my employer won’t let us tell candidates what we pay until we make them an offer

A reader writes:

I work for a private college, and my department is in the process of hiring a new staff person. I have been involved in vetting and interviewing applicants both for this current position and for several past positions, so this isn’t the first time I’ve faced this issue. But I don’t know how to handle it and I’m getting very frustrated.

I can go online and in minutes find out what everyone is making at the nearest public university, but because we’re private, it’s very hard to find salary range information about any of the jobs here. In addition, our HR is very reluctant to provide any firm information whatsoever, even to the people actually hiring for the jobs (they’ll give us the “pay band code” for the position, but won’t actually tell us what that code means). And this furtiveness around salaries seems to have gotten worse over the years: in the past they’ve at least told the hiring managers what the pay band codes mean.

I’m fairly certain of the reason for all of this mystery about our salaries, as it is an open secret that pretty much everyone who works here is underpaid (except of course the upper administration and maybe the athletics director!). So I can see why they don’t want us announcing this to applicants.

So we get applicants asking us the salary, and we aren’t allowed to actually tell them (if we even know) until we make an offer. On the other hand, the application system asks them for their salary history and their desired salary (our state unfortunately does not ban asking for salary histories). So I can see in the applications that Jane Smith is currently making more than she would in this position — and wants way more than what this position pays — but when Jane asks us the salary, we can’t tell her until we make her an offer. When Jane inevitably turns down the job due to the low pay, everyone has gone to an awful lot of trouble for no result, and we have to start the process over.

Our administration acts like this is all fine and normal, but the fact they won’t let us tell anyone lets me know that they know there’s a problem with the pay. But those of us in the hiring process, not to mention all of these applicants, end up wasting a lot of time when there’s an obvious salary mismatch that we can’t actually talk about.

I know I can’t do anything about our institution’s bizarre attitude toward disclosing salary ranges. But what can I do when applicants ask, “What is the pay?” We usually say something about checking with HR and not disclosing until the offer, but I feel really badly that we’re being so evasive and, essentially, deceptive. So what can I say to them? I’d love some wording that could say “don’t get your hopes up about the pay” without actually saying it.

If you do have suggestions for how to talk about this issue with our HR partners, that would also be great. This whole situation is extremely frustrating and disheartening, and I’m sure it’s even worse for people who are looking for jobs with us.

By the way, I’m trying to get out of here as well, as I also make at least $6,000 less than the person in an equivalent position at that nearby public university.

Why, oh why, do some employers insist on doing this? It’s rude to applicants, it sets people up for frustration and disappointment, and it wastes an enormous amount of everyone’s time, including the employer’s. It makes no sense for you to spend time interviewing and assessing candidates who won’t take what you’re offering. If you instead could talk salary early on, people who won’t accept that salary could drop out and you’d free up slots for candidates who are actually willing to accept your offers.

If your employer is hiding what they pay because they know it’s not competitive … people are going to find out once you get to the offer stage! It’s not like you can hide it forever. So they must be banking on people having invested so much time by that point that they’ll be more likely to accept than if they heard the salary right off the bat.

But unless you reveal truly compelling info about the job as people interview, it would be unusual for a job to become so enticing over the course of a hiring process that people would compromise by large amounts on how much money they’re willing to accept. (A really good benefits package can sometimes do that — but you can talk about that early in the process too.) And indeed, you noted that you’re losing candidates once you get to the offer stage and then have to start all over with someone else. So your HR department’s commitment to this process is strange.

One option is to simply ignore HR and give applicants whatever information you do have. If you know absolutely nothing about the salary and can’t find out, you could still say, “I don’t have the budgeted salary for this role; our HR policy is not to share it, including with me, until we’re at the offer stage. But I can tell you that in general our salaries aren’t as competitive as public universities in the area. We do offer (insert something here about benefits or other good things about the job), but our salaries often come in lower than people are expecting so I want to be up-front with you about that.”

If you know from the info the candidate provided that they’re making more than they’d make in the job they’re applying for, you can say, “I can tell you it’s likely to be less than what you’re making currently, and I understand if it doesn’t make sense to proceed.”

But ideally you’d also push back with HR — hard, and ideally with a group of others involved in hiring. Bureaucracies at large institutions can be very difficult to move, and especially bureaucracies that make such ridiculous decisions as this one, but if enough people involved in hiring take a stand and say, “This isn’t working for us, we’re losing good candidates, and we’re wasting a huge amount of time,” it’s possible you can get them to budge. If you can quantify the number of candidates you’ve lost over this policy and the amount of time you’ve wasted — and if others involved in hiring can do the same — it might have an impact. And really, sometimes HR imposes bizarre hiring polices but it’s not unusual for them to give in when hiring managers stand up and say, “No, this won’t work for us and we need to change it.” So it’s worth a try.

{ 204 comments… read them below }

  1. Tasha*

    I worked for a private company (non-educational) with a similar policy except they’d publish the band for applicants but be weird about telling employees their range or even job grade. So I started keeping track of titles, ranges, and job grades from our postings.

    1. sssssssssssssssssssssssss*

      I had a similar employer in the 90s. I asked for a raise and was told I was at the top of my pay band. I was making a pittance and had no idea that (a) there were pay bands and (b) what the ranges were. We were also underpaid. An annual xmas bonus does not make up for poor annual salaries and no COLA raises.

      1. College Career Counselor*

        I used to work at a large private university, and the pay bands were ridiculously large (like $30-50k difference between starting and max salaries). I presume this was in part to accommodate people who were in static roles for years or decades and still allow them to earn more money over time. But, it effectively meant that nobody was ever going to get hired (at least on the entry level side of things) anywhere other than the first third of the salary range. And probably as close to the bottom as possible.

        1. Rainy*

          I interviewed at a large private university a couple of years ago, and they didn’t tell me the salary until I asked as a requirement for accepting the on-site half-day final interview, and it was shockingly less than I was making–and at the time, I was significantly underpaid at my public university job!

          After she named the number, I was silent for several beats–this was on the phone–and then said with clear disbelief “That’s less than I make now.” She asked if I wanted her to see if the salary could come up, and I said “Would it come up more than 20%?” and she answered a quick no on a laugh, and I said “I appreciate everyone’s time but I think it’s best if I withdraw from consideration.”

          1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

            I had that once. I was the perfect fit for the job – exact experience, etc. and then they made me an offer sthat was equivalent to my current salary – BUT – lower benefits, etc. and I said “I will not leave my current position for that, there’s no way”… she asked me to justify my high salary and I told her, I fit the role, etc.

            She went on and started talking about how great the company was, and there might be bonuses, gee whiz, and she couldn’t understand why anyone would turn THEM down, and….

            “Can the pitch. I have another job offer in hand that pays more than what you’re offering. I will not come to work for you at that salary because it constitutes, effectively, a substantial pay cut.”

            Then = “if we were to offer more would you consider accepting?” (aha! She just tipped her hand!)

            I said “Give it one more, and make it your best shot, and I’ll consider.” They came back 20 minutes later. t wasn’t (exactly) what I was asking for but it was close.

            You should, however, have not a red flag, but a yellow “caution” flag – because when it comes time for a deserved increase beyond cost of living, or a promotion – you’re going to have to fight for it, perhaps get another job and they’ll counter, or they won’t. It’s tough to advance yourself in such an environment.

          2. Beth Jacobs*

            It’s just so non-sensical. They’re willing to waste money on flying in a candidate who won’t accept (at least I hope they’re reimbursing travel) rather than put that money towards their employees: who they actually rely on in order to function.

      2. Hazel*

        I worked for a state representative in the mid-’80s, and I had been there for several months before I discovered that I was being paid BELOW the bottom of the pay scale for the position. They took advantage of my inexperience in the job market. They were a bunch of jerks in other ways, too (no surprise). I said something about it, so I did finally start getting paid at the bottom of the range.

  2. Mel_05*

    So frustrating! My current employer told me at the start of the interview that they pay X for this position and it was non-negotiable, so they wanted to make sure it still made sense for me to proceed. I needed the job, so I said yes, even though it was quite a bit below what I’d hoped to be making.

    There are actually a lot of perks to my job that they could have followed up with – but I ended up finding out about those over the first couple weeks I was there. The longshot is – I don’t regret my decision, but I would have been frustrating if I hadn’t known the salary up front.

    1. MusicWithRocksIn*

      I was at an interview once at the airport – and prior to the interview they had refused to tell me any information about Salary, and I had told them my desired range prior to scheduling the interview. It was a massive pain to get there because I had to pay for parking then walk about a mile from there (indoors) to the interview site (oh airports) where as soon as I sat down they told me the salary was about $15,000 below what I was looking for, and was I still interested in doing the interview. I told them I was. It was a giant lie, no way was I working for that much, but they wasted a ton of my time and a little of my money, so I was gonna use the whole thing for interview practice and waste a little of their time as well. I actually relaxed really well knowing there were no stakes, and it helped me learn that I interviewed better relaxed like that and to calm myself down and clear my mind when I did real interviews.

      1. Quickbeam*

        Great practice! Interviews in a super inconvenient spot make no sense. Plus as someone with a disability, it’s a terrible burden.

      2. Gaia*

        I normally don’t like hte idea of interviewing for practice because it is a waste of time. But if a potential employer wastes my time AND make me walk across an airport, I will 100% waste their time knowing full well I won’t be working there. That is just awful.

        1. Antilles*

          Agreed. To me, the answer is basically this:
          -If I know in advance that the salary is non-competitive, then it’s not worthwhile to coordinate everything, get dressed, drive there, park 20 minutes early to make sure I’m on time, waiting in your lobby a few minutes, etc purely so for a practice interview.
          -But if you only let me know the salary *after* I’ve done all that and I’m sitting in front of you? At this point, it’s absolutely worth spending a few minutes on the ‘practice’ interview.

    2. Quickbeam*

      Yes, it’s the upfront knowledge of the salary that makes all the difference. I took a job for 25% less than I was making but it came with a no contribution pension. It was worth it but at least I knew going in about the $.

  3. 867-5309*

    We don’t let the initial phone screen pass without confirming our salary range and the candidates comfort with it. What a waste of time. OP, you’re right to be frustrated.

    1. yup yup*

      And I would never want to move on beyond a phone screen as a candidate without that info. It’s the main question I ask — I don’t need a firm number but if we aren’t in the same ballpark range I’m absolutely not wasting my time any further.

    2. NotAnotherManager!*

      Same. I would be very, very unhappy with HR if I was routinely wasting time to interview candidates who had not been provided the salary and basic benefits info and decided it made sense on their end to proceed.

      What a colossal waste of everyone’s time to leave that to the end. I mean, has anyone really gotten to the end of an interview process and gone, “Well, I was looking for $N, and you’re only offering 75% of $N… but this was such an amazing interview process that I’ll gladly give up a quarter of my ask to work at such an amazing place!”? No. (People might have to take a job in any number of circumstances, but they’re going to be looking and out the door much faster than expected.)

    3. Sloan Kittering*

      Yeah honestly if you require applicants to name their current salary and desired salary I’m surprised you’re even calling in applicants who are far out of that range. I know when job apps make me name desired salary I might be pricing myself out of the position, and that’s super annoying to me, but I’d rather it happen early since it’s going to happen eventually anyway. (If you’re close in range it makes sense but not if you’re 20K less than what they’re making now).

  4. teapot product analyzer*

    I had a company do this to me and when they finally gave me the range it was 25K under what I made (which was on the low end for the job as described), so I declined. We all wasted so much time because they couldn’t be honest about what they were willing to pay!

    1. Hills to Die on*

      This is why I think it makes sense to do a cost analysis of all the time wasted on this policy. How much does it cost to engage applicants, only for people to ultimately turn the job down specifically because of pay.
      I also wonder what glass door ratings you could pull and reference as harming the university’s reputation and turning off applicants because they don’t want to waste their time / people left negative reviews over the pointless time suck?

      1. Hiring Mgr*

        And not just that, but also how many good candidates with options don’t even pursue a role there once they realize they won’t be getting the $$ info they need..

      2. NoLongerStuckInRetailHell*

        Even worse, how many people accept the job but only stay for a short time? Moving on when they find something that pays better? How much time and money is wasted in training them, getting them set up in all the systems, perhaps even purchasing uniforms or equipment for them? And then they’re gone?

        1. Hopetobegonesoon*

          That is the position I am in now. Employer would not release any salary info until the low bid offer. I turned it down and told them why. They countered with a promise that I would get two raises in the first 6 months that would bring my pay up to a more competitive level. Guess what? Somehow, when the time came for those raises, “We’re so sorry, but funds are not available, so that negates the contract.” I can assure you that if it weren’t for the pandemic, I would have been gone by now, which would be within a year of hire. This is NOT the type of work that is served at all by turnover, but that is not going to be my problem.

      3. Steveo*

        Maybe just showing that Glassdoor and other sites even exist will be enough to end this insanity.

      4. Amaranth*

        Thats probably the best way to frame it, not as a waste of the interviewers’ time, but a waste of someone’s budget. Though it might be more of a reach if everyone involved is salaried.

    2. Dr. Rebecca*

      I would have been unable not to reflexively laugh were I to be offered something that off-kilter.

      1. teapot product analyzer**

        I didn’t laugh, but I was very direct with the HR person that their salary range was extremely low for the level of work. She agreed, so I’m sure she was having similar conversations with the other candidates!

  5. Diahann Carroll*

    If you know from the info the candidate provided that they’re making more than they’d make in the job they’re applying for, you can say, “I can tell you it’s likely to be less than what you’re making currently, and I understand if it doesn’t make sense to proceed.”

    I was going to say exactly this, Alison, before I read your response. If OP can see the salary histories of the candidates applying and has a general idea of the pay for the role, OP can just tell a candidate that they’ll likely earn less than what they currently make and then ask if they still want to move forward in the process. That’s not telling a candidate the salary, so OP isn’t breaking any rules here by following the letter of the law if not the spirit of it.

  6. designbot*

    Sometimes quantifying the time wasted can help in these situations as well. If you’re able to say, this happens 4x/year for our team, and it wastes an average of 30 productive hours each time at vaious levels, so I’d estimate we spend around 10k/year enforcing this policy of non-disclosure, that might be speaking the language that gets through to them.

    1. EmbracesTrees*

      This is a great suggestion. To often, the people at the top (of the pay scale!) are only moved by numbers. I work at a public university and it’s as true here as in any industry — in truth, higher ed has become just another corporate bureaucracy, in every negative sense of those words.

      1. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

        Except with the added bonus of four hundred years of academic “tradition” and multiple warring groups of stakeholders (faculty, staff, alumni, trustees, students, parents…) with no incentive for the institution to move quickly.

    2. MissDisplaced*

      Yes to this. I imagine this policy creates a lot of wasted interviewing hours. But until it’s quantified someone will still believe it works. Or, they know it wastes time but don’t care.

      1. designbot*

        For sure, though that can be harder to quantify. Maybe one way to approach it is the ‘experiment’ request. Like hey, typically it takes 100 hours of staff time and 3 offers and 6 weeks to get to our final candidate; could I try something and be more up front about the salary range on this one and then we’ll compare those metrics for this search? That way you may get a result of 60 staff hours and the savings is clear, or you may get a result of 90 staff hours but the position is filled on the first offer in only 3 weeks, that also seems to demonstrate a clear increase in efficiency.

      2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        There’s a place in their minds where they think, “why is OP complaining about it wasting her time? We’re paying for her time”. Somehow it doesn’t occur to them that you have other stuff to do, that could be done better or more quickly if you had more time, and you’d also feel better about your job if you are doing stuff quickly and efficiently.

    3. Green great dragon*

      Yes – and delays too, so you can say you wasted x hours on candidates who wouldn’t accept the salary *and* delayed the hiring by 3 weeks because three people declined at offer stage and you had to reopen interviews.

    4. Regular Reader*

      Its probably more than 10k. There are other things to include, not just wasted hours in the recruitment process. If the post remains empty, then who is covering the work required if at all? The salary saving of an empty post can be more than wiped out if there a loss of revenue because the post isn’t covered. If someone internal is covering are they leaving gaps in their own work tasks or claiming additional hours.

    5. QuinleyThorne*

      Adjacent to this, my husband’s COO has a similar “profit generation center” mindset–even explaining the amount of time wasted and money lost from outdated and inefficient IT software and processes didn’t appear to sway him into increasing their budget or hiring more staff that was desperately needed, which lead to this frustrated response from the CTO: “You know, the air conditioning units aren’t ‘profit generation centers’ either, but I bet if those stopped working we’d pay to have ’em fixed.”

      Apparently that worked, and they were granted both a budget increase and additional staff positions.

  7. Elle by the sea*

    Nearly all companies I have interview with (including the big tech companies I will not name here) insisted on doing this, except for the one I’m currently working for. I don’t understand, either.

    1. Elle by the sea*

      I really don’t get why they do this. I know a few people who got rejected because they asked about the salary before the offer stage. Utterly preposterous.

      1. D3*

        Because they should be working for the PASSION they have for the company, not for something as trivial as money!!! Don’t they know they should count themselves LUCKY to be a part of this work? If all they care about is money, they’re not good enough.
        I only wish this was pure sarcasm, but it is a sad truth that many companies behave this way.

        1. OP*

          I’m the OP for this question, and boy did your reply hit me in the head. That sounds just like our university. If you ask about pay you’re just greedy, apparently. We’re all supposed to work here for “the mission.”

          The only people who can afford to be devoted to “the mission” are the ones who don’t have to live paycheck to paycheck.

          1. Megumin*

            Sounds exactly like the private university I used to work for! I had a boss that said, and I quote verbatim: “People would kill…they would KILL…to work here.” Yep not for a salary that’s 45k less than what I could make doing the exact same job over at the state university across town.

          2. Hellow Sweetie!*

            I worked for a big name R1 private university that was known for paying on the lower end of the scale. The “joke” was that they pay less but make up for it with the benefits and one of the things that HR considered a benefit was the ability to put “Big Name University” on your resume.

            1. NotAnotherManager!*

              Unless a job benefit was free tuition and a flexible schedule to pursue a degree at Big Name University, that would be a hard pass from me. (Though I do love school and could be tempted for a free graduate degree.)

            2. Gumby*

              I briefly worked for a similar university but their pay wasn’t *that* much less than in industry, at least in my role, and their benefits were spectacular. Including a tuition benefit for the children of faculty and staff that… if I had kids I would have stayed in a job that I disliked (co-workers, etc. were great, but the job function was one I was no longer interested in doing) for several years to qualify and use that benefit. That and the ultra-inexpensive exercise classes. The free commute benefits with several local transportation orgs. Professional development funds. Oh, and free class auditing not that I ever had time to actually audit a class. No other job that I had before or since had benefits to match.

          3. Idril Celebrindal*

            Yeah, and I’m guessing the head of HR is so devoted to “the mission” because “the mission” happens to be paying them enough money. I am actively trying to get out of academia (staff roles, so all of the stupid bureaucracy, none of the recognition) and I have gotten to the point that this attitude from people in administration who are clearly making enough money and using this argument to avoid paying their staff a living wage, just makes me sick.

            Thank you so much for looking for ways to be up front with candidates and push back on HR, because it’s managers like you that can make this kind of situation still be worth sticking around for. I don’t have a boss that has my back in this, so I know how valuable you are.

        2. QuinleyThorne*

          I’ve been reading Can’t Even: How Millennials Became The Burnout Generation ever since I read the excerpt Alison posted, and there’s an entire chapter devoted to this mindset titled “Do What You Love and You’ll Still Work Every Day for the Rest of Your Life”.

    2. Diahann Carroll*

      I’m so glad that most of the companies I interviewed with last year when I was looking for a new job (including the company I currently work for, a software firm) told me the salary range in the initial HR phone screen. It saved me so much time and effort. If the range was too low for the responsibilities I’d have to take on, I’d politely decline to proceed to the next interview. If the HR rep was cagey about the range, I also withdrew from consideration and told them why (and I only had to do that once). But many years ago when I was job searching, the latter situation was much more common, so I feel like the tide is changing – maybe not fast enough, but a lot of places are getting the memo.

      1. Filosofickle*

        I had excellent experiences this year with that, and so have my friends! My phone screeners asked me first, but disclosed the range when I put the question back on them. The tide may be turning. Helped I believe by CA laws, which require disclosure if asked? But friends out of state are reporting similar success.

        1. Diahann Carroll*

          Yeah, I’m in Ohio, and companies here (and the one I work for, which is actually based in another non-CA state) are starting to realize that it benefits no one to withhold this information. Candidates with options who won’t put up with the evasiveness will drop out of contention at the phone screen stage, and candidates with options who make it to the end will also drop out if the salary range is nowhere near their ballpark – they’ll end up taking twice as long, if not longer, to hire than if they had just disclosed their range in the beginning.

    3. Steve Jobs disciple*

      Disband most HR departments. Outsource the “mechanical” functions like payroll or keep a few administrative people on staff. Let the fee earners who actually know how to assess candidates do so. Works for banking and consulting who get the best and brightest.

      1. Specks*

        That sounds a bit extreme to me and like it would lend itself to wildly different salaries for the same jobs for different people, based on their perceived value to that particular interviewer (which we know is affected by sex, race, disability, etc), how well they negotiate (again affected by same), etc. A GOOD hr department can ensure that this doesn’t happen, salaries are equitable and there is no discrimination, and there’s no legal threat to the company due to perceived or actual discrimination. The problem is that so many aren’t good/trained properly/etc, but letting hiring managers run wild leads to its own set of issues.

  8. staceyizme*

    Something about both public and private universities seems to lend itself to dysfunction. I don’t think that it makes sense to put much effort into shifting the system; the institution seems committed to doing things the way that they have always been done and letting attrition in the applicant process at both ends sort things out. You get one bottleneck at the start where qualifications are the screener and one bottleneck at the end where salaries are the screener. It’s essentially wasteful, but trying to change it is likely going to be more costly to the people attempting to shift how things are done than to either job seekers or the institution’s administration. Focusing efforts on getting into a better workplace strikes me as more relevant than “tilting at the windmills” of a willfully blind leadership’s bad policies.

    1. emmaline*

      Yes, this seems very standard for private colleges and universities. Public institutions typically make salary info available due to sunshine laws, but my private college won’t tell anyone anything about salary prior to the offer stage. Not saying this is right, just that it’s typical.

      1. OP*

        What I really find amusing about the situation (maybe infuriating is a better word) is that they have no problem telling people that we have “competitive” salaries. Competitive with what? A teenager’s summertime lawn-mowing gig?

        1. The Rural Juror*

          Maybe they mean it’s competitive in the way that you all have to compete for the free granola bars in the break room because you can’t afford such luxuries as snacks…

          1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

            snort. At my non-profit private university at least most of the benefits and leave policy are so much better than what I would find in a corporate-sector job. So in a way, the “total compensation package” is sort of competitive, but if you’re one of those people who need money to pay bills (/s), no amount of annual 3 weeks paid holidays in addition to unlimited vacation accrual, and dental insurance is really going to compensate.

            1. KateM*

              Where I live, nobody gets only 3 weeks paid holidays, 4 weeks is minimum, but universities get two months. So this being a bonus makes me just shake my head in disbelief.

              1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind the Curtain*

                I was unclear. Since there are 3 “buckets” for our leave: 3 weeks paid holiday (meaning days the university is closed due to federal holidays+), 2 weeks accrual of vacation time per year (unlimited — no cap, can’t ever lose it and it cashes out if we leave), and 2 weeks sick leave accrued per year (there’s a cap of something like 60 days (480 hours) but we can use sick leave for anything health care related — for instance, dentist appointments and taking a child to the doctor. All told, if I used ALL of my leave for the year, I’d be out of the office for about 2 months. But since we accrue vacation time indefinitely, most people bank it up quite a bit for when they retire/quit/get fired etc.

    2. Esmeralda*

      You probably can’t change the system, but you can often push back for a specific hiring. We had a similar problem with our last hire — my boss was smart and rewrote the posting with a specific salary range. Her grandboss and HR said no, use our usual “commensurate with experience” statement (a lie, actually, as offers had nothing to do w that), she pushed back hard and got the range into the posting along with the “commensurate” statement.

      We got some great candidates, some of whom would have been taking a pay cut, but they liked other things about the job.

    3. DiplomaJill*

      I don’t think it’s just universities… I went into a negotiations with a small software firm and was upfront about my expectations, and then midway thru disclosed I that I received another offer for $8k more than my current.

      The offer they could give? $8k less than my current! Then they tried to quantify the benefits and count those. But no clarity that we were that far apart until the offer stage.

      Hard pass.

  9. Ana Gram*

    I work for county government and I’m so thankful to be able to avoid nonsense like this. I’ll tell anyone who asks exactly what their starting pay will be, down to the penny. Frankly, it avoids unnecessary work down the line.

    I truly can’t understand why a company would do that (if it’s that black and white) or at least give a range.

    1. Ashley*

      For some companies I think disclosing it wouldn’t let them discriminate like they want to. It still drives me nuts this guy needs more money because he has a family to support logic. I am not saying it is right and it is more reason to disclose the salary up front, but by not doing it they are better able to discriminate in my opinion.

      1. Nanani*

        This so much. It’s such a double standard – HE has a family to support but SHE will just go on mat leave and get supported.
        Garbage mindset, but I have seen it in this century. Ought to be a law.

    2. jocogov*

      When I was first out of school, I worked for county government. I was getting ready to apply for an internal position and there were two different pay grades mentioned in the posting — one I would accept and one I would not — so I asked for clarification and got a lecture about how rude it was to ask about salary. I’m thankful to this day that a whole bunch of people in a forum similar to this told me that the person who lectured me was wrong — it was in fact not rude to clarify salary, and that I didn’t do anything wrong by asking. That gave me the knowledge and confidence to be up front about salary requirements in every job I’ve applied for since then.

    3. Paris Geller*

      Yeah, this is the one thing I like about working in municipal government. Starting job pay always right in the posting.

  10. BRR*

    There are some letters where I scream out a reaction just by the title and this is one of them. If you want to ignore HR, a hiring manager once used the language “I don’t know the exact amount but I’d expect an offer in X range.”

    I imagine to push back, and you should push back, you’ll need the highest person in your department. Point out how it’s a waste of time, how you’re losing good candidates (cite numbers if you can), and how it’s reflecting poorly when you’re interviewing folks. I’d be incredibly turned off if an employer did not discuss salary before an offer.

    1. OP*

      It’s funny because not too long ago I was involved in hiring someone, and I don’t know exactly how but we were given the salary range up-front (I suspect a new person working in HR or something). We were even able to negotiate raising the range a bit because of the role. Now, though, everything is hush-hush all the time.

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      I would have taken the interviews when I was first out of college…by now, I won’t go past a phone interview without knowing if I’m in the ballpark. (And you can tell your HR that there are things that would make me willing to go down in salary — ability to take classes at the university, flexible schedule, vacation time that matches what I’ve accrued where I am, good health benefits, reasonable response to covid, remote work opportunities, etc.)

    3. comityoferrors*

      +1. When I was hired for my role, my manager wasn’t able to give an exact number but told me very frankly that it would be *somewhere* between X and Y, and that in her experience it would likely be closer to X but I could negotiate. I’m relatively early in my career (5 years) but have enough experience now that a hiring manager who couldn’t tell me a number or range at least midway through the process would turn me off enough to withdraw my candidacy. This is such a crappy policy from your company, and I add to the chorus encouraging you to just…not follow it until you can leave. Good luck on finding a new role that pays what you’re worth! Fingers crossed.

  11. Artemesia*

    I was a hiring manager for a couple of programs for years and struggled with this. The fact is that at our prestigious university many people were paid very well but it was very program specific and I worked in one at the very low end of the stick. We often would get close to the end of the process and have our top candidates withdraw when they heard what the salary would be. Adding to that was a misleading vague job description for internal political reasons. I would always have to start the winnowing process throwing out half of the very generally qualified candidates because they were not qualified for our particular niche and were mislead by the job ads. I finally just started telling candidates the approximate salary and that I might be able to get $5000 more than that, but realistically not go higher than that; some dropped out and we began to get serious candidates — usually older people on second careers who had pensions or savings from early business or military careers.

    If there is any way to suggest a range or typical salary it might help you discourage people who will not consider a position with you. You might get away internally with saying ‘we give a general idea of what typical salaries are’ rather than the specific salary for this position. It sucks to have to do this dance.

  12. JD*

    Whenever I’m going through the process from a candidate side, I have started just being forward with the recruiter or whoever I’m talking to. If they don’t give me a pay band or something, I’ll come out and say, “I’m currently making riughly XX, so I’d like to let you know I’m not even going to consider offers less than YY unless ZZ benefits are included. Additionally, I will have to weigh other pros and cons like commute, benefits, and working with my wife’s schedule. Does it make sense for us to continue this conversation?”
    I’ve had employers who were wanting me to move to the middle of nowhere in the Midwest and take a $20k pay cut realize we were wasting each other’s time, and I’ve had employers come back that my salary was within their range but not give specifics, so we continued.

  13. learnedthehardway*

    When I recruit, I can’t always tell candidates what the salary is, but I do confirm with them whether their expectations are within the salary band. I won’t bring someone in for an interview unless we can afford them, or unless they are very clear that they are willing to take a pay cut (and why they’re willing – some people will tell you they’re flexible, but will push for a salary over the band later. Getting them to spell out why they’re open to a salary cut at least weeds people out who aren’t serious about it).

    Why waste people’s time when you don’t have to? And why get hiring managers excited about a candidate they can’t afford? That just makes everyone’s lives more difficult.

    1. Mel_05*

      This seems reasonable. I have a former coworker who moved to the rural midwest from a large, expensive city – no one would hire him because he’d been making so much before. He would be very clear that he didn’t expect or need nearly as much to live off of in our area – but they just couldn’t get past that big city salary.

      Then he got hired by our employer, who wouldn’t have thought the angels were taking a step down to work there. He quit a year later and was able to easily get a job because of his very normal last salary – but what a silly rigmarole!

      1. Liz*

        My BFF had a similar problem a few years back. Worked for a large, national company, had been there going on 20 years, survived a number of downsizings, until then. But she worked remotely and lives in an area with a much lower cost of living. So while she was open to a small pay cut, because she had been making a lot more than most comparable jobs in her area paid, many jobs she applied for, and there were a LOT, paid significantly less than what she’d been making.

  14. Ominous Adversary*

    “Why, oh why, do some employers insist on doing this?”

    Because they don’t want their employees to know how much anyone else is making.

    1. Kamatari*

      This is, unfortunately, true.

      One of my coworkers asked me how much I got for my COLA, which was 3%. She only got 2% and was pissed. This woman has been working here for literally longer than I’ve been alive! Somehow she found out how much our direct manager AND director were making and their COLA increases and went to them about it to see if she could get more. My manager and director were more mad at me and my 3rd coworker for discussing our increases than they were at her finding out how much they made. As far as I know, nothing was done about her finding out (unless they had a private conversation about it).

      If she asks me this year, I’m lying to her!

      1. CircleBack*

        What, no! Don’t lie to her! As much as it may feel like “trouble,” having coworkers willing to be open about salaries, raises, and bonuses is a huge blessing.
        Someday you may be the one getting 2% instead of 3%. With some caveats, employers can’t legally retaliate against you for discussing salaries (disclosure: I am not a lawyer, but Alison talks about it quite a bit). Take advantage of transparency whenever you can so you can make better informed decisions about your job and career.

        1. Kamatari*

          I have no problem discussing raises or my salary!

          I have a problem with my coworker, who has been there for 30 years, complaining that she got a 2% raise while the 1.5 and 2 year employees got 3%. Somehow, she didn’t think her 2% would be more money than my and our other coworker’s 3%.

          I have a problem with my higher ups being more verbally upset that we were speaking about salary and raises (they said it was “business ettiquette” to not speak about them, and both of them are in their late 30’s) than the fact that one of their employees found out how much they were making and their raise. My manager said she didn’t even know how much her raise was until my coworker mentioned it and saw she was right. Blew my mind right out of my head!

          I don’t plan to lie to anyone else, just her.

          1. logicbutton*

            I hope you’ll reconsider. Lying to your coworker about what you make so she won’t complain means you’re doing the dirty work of those responsible for the inequity in the first place. Managers rarely like being called out on their shenanigans, but that usually means the person calling them out was right to do so.

      2. Jennifer Thneed*

        Do your manager and director realized that (in the US) the right to discuss wages is specifically protected by the federal government? It’s not just “not illegal” – it is specifically called out as a right.

  15. CatCat*

    I wonder if the school already has a reputation out there that is already limiting their candidate pool. Not just a reputation about low pay, but of being pointlessly opaque and evasive about pay.

    Some souls will be unaware of the reputation and apply, but then get frustrated with the time they wasted and then further spread information about their negative experience (sites like Glassdoor are making it easier for even candidates to get the word out about negative and weird experiences).

    1. Threeve*

      As an employee, I would definitely encourage my coworkers to add their salary to Glassdoor and Indeed.

      Because this kind of secrecy hits people internally, too–if I’m a manager, and I find out a senior manager only makes 2k more than I do, it’s going to make the difference between trying to pursue a promotion and looking for a job elsewhere.

      1. Marie*

        People in my team often leave after getting the promotion I am pursuing. There are several reasons for this (our PTO and leave policies are uncompetitive, for starters) but now I wonder about the salaries. I may reach out to those former coworkers to ask about salary.

  16. Nesprin*

    If you’re in California, and it’s a public university salaries are a matter of public record (available at the Sacramento Bee). Other public university system salary scales are either publicly available or available through a FOIA request. Such a shame that private universities aren’t subject to the same rules.

    1. fhqwhgads*

      OP’s not in California because California requires employers provide the range if asked, and not allowed to ask about salary history.

  17. irene adler*

    Quantifying things is a good idea.

    Does the company end up with suitable employees, given the low pay? Or is there a fair amount of training (to impart the needed skills) occurring with each hire? Training costs money. That should be added to the cost of the ‘hiring failure’ that is going on.

  18. Here I am*

    If someone had my salary history and knew they couldn’t match my salary requirements and still put me through the whole process, I would be very angry. Honestly, I probably just wouldn’t respond to the offer, and let them figure out when they’d need to move on to the next person. That said, I worked for a university that was very similar to this one, and they did it exactly because they knew they couldn’t get qualified candidates for what they are willing to pay. And it was a giant waste of everyone’s time, because we interviewed way too many people who turned us down after hearing the salary. I fled that place and wish you luck in getting out of yours!

  19. AnonforThis*

    Unfortunately, in my experience, there’s nothing an individual employee can do to combat this. It takes time and a critical mass of *former* employees in the region to really effect change.

    You will eventually find a candidate that accepts the position with below-market pay, but unless there is some other benefit of very significant value to the employee, you risk losing them to the public university down the street in a matter of months. We see this A LOT. Candidates accept the lower pay at my institution in exchange for training and experience, and transfer to the organization across the street with better pay within the year. Not only have you spent the time interviewing and hiring, you’ve invested time and resources training the person, only to start over in a matter of months.

    The upside: the organization will earn a reputation for not retaining talent, which becomes difficult to ignore. With higher education, bad PR is often the catalyst for change.

    1. OP*

      Oh yeah, this happens quite a bit. We have a lot of turnover at higher-levels, including department faculty. And many of these people left after only a year or so.

      Our most recent hire is very good; I expect them to leave as soon as possible. :/

    2. Arvolin*

      The other risk is that you have to make offers to candidates who aren’t worth even what you’re offering, because they are the only ones who will accept the offer.

  20. EverybodyHasOne*

    What is frustrating about this is that if I was interviewing and was asking to give my salary requirements up front, I would assume that the job offered was in the same range. Why did you call someone into interview if you are know you are not meeting their salary requirements?

    1. Ashley*

      I had a manager once (who eventually got fired after I left) that would do that all the time. When I got involved for the hiring of my position after I gave notice, I would make the calls when they weren’t in the building so I could disclose more information then he wanted me to disclose. I hated wasting time interviewing people who were never going to take a huge pay cut.

  21. Cat Lady*

    could you anonymously post what salaries you do know to Glassdoor and obliquely refer candidates there?

  22. Kevin Sours*

    Have you considered applying for a position at an institution that pays market rates and has a sane hiring process?

    1. Stormfeather*

      I mean, apparently, since they said they’re in the process of looking for a new job. I think this falls under “don’t shoot the messenger… who has tried repeatedly to change the message.”

    2. OP*

      I was in the running for a position back in March, but they had to cancel the hiring process because of COVID. And since there are hiring freezes everywhere, there aren’t many positions being posted for which I’m qualified.

      I look forward to finding a sane hiring process, though! :)

  23. Ann O'Nemity*

    “I don’t have the budgeted salary for this role; our HR policy is not to share it, including with me, until we’re at the offer stage. But I can tell you that in general our salaries aren’t as competitive as public universities in the area. We do offer (insert something here about benefits or other good things about the job), but our salaries often come in lower than people are expecting so I want to be up-front with you about that.”

    I imagine this is going to weed out a lot of candidates, so it’s probably a good idea to have a compelling list of those [other benefits]. Perks like Cadillac health insurance plans, pensions, or free/reduced tuition for employees and employees’ family may outweigh the low pay for the right candidate.

    1. Amtelope*

      Yep. I work for a company whose pay isn’t competitive with some of our larger competitors, and we are up-front about that in the hiring process. But we can offer a 35-hour work week (with the expectation that except for truly rare crunch times, that’s what you’ll actually work), flexible hours, generous PTO, a good health insurance plan, and employee stock ownership. We have generally not had a problem finding people who were willing to take lower pay — sometimes even to step down from their current salary — for what we’re offering. But if we tried to be cagy about what our positions pay, we would waste a lot of people’s time.

    2. OP*

      A lot of our hires want to work here for the tuition benefits. If they have kids, that usually means they’ll stay for a while. Otherwise, they’ll stay until they earn their degree and then leave.

      1. comityoferrors*

        That’s a pretty compelling benefit, honestly! I would use that with this script, along with any other perks, in Alison’s script. You will reduce your candidate pool this way but you’ll be left with people who are more likely to accept your offer, which will be so much better for you and for them.

  24. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    Not only are you wasting people’s time, but you’re going to lose out on potentially good candidates who are going to (rightly in this case) assume the pay is low because you’re unwilling to disclose it. And if they don’t offer really good benefits to make up for the low pay, then it’s a losing battle you’re fighting. You’ll either have the choice of unqualified candidates, or those desperate for work and miserable once hired who will then be looking for something better from the start.

  25. squidarms*

    It seems like employers almost universally want to do one of two things regarding salary expectations:

    1. Do not discuss salary expectations at all until an offer is made. Immediately exclude anyone who even mentions it prior to the offer stage, as they are clearly only in it for the money, and will leave once something better comes along.

    2. Refuse to give any indication of what an appropriate salary expectation might be, but demand that the candidate name a salary. Immediately exclude anyone who does not pass this guessing game. People who go too high are clearly only in it for the money, while people who go too low are clearly not good enough for your company or they would expect more.

    It just seems sorely misguided to either assume that really valuable employees will accept the job regardless of compensation, or that really valuable employees will be able to guess the salary you want to pay them to within $5k.

  26. Three Flowers*

    I experienced this last fall as a candidate for a staff position at a private college. It was super-irritating. I had two phone interviews and a fly-out, and they never even brought it up. I did, at the third interview (would have done it earlier if I wasn’t a desperate humanities grad student), and I was told that for equity reasons (?) the college did not calculate a salary until they had selected the hire so they could consider all the aspects of that person’s qualifications. (This sounds more like a way to guarantee that they can be *inequitable* without being caught to me?) They also didn’t permit negotiation. When I got the offer, it was decent, but I had to push to get 48 hours to make a decision. It was very, very off-putting, and ended up being a waste of time and money for them.

    I ended up getting and accepting, basically on the spot, an almost simultaneous offer from another private college…which had told me the salary in the first phone screen. It was a more desirable job for other reasons (location, higher salary number though also higher cost of living, better vibe from potential colleagues), but knowing the salary up-front, even though it also wasn’t negotiable, set a tone of relative transparency for the entire process, as well as my work experience there.

    Broader grip: I think in the case of colleges, schools with such policies may refuse to disclose salary because people who work in higher education are generally not in a market that favors the candidate, and we are rarely able to insist on not being strung along. On top of that, large universities target grad students who didn’t finish and play on their sense of failure to treat and pay them like crap; lack of transparency and unequal pay for the same work in different departments are a huge part of it. I know many people who, after several years of misery at an institution that is, hmm, very insistent on having a certain definite article in its name, have identified that they are victims of long-term financial and psychological abuse by their employers.

    To OP: thank you (thank you! thank you!) for pushing back on this BS.

    1. SAIS alum*

      Alison, I ask that you delete this comment. We’re not supposed to name organizations in this blog and Three Flowers has de facto done that. I have a degree from SAIS, which is part of The Johns Hopkins University, and worked as a research assistant there. This dystopian description (“targeting grad students,” “financial and psychological abuse,” etc.) wasn’t my experience at all.

      1. NotAnon*

        This isn’t as identifying as you might think – my first thought was THE Ohio State University

        1. Diahann Carroll*

          Right. OSU and Rizdee are just two schools I thought of off the top of my head that oftentimes insist on THE being in the title (or have students that are very insistent upon it even if the administration doesn’t really care either way).

        2. Antilles*

          That was also my first thought about the last paragraph because tOSU is incredibly emphatic about THE Ohio State University. So much so that they’ve tried to trademark “The” on multiple occasions and have sued clothing manufacturers over producing generic scarlet or gray apparel with “The” on it.
          That said, I’ll also say that “several years of misery”, “financial and psychological abuse”, etc don’t at ALL line up with my experience as a Buckeye grad student. I loved my time there and had plenty of friends who were there and felt the same way. But people’s experiences in academia can vary wildly even within the same university, because individual deans and department heads can basically run their little kingdoms as they see fit.

      2. Diahann Carroll*

        Huh? Where did Three Flowers name any organization? If you’re referring to the part where she said this place insists on having a “definite article” in its name, a definite article is the word “the.” That can be any university like Ohio State University or Rhode Island School of Design.

      3. Myrin*

        The only comment actually naming an organisation is yours (nevermind that I, like probably most non-US readers at least, have no earthly clue what TF could’ve possibly meant by her circumlocution). And just because your experience doesn’t match what TF talks about doesn’t mean the situation didn’t exist – after all, she doesn’t make an objective statement but rather speaks about the experiences of people she actually knows, and, just like you don’t want your experience denied, these people probably wouldn’t want their lived reality denied, either.

        1. Three Flowers*

          This, absolutely, 100%. Thank you. And thank you for using “circumlocution” in your response; it should show up in everyday conversation more often. :)

      4. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

        What we’re really not supposed to do is guess at other people’s employers: no “are you talking about Amway” or “It sounds like you’re talking about the Miskatonic University oceanography program.”

      5. random person*

        Actually, I assumed the university in question as a completely different THE university. Maybe it’s just THE football rivalry.

      6. Lost in Space*

        I don’t see that Three Flowers has identified a specific institution.

        But you did.

        As others have noted, the issues that TF described could easily apply to many different institutions. Some of it sounds similar to me from my own experiences at two universities (public and private).

      7. lemon*

        We’re not supposed to speculate on where the LWs work. If a commenter wants to reveal where they work, I don’t believe that’s verboten. But also agree with others that the comment isn’t very identifiable. I attended a university that insisted on using “the” before its name, and I didn’t go to Johns Hopkins.

      8. Amtelope*

        There are many, many universities with this particular linguistic twitch, believe me. It’s not identifying.

        1. Anonymous toiler in the higher ed vineyards*

          Yup. If you look in the US Department of Education’s IPEDS database, I count @33 private nonprofit schools alone that are officially listed there with “The” as part of their name (if you take out one that closed). I didn’t look up public schools since TF’s comment was about a private college.

          1. Three Flowers*

            Quick clarification: the colleges in my job search experience are small private colleges. The institution I refer to that is rife with financial and psychological abuse of staff is a large and well known university. Not that small colleges don’t have these problems, but in this case, the specific nature of the problems was tied to the profit and brand focus that comes with being a prominent university that admits far more grad students than will ever find jobs in their fields.

            I had no idea there were that many!

      9. Three Flowers*

        Yeah, SAIS alum is incorrect for all the reasons listed by other commenters. I can guarantee that there is at least one “the” institution where this is widespread (no, I’m not going to say what it is or even if it’s been mentioned in the responses here); many people who work there will recognize it, but then, as others say, there are lots of “the” institutions, and on top of that, many institutions (“the” or not) manifest their self-importance in how they treat their staff. It’s entirely possible people at some other institution will think this reflects their experience and assume I’m a former colleague. :)

        I’m glad your experience was good, really. However, abuse and underpaying of professional staff is extremely common in higher ed, and the job market ensures that many new PhDs and people who leave PhD programs (both groups particularly vulnerable to impostor syndrome, exhaustion, and desperation for employment) end up in university staff roles. At the institution I refer to, many grad students who leave their programs or take hiatuses end up in terribly underpaid, overworked administrative positions–where they are then frequently asked to pick up additional work as departing colleagues go unreplaced–while the salaries of upper administrators, support units like HR and IT, and employees in profit-producing departments continue to go up (for example, I know at least one person doing work that was three FTEs ten years ago and making well under 50k, a job they took after rightly deciding that the process demanded by their PhD program was unreasonable). Many of these people feel they cannot leave, especially because there are not a lot of comparably-sized employers in the area; I have friends who have been stuck in these jobs for years. Job uncertainty is astronomical, pay is peanuts, recourse is nonexistent, promotion is almost impossible, HR is a waste of time, etc. I’m glad not all institutions are like this; fortunately, the one I work at now is not, but I have witnessed this same kind of treatment of staff, including hiring and then mistreating former grad students, at more than one institution. And it’s not just me; there are plenty of advice columnists, consultants, and professional organizations that have exhaustively documented how common these problems are. Relevant to the OP’s letter, and my original point: part of the reason for this is that hiring in academia is not transparent and favors the institution over the candidate, so refusing to talk about compensation makes it impossible for employees to know if they’re being paid fairly in their present position or if they can afford to switch jobs.

        Note that I am referring specifically to professional staff here, not grad students (as this is what it sounds like OP’s department is hiring for). The abuse of grad students is also widespread, though not universal, but not for any reasons mentioned in my original post. And it’s worth noting–for commenters who are speaking based on their experience as grad students or research assistants–that many grad students are not privy to the way staff are treated; in a lot of programs, only research-related work (students, faculty, lab researchers, etc) is valued, and it’s only if you’re friends with staff that the whole picture emerges. As a PhD student, I happened to be friends with several staff, and they noted that faculty and grad students who were perfectly collegial to me as a fellow researcher/instructor were dismissive and ungrateful to staff. It’s also not always visible to people on the grad student/research side when it’s happening *to you*. When I was in a terminal master’s program at a different institution, we were groomed to be the minions of the program head, who was a prominent figure, across our field (incidentally, with one explosive exception, the head only hired their former students to work under them in permanent positions, and kept them completely dependent). I didn’t realize this until a non-alum colleague saw how that person treated me at a conference years afterward. This kind of grooming/browbeating/hiring/financial abuse cycle is not uncommon *at all*. My very best wishes to those who have not experienced it–I’m genuinely glad for you–but your experiences are not the rule.

        1. Economist*

          With due respect, I think you are over-generalizing and have a chip on your shoulder against universities. Academia, outside of a very few superstars, does not pay as much as the private sector. One is not “underpaid” if the salary level is an industry-wide phenomenon, particularly if workers refuse to move. What you’re referring to is a “labor market,” not the practices of one particular firm.

          I also think it is offensive to describe university staff as a “vulnerable” population. People who go to grad/professional school do so for a variety of reasons, but largely they are doing so for professional opportunities. That is very different from being trapped in poverty-stricken areas with few opportunities for advancement.

          1. Three Flowers*

            I think this is rather rude… What I have is many years of insider knowledge. I have had an unfortunately close history with two abusive institutions (there comes a point where I can’t describe further without setting off more objections about identifying these places), and I don’t think those schools deserve a pass, nor do I believe they are the only ones. I don’t have a chip on my shoulder about academia; I continue to work in academia quite happily, but with a realistic knowledge of what goes on in the industry. Most of what I have said is based on my experiences, my colleagues’ experiences, and a lot of attention to employment outcomes for PhDs.

            Regarding your first point: none of my comments apply to faculty (faculty =/ staff in higher ed). The idea of the academic superstar doesn’t apply to most higher ed staff at all. However, many staff do hold jobs comparable to positions outside academia (HR, bookkeeping, media production, editing, general administrative, instructional design, etc). Depending on the institution and even by department inside the institution, academic staff tend to be underpaid for their position titles. And for this reason, many people who can *do* move outside academia. Some don’t have as many options (there are a lot more instructional designers, for example, in academia than outside it, so while corporate positions pay more, getting them is no picnic).

            I think that to say university staff are not vulnerable is, as you put, an overgeneralization (frankly, kind of a laughable one). Deans are not vulnerable, but the rank and file are. I don’t know if you work or have worked for a university, but in the age of budget cuts and administrative bloat, even before Covid’s impact on education, lower and mid-level staff *often* fear for their jobs. And because my comments have not been about faculty, we won’t talk about adjuncts, aka PhDs who live below the poverty line or are dependent on a partner’s financial stability.

            You might be right if you think of grad school as *professional* school (MBAs, MDs, JDs, etc) or if you’re focused mostly on STEM fields that transfer easily to the private sector. In that case, sure, people come out with lots of opportunities for professional growth. Again, this is not universally true.

      10. Sacred Ground*

        I wouldn’t have thought to try to identify the school based on the info given. Nothing they described couldn’t also apply to any other private school with similar outdated hiring practices. And the quotes you pulled, according to you, do NOT describe your experience with your school so I think it odd that you think this identifies them specifically.

        Do they teach logic at SAIS?

        1. Three Flowers*

          Yeah, I am sort of curious why SAIS alum leaped to the conclusion that I was describing SAIS or JHU in general (although I’m trying not to speculate, as this thread has diverged wildly from the point of my original comment).

  27. EngineerMom*

    Ugh, how frustrating, OP!

    Definitely start tracking how much paid time this ends up wasting (your time, time of any assistants/admins setting up interviews, time of other interviewers) and how much money (if they aren’t communicating salaries until offer letters, I’m assuming this is also AFTER paying for a candidates flight, hotel, meals, etc. as part of travel for interviews) is being flushed away due to this stupid policy.

    Especially when candidates can easily access the public pay of a rival employer (public universities), it makes very little sense to keep the salary so quiet. I can understand not publishing it, but a range should be included at the very least in the phone interview before too much time/money is wasted on both sides.

  28. Jaybeetee*

    Making salary a deep dark secret is a relic of a bygone era, where it would have been scandalous to suggest someone might be so crass and mercenary as to work for *money*.

    It turns out, even if people enjoy their careers, most people aren’t working solely for love of the game. Pay is a big deal. When I was starting out in my early 20s, I quickly learned that any job I applied to that was shifty about pay was either a pyramid scheme or just an awful place to work. Even if a job pays minimum wage, being upfront with that is better than not.

    I’m in government now, where salaries are public info and listed in job posters, so I might be further biased on this than others. But I don’t think I’d even apply for a job now that didn’t have a salary or salary range in the poster.

  29. Vvvvvv*

    Let me tell you about my former employer: advertised a range like $20.45-$34.75/hourly with benefits, in order to ‘draw out the best candidates’. Then would offer the lowest amount and at times lower than the quoted range citing ‘lack of experience ‘. When I would counter that the candidate had tons of experience, he would correct me: ‘they don’t have any experience in THIS job! Our company is very unique and you have to work years to get to the top of the range, that should be obvious! ‘. Readers, the company wasn’t unique, and the pay range on the job ad not being the HIRING RANGE was not obvious to anyone. Oh yeah, the benefits you say? After 6 months, you could begin to accrue at a rate that would get you 1 week pto/year. So after 18 months, you get your 1 week. No health, no paid sick days. He was very disappointed with me and my recruiting abilities when these recruitments failed at offer stage. I left that place like my hair was on fire.

    1. irene adler*

      What a jerk!

      After I asked, during a screening interview, what the hiring salary range was, the interviewer initially didn’t want to disclose a number. When he did give a range, I mentioned that the high end sounded good to me (it equaled my current salary). He then went on a tangent, complaining that he hates divulging salary ranges because everyone thinks they should be paid at the high end of the salary range. “Not everyone is worth that!”, he said.

      That apparently was enough to remove me from consideration.

    2. Filosofickle*

      I ran across a job positing recently that — reading between the lines — i suspect was like this. I had assumed initially that the range in the ad meant a possible range of starting pay based on prior experience/skill. But after a little more parsing of their semi-confusing language, I decided they were posting a pay BAND for the position over time, and you could only enter towards the bottom and advance in the band once you built up tenure within the company. Ugh.

      1. Salsa Verde*

        I think it’s good practice to assume that any range listed in a posting is the pay range of a position, not a hiring range, unless it specifically is marked as hiring. I worked for a local government agency for 15 years, and all posted positions listed the pay band for the grade. It basically took an act of god for someone to get the highest number coming in.
        On that note, why do employers insist on not paying the highest they would go for a person so that they can then give that person a raise in the first year? If I ask for $105K, and you pay me $100K and then raise me to $105K after my first review or year, my gratefulness will be tempered by my annoyance that I missed out on the first six months of extra money.

    3. yup yup*

      I’ll never forget a company I worked for as a manager. When I discovered the low salaries the lower level staff were making while working long long hours, I tried to get them raises… and was told they deserved making just over minimum wage per hour because THEY HAD NO EXPERIENCE. I was horrified. These people were working their asses off doing professional work and should have been making double what they were. It was especially egregious because I (and presumably the other managers) were making pretty good bank. We were just sweatshopping the lower level staff. So glad to be gone from there.

    4. Mona Lisa*

      I worked at a university like this. The salary band was divided into thirds, and there was no way to access the top third of the band without working at the university for a length of time. It was very frustrating as someone on both sides of the hiring process to realize that a portion of the salary band was completely inaccessible unless you were essentially a lifer in that role.

    5. pamela voorhees*

      I’m absolutely losing it over the logic of “we don’t have to pay them to do the job because they don’t already have the job.” Incredible.

  30. Pugs*

    Would it be illegal to weed out the candidates whose current salaries and requested salaries are above the rough range you’re aware of?

    You loose out on some good people that way, but at least you may waste less of everyone’s time?

    1. OP*

      We did that once; we knew that the job would get some sort of entry-level pay, so we were able to eliminate people whose salary expectations were wildly above that.

  31. AnotherLibrarian*

    One of the most amazing things someone ever did for me while job hunting was call me “off the record” to tell me I was their top candidate for an in-person interview. Before they flew me in, (day long academic hiring) they wanted me to know the salary, so they wouldn’t waste my time (or theirs.) The salary would have been a 25% pay cut with a much higher cost of living. I knew I couldn’t take the job. But you know what? When anyone asks me about where I would work, I name that school. Their honesty and straight forwardness about salary means I respect them and always will. They saved themselves (and me) a lot of time.

    1. MCL*

      I have a friend (also in academic libraries) who had a similar experience – maybe it was you! :) My friend said that they really appreciated the institution calling and explaining that they were the top candidate but that they didn’t think they could offer the wages that might be expected. It turned out the institution was right that the salary was too low and my friend withdrew from the pool – disappointed (they really wanted to move to that location), but ultimately happy not to have wasted time.

  32. Shirley Keeldar*

    A lot of colleges and universities talk a good game when it comes to issues of diversity/equity/inclusion. Perhaps you can get a bit of traction by pointing out that demanding a salary history from candidates disadvantages women and minorities, who are more apt to be underpaid? And it’s particularly in bad faith to demand this info from candidates but refuse to offer the salary in return!

    1. Blackcat*

      They *talk* a good game, but I’ve found that many universities are deeply resistant to changing institutional policies to actually improve equity.

    2. AnonforThis*

      This is tangential, but do you have any opinions on how offering below-market pay in itself causes D/E/I issues?
      My opinion is based on limited data (personal experience) and I’d love to hear what others think.

      My personal experience with this is based on the fact that I accepted a job out of school that was wildly underpaid. They required a college degree too. I made a conscious decision to do this because I wanted to get my foot in the door at the organization. However, I was only able to do so because I was debt-free and have a spouse with an unusually high income and was therefore able to afford it. I have always thought that by low-balling candidates like this, you effectively exclude anyone with student loan debt, any single parents, etc.

      I’d love to hear from others.

      1. Shirley Keeldar*

        Definitely a thing, and it can affect entire industries–I worked in publishing right out of college, and was only able to survive on the salary because I graduated debt-free (thanks, parents). I think it’s a real problem in the arts as a whole.

    3. Three Flowers*

      What’s interesting to me is that I experienced a policy similar to what OP is talking about from the candidate point of view. When I asked the hiring manager about salary, he was apologetic but told me he couldn’t tell me because the college literally didn’t calculate any salary number until they were going to make an offer so HR, not the manager, could peg it to the exact qualifications of the hiree (I think blind to name, gender, race, etc) and ensure it was equitable. I *think* they were trying to avoid the type of underpaying you mention (they also didn’t do salary negotiation, probably for the same reason), which I admire in principle, but it also seems to me that this very, very opaque approach to salary could just as easily be used to hide inequity. I was offered the job and didn’t think the salary was off what I would expect for the position type, institution, geography, and my qualifications, so I’m not saying it couldn’t work, but it makes pay equity this black hole that no one can challenge. And taking people through the whole process, with all the investment of time and energy, without giving them a number seems a bit manipulative, and particularly disadvantageous to people who desperately need a job.

      1. Three Flowers*

        Clarification: I will say that even though this policy was frustrating to me as the candidate and I think it’s kind of questionable, I did really appreciate that the hiring manager explained what the system was and why he couldn’t give me a range. OP, can you find out if it’s something like this, and if it is, whether you can be transparent about how the system works to candidates?

      2. PersephoneUnderground*

        Yeah, that system sounds shady and unlikely to produce actual pay equity. Publishing the range for the job can’t be biased by anyone’s view of a particular candidate, because you don’t have any candidates yet. Making that an opaque process that they admit is about assessing the candidate themselves, with the candidate having no info on what they might have paid someone else, is ripe with opportunities for bias and pay inequality. Yeesh, places that like the status quo can get really creative trying to re-brand the same old system to excuse keeping everything actually the same.

  33. Tangerina Warbleworth*

    I work in higher education, and I’ve worked at both a public university where you can look up everyone’s salary by their name; I currently work for a private university like the one you describe. Try this:

    What university association does your institution belong to? If you’re private, and (for example) religious, you probably belong to a group of that religion’s universities, like if you’re Lutheran, you belong to X association of Lutheran colleges. Look up what other institutions are members, and then do some research: check their employment listings, look them up on Glassdoor. If any of them are actually good about reporting salaries, you can go to HR and/or the upper administration with the info and frame it as “If we here at St. Thomas Francis University want to be competitive with our peers, we need to do this.” Upper admin at little private colleges will almost always jump when you frame it as being better than other members of the association.

  34. Jules the Goblin*

    I hope LW can express to their employer how all of this runaround is *wasting money* that, ya’know, *could have gone toward people’s salaries* or something. It really boggles my mind how people don’t see that.

  35. Not For Academics*

    OP, do you work in an academic department? If you have the support of a chair or assistant dean, you can feel more free to ignore HR’s rules.

    1. OP*

      I do, but our department head once answered someone’s question about posting salaries with “our salaries are competitive.” So, no real support there.

  36. Gul Ducat*

    I have worked at a private university and went through the same thing when we were hiring. I also found out that I was brought in for “XXX Librarian Position” at $10,000 less than the next hire-who had much less experience than I was and was male (I’m a woman). This kind of secretiveness really makes it easier for pay inequity. It’s a red-flag for me when I am job seeking ,and now I’m at the point of my career that I don’t even apply for positions that won’t list a range. I think employers that do this miss out on a lot of great candidates-because it really means that so many other problems can be hidden. Employers that hide salary information probably have at least some skeletons they don’t want you to know about.
    I now work somewhere salaries are public information and guess what-everyone’s pay is a lot more fair. People don’t gossip about salaries because they are right there for everyone to see. There is no drama associated with this. It’s a much better system!

    1. OP*

      There have been initiatives over the past few years to address pay inequity. I know that this is true because I remember attending meetings where members of those committees presented on their work. But if anything came of it I don’t know, because the results of that work was never publicized either. Of course.

  37. Formerly Frustrated Optimist*

    I dealt with this many times, also with a prestigious private university, as well as once at an average public university. I developed enough connections to have someone internal look up salary grades for me – but even that didn’t help much: For a lot of the positions I’d be applying for, the low end of the range was in the mid $30K range, while the upper end was in the low $70K range. I heard from one hiring manager (who was surprisingly candid) that the university typically brought in new hires “at the second quartile,” and that approximation was too low for me to consider.

    Another bit of translation that I learned: “Bachelor’s required; master’s preferred” was basically code for them paying bachelor’s-level salaries across the board.

  38. Mel_05*

    This seems reasonable. I have a former coworker who moved to the rural midwest from a large, expensive city – no one would hire him because he’d been making so much before. He would be very clear that he didn’t expect or need nearly as much to live off of in our area – but they just couldn’t get past that big city salary.

    Then he got hired by our employer, who wouldn’t have thought the angels were taking a step down to work there. He quit a year later and was able to easily get a job because of his very normal last salary – but what a silly rigmarole!

    1. Ash*

      So that’s why you don’t ask for salary history at all. You post the salary range for the position in the job description, and then ask the candidate if that range works for them (add in that’s non-negotiable if that applies). Salary histories are just completely unnecessary.

  39. hbc*

    This is exactly the reason that the ownership of my company got all in a twist when I put in pay bands and told people what they were and how the pay within them was determined. All of a sudden, your ability to get raises based on who you were related to, who you played golf with, or who mowed your lawn for free was limited. I lost a couple of 30’s white guys over this–not because they got pay cuts, but because they realized that there was a cap on how far their privilege would take them.

    I told my boss that he could feel free to insist on a band modifier for members/friends of the family or explicitly write in an exception for them, but I wasn’t going to hide it. Not only because it’s morally right, but because I’ve been through a pay discrimination claim with proper documentation and support, and there’s no way I’m putting myself through that again with a whole bunch of white men making more for nebulous reasons.

    1. hbc*

      Oops, meant to be a reply to the “this hides discrimination” post above. Looks like Mel and I had the same glitch. :)

    2. Myrin*

      This is fascinating (and leads to exactly what outcome I would’ve predicted, tbh)! If you don’t mind sharing, what is your position where you could do this unilaterally and against the company’s ownership? Good for you and any prospective hires!

  40. Copyright Economist*

    I wonder if this employer doesn’t want to disclose salaries in advance to give itself flexibility. For example, we would pay $35k if your salary history makes that attractive, but we could pay up to $50k if necessary. This doesn’t sound like what this employer does, but just putting it out there.

    1. Ash*

      Why wouldn’t you just pay what is fair for the role, regardless of what the person’s prior salary was? This is one of the major ways that pay disparities due to gender and race occur, because oppressed groups are more likely to start out underpaid. You’re not giving yourself “flexibility,” you’re underpaying people who likely haven’t had the privilege to know any better. AAM has written extensively on this topic.

      1. Dagny*

        You also risk losing out on qualified candidates; people take low salaries for all sorts of valid reasons, including cost of living, quality of life, flexibility of schedule, stability (getting laid off is expensive), great benefits, or needing to take a job during a recession.

        1. Ash*

          Was this in response to me or to Copyright Economist? If to me, I don’t understand how paying people a fair wage regardless of prior salary means you will lose out on qualified candidates.

      2. Nanani*


        Kicking the discrimination can back to the first employer someone had, who could take advantage by underpaying them when they were new, is still engaging in discrimination.

      3. squidarms*

        It’s also not a good tactic in the long term, because when people figure out they’re being underpaid (and they will always, always figure it out, unless they live in a box with no internet access outside of work), they will either leave for greener pastures or become bitter, resentful employees who only do the bare minimum to remain employed.

  41. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

    I work for a private college that also is super secretive about pay bands…but (at least in my role) it’s incredibly competitive! My offer when I started here was $15k over what I had expected. I feel like if they would advertise that they could have gotten a candidate with more experience than what I bring to the table. We also had a failed search over a year ago because none of the candidates had the experience my boss was looking for, but I know we could have gotten better candidates by advertising the pay.

  42. JBI*

    My first question when a recruiter reaches out to me: “What’s the compensation?”
    I just won’t engage without that information

    1. Ash*

      I agree, but I will say, that has led to me being ghosted by some employers. I luckily have the savings (and a partner who also earns) to roll with that, but it’s probably hard for most unemployed people.

      1. JBI*

        Well, this is the first conversation I have before interviewing.
        Unless they answer that I’m not going to interview at all, so I personally don’t consider that I’m being ghosted if we stop there.
        On the other hand I went to an interview where the guy mentioned a number 60k less than I would need to consider moving. I don’t think it was him trying to negotiate. He just didn’t know what the actual market rate was. The only people I coould see taking it was people being subsidized by their parents

    2. squidarms*

      Unfortunately, in some fields this “punish applicants for asking about compensation as if work isn’t inherently an exchange of labor for money” tactic is so common that you either have to put up with it or wait a very, very long time for an interview.

        1. squidarms*

          That’s fortunate. In the field I’m in, admitting that you work for money at all is considered uncouth, because the work is “so important to society” that you should be happy to do it even if the company made you pay them to work there. (I’m exaggerating, but only barely.)

          1. JBI*

            In my industry they often refer to it as “wanting to a be a part of something that’s going to change the world.”
            When they say, “a part of”, they often don’t mean salary, bonus or equity

  43. Dagny*

    My suggestion for your department is to finesse the wording on the job description so that you get slightly less experienced, but very talented, candidates. There are driven young people who really need to get their foot in the door with a job and will take a lower salary in exchange for the title and experience. Consider non-traditional applicants, like women or men returning to work after an extended time caring for children or family members. Sure, you will lose them after a few years, but you’ll fill the slot with someone capable.

  44. FormerUniEmp*

    I worked for two different public universities. While the salary bands WERE posted, we were rarely allowed to offer more than the midpoint. This led to candidates bailing at the offer stage not infrequently.

    We also were not allowed to negotiate. So no movement on $50k offer – we could not go to $51k, no matter what.

    AND. All replacement hires could not be offered more than 90% of what the most recent incumbent made, even if it was below the midpoint for the band. I have heard this might be further reduced.

  45. Gazebo Slayer*

    There is no legitimate reason for an employer, public or private, to be secretive about pay. None.

    It’s time to legally mandate that all job listings include salary. It would drastically reduce the racial and gender wage gaps AND stop wasting tons of time and effort for applicants and employers alike.

  46. Steveo*

    Sounds like they really took the Negotiating 101 tactic of “first person to name a number loses” to the extreme here. If I can’t get pay range out of the recruiter in the first 30 minutes of our chat it’s a huge red flag.

  47. employment lawyah*

    That is amazingly dumb. Of them, not you.

    I agree pushback should happen. You might also consider, if you think it would work AND IF you can manage not to get fired, posting your salary ranges somewhere like Glassdoor etc. You or anyone else in the chain might be able to steer people to look.

    You can also consider flagging it for people ESPECIALLY those who would be taking a salary decrease. “We’re inviting you for an interview. Hmm, I see you disclosed your current salary. Ok, then. As you may have noted, we do not disclose salary and I am actually prohibited from doing so. But one interview question I want to make VERY sure you prepare for, because we want the fully-considered response, is ‘hypothetically speaking, please explain how you would feel about this job if we offered $XXX LESS than you are making right now.”

    Of course, that is also a bit cute and could get you fired too, so puchback en masse is best.

  48. Artemesia*

    And no one said ‘How is offering the lowest college salaries in the region, competitive?’

  49. Massmatt*

    This salary secrecy wastes everyone’s time and is a big warning sign–either the pay is poor, or the organization is dysfunctional, or both. I’ve never seen a place with poor salaries (inevitably described as “competitive”) have benefits that were not poor also. I remember an interview tried to gloss over the bad salary by talking about their retirement plan. Which was a 401k with no match. Uh, I can save on my own, thanks.

    Salary bands are often too wide to mean anything. I remember a position (internal at my own company!) would only be described as “grade 12”. I called HR and was told several times “we don’t use salary grades” or then that the grades were different for different areas of the company. Finally (after several calls and emails) that grade 12 was a range between $24-80k. OK, so between 1/2 and double what I’m making now?

    Hiring managers should definitely push back on this sort of thing. Bad HR is likely to say “that’s the policy” but bring it further up the chain on your end and someone can tell HR that the policy is changing.

  50. Anonymous at a University*

    I am so glad that I work for a public university. Sure, sometimes people try to weaponize the publicly available salary information (“Why is she making twice what I do? That’s not fair.” “Because she has twenty years’ experience and you have four.”), but I’d rather have it than not. This university was also one of the very few, even among public schools, that actually listed a number for their salary range in the job posting, rather than this “Salary commensurate with education and experience” BS.

    I agree being up-front with what you can be is the best favor you can do these job candidates. That way, at least it doesn’t get to the offer stage before someone finds out they’d take a huge pay-cut or that what they want is impossible. And it saves you time that you can use on your job search!

  51. Hey Karma, Over Here*

    This is the time for malicious compliance.
    “I’m sorry but HR will not tell me the salary for the position until the interview process is complete. You will only be told the salary if you are a made an offer. I do have a salary band for the position. The high end is lower than your current salary.

  52. Peppercat53*

    My previous employer, a large alcoholic beverage producer, had terrible pay policies. My position’s pay band went from $43,500-$80,000- of course they hired everyone in at the lowest possible pay rate they could. Unfortunately their merit increases each year did not keep up with the market or cost of living. So you ended up with new people getting hired on with no prior experience making more than people who had been there for years and years, who had worked hard, diversified their skills, and then had to train these people. They wouldn’t let me negotiate and one year they gave me a larger merit increase because they were “trying to bring me up to where I should be” but that was the only year I got a merit increase that high so not much help. A few years before I left we banded together and complained to HR after we found out what one of our new hires was making. They took like 6-9 months to do a salary investigation in which the HR manager told me that merit increases would close the gap between myself and the new hire (even though merit pay increases were a % of your base pay and hers was significantly higher than mine already). I told her math didn’t work that way- she didn’t like that very much. Eventually they gave us all one time raises and then we had to sign a paper saying we wouldn’t talk about our salaries anymore (pretty sure that was not legal). Friends who still work there say the same problems continue today. I’m so glad I got out of there.

    1. Ash*

      Definitely illegal to forbid employees from discussing their own salaries! I had a company pull this on me too. I was too young and uninformed to know my rights.

  53. Krabby*

    My employer is also cagey about sharing salary with hiring managers, but that’s why HR does all initial phone screens and reveals the range directly to the candidate at that time. It’s not the most efficient system and I don’t love it, but at least no one is wasting anyone’s time.

  54. HR-ing from home*

    Working for a non-profit, we typically pay at the lower end of market rate and sometimes below. However, we do have some excellent benefits. I am always transparent about both of these from the very start when advertising for open positions. As part of the screening process, I always phone screen before setting up interviews for several reasons and one of them is to reiterate the salary and benefits to make sure that we are on the same page. I also want to dispel any assumptions that the salary is negotiable because with only rare exception, it is not. (Again, non-profit. My budget is my budget, sadly.) I do not want to waste the time of the applicant, the interview team or myself. The hiring process is time, energy draining enough and it is unfair to all parties to put them through the process for nothing. It’s just an exercise in frustration that no one needs, especially now. And personally, I don’t care how perfect a job is, if it pays $20,000 less than I can afford to make, you aren’t going to talk me into taking it no matter how many vacation days you offer so save your breath and let me know before I even waste time applying. Oh, and don’t even get me started about asking salary history of job applicants. That should illegal in every state as it only perpetuates the practice of underpaying people and more often than not more adversely affects women and/or people of color who are already underpaid at a much higher rate. Just, no. No. No.

  55. TootsNYC*

    As a stop-gap measure: If you can look at the salary history, and you KNOW they’re currently earning more than you can pay, simply do not move forward with them as a candidate.

    That happened to me as an applicant, I’m positive. I applied for a job whose title and duties were right in line with my experience. I thought I would certainly get an interview–but I didn’t. And I realized that it was at a much smaller company, and I had a lot of years of experience. I’m positive they looked at my resume and said, “We can’t afford her. Let’s not waste our time.”
    I saw who they did eventually hire, and indeed they hired someone with a great deal less experience who was almost certainly less expensive.

  56. Elm*

    I love this advice. As an applicant, I encountered places like this, and a few of the folks told me their pay wasn’t competitive and let me decide whether or not to move forward based on X, Y, Z. I usually didn’t, but sometimes I did, in no small part because I appreciated them being upfront.

    One even said, “look, our pay sucks. But I couldn’t NOT call you based on your qualifications. My boss thinks this pay is acceptable for someone with your qualifications. And if you say no, it gives me a way to fight back. If you say yes because it’s something you can work with, awesome, because I genuinely think you’d be a good fit.” I DID say no because it was $25k (for a master’s level job requiring years of experience!), but I hope she got her boss to listen.

Comments are closed.