our firm asks job candidates, “what salary do you need to turn up happy every day?”

A reader writes:

I have a question about the way my employer works out salaries for new employees.

Some background – I work for a law firm. About 20 lawyers and 30 support staff. I started as a very junior lawyer and have advanced to the point where I have significant input in hiring (including interviewing candidates) but not the final say. As such, I’ve seen the below policy applied as a new employee, and sat alongside other senior staff as they apply the policy to interviewees.

None of the job ads we publish specify a range. They say something like “We have no fixed salary for the position, but intend on making an appropriate offer to the right candidate.” This is true, although management does generally have a very rough idea of what is on the table. Each lawyer we hire has a vague position in the hierarchy of fee-earners, meaning we will sort of know the work that will be allocated and the fee-earning potential for the new hire.

Whenever we have an interview with a person, at the end of the interview the person is asked, in short, “What salary to do you need to earn to turn up every day happy, motivated, and not grumbling about money?” Lots of people balk at giving an answer, particularly because a specific figure is required, not a range or a “rough idea.” Sometimes people who have really been caught by surprise are given overnight to think about their answer.

After the interviews, the salary the person nominated is part of the consideration as to who gets the job (although certainly not the main consideration), and once a person is chosen they are offered the job at the salary they nominated.

The reason I’m writing to you is that I can’t decide what I think about the policy. I’ve seen good candidates blow themselves out of the water with numbers far too high — but maybe that’s a good thing, because they would have been unhappy at a lower number. On the other hand, we have hired candidates at numbers higher than we planned because they were a standout candidate and were worth paying out of the range we planned. What do you think?

This is a terrible practice.

In order for this to work, it assumes that every candidate will feel comfortable being a completely honest dealer — that people will genuinely answer the question of what salary they need to turn up happy every day.

They won’t. People will dissect the question, try to second-guess what you’re looking for and what’s reasonable, worry about leaving money on the table, and worry about shooting too high. They’ll try to factor in what they think you pay, and they’ll try to thread the needle of neither over-shooting nor undercutting themselves, all of which leads to you getting an answer that’s born of anxiety and worry, not honesty.

It’s also a really crappy thing to put your candidates through. You have a rough idea of what you’d be willing to pay, both in general and for each person. You have the information advantage here; they do not.

Those candidates who you’ve seen get taken out of the running because they named a number that was too high? Sure, maybe they would have been unhappy with anything lower — but in a lot of cases they would have been fine with a lower number but were attempting not to under-cut themselves in this crappy game your firm plays.

What’s more, this is leaving the door wide open to pay inequality. When you’re letting candidates essentially choose their own salary (within your secret range), it’s very likely that you’re going to end up paying people of different sexes and different races different salaries. That’s illegal, and it’s not going to go over well when someone eventually notices it.

Your firm is using a very old-fashioned, outdated approach to salaries and not doing anyone — itself or your candidates — any favors in the process.

The way to talk about salary with candidates is this: “Our range is generally $X-Y, with people with X type of experience coming in at the lower end and people with Y type of experience coming in at the higher end. Other factors we consider are ___. Is that in line with what you’re looking for?”

No game playing, no secret tests, no information imbalances. Fair, open dealing. Isn’t that how you want to conduct business?

{ 254 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. I'm A Little Teapot

    OP, you have influence in the process. Please try to bring the problems inherent in this approach to the attention of the decision makers. Because Alison’s right, and when the laywers you hire figure out how bad the process is and get fed up, the company is screwed. You’re a LAW FIRM. All the people there have an above average level of knowledge in how lawsuits work, regardless of what they actually do.

    Reply
    1. Green

      Law firms are some of the worst on sexual harassment and pay gaps based on race/gender. Mostly because they know candidates are highly unlikely to sue a law firm because it’s shooting your career in the foot.

      Reply
      1. Misclassified

        I used to work for a labor union-side law firm. Its starting pay was ridiculously low. The firm got in trouble with the IRS for misclassifying all of its workers (associate attorneys, law clerks, paralegals, and at least one receptionist) as independent contractors when we all should have been employees. One of the partners bragged about being hired by the firm in the earlier 80s as a receptionist by agreeing to work for below minimum wage. Another receptionist filed a FLSA lawsuit against them sometime in the past several months for not paying her overtime and misclassifying her as as exempt (having worked with her and known her duties, that was a flagrant violation).

        Reply
    2. OP

      Oh, I have. This is something dictated by persons above my head who have shown zero interest in amending the practice. Said persons are utterly inflexible on this point, which is why the practice has stuck around for as long as it has.

      Reply
      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        Since you’re a firm, any chance you can argue that you may run into racially disparate salaries or an Equal Pay Act problem using this approach? And is there only one partner? Because it seems weird to allow one person to dictate a backwards policy that could potentially create unnecessary liability.

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        1. OP

          I agree it the policy could cause that problem elsewhere, but as someone who knows the salaries of all the employers I can tell you there would be absolutely no basis for such a claim. Woman and not-white staff do just as well, if not better

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          1. lister

            OK, but what polices/procedures are in place for that day you have an awesome candidate who lowballs herself by 50K, but is still the best candidate? Do you up her salary to parity with everyone else? Or do you go with “well, the salary requested is the salary granted” and underpay her?

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            1. dawbs

              and, realistically, it is bound to happen.
              Because I can tell you my ‘what I need to be happy every day’ salary. But it sure as heck is not my ‘what I work for’ salary, and that number is very VERY different than the number I would give if I were asked for my ‘what salary do I ask for when I”m 2 unemployment payments away from homelessness’ number and my ‘what would I leave my current job for’ salary.
              And given how under-represented communities are paid and their shared experiences, you’re getting those numbers from people too. But, how do you know when you are getting which number?
              (And, currently, I”m not the primary breadwinner, which makes my number different than when I was the primary breadwinner. That alone makes this a gendered problem)
              It *is* an issue that is probably being played out with race and gender, but your bosses (and you) may just be incredibly unaware of it.

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              1. Lanon

                I think what OP meant is that they have a lot of leeway to hide behind in case of lawsuits, not that it actually produces equality – of course it does not.

                Reply
          2. Mookie

            That’s only half the picture. What about the “woman and non-white” candidates who aren’t given or don’t accept your offers? You have data on all of them that proves there’s no inconscious bias at play here?

            Reply
          3. Anonymous Pterodactyl

            Alison has pointed this out in the past, but pay discrimination *in favor of* women and/or minorities is just as illegal as pay discrimination against them.

            Reply
        2. Wintermute

          Unfortunately that’s not how disparate impact works. You’d need WIDE gaps, like 60% or more difference and it would have to be pretty extreme. Even then they could point to their hiring practices in their own defense and probably win, because the fact candidates self-select for income somewhat would help rule out intentional bias.

          Reply
      2. Hey Karma, Over here.

        I think it’s funny that a law firm doesn’t negotiate. Not being a lawyer, I expected this to lead to an explanation that it’s a kind of game/test for prospective employees to argue their way to a salary. Nope. It’s one shot and good luck to you. Can’t see this benefiting either side, really.

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      3. Trout 'Waver

        This is so mind-boggling to me because it is attorneys doing this. Attorneys negotiate for a living, especially at big firms. This weird salary thing they’re forcing candidates to go through is so far out in left field that it makes me question their negotiating ability on their clients’ behalf. It also sounds like a pretense for never giving raises.

        Also, asking candidates to pick a single number without discussing the entire benefits package is like asking them to buy a house on mortgage without knowing the rate.

        Reply
        1. NotAnotherManager!

          Big firms actually tend to have more lock-step pay (with a substantial and variable bonus based primarily on hours billed/revenue generated) than smaller firms, particularly for first through seventh year associates and entry-level staff. Experienced staff, people with niche skills, and attorneys with existing books of business have negotiating power; most others don’t (other than signing bonuses).

          That said, my firm does not approach hiring this name-your-number at the interview way. The salary range discussion is part of the initial screening call because who wants to waste everyone’s time with an interview if we’re not in the ballpark together?

          My other objection to this method is the framing it as a number that will have a candidate showing up happy and not grumbling about salary – I find that there is more consternation in legal about quality of life issues and benefits than salary.

          Reply
          1. Thornus

            Yeah, Big Law firms probably have the most transparent payscales for private sector attorneys especially first year associates. They tend to report their salary ranges to organizations like NALP and have profiles where you can readily view all of that information. Some firms even essentially send out press releases among the legal news circles when they up their starting pay; I remember it being reported a few years back when some firm, I think Skadden, increased its first year associate pay in NYC to $190k.

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      4. EventPlannerGal

        OP, if you’re still reading, I’m curious – what is the point of this question? Like, if you do have a specific range in mind, there is a heirarchy and and certain figures are considered unacceptable, what is the advantage supposed to be in this method as opposed to just identifying that range up-front and negotiating from there?

        Also, I know you’ve said elsewhere in the thread that you’ve never ended up hiring someone who severely lowballed themselves. But what happens if someone names an amount that’s within your expected range but lower than you had expected? Like, if your range was $60k-$80k and you reckon the candidate’s probably worth about $70k at market rates but they get nervous or something and ask for $61k. Do you ever say “no, we can do better than that, we’re offering $70k” or is it more “well, that’s what they asked for – great, what a bargain!”?

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    3. Public Sector Manager

      I’ve been a lawyer for 24 years and this is one of the most messed up things I’ve heard of a firm doing as part of its hiring practices.

      OP, I know it’s not your policy but your firm’s policy. However, you are the face of the firm if you’re sitting in on hiring interviews. Also, some of these attorneys your firm is saying “no” to today may be the hiring attorney at another firm when you decide to change firms. They may not remember you personally but I can guarantee that they will remember your firm. You really need to decide how much you want to go along with this type of hiring practice.

      I don’t know how much sway you have with the partners on this. But if you do, please say something. It’s unconscionable to do this to inexperienced attorneys. Attorneys who have a book of business know their value. New attorneys do not.

      I’m mortified.

      Reply
  2. Kathleen_A

    OP, you sound like a nice and conscientious person, but I gotta agree with Alison that this practice just…well, it sucks. This approach rewards the candidates who are the best (or luckiest) guessers. Does that really seem like a good idea to you?

    Reply
    1. merp

      Yes! I can’t see what information their question offers the interviewers that Alison’s suggested language wouldn’t also give them. Unless they are aiming for the anxiety-inducing guessing game aspect, I suppose.

      Reply
    2. Elizabeth the Ginger

      Yeah, this feels like a game show kind of situation – Price-Is-Right-ing your salaries might be entertaining in a way but doesn’t seem like a good strategy for long-term jobs instead of a half hour of television.

      Reply
    3. Hey Nonnie

      It also doesn’t account for (and therefore penalizes) those candidates who don’t tie their happiness directly to money.

      Sure, there is a basic minimum threshold (at least) because we all have bills to pay and would be unhappy if we had to choose between rent, food, and the electric bill every month. But beyond that basic threshold where my bills are paid and I’m comfortable enough to avoid financial worry, more money won’t make me happier, and it sure won’t actually inoculate me against unhappiness. Respect makes me happy (and I’ll point out that this practice is not very respectful). Interesting work makes me happy. Easily accessible healthcare makes me happy. Flexible hours makes me happy. Etc. etc. etc.

      You know why people give a range? Because if one or more parts of the non-monetary compensation is inadequate to create happiness for them, then they’ll take some additional money to make up for that in the hopes of creating a compromise that works for both of you. Your candidates recognize the necessity of trade-offs and reasonable expectations, but it doesn’t sound like your organization does.

      The question also implies an expectation that if you pay someone their magic number, they’ll literally never have a bad day, never get burnt out, never get annoyed at a co-worker/client/boss, never have stressors that affect how many spoons they have on a given day. Humans don’t work that way. Sometimes they get sad, cranky, tired, demotivated, or otherwise unhappy and it has nothing to do with the size of their paycheck.

      This practice is just chock-full of unrealistic blind spots.

      Reply
      1. Human Sloth

        I love your answer.

        I just wish, wish, wish that some tidal wave of reformation would land on job interviewing in general. Job hunting and hiring processes would probably significantly improve if all employers would just add a range to the job ads.

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      2. Anonymeece

        The question also implies an expectation that if you pay someone their magic number, they’ll literally never have a bad day, never get burnt out, never get annoyed at a co-worker/client/boss, never have stressors that affect how many spoons they have on a given day.

        I love this. The rest of it has been covered as far as unequal pay, but I think this is something my ears perked up at. It’s not even a, “What salary are you looking for?”, it’s phrased specifically, “How can we make you be a robot?”.

        If someone got the salary they wanted, then complained, would they be told, “Suck it up, you said this would make you happy?”

        People change. People’s circumstances change. Heck, if someone found out that another person got more money just by asking, suddenly their “happy” number becomes a very unhappy one.

        It’s unfair, unequal, and honestly just bizarre to negotiate salary like this.

        Reply
    1. Just Employed Here

      It’s weirdly worded, but I don’t really see how it’s different from all those job ads asking you to include your salary request in your cover letter. (Actually, those are even worse, because you know way less about the job at that stage than at the end of an actual interview.)

      Of course it’s better if the ad or the interviewer states a range, but so many of them don’t.

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      1. wittyrepartee

        One of my old bosses said to just write $1 or “Salary to be discussed later” on those forms. She was a great boss.

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        1. Just Employed Here

          That’s kind of what I do for the fields asking for contact details of my references… I won’t have them bothered before I’ve even been interviewed! I don’t know whether it has kept me from being considered for some jobs or not.

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      2. designbot

        I actually give them a little credit for not asking a range and then going to the lowest end of the range every time, for wanting to give a salary that results in happy employees. I want to take them at their word on that an honor the intention. Unfortunately, this is not necessarily the best strategy to achieve that result.

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        1. Totally Minnie

          I worry that people are used to the idea of salary negotiations being actual negotiations, and that they’ll give a high number while fully expecting to accept something lower, but since they only get one crack at it, they’ve priced themselves out of a job.

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          1. Snargulfuss

            Yes, the way we talk about and negotiate salary in our society is so messed up. It basically like “come and try to win this game without knowing what the rules are.”

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            1. designbot

              yep, and so even when a firm thinks they’re being honest and consistent like this one, the context of interviewing and negotiating is such that nobody will know to believe them.

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          2. Hey Nonnie

            Yes, and negotiations can be / usually are about more than cash, too. If a company can’t / won’t pay the top of a stated salary range, the candidate can ask for work-at-home Fridays or something. The whole point of negotiations is to end up where both sides are reasonably happy with the entire package.

            If a company is willing to give me an unusual but highly sought after perk, hell yes I’ll accept a slightly lower salary.

            Reply
      3. thathat

        tbh, the wording is a big part of what puts my shoulders up, because it feels like it can be used against an employee down the road if they realize the work they’re doing is worth more than they’re being paid: “But you *said* you’d be happy and wouldn’t grumble about money if we gave you this salary.”

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        1. Dove

          Plus, how much room does it give for even COL raises? “You said you’d be happy at this salary” – well, yes, that was five years ago and inflation has happened.

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    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      Same. I’d also wonder if the firm was doing this to lowball candidates from minority backgrounds.

      Reply
      1. another Hero

        Even if they weren’t doing it for that reason, if it had that effect, the firm (and staff) would have the same problem

        Reply
    3. mark132

      The question itself would make me unhappy. And I would be turning up to work everyday wondering if I screwed myself.

      Reply
    4. Zennish

      I’m an academic, not a lawyer, but I don’t even apply for jobs that don’t disclose the salary range, and would refuse to continue the process if approached as the OP describes. This is another case of the employer, intentionally or not, weeding out any applicant not desperate enough to put up with their BS, which is rarely going to net the best candidates.

      Reply
    5. Hey Nonnie

      Same. If asked, I would just assume that they meant to ask for a range, and would give them one (because seriously, this is weird). If they tried to pin me down to a singular number, I would tell them that it entirely depends on the rest of the compensation package. If they annoyed me enough, I’d even consider asking if they were offering and negotiating right now, because I’d want to have time to look over the benefits and perks before accepting or providing a counter-offer. (And also consider things like culture, people, working environment. I’m willing to put up with a little extra “relationship management” at work, but it will cost you. The more work your job is for me, the more money I expect out of you.)

      But yeah, I’d be highly suspicious of an organization that doesn’t appear to understand the concept of salary range and negotiations.

      Reply
  3. hayling

    I am hiring for my first direct report. Our Head of HR told me to ask candidates in the phone screen of what salary they are looking for. If it’s in our range, tell them it is, if not, ask them more about how they came to that number. This seems like a much less aggressive version of the LW’s company’s policy. I think it’s a good idea to make sure you’re not wildly far apart but it doesn’t force candidates into a salary that they later decide is not right.

    Reply
    1. No Mas Pantalones

      Depending on the position, that would even give me pause. It sounds a little like “Why do you think you deserve that much?”

      Why can’t people just say “Our range is X to Y. Does this match with your requirements?”

      Reply
      1. Lance

        In some fairness on that first point, that’s much of what salary negotiations are, is it not? Even with that being said, though, I very much agree that it would be good to openly state the range first, and let both parties determine what would be a fair rate of pay, given that.

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        1. PB

          What hayling is describing is a bit different than a salary negotiation. With a negotiation, the employer has offered you the job and a specific salary. Including this in a phone interview, and asking the candidate to name a number first, is a different ballgame.

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      2. hayling

        Part of the reason she wanted me to ask this is that this is a relatively specialized technical role that there isn’t a lot of third-party data for, so we honestly weren’t 100% sure if we set the range correctly. It’s actually been reassuring to know from candidates answers that we’re in the right range.

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        1. No Mas Pantalones

          Okay, that makes sense. I work in a place with roles that are specialized like that. However, I’m an admin who apparently wore her sensitive knickers today. (Sorry about that conclusion I jumped to.)

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        2. BRR

          That makes a little more sense since you weren’t sure but I think a better way if you’re not going to list salary in the job posting, which everyone should, is to provide a number or range then you ask if that number is in line with what they’re looking for.

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        3. The New Wanderer

          But the better way to do this is to say, “Here is our range for the position, does that match with your expectations?” Or similar, without putting the onus on the candidate to guess at your range and potentially lowball themselves. If your range is wildly off base (too low), candidates will either ask whether it’s negotiable, or say that a comparable position pays $X elsewhere, or they would need $X to leave their current position. If it’s surprisingly high, then you’ll get an employee who likely won’t be looking at the next available opportunity to leave for more money.

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        4. PB

          That does make more sense, but honestly, if I were interviewing for a position, I’d be rubbed wrong by having my interviewer during a phone screen ask my salary expectations. If they shot back by asking me to explain my reasoning, it would rub me even more wrong, like they’re saying, “Justify why you think you’re worth that.” Candidates won’t have the background that you have.

          Reply
          1. Sutemi

            At the phone screen stage, I don’t know if your health insurance costs $200 or $800 a month, if you subsidize parking or public transportation or match 401K, if you let me work from home 3 days a week. All of this affects the salary requirements I would have.

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            1. Just Employed Here

              For me, all those kinds of things* would affect my overall willingness to take the job, but not really influence the salary I want.

              * We do have employer sponsored health care here, but it’s more of an add on to the main bits which are taxpayer funded, so it’s not as much of a deal. Or at least none of my employers have ever managed to wow me with their health care…

              (Although I am currently getting my hepatitis shots, not because of a specific upcoming trip, but just because they’re paid for by my employer and I figured I should use that perk…)

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            2. The Rat Catcher

              Agreed! I accept the salary I have because it comes with the flexibility to take time off for sick kids and class parties, comprehensive health insurance, and a fantastic supervisor. I’d need a lot more to work for some fire-breather who expected me to get a last minute sitter every time, while paying for a marketplace policy. Unless you’re prepared to answer all that over the phone, I won’t be able to give you a good guess on salary.

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            3. Public Sector Manager

              I just went through this issue on a phone interview. I’m a managing attorney in state government and there was an interesting attorney position for our local county. Thankfully I can find out how much they pay for health care and retirement because all that’s a public record ($600 more a year than I pay now on health care and retirement is a wash). And their salary maxed out at $2,300 more than I make now. But I needed to know about other fringe benefits. For instance, I get free parking at my state job. Parking in the downtown area where this county office is hovers around $225-250 per month. If they don’t have free parking at least, this job is a pay cut and I’ll take myself out of the running.

              Of course, round one was a phone screening with a terrible consultant, so every one of my questions was met with “we’ll have to get back to you on that.”

              Reply
            4. No Mas Pantalones

              Hmmm. I’ve never thought about those things being included in salary. It makes sense, but I’ve always thought of salary as strictly pay and have always found that my potential employers have as well. Those things are listed as the “benefits package” and are separate from salary. I’ve never had anyone tell me, “Well, the salary is X, which may be below your range. However, you get a free chicken in every pot, daily massages, free cat litter [I have 3 cats], 100% paid health care that’s basically the best in all the land, and unlimited vacation with no need for approval.” I’d definitely consider that one heavily, but try to negotiate for cake instead of chicken. As of right now, my main answer would be, “My range is X to Y, and I currently get Z weeks of vacation and would prefer to keep within those parameters.”

              Now I’m rethinking, as I am about to start hunting. Gracias for the heads up!

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              1. Le Sigh

                Health insurance can be a huge factor. A job can seem like a step up in pay, but if they don’t pay much toward insurance — and your current gig pays all or a lot –you can find yourself absorbing much of the pay increase or effectively taking a cut. Same with if they don’t contribute to a 401k or if your commute doubles, etc. I once had to turn a gig down because the salary was a bit higher but my benefits and commute costs would have doubled, and the other good things about the job just didn’t warrant taking what was, essentially, a pay cut.

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          2. Just Employed Here

            Where I am, it’s very, very common to ask the candidate for their salary expectations. Basically only state and municipal jobs, which have to follow published pay grades (although these do involve some performance related percentages) publish the actual salary or range in the ad.

            But even I would balk at being asked to “defend” my expectation after mentioning it!

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      3. TootsNYC

        hayling wrote: “ask them more about how they came to that number.”

        And you translated it to: “Why do you think you deserve that much?”

        Reply
    2. Psyche

      That sounds reasonable. It is an actual discussion and even though you are asking them for their range first, you are telling them your range as well.

      Reply
    3. The Man, Becky Lynch

      We always ask salary expectations in the phone interview. We post the range and we want to know if they realized the advertised salary. We just had a dude apply for a 50-60k position and say he was looking for 200k. Yeeeeeah, we didn’t advance with him because we were so drastically different. But moved forward with a much better fit who was looking for 5k more and the experience to match it.

      I’m not a fan of asking further questions that early on. You don’t know what the job is really worth if you don’t know the entire benefits package.

      Reply
      1. Amber T

        Wow… I could see if someone was requesting like, $75k and to see if there’s some wiggle room… but $200k? He either thinks he’s applying for a job a couple steps above what’s posted, or just super ballsy.

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      2. Anonymeece

        I was hiring for a $30K position and our company forces candidates to put a minimum salary, which many people put at $60+. I’m always curious about it when I see it, because we do clearly post the salary, and HR even has a boilerplate “non-negotiable”. I guess people think it’s worth a try?

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    4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      I wish people just listed their range in their job postings or disclosed them instead of fishing for a range from the applicant.

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      1. lister

        +1

        It’s so frustrating to look at a job posting and wonder, is this going to be another time where we get through all of it just to find out they want to pay $30K. Waste of everyone’s time.

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        1. LQ

          Even listing a salary range doesn’t always put an end to the game playing. I recently applied for a job that listed the salary as 80-90k. In the initial phone screening interview, I was asked what my salary expectations were, and said, quite confidently, 80k.

          Their response? ‘Wow, that’s really at the top of the range of what we’d be looking at.’

          I found that confusing, but it really set the tone for the whole interview process tbh. It was confusing. They didn’t seem sure of what the position would exactly do, or how.

          I ended up not being offered the job as two other people had 5+ years more experience than me, but I can’t imagine either of them would accept less than the advertised range.

          Most jobs I apply for give no hint of salary. It’s ridiculous.

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      2. riotgirrl

        Thank you. 95% of the jobs posted in my city provide absolutely no salary information, but want you to list your required salary. Even if you research the average salary for the position in your region, you could be way off of the mark.
        In one phone interview, I was asked what salary I would want for the position I was interviewing for, and when I asked for the range, I received a lot of push back and was told to “research it and get back with my minimum.”

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    5. Nacho

      Right, this seems perfectly reasonable, and might be necessary to weed out people who feel they’re worth significantly more than you’re paying before you waste too much time on them.

      Reply
  4. No Mas Pantalones

    What they say: “What salary to do you need to earn to turn up every day happy, motivated, and not grumbling about money?”

    What I hear: “How much are you willing to lowball/sabotage yourself in order to get this job?”

    Reply
    1. Not So NewReader

      This.
      I was chuckling at the thought of a bunch of people taking an applicant at their word, “This would make me smile every day.” No, the applicants saw the question for what it is: a head game. And they tried their best to answer with something that makes them employable by the firm.

      Reply
      1. irene adler

        Exactly.
        I did this to myself. I figured they would offer the going rate. So I offered something a little shy of that. Just to see what would happen.
        So when I said $50K (as in $25 per hour), they wrote in the job offer: $24.04 per hour. This is based on 2080 hours per year because- there was no PTO. And they didn’t tell me about the no PTO policy until after the written job offer was presented. I had to beg to read the employee manual – they wanted me to sign the job offer first. No way. Then I saw no other benefits either. Bye!

        Reply
        1. Phrunicus

          Pretty sure I did it to myself at my last part-time (retail) job in college – I’d been making like, $7.25 an hour after 5 years of fast food, but I was fed up, so I applied at a department store, and put $7 on the form where it asked… and $7 is what I got. (Bigger issue was a lot fewer hours than fast food, really.) Fortunately, I was in a position to be doing that job to a) keep my mom off my back about not lazing around the house all summer, and b) have spending money, rather than trying to live/pay for school off of it…

          Reply
      2. No Mas Pantalones

        I mean, even in my absolute dream job, a Stay At Home Cat Mom making 8 figures a year, I think there would still be days when I didn’t have a smile on my face. I mean, sometimes I stub my toes in the morning n’ stuff.

        Reply
        1. Red 5

          Seriously. I really enjoy my job, and I’ve flat out told my employer that if I ever leave it’s not going to be about how much I do or don’t get paid. But even when I imagine winning the Power Ball or something and never having to think about money again, I still can come up with about a dozen things that could make me grumble on any given day. The cat didn’t want to eat her breakfast is today’s example. Sometimes you want to binge more episodes of your favorite show but it got canceled ten years ago and it’s not streaming anywhere because streaming services are stupid.

          Reply
        2. TootsNYC

          but they specifically said “grumbling about MONEY.”

          Not “grumbling in general” or “grumbling about your jerky boss.”

          Reply
            1. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis

              Pay me £x like I ask for and I won’t complain about money. But have a crappy office culture, a sh1tty boss or even something as petty as dishwater tea, and I WILL be complaining and not happy/motivated/whatever other gibberish they were asking for.
              Money is just one factor in employee engagement (ugh, sorry!); if you make it the main one, you run the risk of overlooking bigger factors that will mean your star employees will just leave.
              (Go on, ask me how I know…)

              Reply
        3. Amber T

          “Stay At Home Cat Mom making 8 figures a year”

          I need to figure out how to capitalize on my cats… a couple of likes from their instagram can only feed me for so long (ahem… never).

          And yes, my cats still bug me sometimes. I will never not love them with all of my heart, but really, who smiles and enjoys scooping the litter box.

          Reply
      3. Blue

        Right, because if I were to answer something like this honestly, there’s absolutely no way in hell that would go over well. I like my job fine, but I don’t have it because I *want* to, and you’d have to pay me an absurd amount of money for me to be happy about doing it everyday. However, that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t be a good hire and do great work for a far less absurd amount. This question just doesn’t lend itself to useful answers.

        Reply
    2. Green

      This is why now that I’m at a senior level I often say “I would need *at least* X, but obviously more competitive compensation will factor into my decision.” Then companies can bid on me. OP’s firm here is going to be more likely to get people who don’t have many other options and are willing to undersell themselves.

      Reply
    3. OP

      One thing in response to this, and something that I wish I had been clearer about in my email to Alison – the firm actually pays quite well, in general, and no one who has lowballed has ever ended up being the best candidate (even if you put the salary to one side). In other words, no one who has nominated a number below the expected range has been hired, for reasons entirely separate to this process.

      Reply
      1. No Mas Pantalones

        I’m glad to hear that, if only for the people who work there. Still, the question sounds like a mental game. It would be a huge red flag for me.

        Reply
      2. Legal Beagle

        But you likely have attorneys at the same level who are earning different salaries based on the number they proposed in the interview. That is where racial and gender pay inequities come from (in part)! This is a TERRIBLE policy, especially for a law firm.

        Reply
      3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        I would read it either as an effort to lowball, or as an effort to justify abusive practices at work (kind of like, “how much money do you need to shut up about how badly we treat you?”).

        None of those may be true, but whenever someone asks me how much money I need to not grouse, it suggests to me that there’s a toxic culture that would make me grouse in the first place.

        Reply
      4. Green

        Right, but paying well is not really what it’s about. If I can make $120-160k, and you’re willing to pay $120-160k, and you make me play a headgame where you don’t tell me the range and I lowball myself at $120k and you offer me $120k, if I have other options for $160k, I’m going to take the $160k gig, or I’m going to leave you as soon as I realize I lowballed myself. Someone less competitive who may be at more like $75k-120k in the market is going to be much happier with the $120k than me. And it’s all kind of a silly exercise if you would have been willing to pay me $160k and you actually wanted me to work there and be happy.

        Reply
        1. CM

          Or the alternative, I know my market value is $160K and I think, well, to be really happy about my salary and never think about leaving, I’d make $180K, and have the firm decide that’s too much without talking to me about it.

          Reply
      5. Scarlet2

        But you know that and the candidates don’t. It’s not just about how it plays out in your firm, it’s also about the way it’s interpreted by candidates, because they’re not mind-readers.

        Reply
    4. BRR

      Yeah I heard “what’s the lowest we can pay you and not a penny more.” The company should be leading the salary discussion.

      Reply
    5. Dagny

      “How much would I want to show up happy every day? About a half million a year. But I would show up motivated and not grumbling about money for about $105k, plus year-end bonus and benefits.”

      Reply
  5. That One Person

    I would definitely be worried about too much or too low, albeit more likely to undercut myself. Also how exact are they asking? Cause I think if I decided “I’m probably not getting this anyways” I’d be tempted to tack on “-and 69 cents” because why not at that point. (If I wanted the job I’d choose 42 cents)

    Then again sometimes I take things in a literal way people don’t always plan for so mentioning things down to the decimal would seem normal to me and maybe not to them.

    Reply
  6. Lance

    ‘Once a person is chosen they are offered the job at the salary they nominated.’

    This. This is the biggest red flag here by far, and exactly the sort of thing Alison’s pointing out when she mentions pay equalities. They get exactly what they ask for? Then how’s that avoid lowballing the market, or indeed them? How’s that lead to anything resembling equal pay for equivalent roles/levels of contribution? Well… it doesn’t. And that’s really bad.

    If you’re in any position to speak up about this, please, please do, because I have zero doubt that people are not being paid what they’re worth (or, in some cases, perhaps being paid above that).

    Reply
    1. Lance

      Meant to say pay inequalities, whoops. Though ‘disparities’, I suppose, would’ve been a better word in the first place…

      Reply
    2. hayling

      I agree. As a candidate, I don’t know exactly what salary I am going to ask for until the end of the process. I have an idea at the beginning but it might change depending on the benefits, the role details, etc., that come out during the interview.

      Reply
    3. Suit waiting to happen

      This! What happens when you have a female candidate with very similar years and experience find out she’s making 40k less than her male counterpart (this pay differential is not uncommon when you get into the six figures lawyers are paid) and your only response is “well he asked for more and we thought he deserved it”. That is NOT going to go over well and you’ll lose a good lawyer and a chunk of change settling a discrimination suit. It’s not even worth it, just have a pay range for a position and fit employees into that pay range. At least with a predetermined pay range you can argue about why a person should end up on the low or high end.

      Reply
    4. Bend & Snap

      This happened to me at my current job with no discussion of the range and interviewing for a remote job at a company HQ’d in another state. It turns out I lowballed myself so hard they gave me a significantly higher salary.

      I would have really loved some clue of the range before that conversation. I still don’t know what it is.

      Reply
    1. Coverage Associate

      Yes. Money isn’t enough to make a lot of people happy and motivated. And some people aren’t motivated by money.

      If I were asked the question and kept my head, I would ignore the first part and try to name a number that would prevent any grumbling about money.

      Reply
      1. MsM

        Exactly. If I’m unhappy at work, there’s a very low chance it’s because of what I’m being paid. If I find out someone else in a similar or more junior position is earning significantly more than me because they gave a different answer, though, there will be grumbling.

        Reply
    2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom

      That was my first thought. Even in my field, there are jobs and responsibilities that you cannot pay me enough to do. I’m thinking things like working 80 hour weeks with no weekends or vacations. Or having to wake up at random times 2-3 times a night to log in and work on an urgent issue (an actual job I had. I was young and resilient then. An older coworker ended up in a hospital once because of that work schedule, that was when I knew I needed to get out.) At this point in my life, I would not do these things in the long term for any pay. I might consider doing them for a year, saving up, and getting out with my cool million in the bank, but I suspect that’s not what the employer will be looking for.

      Reply
  7. SignalLost

    The number I would need to be happy is default lower than standard for my area because my rent is less than half of the average cost of living. I got my apartment in 2005 and have had only one rent increase in that tone; I paid under market very slightly when I moved in and it’s just worked out increasingly better for me. So for the sake of round numbers, let’s say $75K is a salary that meets all my financial commitments and gives me plenty of money for everything else I could ever want.

    Does that make me a better candidate with the exact same qualifications who says they want $90K? We have identical experience and expenses, except that their rent is market rate. I have to assume this system would go with the cheaper person, if experience is identical and soft skills are equivalent. Maybe I’m more personable, or maybe they are, but $15K as identified by the candidate is a significant discrepancy. Are you actually hiring the best candidate this way? Am I undervaluing myself because my expenses are lower?

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      I suspect that they figure that part of “being happy” with a number is feeling it’s a fair market rate (so it’s not the same as “what would cover you expenses?”).

      Reply
      1. JamieS

        Possibly but what someone feels is fair market rate may not be in line with what is actually fair market and/or what other coworkers are being paid. For me, part of being happy with my compensation is knowing I’m being paid equitably compared to my coworkers and the market as a whole. So I’d be happy with, let’s say, $60k if that’s the going rate but would be furious if I found out my coworkers were being paid $70k compared to my $60k with no logical justification.

        Reply
        1. TootsNYC

          I wonder if they’re also expecting the candidate to have a good sense of what the fair market is.

          That being plugged in, or able to research, is part of what they’re looking for.

          Reply
      2. SignalLost

        But I would interpret it at least partially as “what would cover my expenses”, which I think touches overall on your point – I can unintentionally undercut myself based on my actual dollars needed because happiness is so subjective in the workplace. I’ve interviewed places where I’ve mentally marked the salary I’d need up ten grand or more because of objective factors like a bad commute. I’ve dropped salary by five grand for other objective factors that were positives.

        I think what I’m getting at overall is that I have a good idea of the range in my area for my current type of role. On the non-profit end, it can be as low as $35K. On the Big Tech end, it can be $80K. Jobs under my exact title can be web developers, PR people, graphic designers, a mix of the above, and probably more. With a $50K swing and four different jobs in there, what on earth does “market rate” even mean? (This is actually a serious question, as I think about it.)

        Reply
  8. Bubbeleh

    I would have no idea how to answer this question, because just money doesn’t make me happy.

    Benefits, including PTO and insurance and yes, extra perky perks, make a huge difference.

    Office culture, same. Other intangibles, same.

    (Full disclosure: I am currently making a good salary, with good benefits. I am not happy with my current job because of culture, lack of leadership, and other completely non-salary-based issues.)

    Reply
    1. Earthwalker

      This. An employer couldn’t pay me enough to turn up happy every day in a bully or sexist office culture, or where goals and deadlines are so aggressive that the team is always set up for failure. Some people say it’s all about money, and maybe for some people it is, but not for me. I couldn’t name a single figure that would buy my happiness.

      Reply
      1. Doodle

        OP, has any candidate ever asked about the value of benefits such as insurance, retirement match, etc before answering the question?

        Reply
    2. BRR

      I was thinking this as well. I’m not happy with my job and would gladly take a pay cut for the right role. I just turned down an offer with an ok salary but I could only work from home one day a week which means a lot to me. Insurance and retirement can really impact compensation. This is why I always give a range (but companies should just list salary in the positing).

      Reply
    3. Red 5

      Yup, exactly. I had a boss once who would always go on about how he was doing us a FAVOR by offering overtime hours during busy seasons. Other people who worked there would volunteer for as many as they could manage, and I never volunteered for a single one. Eventually I was told that a certain amount of overtime would be mandatory and wasn’t that so nice of them making SURE that I got a chance to earn that extra money?

      I pointed out to him that my free time was worth more than even overtime pay and that he can call it mandatory if he wants but it wasn’t doing me a favor and I wasn’t going to act grateful about it. And that I didn’t think it was fair to take away the chance at those hours from somebody that it would be useful for.

      I still had to do the mandatory overtime. I handed in my notice not long after that.

      Reply
    4. Coverage Associate

      Yes. I am a lawyer interested in new opportunities, so exactly the type of person OP may interview. The particular new opportunity is one that will reduce our health care costs, which were 1/3 of our take home pay last month and more than our rent. A firm could offer me a lower salary and make me happy, just depending on the details of the health insurance.

      I see OP updated that these things are standard in OP’s region, but a detail could make a big difference to some applicants. For example, I will pay out of pocket for secondary health insurance before I accept my region’s biggest HMO as my only coverage. If offered that standard option, I would have to ask for significantly more salary. But offer a good PPO, and I will be happy with $10,000 less.

      Reply
    5. Natalie

      Similarly, extra money would definitely make me happy (or at least less stressed, which would significantly improve my happiness)… but it’s not what motivates me. Meaningful work that I find interesting and is somewhat self directed will motivate me the most. At my last super boring job, which was boring and rote, I was way more motivated to do my side work job that grossed about $1500 last year.

      Reply
  9. LadeeDa

    This is BS. When I am hiring, I have a compensation department that researches the right rate for my city and level. I don’t even make that decision. If you don’t have a compensation department, do some research

    Reply
    1. ababao1o1

      Does that mean if there’s an outstanding candidate who asks for more, you don’t have any ability to up the pay ?

      Reply
        1. Legal Beagle

          This seems really smart to me. Presumably compensation doesn’t know the gender/race/etc of the applicants, so they are making as unbiased a decision as possible. And, if someone does ask for more, I would hope the compensation department also assesses that request based on objective data, so it’s not swayed by un/conscious biases that can impact whether candidates are rewarded or punished for negotiating.

          Reply
  10. LadeeDa

    At this point in my life and career, I have the privilege and luxury of taking less money for culture and job excitement. But I am mid-40s, early in my career it was more about money and title.

    Reply
  11. Parenthetically

    “once a person is chosen they are offered the job at the salary they nominated.”

    WHAT.

    This is INSANE. Completely.

    Reply
  12. SchueylerSeestra

    I don’t actually think this is a bad question. I think its the phrasing that’s problematic. I generally ask if there is a range the candidate is looking for, and what would be a deal breaker. If they are above range I will ask if they have any flexibility, trade-offs. If they are hardline on the number I’ll check with the hiring manager if they have any wiggle room. But yeah, the way this question is phrased is just awful.

    Reply
      1. Not So NewReader

        If someone comes in grouchy do they get paid less that week?

        Sorry, I couldn’t help but wonder. A cooperative attitude and approachable demeanor are all part of holding down a job. If people are talking about their pay rate and complaining then there are ways to handle that problem. This isn’t a way that is going to work well.

        Reply
        1. TootsNYC

          the phrase is “grumbling about money

          Not grumbling in general.

          I’ve had times when I grumbled about the deadline, or the jerky boss, or the budget, or the layoffs in the industry.

          But I didn’t grumble about my salary, because I was paid an amount of money that felt good to me.

          Reply
      2. Kita

        Agreed. The phrasing makes me feel like Someone came up with this sentence one day and thought it was really clever, so now they keep using it all the time.

        Reply
    1. atalanta0jess

      Doesn’t asking what their dealbreaker number is mean that you now know their lowest, and can offer them that? How is that better?

      I actually did have this convo once, but it was ok because we already knew that my lowest was higher than what they were planning as the range.

      Reply
      1. SchueylerSeestra

        Not really. It’s more about transparency. If someone says I want between 60-70k and won’t go below 60k it’s better to know that upfront. Again I will give them a heads up if they are out of range, and look for options that work, but at the end of the day if they are dead set on a particular number it’s not worth moving forward. if I know for a fact we can’t meet their offer I will let them make the decision to drop out rather than reject. If they choose to move forward great, if they don’t its all good as well.

        Reply
        1. Willis

          But why not tell them your range and if their “deal breaker” isn’t within that range, they can opt out? That would be way more transparent and wouldn’t require people to give you a rock bottom number at the very start.

          Reply
        2. atalanta0jess

          Right, but its asking for transparency from the candidate, but provides none from the employer. There’s no way in hell I’m giving someone my bottom number so they can just offer me that, unless I already know my low number is their high number.

          Reply
      2. Someone Else

        The phrasing doesn’t sound to me like they’re asking for a dealbreaker lowest number though. Just the opposite. I mean, outside the inherent mind games to the question, it sounds like they’re asking…possibly something more like the highest a candidate would expect. For me the lowest I’d accept for a position and the number that would make my happy and not grumbling about money are totally different things. The latter is a number that’s higher (or at least on the high end) of what I’d expect to be paid for the role, the amount where I’m so well paid it compensates for other irritations (within reason). If I took the question at face value I’d be asking for more, not my minimum.

        Reply
    2. GMN

      Yeah I actually like it too. I like that the company is trying to settle on a number which I’d be happy with instead of their absolute lowest number. Where I live, I have never seen a salary range posted in a job ad, and companies generally don’t state a range in the interviews either, they just make you an offer and then you negotiate.

      I can definitely see the concerns about pay inequity as a result, but isn’t that the same when you negotiate for raises or promotions later in your employment? People who are confident/ballsy/do their research are still going to be paid more, just later.

      Reply
  13. Delta Delta

    1. I am a lawyer. I am a smart aleck. I would say “eleventy billion dollars.” I would not get hired. I would not care and I would tell people about this crappy hiring method.

    2. I was in the same shoes as OP once, and I sat in on a support staff interview. The person interviewing was very bright but also very new. Hiring Partner did this same trick. Interviewee threw out a number that was WAY too high for the position. But Interviewee likely didn’t know that was too high due to reasonable factors (age, general work inexperience, she mentioned she had friends/relatives in a similar position in different firms; they probably made more than we could offer). Partner later met 1:1 with Interviewee and talked seriously about salary. When Interviewee was told her hoped-for salary was too high and that Firm could offer X, she tried to negotiate. Not joking – Partner told her salary was never negotiable and told her to get out and never come back. So, why even ask the question?

    Reply
    1. Delta Delta

      I should also add I graduated from law school while BigLaw was paying first year associates $150K+ directly out of law school. People who didn’t/couldn’t/wouldn’t work in BigLaw didn’t necessarily have those same expectations, but weren’t far off. But then were sadly disappointed with starting salaries between $45-$55K at smaller firms like OP mentions. It’s hard to self-nominate a salary if you don’t know what you’re worth yet and if your only point of comparison is the splashy headline salaries.

      Reply
    2. No Mas Pantalones

      I am not a lawyer.
      I am also a smart aleck.
      I do not have eleventy billion dollars.
      I use my middle fingers a lot.
      I would like to hang out with you.

      Reply
    3. TootsNYC

      I can see Partner saying, “I know you want more, because of what you said, but this is our top offer; we can’t go higher.”

      But then I think Partner should say that when naming the amount.

      I did that once–I had a range, it ws up to me, and I wanted very much to get my top candidate. And I hate negotiating.
      So I offered the top amount.

      And I literally said, “I am going to give you the very top of my range. There isn’t any sense in asking for more, because I am already giving you the very top of what the company will allow me to pay. I’m telling you this because I want you to come to work for me feeling that you are really valued by me, and that I will look out for you.”

      She took the job, and it was a good working relationship.

      Reply
      1. Thinking out loud

        I’ve been on the receiving end of this sort of offer (“I am making you the best offer I can because we’re excited to have you, so I’m letting you know up-front that we won’t be able to negotiate on salary,”) and I appreciated knowing that I shouldn’t bother agonizing over if/how I should negotiate on salary. (I didn’t take the job, but it was because of the commute, not because of salary.)

        Reply
      2. IL JimP

        TBH, if someone said that to me I probably wouldn’t believe them and also since I’m coming in at the top of the range does that mean no future chances at raises? That may not be what you’re intending but it would be how I would interpret that type of conversation.

        Reply
      3. Delta Delta

        I was in an adjacent room and could hear Partner. Partner said “Salaries aren’t negotiable. You’re wasting my time.” Partner later told me all his hires for support positions would be people directly out of college as they are “desperate” and “will work for close to nothing.”

        I work at a firm now where people are treated like humans.

        Reply
    4. NotAnotherManager!

      This is why we try very hard to never have partners sit in on support staff interview processes. They pull all sorts of trick-question BS like this and nearly always choose the wrong candidate and vet staff like associates (no, it does not matter if your secretary or an entry-level paralegal went to Harvard). I’ll take an associate or two, if I have to, but I avoid partners interviewing in any as possible.

      Reply
    5. Selkie

      I hate this practice of asking for a salary when they already have one in mind – especially if it’s non-negotiable! I remember when I was job-searching just after graduating, and I applied for a job at an upmarket specialist deli, where I had to put a desired salary on the application form. I put down the living wage for the UK because I had customer service/retail experience and I didn’t want to lowball myself (whose *desired* salary is 12k a year?), but I also didn’t expect too much from a deli job.

      2 weeks later I received a very terse rejection email because they only start people on minimum wage and what I asked for was way too high. Why ask then?! I actually would have taken minimum wage, because I needed a job, but after that I decided to keep looking elsewhere.

      Reply
  14. Bee

    Oh man, for me, the amount that would make me HAPPY is much higher than the amount I would accept. Like, what would make my current job into my dream job? Double what I currently earn. (I’m…very low for the area I live in, and money is a constant concern.) What would actually satisfy me in a new job? An increase of 20%.

    Reply
  15. Adereterial

    One million Pound Sterling. Net.

    A year or two of that would build up more than enough for a very comfortable early retirement.

    Reply
  16. Not So NewReader

    I see some condensation going on there, OP. Would they ask that question of a mature, seasoned attorney? Going the opposite way, would they find it acceptable if they themselves were asked that on an interview?

    Maybe men are able to overlook the “happy” stuff, but women won’t miss the fact that it seems to be a job requirement to be “smiling” all the time. I think that would jump out at more than a few women. Do they realize that not everyone may take a straight read of that question? Some people might find it to be loaded question.

    So how does this play out in real life? What happens if someone is “caught” complaining about their pay rate?

    I am not a lawyer. But if I got asked this on a interview my first thought would be, “OMG they don’t know how to set pay rates for the various positions here.” My second thought would be, “What else is wrong here?”

    Reply
    1. TootsNYC

      the phrase was “grumbling about money

      I think that qualification is there for a reason, and it’s not fair to act as though they left it out.

      Reply
      1. dawbs

        I think a lot of us saw it, but think that the question is really bigger than how they’ve narrowed it.

        I will cop quickly to being underpaid, but I don’t usually gripe about my job. I gripe (in private) about customers (because customers are always customers), I gripe about the unfairness in the universe [small nonprofit employee. I help people. I see the unfairness of the universe up-close and personal on a weekly basis, and sometimes it makes me cry].
        But I don’t gripe about my job–because, really, I love what I do and I do it well, and I do good work for a good cause.
        But…I’d probably have less in my life to gripe about in general if I made more money,

        ANd at the job I left where I made significantly more money, I was fairly compensated for my role. ANd I griped a LOT before I left. INcluding about money. Because the job had gone to crap for me, and money games (not amount of money, just games with roles and such) were there. The money was good, but if the money is good, but the job is crap, money will still be a gripe.
        And realistically, you can’t KNOW if the money is ‘good enough’ for the amount of crap they give you until you work there and determine what exact flavors and textures of crap you have to deal with.
        Because in my currently underpaid-but-awesome job, staff is not-quite-joking when the discussion of how the day went starts with ‘did you have to deal with bodily fluids’? which…is literal crap. And, I can HONESTLY say I have not considered leaving over said crap.
        In my previous well-paid job, where I made literally twice what I do now, I would have left the first time I was asked to deal with literal crap–for a whole lot of reasons.

        Money and what is ‘well paid’ is determined by the crap you deal with, and I don’t think anyone can give their ‘this is my threshold for grousing’ amount before they know what crap they deal with.

        Reply
      2. Elsajeni

        Sure, but that follows “come in every day happy, motivated, and.” Yes, to the extent they thought about it consciously, they probably mean the “about money” qualifier to apply to the whole sentence. That doesn’t mean everyone will hear it that way, and I don’t think it’s crazy to hear that sentence and think “hmm, this sounds like a weird emphasis on being Happy All The Time, I have some concerns about how far that extends.”

        Reply
  17. LadeeDa

    I have posted this before, but it is relevant. I once was interviewing someone, when I asked if she had additional questions, she asked what the salary was, I told her the range- which she knew because our recruiters always give, she said “my husband said I have to ask for $10,000 more because my commute is 1.5 hours.”
    I said “If an offer of employment is made, that is when you negotiate salary. Not in the interview, at the offer point. If you choose to accept a job outside your commuting radius that is one YOU, not the company.”

    Reply
    1. No Mas Pantalones

      “My husband said….”

      Tell your husband we aren’t considering him for the role. Nor are we considering his spouse any longer.

      Reply
    2. ababao1o1

      Well her address *was* at the top of her resume ……. should be a little red flag when first reviewing the resume

      Reply
      1. Red 5

        A-Not necessarily, I’m fairly certain I took my complete address off my resume years ago, I have no idea what the common practice is these days and B-that’s a really silly thing to flag somebody for in any case. As LaDeeDa said, it’s on the applicant to determine the feasibility of their commute and how satisfied they would be with it, not the employer.

        Maybe it’s just where I live, but 1.5 hours each way is super normal. And also, nobody around here has any idea how far it is for people in the other direction. If you commute north to south, and find out somebody lives south of your office? You probably have no concept of how long it takes to get there. Add in not knowing local bus routes and transit, weird traffic patterns…you’d have to Google Map every applicant and who has that kind of time?

        Reply
        1. ababao1o1

          Employers routinely filter based on address based on whether they will offer relocation.

          You may not know off the top of your head if its 45 mins or 60 mins, but you should know if its 30 mins or 90mins

          Reply
          1. Red 5

            30 minutes versus 90 minutes is a useless distinction when trying to hire the best candidate for the job though, so there’s no point in spending the time on it, is what I’m saying.

            And if you do downgrade a candidate in the hiring process because they’re 90 minutes away instead of 30, then that’s a very bad hiring decision and could end up causing an unintended discrimination problem for one thing.

            For another, I’m not kidding when I say around here people have no idea. They literally don’t know if it’s 15 minutes, 20, 50, or 2 hours. Plus, depending on time of day the same drive can be 20 minutes or two hours. Heck, I’ve been doing the same commute for three years and half the time I don’t even know when I’ll get home. It can range from an hour to two just based on luck.

            Also filtering based on if you’ll provide relocation expenses would then filter out potential employees who might be relocating or wanting to for other reasons and wouldn’t be asking for relocation expenses. So the easier thing to do would be just be up front that relocation expenses won’t be provided and then again, let the potential hire decide if they still want to apply.

            In the end, like the OP’s hiring practices, it boils down to making the hiring process transparent (salary range in the listing, say if you’re offering relocation expenses, etc.) and then letting candidates self select if they would be happy with that, then picking the ones who would actually be the best employees based on real criteria that actually matter.

            Reply
            1. lister

              Yeah. I’ve lived here for 6 years. I don’t know how long some of my coworkers commutes are. If someone names a random city nearby, I have no idea how long that commute will be. Do I know how long it might take me to drive there/bus there on a sunday? Maybe. Do I know how long it would take in rush hour? Nope.

              Reply
          2. Dragoning

            Nope, I would not know that.

            Now, if a resume came from Florida and I live in Ohio…that would be something to filter.

            Reply
            1. Dragoning

              (If you are filtering based on location, which I don’t especially agree with–having been told by a recruiter they were rejecting me because they didn’t think I’d want to do the drive, even though I said it was fine)

              Reply
          3. LadeeDa

            I live in a large metro area, anything under an hour is usually thought of as a great commute. People around here commute 1-2 hours, I am not going to not interview someone because they live 2 hours away. That is their decision.

            Reply
        2. Kat in VA

          Yep – DC Metro area here. I have average of 1.5 hours each way, each day. When we have the government shutdown, it only took me 40 minutes to work. I enjoyed every minute of it (but would rather the government stayed open).

          Reply
      2. dawbs

        I really hate when people try to decide for me what commute I can commit too.

        I commuted almost 1.5 hours, EACH way, for my previous job.
        My commute was part of the reason I quit–after TEN YEARS of making that commute (including while pregnant, while nursing a small child, while raising a small child, while having a small child in preschool and in school-school. all additional reasons that people expected me to quit for. That was patronizing. THe commute thing was patronizing too.
        And these people *also* didn’t know the reason my commute had to be what it was, which, truthfully was none of their business and complicated, but, I couldn’t move and that’s that. So I made it work)
        And there were days, during blizzard conditions, when I made it in and the secretary who lived 2 blocks away didn’t. (there were also days I didn’t and one remarkably bad day when I got blown off the road and failed to come to a big meeting they refused to move…and an hour later my employer closed because of the damn blizzard. I may still be hostile about that :P).
        And, when it came down to it, it wasn’t my commute that made me leave, it was the job becoming crappy, trying to take back the flex-time that made the commute work, and the commute becoming a drag because the job was getting all sorts of squirrel-y.

        It should be a *very tiny* red flag, where everyone is open about what they know about the commute (if the employer is at the top of a snowy mountain and it’s a private road that gets plowed 1x a week and you notice the candidate has a MG as their primary vehicle; if you know that the hours mean they’ll be driving through the neighborhood where they will frequently drive the seedy part of town w/ gang violence during 10pm-2 am, if “oh, we changed our mind, go back home” is a normal thing after 2 hours, if being ‘on call’ is a thing. etc), but grownups get to make their own grownup choices of what they will do for a job.

        Reply
  18. Anonforthis

    There are so many things wrong here that I’m not sure where to start…but here goes.
    1. Does your firm have any kind of HR/compensation department? If so, you would be well served by having them do some kind of internal analysis of your salaries to make sure you aren’t, for example, paying women less than men for the same job, or bringing in newer candidates at higher salaries than people who have been there a while. If you don’t have an internal HR department, it would be well worth it to have a consultant come in and evaluate your positions and interview and pay practices. As lawyers, you should know better than most that you are open to challenges of discrimination in your hiring and compensation practices, especially if they’re as arbitrary as you’ve described here.
    2. I can’t imagine that most candidates like this, either, so you are probably turning off good talent with this practice. Most people have a general idea of their own worth, but may not want to give a specific dollar amount until later in the hiring process.
    I hope you can influence the powers that be in your firm to really take a good look at your practices.

    Reply
    1. OP

      Just on the question of inequality, i should say that the firm is majority women, and female applicants have always nominated numbers extremely similar to male. However that may say more about our industry and the kind of people we call in for interviews than anything else.

      It’s a fair point to raise, but for us, in our context, I can say women do just as well as men, if not better. And I say that as someone who knows everyone’s salaries and has reviewed the list of numbers nominated.

      Reply
      1. Suit waiting to happen

        Fellow lawyer here. As a lawyer, you know that outside of biglaw, transparency into lawyer salaries is completely opaque. You are doing yourself a disservice not to at least provide a range. I’m not sure what kind of law you practice, but I’m sure you’re aware that a firm could have infinite pay models, from base + % of fees billed over X amount, % of intake, base + contingency fee or be anywhere from 65K for a junior lawyer to 200k+ for a mid to senior in lucrative specialties. More likely than not being a smaller firm, potential employees have no clue where you fall on that spectrum. Honestly I think you’re turning off a lot of good talent with this question and by not providing a range – I would be appalled at the way that questions is phrased and angered at not being given a solid number to negotiate around, or a range along with full information on the benefits package. It’s not only a sign that you guys don’t have your -ish together but gives a lot of information on the culture of your firm (i.e. what’s the minimum we can give you to get you to do the work) which doesn’t sound very appealing.

        Reply
      2. Genny

        I’m not a lawyer, but isn’t it equally discriminatory to arbitrarily pay women more than men (which it sounds like is sometimes happening in your office)? Or do things like the equal pay act only apply to women? Genuinely curious.

        Reply
          1. anononon

            I would say though (& I don’t know about OPs exact case ofc) that people have a tendency to view equality as ‘look the women are doing great’! which doesn’t necessarily mean that women are actually earning more on average.

            A female colleague at my company was concerned about the total pay secrecy & how it could be hiding gender bias (we’re ~5% women) – we’re generally encouraged not to discuss pay & there’s no info about pay bands or progression etc. My manager basically said something along the lines of ‘I don’t think she’s got anything to be concerned about, the women here are doing pretty well!’ which if taken out of context could be taken to mean the women are doing better but in reality:
            * all the management positions are still held by men
            * looking at the women who are there they do about as well, on average, as the other people who started at the same time (the numbers are so tiny you can’t really assume much statistically here – yes it is true that I, a female, have done better than most people in my year group, they also all left & mostly went to higher paying jobs sooo who is winning really…)

            TLDR: people read equality as ‘women doing better’ because its not the norm.

            Reply
      3. EventPlannerGal

        I’m glad to hear that it doesn’t seem to have worked out that way in practice, but to me the nature of the question is such that it’s leaving the door open for that to happen in future. If I was you I would want to shut that door.

        It also seems to me like you’re stacking the deck here against younger or less experienced candidates. You’re basically asking them to play Guess The Salary with very real consequences, but their ability to give an “acceptable” answer that falls within your range is going to depend heavily on how much experience they have to figure out what that range is. Some of the good candidates who blew themselves out of the water might just have been taking an inexperienced guess and would have been happy on a far lower number – especially given Suit waiting to happen’s comment above about the variety in law salaries.

        Reply
    2. Tammy

      I think some other commenters have underestimated the import of your second point here. Whenever I read a question on AAM about strange hiring practices, I always think that the employer has GOT TO be turning off some of the more qualified candidates. Because qualified candidates know they’re qualified, and know you’re not the only game in town. Selecting out top applicants with strange or hostile hiring practices seems extremely counter-productive to me.

      (Of course, some unqualified candidates also think they’re qualified, but filtering out Dunning-Kruger is part of what the interview is for.)

      Reply
    1. Decima Dewey

      Turning up happy every workday isn’t possible. There are always going to be times when something bad happens to the building on your watch, or you have to deal with the client from hell, or you slipped in the slush while running for the bus.

      Reply
  19. Old Cynic

    I very much like Alison’s suggestion of “Our range is…” but employers still need to be honest. Years ago I was told by a recruiter that the range for a position I was interviewing for was 35-45k. When asked about what I was looking for, I stated 37k. The offer came through at 32k, their logic being my then current salary was 28k. I only lasted a year at that new job but had they started me at 37k, I would have likely stayed longer.

    Reply
    1. SignalLost

      A job I interviewed for had a stated range of $45K-54K. I was offered the position and verbally accepted, expecting they would offer their low end and I would negotiate them to their high end. When I received the written offer, it was for $62K. I was told it was because I had more experience than they were expecting applicants to have. (Which is weird but also very identifying.) so I guess what I’m saying is why have a range if it means nothing?

      Reply
      1. TootsNYC

        except that it does mean something!

        it means that for the most impressive set of credentials >within what they required,< $54k was their high.

        You had more credentials, so they came up with more money. They expect to get a lot more out of you than from the person with the "top of the range expected credentials."

        Reply
      2. The New Wanderer

        I think this is the only case where making an offer outside the range is appropriate and recommended – to get the best candidate with even more qualifications/experience than they expected. This says “we value the extra things you’re bringing to this position.”

        Old Cynic’s case is the worst use – the range specifies a minimum that the position is worth to the company. To offer even less, and specifically because of a candidate’s salary history, is just a terrible practice. This says “we told you the position is worth at least $X to us, but not for you.” My dream is for anyone in this position to be able to say “I was significantly underpaid in the past and I’m looking to find a company that values my contribution at market rate. Since that’s not you, I am declining the offer.” But hopefully as more states outlaw requiring salary history in a job application, this will stop happening.

        Reply
  20. Name Required

    OP, has anyone ever said, “Whatever you make?” Do applicants see total compensation packages before they’re forced to submit a salary? I’m not sure I could name a salary without seeing the rest of it.

    Reply
    1. OP

      For better or worse, everyone has always (seemed to have) taken the question seriously.

      No one has ever asked much about the rest of the package, but in my geographical area and industry the packages are extremely standard across all employers – so in our context it would be a slightly strange question.

      Reply
      1. Frank Doyle

        Has anyone ever responded with a range instead of a single number, and did they get pushback on that? Because I think most people have a salary range in mind when they start job hunting.

        Reply
      2. Lone Salary Ranger

        OP, if everything has worked out hiring-wise so far then maybe the focus should turn to whether or not the firm can and will address any problems that could arise. You have defended your firm in two separate comments, and it’s great that as far as you know, the right people were hired at the right salaries that make them show up at work with a smile.

        If it’s always been standard to not provide candidates with a salary range and also ask a weird salary question then it’s reasonable to consider if the committee will have a process in place to address any future issues *and* enforce solutions consistently, fairly, and ethically.

        It’s a little … surprising? the firm hasn’t already questioned the value/fairness of the salary question especially given the topics that now get way more attention (from mainstream institutions, media, and individual workers) like salary transparency, factors that reinforce systemic salary inequality, unconscious biases in the workplace, as well as the amount of unpaid emotional labor certain people may feel they have to take on (like not grumbling about hiring after lowballing themselves by accident during the interview).

        Reply
  21. You watch your phraseology...

    The way the sentence is phrased makes it seem like they want you to be happy, but it also feels like there’s a subtext there that says they are not open to feedback/re-negotiation/any of your lip because you got the salary you chose.

    Reply
    1. boo bot

      Yeah, that was exactly my thought: “not grumbling about money” to me sounds like “never, ever, ever ask for a raise.” With a side of, “don’t complain about anything else either, we’re paying you the salary you ASKED for.”

      Reply
  22. SBD

    Alison, I have read every post of yours for years, and they are all excellent, but this is the best one I’ve ever seen. Absolutely perfectly written. Well said!

    Reply
  23. Clay on my apron

    I agree that jobs should be posted with a salary range. Where I live (non USA), that hardly ever happens. Offers are usually based on current earnings.

    My question is, if you are recruiting for a position where experienced people are in short supply, and you get an outstanding applicant who is beyond what you were expecting / hoping for, does it make sense to adjust the range to get that person on board?

    Or would this be situation specific?

    Reply
    1. SchueylerSeestra

      Depends on Budget. I know some HM who are willing to go the distance comp wise for a purple squirrel. But only for someone who hits it out of the park.

      Reply
  24. Red 5

    That question is worded so terribly.

    I would absolutely name an absurdly high number for that, because there is very little chance of money being a deciding factor in whether or not I come to work happy and eager to do tons of work and blah blah blah whatever.

    There are a lot, and I mean a lot, of things I value far, far more than money. For me to completely disregard all of those things? That’s got an incredibly high price tag. And honestly, I’d rather work for and with a company that feels that way and doesn’t put a dollar figure on happiness. So not only would my number be too high, by asking the question I’d probably take myself out of the running and go far, far, far away because it’s a giant red flag to me.

    Reply
    1. Joielle

      Yeah, that’s the thing… I could be happy with a wide range of salaries, depending on the benefits package and the company culture. If I’m working 80 hours a week with demanding partners who yell, it’ll take a LOT of money for me to be happy. If I’m working 45 hours a week with people I like and respect, I’d be happy around the market rate.

      I agree that it’s a huge red flag – even if the firm in reality is a great place to work, the question makes it sound like it’ll end up being a nightmare but since you’re making an amount you said would make you happy, you can’t complain!

      Reply
  25. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2

    When applying for jobs – I always tell the range I’m expecting – AND – if they lowball – GOOD BYE.

    I have far more respect for someone who says, right up front… “you are out of our price range….” and cordially terminate the process, than go through the whole nine yards and have it end.

    I once had that happen – a major insurance company called me out of the blue. Asked if I knew anything about the XYZ Teapot Product. “Well, I am the lead tech analyst for the XYZ Teapot Product, and I also teach the customer course in the product here at XYZ.”

    Next question = “how much would it take to get you here?” I replied with my current salary plus I’d expect to get relocation. And they immediately said “you’re making too much”.

    Thus I don’t think OP is too far out of line. The only problem is – someone might accept a lowball because he/she has no place else to go at the time, and then uses the position as a springboard to the next step upward. Somewhere else. The problem with lowball offers is that it likely will come back to haunt you. And if it goes on too long – you CAN’T fix it. Not easily. A stay bonus equal to a 2-year retroactive raise plus tax differential? Very difficult to pull off.

    Reply
    1. lister

      I think the difference with your experience is you’re being headhunted. Someone asking you what it would take for you to leave your job and you naming a number is very reasonable. You showing up to an interview, not knowing the range, not knowing the benefits, and being expected to name your salary (and being pinned down if you offer a range), that’s a different fish.

      Reply
  26. RS

    I haven’t read through all the comments, so perhaps someone has made this point already. What I find most objectionable about this practice is that we know– from research, from data– that people of color and women are disproportionately affected by this sort of thing. Because of the unconscious bias these groups deal with every day, they’re less likely to negotiate for the salaries they deserve, and to undershoot when they’re asked for the salary they want. This is a practice that essentially rewards white men, and hurts everyone else. What a shame.

    Reply
    1. ThursdaysGeek

      Yup – I’d be interested in the OP doing a salary survey of the employees they have now and updating us with those stats – is there pay equity for the same jobs? Or are the while males getting paid more? It’s sure to be a pretty small sample size so there might not be anything clear from looking at it.

      Reply
      1. OP

        Once people have been around for a year, their salary is a function of how much they brought in the previous year. It’s an entirely different process.

        The sample size is small, and every employee is different, so there is not really any like for like I could compare.

        Reply
  27. Interviewer

    I work in HR for a law firm.

    Your ad’s language on salary is misleading, hinting that the firm will communicate the figure after evaluating the candidates – which you do, but not before springing it on the candidate to determine first. Your firm should at least give the candidates a heads up that they need to prepare a figure.

    Salary is a huge component of law firm profitability calculations. Your firm chooses to use a salary suggestion based on the “happiness” of its candidates who haven’t yet worked for you for even one hour, and might not have all the info to evaluate a fair offer (cost of benefits, intangibles like flex schedules, etc.). Think about how weird that sounds! To compare, how does your firm determine a fair billable rate for clients? The firm should know the market for their work, review expenses/overhead to determine profitability, and sell the client a price, based on the value they can bring. So, why would you leave salary up to the candidate – one of the biggest expenses – if you already know what the target should be? If you routinely go above the target for the right person – well, there go the profits!

    Are you in the US? I can’t stress this part enough: whether they’re first years or they’ve been practicing for 10 years, you may be dealing with people who are paying back $100K+ in student loans. The sky is literally the limit on what would make them “happy.”

    Reply
  28. TootsNYC

    I wonder if the best thing the OP can do is to work toward “leaking” information about salary ranges into the milieu from which they draw most of their candidates.

    Reply
    1. TootsNYC

      and, as Interviewer above me points out:
      “Your firm should at least give the candidates a heads up that they need to prepare a figure.”

      This, you might be able to affect. Even if only through gossip, but maybe through ads, or maybe through the communication process of setting up the interview.

      Reply
  29. Close Bracket

    The amount would go up considerably after hearing that question. I walked away from a damn fine salary and really good benefits because I was miserable. No amount more of a salary would have made me happy there. That question is indicative of a culture where they simply could not pay me enough to make me happy.

    Reply
  30. KitKat100000

    I’m an attorney and this is not related but: 20 attorneys and 30 support staff?!?!

    In some areas of law (personal injury, bankruptcy), that would be normal, but for most that would be way out of balance!! Are your support staff billing??

    Reply
  31. katherine

    Yet another example why “don’t be afraid to ask for more money, there will never be any consequences” is bad advice that keeps people unemployed/underemployed.

    Reply
    1. Trout 'Waver

      Baloney. If someone tries to punish you for negotiating, they are a terrible manager. You don’t want to work for someone like that.

      Reply
        1. lister

          Today I was berated on the phone for 3 hours for something that had nothing to do with me, while I had to keep and maintain a calm “talking down a tantruming toddler” demeanor.

          I did not quit on the spot, although I was tempted. Why? I need the money.

          Reply
  32. EventPlannerGal

    Count me as another one who dislikes the question, OP. Big nope.

    I think part of it is that – unless it’s phrased very differently in practice – it seems like it’s asking several different questions at once. How much would stop me grumbling about money? Sure, I could probably answer that if I have a rough idea of the role, my own living costs and so on. How much would motivate me to be really consistently excellent? That’s a different figure. How much would make me happy every day? I have no idea. And even if I knew I wouldn’t want to say it to a potential employer, because it really feels like it’s some sort of set-up for the employer to be able to counter any dissatisfaction you have later with “but look at what we’re paying you – you said that would make you happy so why are you complaining?” Even if that’s not the intention it really feels like a trick question.

    Reply
  33. Database Developer Dude

    I would ask “Is the goal here me showing up happy every day? Cause if it is, there are certain non-monetary things that need to be included in the salary… and many of them involve beer….”

    Reply
    1. dawbs

      I worked somewhere with ‘free beer friday’ @ work.
      It was a disastrous place to work. Horrible in every way.
      And when upper level folks got involved with one of the drunken golf-outing functions (I didn’t go) and over $10k worth of damage was done to the golf course (and, from my peers, apparently the instigators in the mayhem were not primarily the lowly paid grunts) and the summarily cancelled all ‘fun’ctions put on by the ‘fun team’ (but execs seemed to still do stuff)

      NO more free beer. ALthough, to be fair, they shouldn’t have been giving out free beer anyhow, because they preyed on young employees and they routinely handed out 1-to excess (esp. for driving home) and 2-to underage employees.

      It was amazingly awful. The stories I’ve forgotten/pushed into the recesses.

      Reply
    1. dawbs

      +1
      and it’s such a disadvantage when there’s already the power imbalance w/ the interviewer, and when the culture is a mismatch.

      Reply
  34. nnn

    The weird thing about the “turn up happy every day” is there are so many variables that can affect happiness that many people literally won’t be able to name a number. So much of it depends on working conditions etc. – to say nothing of variables from your personal life, medical situation, etc. I’m sure we’ve all had days where no amount of money could make us happy that day, and I’m sure we’ve all done perfectly decent work without grumbling on many of those days.

    Reply
  35. His Grace

    This is, in all honesty, a shitty practice. OP,if you have say in this matter, I would plead with your higher ups to stop asking this question during interviews. It is asking for trouble.

    Reply
  36. Mrs. Smith

    This seems like it would punish both the overly bold and the unfortunately timid, and it leaves you with a very lukewarm candidate pool. Maybe that’s where your firm wants to be – no one with an overblown sense of importance, for example – but also no one who might be very good at her job but who has been wage-suppressed for 10 years. Why is this firm so lazy it’s not willing to do a little research, find out what the market rate is, and offer the ballpark of that with variables for experience or reputation? Also, money is not the only factor in happiness. It can mean a great deal, but I’d trade a little money for a respectful workplace, extra vacation time, or other perks that don’t have a dollar amount attached.

    Reply
  37. SusanIvanova

    Long ago, before the Internet was even a thing, there was a software company in Silicon Valley whose VP of Engineering had bought his house in the 70s, so he had no clue about the cost of living. He asked three potential hires who came from much cheaper parts of the world (suburban Texas, rural Canada) and were either new college grads or on our first jobs about our salary expectations. All three of us picked numbers that would’ve been average where we were. The VP did at least spot that this was undervalued, but still didn’t know how much to boost it – I asked for $24K, got 36K and thought “wow!”, and then found I could barely cover rent.

    The CEO discovered it by accident and gave us the biggest raises she could until we’d caught up to our co-workers who were in the 90-100K range.

    Reply
  38. Ann Nonymous

    I kind of hate you guys (ok, not OP). And if I knew, as a client, this was how you ran things, I would take my business elsewhere.

    Reply
  39. Holly

    OP, I wanted to point out that many states and municipalities have banned salary history inquiries. I would confirm that your law firm isn’t practicing in one of them.

    Reply
  40. Quiet Riot

    I am just stunned at how bad a practice this is. But, then again, I am often stunned at how many orgs have bad business practices.

    Reply
  41. Jake

    Not to mention that the goal isn’t to show up happy every day. If that’s the goal, I need millions a year.

    The goal is to find a number that satisfies the worker that the company is also willing to pay.

    Reply
  42. JD

    I get paid really, really well. And I am miserably unhappy at work. I guess if it was a brand new job, that would be different, but still… salary and job happiness are really not a 1:1 correlation.

    Reply
    1. Humble Schoolmarm

      Exactly! Where I live, between the fact that teaching pays relatively well and I’m single with a cheap apartment and no dependents, I do alright financially, but does that money make me happy when I spend an hour having 12-year-olds treat me like a power-tripping despot because I said “Four people, not seven working at a table for four, please.”? Not always!

      Reply
  43. Noah

    It’s really unclear to me who this process is used for. Everybody? That’s insane?

    Associates? Maybe insane, maybe not. It depends on the firm’s comp structure. Still a bad way to ask the question, though.

    Partners? Well, then this is a ridiculous way to ask the question, but it is literally the most important question for most lateral partner moves.

    Reply
  44. Amethystmoon

    There are factors beyond money that make people happy. If for example, you have horrible coworkers, chances are good that I amount of money will make you happy. If your commute is miserable, you probably also won’t be happy.

    Reply
  45. Argh!

    I have heard unflattering things about law firms, so I’ll add this one to the list.

    Also, considering it’s a law firm, I think my answer would be “$5,000 more than the last person you hired.” I don’t think I could come to work happy knowing that I’d been a bargain.

    It would be interesting to learn what they thought they were doing with this question, but questioning the questioners’ judgment could be politically iffy.

    Reply
  46. Rez123

    I hate every type of salary expectation question. You generally have a budget and range. Tell that. It’s impossible to research salaries. I applied for a job on Sunday. I tried to research the salary but all the websites offered a range of $18-150K and couldn’t find similar companies that could narrow it down. So it was pure guessing work. I have a number that I can’t go lower (cause you know…eating is nice) but depending on the role and benefits I’m very flexible with salary. Every company I know has a table that they follow to determine the salary that include experience, education etc. so why not just say an approximate.

    Clearly a role with a same title where you make $18k will have very different description than the one that makes $150k. There are a lot of people including me that would self select from the $under 25k role and the $100k+ role since I wouldn’t be suitable. Wouldn’t that save a lot of time? Especially since all job descriptions are so vague that it’s impossible to say what is actually included. End of rant.

    Reply
    1. Lanon

      The reason employers do this is because sometimes they can get away with vastly underpaying people this way, and a lot of people err on the low side of their own numbers, so it overall significantly reduces staff costs.

      Reply
  47. BekaAnne

    It’s an odd question…

    Plus can I just say that the salary it would take for me to walk into work HAPPY every day is a hell of a lot higher than what I’d accept the job at. I’m in the UK, so figures are in sterling. I’d do my job for ~£40-45,000 but to be happy every day, give me £100,000+ because the amount of stress I have some days is literally epic!

    Reply
  48. Book Badger, Attorney-at-Claw

    This is a little bizarre to me because I just stopped hunting for a lawyer job, and outside of three places I can think of off the top of my head, everyone advertised the range (and since I was entry level, I always assumed I’d be on the low end of the range). Now, I was looking mostly in nonprofits, and the couple of exceptions were big law firms. But it’s by no means industry-wide.

    Reply
  49. Kesnit

    When I was looking for the job I now have, I know I would have struggled with this question. Where I lived before, I was horribly underpaid. However, I was living with my in-laws, which meant I could actually afford to live on what I was paid. (I had lived in the same area several years prior in a job that had great benefits and paid about twice what I was getting paid while living with my in-laws. I was getting by in that higher paid job, but not comfortable, because of the extremely high cost of living.)

    I was applying for state jobs, so the pay would be set. However, I was applying all over the state. I had also been living in the most expensive part of the state for about 10 years, and could not really gauge what is “reasonable” in other places. If I had listed how much I wanted based on where I lived, I would be asking for more than everyone in this office except the head of the office. (It is an entry level position.) If I had ask for just a little more (say, $5K) than I was making, I would not be able to live in some parts of the state. When I ended up getting hired, I had no idea how much cost of living was before coming here. (I am renting a 3-BR, 1.5-Bath house for the cost of a studio apartment where I used to live.)

    It isn’t just about asking people to play mind games. Telling people to name their price if they are looking to relocate is going to cause people to either high-ball (because they think that’s what they need to live) or low-ball (because they don’t know how much it costs to live).

    Reply
  50. Employment Lawyer

    It makes perfect sense to me.

    Look: Employees are not fungible, at ALL. When it comes to people complaining about disparity, the underlying assumption is that “second-year associates” are (or should be) worth the same because they “do the same job.” To which I say: Have any of those folks managed people or read AAM? It is patently obvious merely from the posts here that people are wildly different across all sorts of fronts.

    If you drop the “everyone in X job is worth exactly the same” pretense for a moment, this allows for the maximum flexibility in hiring. You know what you would take; they know what they would pay. Hopefully you can meet.

    If it works for the company, great! They are going to end up selecting from a pool (perhaps a small one) of employees who would perhaps otherwise all end up with different outcomes.

    Isn’t diversity of thought a wonderful thing?

    Reply
    1. WoolAnon

      Still, though, the company has a range they want to pay. What this practice removes from is that ‘You know what you would take; they know what they would pay’ in removing negotiation. If a good candidate gives a high number and gets removed from consideration – bye-bye negotiation. Plus, the workforce isn’t a place for mind games. If a company only offers a max of, say, 40k, and I think I’m at least worth 50k, why should I waste both my time and their time applying?

      Reply
      1. Employment Lawyer

        I don’t see anything to suggest that the company will refuse to counter. In fact, i see something to suggest that the company may pay more than they thought for someone who they really like.

        i agree it will cut down on applicants. But that’s the company’s call to make, in my view.

        Reply
    2. Government lawyer

      I’m with you on “different people are worth different $, even when doing the same job.” Especially when in comes to lawyers, who are expected to drum up business, in addition to doing legal work (the part I don’t like, hence my descriptor).

      But they should drop the “happy” language. Ask for a number or a range, and assume that to be reasonably negotiable.

      Reply
      1. Government lawyer

        *the part I don’t like is drumming up business, in case that’s not clear.

        [going back to doing legal work]

        Reply
  51. Former call centre worker

    What a total waste of time for anyone who applies whose desired salary isn’t in the range your company has in mind – and for the hiring managers too. Why are your company bothering to interview or even read the CVs of people who aren’t looking for the right salary range? Publish the range in the job ad and let people self-select out of applying if they don’t like it.

    Reply
  52. BenAdminGeek

    How odd. My “happy number” isn’t going to result in me being happy every single day. I mean, even if they paid me 3-4x what I’m worth in the market, some days I’m gonna have a bad day. I know what they’re driving at, but it’s poorly worded to achieve the end result. If I was pressed on it, I’d be inclined to suggest something 4x my current salary and then plan to sock away money and retire early. So that’s not ideal for anyone.

    Reply
  53. Indie

    If I were to hear that the salary I am looking for was a) not being explicitly offered, b) an unknown quantity to them and c) expected to keep me ‘happy’ that would add up to ‘clueless management’ to me. I only want to work for people who know the market rate and understand that salary pretty much only gets me to show up. If you want me actually happy there’s a bunch of other stuff I am going to need from you as a manager. You can’t
    consider yourself to have bought your employees job happiness before day one and sit back from then on. If they actually do create a happy work environment this message does them a huge disservice.

    Reply
  54. Amy

    My answer would be “the amount that the highest paid current employee with similar qualifications to mine gets paid, and if I accept a job here at any salary, I’m going to ask everyone–which federal law protects my right to do–how much they make, and then I’ll decide whether I’m happy with my salary. Or, you could just tell me how much the job pays, and then we can all be happy.”

    If pressed for a number, I’d have at least two dozen very specific questions about benefits, and I’d suggest that I should meet with an HR rep and take home copies of the firm’s insurance policies to study before coming back with a number.

    Reply
    1. CanCan

      This is also the kind of answer that would disqualify you on the basis of being a pushy smart-ass. Unless they’re looking for smart-asses, which, being a law firm, they might be.

      Signed,
      someone who was rejected at many law firm interviews probably for not being enough of a pushy smart-ass. Oh well, good riddance to them.

      Reply
  55. Amy

    This also makes me think that when hiring for professional services, I should start asking prospective firms how they pay their workers. Because I’d absolutely fire your law firm if I were a client and found out about this practice. That’s how gross I find it. So I guess I should start asking up front…

    Reply
  56. CanCan

    “Happy, motivated, and not grumbling about money” is such weird phrasing. So much negativity! It assumes that people will accept a salary and then grumble about it. And “happy and motivated” assumes that salary is the only thing that makes you happy. So that if the workplace turns out to be crappy for other reasons, management could say: you got the salary you wanted, so you should be happy now! This is the sort of language you expect a tech startup to use, not a law firm (at least not any law firms I’ve ever worked at, or interviewed with).

    If you’re not prepared to give a range, why not just ask a simply ask what salary they’re looking for. If a person is way out there, you could reject them for being clueless / overestimating themselves / being a flight risk. But if their number is slightly higher than what you’re prepared to offer – give them an offer you believe is fair. On the other hand, if a person is so amazing that paying them higher than what you planned is justified – go for it.

    Reply

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