

          And because the OP specifically mentioned negotiating salary in the same breath as fantastic (unnamed) benefits. A lot of us would read that – from experience – as the preface to a literal.

  22. Engineer Girl

    I’m loving th candidates response. It is deserved.

    The refusal to provide benefits overview with salary make it impossible to judge compensation. As an HR person, you need that info to prevent discrimination.

    The candidate heard that your company is not actively trying to prevent gender based discrimination. Because the only way to track it is to measure it. And if the HR person doesn’t know then no one knows. Your CEO is preventing you from properly doing your job.

    You need to push back so you can be compliant with best practices. Because an HR person that doesn’t push back against this isn’t doing their job.

    1. OP

      Ok, few things – first of all… the position we were hiring for was one of a kind so there’s no comparison to current incumbents. Also, it’s not a refusal to provide benefits overview… I offered to review all of that with the candidate over the phone and she opted not to receive that information. Not much I can do about that.

      1. Engineer Girl

        You’re providing nothing in writing. That means it isn’t real.
        A compensation package is benefits PLUS salary. So you can’t provide the compensation package unless you provide both parts.

        1. DaniCalifornia

          What if a company doesn’t have or offer anything in writing for prospective candidates? Why does that mean it’s not real? I have only worked in smaller offices (12 or less people) and have never even received an offer letter. All benefits were discussed verbally. OP states her office is small, perhaps they don’t give anything in writing about benefits until they are entering the offer/negotiation stage? I don’t know if that is standard practice or not in medium/larger companies? I can’t see it being beneficial to the employer to hand out written information about benefits to every candidate. And from OP’s letter I am unsure of where exactly they were in the hiring practice with the candidate. I assumed based on the conversation it was somewhere between reviewing candidates resume to possibly scheduling an interview.

          1. LBK

            The OP actually says she wrote a one-sheet explaining the benefits info and the CEO barred her from giving it to candidates. So the document does exist.

            1. DaniCalifornia

              Ok I must have missed that in the comments somewhere? So knowing the CEO barred her from giving it to candidates that’s interesting.

          2. Mike C.

            You don’t have to be a huge, multi-national company to write down a few numbers on paper.

          3. Specialk9

            Dani, have you ever had to sue someone, even just in small claims court? The thing that matters is what you can prove, on a piece of paper. You’re playing with fire if you do verbal offers and verbal benefits. In the US we have so few worker protections, I’m not sure why you’d have the few you have over for free.

            1. DaniCalifornia

              Nope and I hope I never have too! I’m in a field and have always worked in very small offices, where offer letters aren’t generally made. Even when asked for one. The only time I was given one was when I needed proof of salary for an apartment I was moving into before I started the job and had my first pay stub. No HR either and an at will state. Believe me I’m not happy at no written offers or benefits. But I have a decent job and a good boss. I know that’s not the case everywhere.

      2. Engineer Girl

        Also, it doesn’t matter if this is a one of a kind position. There’s a salary range your company is willing to pay.

        1. MommyMD

          There’s no such thing as a one of a kind position. All positions involve job duties such as answering phones or not, customer facing, computer work, sales, whatever. This company seems to think it’s so singular in the marketplace it doesn’t have to give straight answers.

        1. the gold digger

          Slightly OT, but I worked on an SAP conversion at my old job. It failed, not because SAP would not have worked for us, but because the execs did not support it.

          Our VP said, “But we’re DIFFERENT! It won’t work for our business!”

          I wanted to tell her, “We have customers. Who order from us. We put their orders into a system. And build their product. And ship it to them. And bill them for it. And then receive their payment. We ARE like everyone else.”

      3. Starbuck

        OP, is that what you really believe, or is that what your CEO is trying to convince you to believe? Because it’s not right, it’s not equitable, and your candidate was right to be wary of your offer over the phone because without having anything in writing, how would they hold you or the CEO accountable to what was promised? Again, this is a tactic used by companies that plan on lowballing or discriminating. Refusing to provide things in writing is usually inferred to be a refusal to keep your word to candidates. You can’t expect them to trust you on this! That you are trying to use these tactics, but with good intentions, doesn’t make it any better.

        1. TrainerGirl

          This. And while I’m sure the CEO sees himself as an all-knowing being who can be unbiased, I’d be willing to bet that he’s already made salary decisions based on the person he was hiring, and has probably already veered into dicey territory with it. When it’s just you and a few of your buddies starting a business in your garage that might work, but at this point he shouldn’t be basing salary decisions on his own interactions with candidates.

      4. Greetings, earthling

        OP, while I understand that you may feel defensive right now, I am concerned that you do not seem to really get how bad this situation is, and how unprofessional your CEO is being here. You are acting as if this candidate was out of line, and they really, really were not. You are in a difficult position, and if I was you I would very seriously reconsider working in your company because the CEO’s failure to provide relevant and needed information is making you responsible for representing a bad position. My real concern is that you seem to think this is acceptable and are defending it. It’s not, you shouldn’t, and if you carry on like this it will warp your own professionalism and impact your reputation.

        1. Scarlet

          Based on OP’s other comments in the thread, they’re new to the company and they sound eager and enthusiastic about it. However, I’m really starting to believe they’re being blind to a whole bunch of red flags because they really want to believe this is a great place to work at. The fact that they seem to be personally offended by the candidate’s justified and fair (and non-personal) remarks, as well as by the commenters’ criticism of her CEO makes it look like they identify with the CEO’s vision… to a disturbing degree. I hope they can take the time to think it through and get some distance so they realize things might not be as great as they seem.

      5. Mad Baggins

        OP, what if instead of sending you a resume on paper, the candidate offered to explain her skills and work history over the phone? And when you said you needed someone with 5 years’ experience with llama grooming, she said, “Unfortunately I can’t give specifics, but I am aware of your requirement and I am still interested in the position.” Would you think she had the experience required or not? And how much weight would you put on qualifications that she did not offer on paper?

  23. Anonymous Poster

    What a tricky situation! I am used to job postings/interviewing where salaries aren’t discussed until at the very end, so hearing about a number not being thrown around until the very end isn’t really all that unusual to me given my past experience. In this, the CEO isn’t necessarily out of step with current practices, though it varies by industry. But being this cagey about it would make me wonder as a candidate what other things the company is going to be cagey about – even if this is the only thing.

    I get that there isn’t much you in your position can do about this. I’d suggest compiling this interaction, along with others, and presenting to the CEO the problems this stance is taking. I could see the CEO arguing that this particular candidate was rude and preachy in their response (because the written form is often difficult to read as intended, I could definitely see how it came off as being preachy and rude), but by compiling that this is a problem you’re encountering time and time again you should be able to head off that defense. At that point, if the CEO digs in, at least you’ve gotten an active buy in to, “We will lose candidates that appear very good because of our adherence to this policy.” You did all you reasonably could do in what you consider to be the best interests of the organization.

    Best of luck.

  24. She Who Needs a Username

    I agree that the second paragraph was too much. And at a certain point in your career some benefits are non-negotiable, so I wouldn’t lower my salary for them.

  25. Jules

    As the person who is in the business so to speak from both side of the table. I didn’t think that what you wrote was offensive. I think the candidate is staying true to herself philosophy wise and it’s literally her choice. It’s the employee market right now, where really good candidates have a choice of employers after many years of stagnant pay. I am paid in the upper end of my range and if I was interviewing and never even occurred to ask about the salary range and at the end of that process someone says that, ‘Hey, we can’t pay what you are currently paid, but in a couple of years, you can get promoted and get paid more”, that would have wasted all of our time.

    You might think that your benefit package is generous, but unless it’s a rare unicorn Cadillac plan, it’s not going to amount to much. Unlimited vacation doesn’t pay bills. Same with bonus. Coming from a bonus plan where I can earn above 100% if I go above and beyond, to a plan where there is no way in hell I can ever meet 100%, I would have reconsidered my options. And some employers are touting about their big bonuses/401k/profit sharing… Well, the market has caught up and you are no longer the best payer in the market.

    As a disclosure, I work in HR and I also changed jobs in a hot market.

    1. MLB

      Her response wasn’t offensive, but it was a long-winded non-answer. I understand she’s in a tough position, but she needs to have a talk with the CEO and explain why this is bad practice. The interview process is long, and I’m not going to waste my time if a company can’t provide me with a minimum of a salary range.

  26. CBE

    His system of making it “based on request” perpetuates the idea that he’s the all powerful one and everyone has to beg for money. I bet he doesn’t give raises unless people ask and prove they “deserve” it, too.
    He needs to stop thinking of himself as a benevolent overlord taking lucky people under his wing and start thinking about hiring as a two way street, with openness on both sides. And if he’s afraid that current employees will find out how much a new hire makes, he needs to look at WHY. And take a hard look at why he’s underpaying them.

  27. Camellia

    OP, I’m curious – did you accept your job at this company without knowing what you would be paid for it? What gave you the confidence to do that?

    1. OP

      I’ve stated this elsewhere but it bears repeating…. This was not at job offer stage…. We always discuss pay prior to offering a job. This was immediately following the initial phone screen.

      1. CityMouse

        I think it makes sense to make salary clear before you ask someone for an in-person interview (if not earlier, but especially before an in person interview). You’re investing your time in them, and they’re investing time in you. If the salary is a huge mismatch, you’re wasting your own and their time.

      2. Starbuck

        OP we understand that these terrible practices are not of your making, but your comments make it seem like you are trying to defend or justify them. Be careful not to let your CEO’s terrible practices and flimsy reasoning and justifications wear off on you! That would be a shame because it seems like your intentions are really good, just stymied by terrible management.

        1. Specialk9

          Yeah. The defense is starting to be too dogged, of unacceptable practices. She’s digging in instead of listening to the advice she requested. Hopefully in a week she’ll be able to stop defending bad practices, and really think about them. I know I can get defensive in the moment, and later be like, oh, that’s what they meant. Ohhhhhh yeah. Ohhh yeeeeeeaaaah now I see exactly what they meant.

          1. Scarlet

            OP seems to identify with the company and the CEO to such an extent that I personally find it vaguely disturbing.

  28. Former higher ed employee now in recovery

    A little over a year ago I applied for a job that would have required a cross-continent move. The job seemed really appealing on paper but the salary wasn’t listed. The HR person called and said that they really liked my application, and that the pay was $35k. That was a full $15k less than I was making at the time. There was no way I could have made the salary AND a move work, so thanked them for their time and withdrew my candidacy.

    While they showed good ethics in calling me, I regret that they had to call me at all. Had they simply listed the pay on the outset, it would have saved all our time. Every job application took me about about an hour to complete. Listing the pay range is free.

  29. Nita

    I think hiding the salary range until late in the process is just a waste of your company’s own time, and your boss should recognize that. There are going to be candidates for whom salary is an all-important number that helps them decide if they would walk away from their current job/relocate for this one, whether this job would even pay the bills, and whether it’s in line with what they’re looking for. You might go through the entire interview process, then make a grand reveal of the mystery number, and see the candidate walk away… and it’s probably already happened several times.

    Also, it kind of sounds like the boss comes up with the number off the top of his head, so the applicant that sent you the angry email may have a point. If there’s no pre-determined number that the boss is willing to pay to any qualified applicant, who’s to say that he isn’t low-balling women, or minorities – at least, subconsciously?

  30. MommyMD

    I would not waste five minutes with a company that won’t discuss salary range. And I don’t think her email was harsh. The I won’t discuss salary but we can discuss benefits is hogwash.

    1. Akcipitrokulo

      Agreed. I would have been unhappy but wouldn’t have walked away when I was starting out and was in the “I need a job I will take anything” frame of mind – now I’m not desperate? Nope. Not interested.

      And someone who is in a position of not having to take any job taking a stand isn’t just helping themselves – it’s benefiting those who may not have a choice, by showing employers that bad practice will lose good candidates.

  31. btdubbs

    Alison, how would your advice change if the OP didn’t have any power to persuade her boss on this issue? I work for a large organization (that’s owned by an even larger org) that also does not let us provide ranges up front. HR has a special formula they used based on experience level, degrees, etc. so theoretically there could be a range for a position but it could vary 30k or more. Is there any way we can be upfront with candidates about this without seeming like we’re trying to dupe them? I usually just tell candidates this is the system and get the salary info as soon as I can (HR only wants to give it to us once we’re in the offer stage… so frustrating).

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      If that’s really all they’ll let you do, and you’re not in a position to push for change (or have tried and failed), then … that’s all you can really do. But I’d be as transparent as you can be — for example, “We use a formula to set salary based on experience level, degrees, and XYZ. I’l get you salary info as soon as I can, but I want to be transparent that I often don’t have it until the offer stage.” Ideally you’d also be able to add, “We do pay very competitively and have found our salary offers generally meet or exceed candidates’ own requirements” or something like that if it’s true (but only if it’s true). But yeah, they’re hamstringing you.

      1. btdubbs

        Thanks, Alison. I wish I could add on the second part, but offering competitive pay is also a struggle here. It’s the kind of place that looks good on a resume, otherwise it would be even harder to recruit good people than it already is. OP, I feel your pain and I hope you are able to make some more headway in this area than I’ve been able to so far (I’m not entirely giving up!)

        1. MLB

          Can’t you state a range, but then add that it’s based on A, B & C so it could vary. All anyone wants is an idea to see if a job is worth investing their time to pursue. It really shouldn’t be that difficult or unusual a request.

  32. Meeeee

    OP, you sound like you work at my former company. The CEO there pulled stuff like this. He was an incredible cheapskate and would lowball stellar candidates, but anyone who had an “in”/network connection/someone to advocate for them would come in at 2 or 2.5x the salary that the great candidate with no connection came in at. This (along with myriad other things he did) created resentment and a toxic, dysfunctional workplace. As a candidate, I did the stereotypical “young woman” thing and didn’t ask for what I was worth. When I got the confidence to ask for a raise/promotion, I was shot down.

    If you have a hard time pushing back about pay transparency, what’s going to happen when a high performer starts sexually harassing a coworker and the CEO wants to keep the harasser?

    Also, the benefits that “Great Benefits!” companies offer…..usually are not that great.

  33. Delta Delta

    This is completely befuddling to me. Candidates need to know if a position is going to be worth their time and effort, just as much as a prospective employee needs to know if a candidate has the right experience/credentials, etc.

    I recently applied for a position where the screening phone interview was specifically to tell me about the salary range and benefits SO THAT I could opt out at that point if it was not within my requirements. I didn’t get the job but I have many warm fuzzies for that company because they gave enough consideration to the fact that if it wasn’t going to be a good fit from a salary standpoint they wouldn’t waste everyone’s time.

    1. CityMouse

      When I was first out of school, I definitely had my time wasted by low-balling companies. I was a kid and I didn’t know any better. Today, there’s no way I’d spend a day on an interview if I didn’t know what the position offered.

  34. OP

    Signing out of comments for a while but thank you to all who posted and provided assessments and guidance- much appreciated! Onward and upward :)

    1. Sloan Kittering

      Thanks for sticking with us OP, I know how hard it can be when people start getting fired up (I’m a former letter writer also). I hope you aren’t feeling beat up – everybody is bringing their own perspective to the letter, and they’re not aware of all the nuances of your reality. Also it feels a lot more personal when it’s your question than when you’re a commenter who’s sharing your philosophy *in theory.* You only asked the question because you wanted to do the right thing, and that’s admirable, and it looks like you’ve stimulated a great discussion!

    2. LT

      From your previous comments it sounds like you’re still relatively new and hope to enact change within your employer’s HR practices, so good luck! If you’re still up for it, I’m sure everyone here would love an update down the line, when you have something to provide :)

  35. Rookie Manager

    I won’t apply for jobs that don’t have a salary range upfront. A good application can take hours of my time, I’m not going to waste that time without knowing the money is enough. I expect many potential applicants would feel the same. (My career is in third sector so at times I am literally wondering if that job would pay the bills)

  36. Zahra

    OP, I think that beyond the salary range disclosure issue, we’re heading into “Your boss sucks and isn’t going to change” territory. Not what you asked, I know. But you’ve mentioned that you’ve been pushing back against multiple things that would make the comments section explode. Given all that, how much do you want to stay there?

  37. CatCat

    On discussing salary range transparency, this may be key, on a practical level, to selling it to the CEO, “(a) a way to be more competitive with strong candidates.” The strongest candidates may be just passing you by if they don’t see the salary advertised because they’ll focus their energy on positions that are advertising it. If the salary really is competitive in the employment market, this is worth promoting in the marketing of the position so that candidates are attracted!

    Let’s say that I see 5 job listings that pique my interest and seem aligned to my skills. Four include salary ranges. One does not. Of those that post salary ranges, one is below my range, but the rest are not. Guess which positions I will prioritize and focus on making sure my application materials are top notch?

    The one that is below my range is out, but no one’s time is wasted. I am not going to apply and no one at the employer needs to devote time to reading my materials. Maaaaaybe, I will apply to the one that didn’t post anything at all. Assuming I have time, haven’t seen other opportunities in my range advertised, and am not already interviewing for the ones I applied for.

  38. Cautionary tail

    I applaud the candidate for withdrawing their name for consideration.
    Years ago I did the same thing when I was previously looking for a job and similar red flags popped up. It was such a relief when I hung up the phone – Bullet dodged.

  39. Maya Elena

    If your CEO is leery of committing to a narrow salary range, especially for a hard-to-staff, specialized or high level executive job (rather than an hourly support job), put a minimum and a disclaimer, “salary commensurate with experience” – or something vague enough so that you still have leeway to attract a rockstar while giving candidates a benchmark.

    1. Gazebo Slayer

      I think we all know those vague disclaimers are meaningless BS without an actual range.

    2. On a pale mouse

      “Benchmark” is the key word there. I hate postings that say only “pay commensurate with experience.” What does that even tell me?

  40. rolling

    Given that AAM and nearly every commenter has criticized the company and supported the candidate, I am wondering if OP stands by her opinion of the candidate as having given a “harsh assessment of my company and false allegations of our pay practices.”

    1. Maya Elena

      I think OP took exception to the allegation that her company doesn’t pay equally for equal work. The optics aren’t great but the pay can still be fair.

      1. Observer

        Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t but refusal to allow anyone to know anything about the pay scales. That means, at minimum, that there is no transparency. And when ONE person makes all these decisions with no discussion, and no checking the likelihood of disparities is high, even if it’s not intentional.

      2. Starbuck

        But the candidate is right- fair pay practices means transparent pay practices. It’s not a claim you can just make and then not provide hard data/info to back up. Why would anyone take such a claim on faith? The whole idea is that secrecy and equitable pay practices are mutually exclusive.

      3. Greetings, earthling

        The candidate did not allege that the company doesn’t pay equally. They stated, accurately, that the company’s approach to salary negotiation is not in line with practices that support equal pay. That is a factual statement and not an allegation about the company in question. The candidate was not up for the game-playing and secrecy that the CEO was indulging himself in, and good for her!

  41. Observer

    How do you know that her allegations are false? From where I sit, what you described very much support what she wrote. YOU may not be playing games with job seekers, but your boss is. Since I’m not a mind reader, I don’t know what his reasons are, but at minimum, there is no transparency and no way for anyone to have any chance to make sure that pay decisions are even approaching equity.

  42. Jennifer Thneed

    > Unfortunately, I’m not able to discuss specifics right now.

    Can OP just say, “Unfortunately, I don’t have that information”? Because that’s a true statement, and the way OP is putting it is very much business-speak. Because right now it *sounds* as though you have the info but for some reason you won’t share it. That is how I’d interpret that sentence.

    1. Jerry Vandesic

      A reasonable response would be “when you do have that information, please get back to me.”

    2. Gazebo Slayer

      Yup. Right now you’re making it sound like *you* are being obstructive, not the CEO.

  43. Disparity

    Is it actually illegal to pay men and women different money for the same job, if it’s based on non-gender-specific things like negotiating skills and rapport with the CEO?

    (Note: I am *not* saying is it ethical, right, or cool to do so; it is clearly none of those. But lots of unethical, uncool, wrong behavior isn’t actually illegal.)

    1. Maya Elena

      Definitely if they came to the jobs with different years of experience, or different educations, or even under different market conditions (depserate shortage vs huge oversupply) – even though it’s the same job.

    2. Lil Fidget

      I’m not sure if it’s an issue on a case-by-case basis, I think the issue is if across your work force, men or white people in general make more than women or minorities in general. If it’s just me versus Chadwick I don’t think you can ever prove the cause.

    3. Ask a Manager Post author

      Yes. It violates the Equal Pay Act. The law does make exceptions if the employer can show the pay differential is the result of seniority, work responsibilities, or a merit system, but not if it’s just that you negotiated differently or got along with the CEO better.

      1. Lil Fidget

        This is very interesting. Is it illegal to pay two white men differently based on how much the CEO likes one or how well that one negotiates? I assume not, which makes it kind of weird.

        1. Sunshine on a Cloudy Day

          I always thought this was a straight forward thing – but your comment has me thinking… What if Joe gets hired at a company, but does not negotiate (and the CEO did particularly like him), so Joe is offered 50k. Then Steve gets hired – same job, same experience level – but he negotiates and the CEO loves him, so Jim is offered 70k. Then Jane comes in – same job, same experience level and she is paid 50k.

          Does Jane have a Equal Pay Act? If so, and she gets bumped to 70k, then does Joe also have one, b/c now there’s someone of a different making more than him for the same job, etc.?

          I know this is absurd and it’s probably too late to be seen, but I’m super curious.

          1. Student

            Yes, it covers both – wage differences where men are paid disproportionately higher than women, and wage differences where women are paid disproportionately higher than men, when there’s no legitimate business reason for the discrepancy.

            It’s also really easy to make up a “legitimate” business reason for the discrepancy, and really hard to figure out what anyone else is paid at most companies – so it’s a toothless law that ultimately gets ignored.

            Yes, it would make sense to have a law to cover the Joe-Jim disparity directly, but no such law exists. People really, really want to believe that their buddies deserve more money than someone else doing the same job that they don’t know or like. Such a law would still be toothless. It’d be much more effective to require companies to publish their pay rates internally, so that people could make up their own minds on whether they’re paid fairly compared to their peers and leave if they deem the pay disparity unmerited.

            1. Sunshine on a Cloudy Day

              Haha! You totally followed my though process, because my next question was does the government have any guidelines for how to quantify experience/seniority, responsibilities or what qualifies as a merit system? Or how deeply will the gov look into it if a company claims a pay disparity is due to one of those issues?

              I’ve seen how easy it is to claim that one candidate has less experience than another – like person A has 15 years total in industry, two of which are within the same subsection, vs person B who has 5 years total in industry, but all of five are in the specific subsection. Who is considered more experienced?

    4. Jennifer Thneed

      It is completely legal to pay two different *people* different money for the same job. It’s completely illegal to always pay women and men differently for the same job.

      The problem with your question is that “negotiating skills and rapport with the CEO” *are* actually somewhat gendered. Negotiation skills — because girls aren’t really taught/allowed to do that. Girls are well-trained to be happy with what they get and not complain out loud. And the rapport thing is SO subjective, and people often feel more rapport with people they are more similar to. This last thing is a real problem when you’re trying for a diverse workforce.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        It’s actually illegal even if you can’t show a broader pattern and it’s just you and your coworker Bob. It’s easier to prove if there’s a pattern, of course, but the law does prohibit it at the individual level.

        1. MommyMD

          Doesn’t it depend on variables such as experience? I’ve yet to see comprehensive law stating two people in similar positions must be paid the exact same salary but may be wrong. Can you provide links? It’s interesting.

          1. MommyMD

            Unless the comment is strictly gender-related. Even then two people in the same position could have different levels of experience with one being a high performer and one not. Are variables taken into consideration?

          2. Ask a Manager Post author

            It’s the answer above: The law does make exceptions if the employer can show the pay differential is the result of seniority, work responsibilities, or a merit system, but not if it’s just that you negotiated differently or got along with the CEO better.

            1. Need to send update for my letter…

              One quick follow-up: is “Cost of Living at time of hiring” a legal reason? Seven years ago, a large group of us left my old job because the boss was regularly paying women less than men (I had no expierence in the field and made $1.50/hour more straight out of college than my female coworkers with three-plus years). Big boss claimed that the reason for different salaries was that cost-of-living had changed from when each of us was hired…

              Never mind the stupidity of not doing COLA adjustments anyway. We asked, and I quote big boss, “cost of living only changes for a person when they are unemployed”

      2. MommyMD

        Thank you for the clarification Jennifer. I just educated myself on “affirmative defenses” on the equal pay official site. It is legal to offer different pay based on several variables.

  44. Safetykats

    I would never even apply for a posting that didn’t list a salary range, unless I was out of work and literally willing to take anything. I’m guessing that’s not the kind of candidates you’re targeting. Even if I was out of work, I would definitely give a higher priority to interviews where a salary range was provided. The thing is, if you can’t give me a range, I have no idea if it’s worth my time even completing the application – or worth your time to consider it. If I know going in that I would never take the job for what you’re willing to pay, why would I want to talk to you? And why would you waste your time talking to me? Your applicant was pretty straightforward, but not out of line. And my guess is that you’re missing out on the best applicants, because you never see them at all.

    1. The New Wanderer

      I’ve been applying to many jobs that don’t list a salary range (because U.S.), but Glassdoor and other sources give me an idea of what can be expected. It still sucks, but most of the time it’s addressed in the first phone conversation before too much time is invested. Very few recruiters have told me the range when I ask, they always default to “depends on experience,” argh. That’s the entire point of asking about a range, not a specific number written in stone, and yet the dance goes on.

      When pressed, I give them the same range that I would say okay to if they told me. I hate it, but I want a job so I want to get further in the process any chance I get. They don’t have to know that I won’t take any offer I think is lowball. However, one recruiter kept pressing me on “is that number for base, or total compensation value?” in the initial phone screen – they were repping the company, not me, but really? Now I have to calculate what total compensation I’m aiming for when I don’t even know what your benefits look like?

  45. MissDissplaced

    The response was perhaps a bit harsh. However, I would NOT want to wait until I was a “finalist” to find out what your range was and invest a lot of time in the interview process only to find we were miles apart. This is what phone screens are for! If not then (sometimes person screening is only verifying basics and setting appointments) then first interview. But honestly, it’s better to discuss sooner rather than later.

  46. Macedon

    Good on this candidate for both speaking up and being at a stage in their career where they feel confident doing that. I would have the same courage now, but I wouldn’t have when I was in my starting years, when I was also terrified to negotiate a role’s pay, lest I “upset” my potential employer and have that offer rescinded.

    OP, I am using ‘courage’ well here, because most candidates come from a default position of lower power when engaging with a potential employer. You’re making this imbalance even worse by not acknowledging their understandable need to figure out if this role you are offering is even worth interviewing for. Imagine you had also just said, “hiring…………. people” without any reference to job responsibilities. This is the exact same principle of, “You just come in, and we’ll make it worth your while.”

    The fact of the matter is, interviewing with you is an economic loss for me, your candidate. I have to take time off work, and spend leisure hours preparing for the interview. I’m prepared to swallow this cost if I think the end-result is moderately guaranteed to benefit me — if I at least think there’s a decent shot I’d be able to take the job. I think this is something you can communicate to your CEO: people aren’t just fussing over pay or prioritizing the wrong incentive (even though ‘work for the sake of work and not something as commercial as your monthly wage!’ is an outdated POV ) , they’re trying to calculate if your work opportunity is worth the “down payment” of the recruitment process.

    Beyond that, in terms of how you could have handled this — I think rather than by trying to distract the candidate, you could be straight up honest with them and say:

    “Hi — thanks so much for checking in, and I appreciate you’re trying to make a decision on continuing with our process on your end. I’m afraid we haven’t finalized our pay range for the role, but I expect to be able to convey it to you after our interview, should you choose to proceed. I can say at this time that our proposed financial compensation will definitely sit above (***their_range***), with a benefits package of (***brief_presentation_of_benefits***). Please do let me know if you’re still all right to move forward, or if you have any amendments to your initial preferred pay range, which we will of course factor in. Highly apologise we’re not able to provide this information just yet.”

    Bluntly, even this could see candidates wondering why in God’s name you don’t have a range yet, but at least the hugely apologetic tone might soothe some initial concerns, because you’re going out of your way to acknowledge the inconvenience you are causing them by asking them to take you at your word that you pay decently.

  47. Anonymous Educator

    If the CEO thinks people should work for the work and not for the pay and benefits, will he agree to work for no more than his lowest paid employee, because he loves the work so much, and it isn’t about the pay and benefits for him?

    1. Macedon

      No, because limited incentive would ill equip him to be in prime form when he comes into work and give it his 200%, which is what the work environment needs. He has to selflessly position himself in a high pay bracket so that he can be productive for the people.

    2. Cornflower Blue

      +1 I love this comment and would honestly be interested to hear what the boss would say if that was brought up.

  48. Nicole

    OP if I were a candidate and got this answer, I would decline interviewing further for this same reason. You might have thought the candidate was being harsh but your response screamed “sketchy af” to me. I understand that’s not your intent, but that’s how it comes off.

    1. MommyMD

      Agree so very much. It’s a job and yeah, I’m in it for the money, benefits, total compensation, PTO, and everything else. In exchange I’ll bring valuable skills and work to a high level. That’s how employment works. It all does come out sketchy AF.

  49. beanie beans

    Interesting timing – I just had a screening interview and the last question was about salary ranges. He acknowledged that it’s awkward, but then proceeded to keep it awkward.

    He asked my current salary, so I turned it around and asked if he could tell me the salary range for the position. He pushed that my current salary was “unfortunately” part of the interview process, so I named it, and his range ended up being about the same as my current salary. I felt like he was equating my current salary with my experience and skills, as if that was part of the test. I don’t know why he couldn’t have just told me the range.

      1. Anonymous Educator

        I’m with you on that. It’d actually be funny if you both wrote down numbers on pieces of paper and then swapped them at the same time.

    1. Starbuck

      Yeah, that’s a load of BS. The only reason that he needed to know your previous salary was so that he could lowball you, and offer the absolute minimum amount to keep you from walking away. There’s absolutely no other justification for asking. If they’re concerned about being able to meet your expectations for salary, they can do that by providing a range up front.

  50. AlwhoisthatAl

    Sorry to come late to this, but in the UK – normally a salary is advertised. If you don’t you waste everyone’s time. The only job interview I ever ended prematurely was when they hid the salary until the interview and it was way too low. I really don’t get why the salary is hidden – the only reason I can think of is that it’s too low.

  51. Candid Candidate

    Going to share my experience during a phone interview yesterday because I think it’s relevant. The phone interview was with an HR Director for a job I really want, and it was preliminary. Keep in mind – I had to complete a rigorous (timed!) writing test just to be eligible for the preliminary phone interview, and I have nine years of experience in my field (marketing). The company is based in the heart of a major metro city and I would have to move out-of-state to take the job. They hadn’t listed the salary range on their job description, but I thought I had a pretty good idea of what it would be just based on the caliber of their work and their clients (several major F500’s), and the average salary for that job title in that area. We had a great conversation and she suggested that the next step would be to have a phone interview with the person who would be my direct supervisor, so I asked about compensation just to make sure we were on the same page. Her response was disheartening – she seemed confused that I brought it up, hesitant to give a range, then when she gave the range it was lower than expected (the top of their range *barely* meets the average I mentioned), and when I asked about whether they subsidize transit costs for their employees she said they’d never discussed it. I also asked about whether contributing to some of my moving costs could be considered, and she seemed a little taken aback. She did say that they’d be willing to consider those things for the right candidate, but couldn’t commit. Not a terrible response, but overall she just came across as uncomfortable and unprepared for that part of the conversation, which is confusing coming from an HR Director! I just feel like I’ve worked so hard to get to where I am, I know exactly what I want, I know that job could be an amazing opportunity for me, and I know I’d be an asset to their team. I can’t go into the process blind, without knowing what is/isn’t on the table! Employers and HR Directors everywhere – please be more upfront about what you’re offering! And please take your candidates’ worth and their needs seriously. /rant.

  52. Big Sean

    When you look for a job, you need to get the employee handbook and benefits overview before you accept an offer, any employer unwilling to provide it to you has something to hide.

    The hiring process now takes a 20 minute online application, 30 minute phone screen, 30-1hr in person interview and then you’re hired. So even if you are not hired you’ve wasted almost an hour on a job posting. I’ve applied to 600 jobs since November, and have had 20 phone screens and 10 in person interviews. Most of the companies can’t define their roles clearly and I’ve seen many end up reposting the roles months after they have closed the search for the position. If you see a job posting constantly reposted run far away, it’s known as an evergreen posting and indicates high employee churn or turnover. You hire for fit, and fire for attitude.

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