Question

What about companies that don’t disclose salary on job postings? I’ve wasted huge amounts of time applying for jobs that fit me, only to find out after several interviews that the pay is not high enough! If you ask me, that’s false advertising. Do any companies list salaries in job ads?

Nick’s Reply

disclose salaryWhile employers demand to know all your salary information prior to an interview, they don’t disclose the salaries of jobs they post. They want you to apply blindly, hoping to snag you into rationalizing lower pay after you’ve invested hours filling out forms and interviewing. (This is the old “foot-in-the-door” sales method.)

Get ready to negotiate

I think there has never been a better time or a better job market for job seekers to exercise their negotiating leverage to get exceptional salaries — and to get the information they need before they apply. If you’re a good candidate for a job, now is the time to negotiate assertively for more money and other desirable terms of employment.

Few companies disclose salary in job postings

It turns out only about 12% of all job postings tell you what a job pays, according to an analysis done by Emsi Burning Glass and reported by SHRM. In today’s economy, that’s a recruiting scam of epic proportions. As a job seeker, you need to consider how much you sacrifice when you go blindly into a job interview.

While it’s up to each job seeker to decide what information they absolutely need before applying for a job, all should bear in mind that we are unequivocally in a job seeker’s market. Employers are literally dying — going out of business — because they can’t hire the workers they need. This puts you in a very powerful negotiating position.

Ask first, apply later

Do we need a law? Even with 11 million jobs vacant, only 12% of job postings include pay information. Are employers hiding salaries because they’re so low? Do we need a salary disclosure law?
My advice: Insist on knowing the salary for a job before you apply. I would not necessarily skip over an interesting posting because it doesn’t list salary. If the job is otherwise worth your time to apply, then it’s worth the extra time to contact the employer directly and ask what the salary range is.

If they won’t tell you, I’d seriously consider moving on — after explaining to them that you will not apply without knowing first what the job pays.

You can ignore my advice, but my prediction is that you’ll waste a lot of time and experience a lot of frustration. If you push back, however, you’ll get salary information some of the time — and those are the companies worth engaging with.

The job market lets you be bold

It’s such a job seeker’s market that a bold applicant can go another step and use the foot-in-the-door approach for their own benefit.

Once you know the salary, at the end of your first interview (assuming you’re still interested in an offer), ask what the last person in that job was paid and how much others on the team are paid. If you’ve already impressed an employer that can’t afford to lose another good candidate, you just might get the information and improve your negotiating position further.

I’ll repeat again: We are in a job-seeker’s market and you should not discount your negotiating leverage. Do it professionally and gently, but do it firmly: Don’t be afraid to make reasonable demands. There has never been a better time for the best talent to get the best salary deals.

How to Say It

If employers push back at your request for salary information, educate them. Here are some suggestions about how to say it:

  • “Why would I share my salary information if you won’t tell me what the job pays?”
  • “Do you really want to invest hours in interviews only to learn your job is not in my required pay range?”
  • “I know you prefer honest, candid job applicants. I prefer honest, candid employers. What’s the pay?”
  • “If I can’t demonstrate to you how I’m worth the salary we’ve discussed, then you shouldn’t hire me.”

These are pretty assertive examples. Tune the wording to suit your own style.

Everything has changed

Employers can get ahead of the curve by disclosing salaries with every job posting. I think they’re fools if they don’t. It’s time to drop the attitude that they don’t want to over-pay someone who might take a job for less, or that publishing salaries will give their competitors an edge.

Colorado now requires job postings to include pay information, according to SHRM. California and Maryland require the employer to disclose wage ranges when job applicants ask. More employers are including pay information on job postings, but their numbers are still paltry — under 20% in most sectors.

This means it’s up to job seekers. Everything has changed. As more employers realize what it means that 11 million jobs are vacant, we’re going to find the playing field is on a new level. Don’t sell yourself short. Seriously consider applying only for jobs for which you have pay information — even if you have to inquire to get it.

Did you know the salary of the last job you applied for? Have you ever asked what a job pays before you applied? At what point do you consider it crucial to know what the pay is? Would you walk away from a job whose salary you don’t know?

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22 Comments
  1. I’ve been seeing this “cloak of secrecy” more often than not with employers. They flat out refuse to disclose the compensation when asked, get triggered when asked, or comeback with the “compensation is competitive” or “compensation is based on experience” yada yada.
    Then there are those who ask for your compensation expectations, don’t bat an eye, or they tell you that its reasonable and realistic, then waste your time with the marathon interviews, and come back with an absolute low ball offer, or worse yet, ghost you.
    I now ask immediately what the compensation range is, and if they pull these games, I hang up, walk out, or hit delete.
    I received a nice merit raise and favorable informal evaluation at my current job of 9 years so while I keep my ear to the ground, I’m taking my sweet time looking, and am seeing how things play out the next few months.
    I really hope this trend of the ball is in the job seekers court continues. Employers have been king of the hill far too long!

  2. Emotionally, I completely agree with you. Practically, I suspect very, very few employers are smart enough not to be stupid.

  3. Based on someone’s advice, either Nick’s or another writer’s, I actually worded it this way when a “recruiter” (they need a new title) balked at disclosing the salary range: “We only just met, but already you seem fairly intelligent. I can’t picture you lifting a bottle of red wine off of a grocery store shelf, then sauntering to the checkout without knowing how much it costs. So what’s the salary range?”

    I admire that Colorado (and Massachusetts?) requires salary disclosure. As mere curiosity, I notice they sold the idea as a benefit to women, but on its face it would seem to benefit men too. Hmmm.

    > California and Maryland require the employer to disclose wage ranges when job applicants ask.

    Might someone please point me to a Maryland legal link?

  4. Not disclosing a salary range is one of the dumbest things that employers do. The phrases “depending on experience” or “market rate” are two other statements frequently used that have absolutely no meaning. It has been my experience that when put under a hot light and beaten with a rubber hose, the revealed salary is always some number, plus or minus 10%. What benefit employers feel they will get is a mystery to me. I have been reading position descriptions for over 50 years, and it is not possible for a job seeker to know what a job may pay from the information given. One can’t know the scale of the company. As I have been heard to say: “Money talks” Save everyone a lot of time by just telling us.

    Regards, Matt Bud, Chairman, The Financial Executives Networking Group

    • @Matt:

      I think there are several reasons why employers won’t disclose the salary of job in a posting or in an interview.

      1. Faulty negotiation assumptions. The conventional wisdom about negotiating is that “whoever states a number first, loses.” HR has naively swallowed this bunk for decades. Research in behavioral economics tells us that whoever states a number first, likely sets an “anchor” from which negotiations then proceed. Cf. “Priceless,” by William Poundstone.

      2. A thirst for utter control and subjugation of job candidates. Officious HR managers, often egged on by questionable HR consultants and “best practices reports,” have the attitude that whoever owns the job, rules. All others bow, cower and do as they’re told. This may seem comical, but I believe it’s true.

      3. Lower job offers. HR seems to believe it can offer less salary if no number is ever stated during the recruiting and hiring process. To date, this has largely worked because HR has successfully brainwashed and badgered job applicants into compliance.

      4. Compliance. HR uses the old tactic I mentioned in my column: “foot-in-the-door.” Once HR gets an applicant to agree to submit an application without disclosing salary, HR knows it can get the applicant to do many other unwise things before knowing what a job pays: fill out forms, attend one, two, three or more interviews, wait forever, subject themselves to reference, background and financial “checks” before the employer makes any kind of commitment at all… even quit their old job before receiving a written, bona fide job offer. By this point, another psychological phenomenon kicks in: rationalization. That is, “If I’ve invested so much time and energy into this job, I must really want it and thus I’m willing to accept a lower salary for such a GREAT opportunity…” See https://dictionary.apa.org/rationalization

      5. Habit. “This is how we’ve always done it!” And, “No employer posts salaries! Why should we?”

      I could go on.

  5. After working with a professional job search firm in 2005, I have never disclosed my salary. When they ask for my salary, I respond with “What is the salary range of the XXX position?” Only once was the salary not disclosed and when we finally arrived at the salary negotiation, the salary (in 2005) was $40,000 for a warehouse manager – about 60% of what I earned in similar positions. I politely declined and the lady in HR said if I disclosed my salary, we wouldn’t have wasted our time.

    Following that position, every other company disclosed their salary info when I asked, which allowed me to decide whether to continue or not the interview process.

  6. I don’t think I have ever seen a salary advertised for a non-government job.

    Most of the time in the initial phone screen, I am asked for either my salary or my desired salary. I always reply “I’m looking for XXXX a year.” That number is usually a bit higher than what I’m “really” looking for. I’ve been in this market a while, so I know what’s reasonable and I’m not trying for anything crazy. Most of the time we move forward, and a few times I’m told it won’t work. Fair enough, I’d rather find out at the phone screen.

    I was in a group-gang-up-on-me interview one time. As we talked, it was clear that the position was not well described on the front end and I wasn’t a good candidate. The icing on the cake was the 100% absolute insistance on knowing my current salary. It got awkward when I refused to budge, but I knew I was a bad fit anyway.

    It would be much easier to know a job’s range in the ad, but in my case I already have a good feel for the local market.

    • Just as bad, IMHO, as no salary information is seeing a range like “$70K-150K” (actually seen not too long ago). Which has got to have most applicants thinking “Surely that covers rank-newbies to senior-level employees, right?” while the requirements you’ve listed scream “senior level”. Even if you decide to apply because you’re currently at $100K and $115K would be a nice bump — both within their stated range — you just know that the offer they make will be far closer to that $70K figure.

      The worst case is when there is no range listed, they demand your current salary, and the offer comes in at, maybe, a %10 increase. Long ago, I got offers that were a 0% increase. I guess they thought the prestige of working for them would make that less of an insult.

  7. I’ve been through the group-gang-up-on-me interview. I thought that might be antiquated by now, but employers still do it. I refuse to do it anymore. Degrading and reminds me of the school yard bully and his gang from back in the day.
    I refuse to divulge my salary history. I was asked that question awhile back, and I replied back to an interviewer “so what’s your salary history”. Needless to say, that ended the interview then and there.

  8. On the job hunting side, that didn’t bother me much. it was the way the game was played. What was important was knowing the line between what I needed and what was nice or gravy. And most of the time it wasn’t the direct comp, that was the deal breaker but benefits, and along with it most of the time was job content and growth potential. There really would have to be a serious delta between my expectation & what was offered to push back or walk.
    Buyers or Sellers market aside, just make sure you don’t let ego or over comp get in the way of a good spot for you. Or get wrapped around the axle of buyer’s remorse.
    What I mean by buyers remorse, is I lived in Asia of 5 years. In Asia at the time, and likely now, EVERYTHING Was a negotiation. you could spend half your life negotiating for everything you bought, which is time consuming to say the least. Buyer’s remorse works like this. After you haggled like a champ with a tailor over the price of a new suit & a colleague notices it, admires it etc. And asks you how much it cost. (a very common question in Asia at the time). You say XX$. The response is XX$!!! Man you were taken for a ride. you could have gotten that for XX—-$. Just imagine doing that endlessly.

    So your negotiation became simple. Look for a supplier whose offering appeals to you, and tell them give me a reasonable price and I’ll keep doing business with you. If I find out you screwed me I’ll go elsewhere.

    No matter what kind of job market it is, what’s more important to me is to find a company/boss that won’t screw me. They know their business, they know the job market and the going rate in town, and they know their internal corporate jungle and they know what’s an equitable comp rate and what they can do with other incentives. And they know what you need to know about all that so you can make a good decision. From me they need to be talking to a reasonable person, who when equipped with the aforementioned info will truly negotiate, understand my position and what I can work with and not ask me to stroke their ego. They won’t give you buyers remorse.
    Which they can do by not letting you low ball yourself because you think your asking price is savvy and smart, but per real company salaries is relative low. (it happens)
    Screwing a new hire is bad business. A solid hiring manager will start looking out for your interests as soon as they go into negotiation. Because it’s good business if you want to keep good performers/contributors aboard.

  9. More aligned with the topic let me give some insights from the standpoint of a hiring manager. If you’re talking about negotiation you need to know these things, which in my experience never come up in interviews, unless I bring them up & I do.
    I’ll give you some insights on Big Corp environments I’ve managed in.

    Usually there are pay structures. Established titles and pay ranges for same. e.g. Software Engineer I, II, III, etc. with pay ranges for each. Which you’ve all be talking about. If they don’t exist they will. Tops of ranges overlap to some degree with the low end of the next range.
    Usually they are divided into quadrants, 1st 2nd 3rd 4th.
    This stuff is the foundation of salary administration. And this very much affects your compensation after you come aboard. All the discussion i’ve read, & here in as well is about starting salary. Which is obviously important to you, but so is what happens afterward, how will that be administered is just about as important to know. If all you are going to focus on and talk about is your starting salary, you’re flying blind.

    Some things you need to know & should find out about

    1. There’s 2 forms of salary admin. Once a year on your hiring anniversary, or everyone on a given day each year. (a freakin nightmare of work for managers, a admin tidal wave). Promotions when deemed applicable are not forced fit into a schedule. Know how the company you’re talking with, does theirs.

    2. Where your starting salary fits into the range (which quadrant) directly effects subsequent possible raises. So if you’re looking for a place to stick around in & grow, you need to know this. Because you can safely assume, that the lower you are in the salary range, the higher the raise your boss can effect for you (if earned of course). Hypothetically, when raise time comes, if you’re in the 1st quadrant, I can offer 8%, if you’re in the 4th quadrant, 2%. And per the 4th quadrant, if you’ve not heard of it, there’s something called red lined. Red lined means if you sit exactly at the top of the Q4 range, top of 4th quadrant, You most likely get 0. Nada. NO can do unless I get an exception. If merited, I can get around that by promoting you into the next range, say from Eng I to Eng II. IF I can make a case for it, & if I’m not in some hard ass rigid company that says there’s no slots for Eng II for my department. If so, I can network with my peer managers and try for a transfer that works for you & promo. And on and on.

    This is a real example. I & my mgmt colleagues shy away from starting someone in the 4th Quadrant because it leaves us with limited wiggle room. So when I had to deal with this, I explained that in the longer haul, it was better for a person to start at the top of the 3rd quadrant at a lesser salary, so that I could have time to gain a slot at the next level or pave the way to a promo, (work my jungle) then to start in the 4th quadrant where your raise will red line you. I don’t want the dots to connect to someone and the words “red lined”. It infers you’ve maxxed out and aren’t worthy of a promo. Sorry that’s the psychology of it. In short we can work out a plan to get you where you want to be or better.

    If it’s one of those companies that do raises once a year on a fixed date. that can be a + or – or a wash. Let’s say they have a fiscal year, Jan – Dec. And let’s say they effect salary admin in 1st Quarter in Mid February for everyone on board the previous fiscal year. If you come aboard in Jan 2021, Then you’re going to wait until Feb 2022 for a hit. I don’t know if in a company’s wisdom it will be pro-rata or not. If you come aboard in Dec 2021, you’re going to get a hit in Feb 2022. Again. likely pro rata or not. You just need to know how that’s handled because there’s any # permutations and combinations of how that can be processed. The easy way is as long as you were on board for 2021 you get a full raise per those aforementioned algorithms. Coming aboard in November is nice if you get a raise in Feb. But if it’s pro rated you’re looking at a year. for a full one.

    3. Budgeting. No matter the form, Your raise will be budgeted in particular or in general. Most likely in the 3rd Quarter of the year for the following year, and it could be sooner. So your 2022 raise will be planned in late 2021. Your boss will know performance track records of long termers better than yours, which is totally an unknown if you come aboard after the budget is cast. Performance is projected/estimated, so again known track records are more dependable than unknowns.

    They will take care of top performers before lesser performers and guess on openings or new hires. Performance estimating is important as those aforementioned raise guidelines per quadrant positioning are performance driven. Meaning usually big corps are in love with ranking people by performance. It constantly get’s challenged as to the wisdom of the practice, some have abandoned it, but it’s around, & hence you need to know how it’s handled.

    I’ve been in company’s where it was rigid. If you had enough people in your team to form a Bell shape curve you could only have so many outstandings, very goods, satisfactorys and you would have some needs improvements. which is of course stupid. And they got paid accordingly. Usually there’s wiggle room as the year progresses to make adjustments. But An adjustment would mean if I miscalculated and you turn out to be hitting home runs & performance is outstanding, I can change the plan. But if I move you to outstanding, then someone is going to be moved down so the plan is intact.
    the problem is if you come aboard AFTER the budget is in place, & you leap tall buildings in a single bound, I may have exhausted my wiggle room and all’s
    left is my estimate put together a year ago. There are ways to deal with it, but you just need to know where your start date fits in the scheme of things.

    In sum, salary negotiation is not all about the actual salary. If you feel compelled to negotiate, you need to know the context as well. You may find the start date is important to financial growth. You need to understand what your boss has to work with, the rules of engagement with the company so to speak. Which by the way includes understanding when to ask for a raise & promos.

    It won’t surprise you to find that many companies/managers have an approach in negotiating where they feel “if you don’t ask, I won’t tell.” These people will smile at you, meet your price, which immediately will red line you and an HR that will let that pass. And this manager will tell you next year oh by the way, you’re red lined it’s out of my hands, can’t do anything for you. After you’ve relo’d and invested in this new job and venue. It happens

  10. I’ve long wondered about this too. It would save companies lots of time AND money if they’d post the salary range and benefits upfront. This way they won’t waste their own time interviewing people who can’t afford to work there. And it saves time and energy for job hunters too–knowing the salary upfront lets me decide whether I can afford to work there. If the salary is too low, I’ll self-select out (by not applying).

    But even when employers do advertise, some will do a bait and switch, as I learned from chatting with an acquaintance who works at Wal-Mart. The local Wal-Mart has a huge “HELP WANTED” sign, with “$15.00 per hour to start”. But my acquaintance said that Wal-Mart will NOT start new people at the rate they advertise–she said it will be $7.25 per hour, part time, no benefits, and that people stay at that rate until they quit. No wonder people aren’t lining up to apply.

  11. @Larry Gram: Massachusetts forbids employers from demanding salary history from job candidates, and there’s a bill making its way through the General Court (what we call our state house of representatives and state senate here in MA) that will require employers to disclose salaries for jobs BUT only if candidates ask.

    A quick search led me to this link: https://www.natlawreview.com/article/new-wage-range-disclosure-requirements-multiple-states (the statement about Maryland is in the second paragraph), but didn’t dig deeper to look for specific name of the law or bill.

  12. 1. Regarding past/current salaries: I’m a government employee and it takes about 5 minutes of Googling to find how much I’ve made over the years and the salary tables for my organization. I still decline to tell recruiters, and if it’s a problem, I tell them that they can find it online. It’s funny how people want job candidates to bend over backwards to answer “why do you want to work here?” but the same people will do no homework on the people they are contacting. I’m not going to willingly negotiate against myself.

    2. I’ve had people flat out refuse to tell me the budget for a specific role they’re selling and that I should give them my number. When this happens, I’ve thrown out really high numbers. I’ve found that this sometimes gets them to eventually name their upper bound.

  13. @Don-
    From an HR/Comp guru; your response is spot on and very comprehensive I might say!

    The only other ‘work around’ strategy you may not have experienced is the cash payment for high performering red liners. When organizations find themselves at risk of losing valuable talent they flash the cash!

  14. Nick, I thought you have stated repeatedly that you should be showing the company in the interview, preferably away from HR goons, how much you are worth. Why would we even care about a stated salary if the whole point, ideally, was to show how much you are worth and will contribute to the bottom line?

    I must say, this is one of the downsides of government policy in pushing standardization of the same wage despite different amounts of work done, different quality done, and different work experiences (cumulatively), which actually may disincentive someone who actually could prove that they deserve the higher pay, as if they got higher pay that way, someone would sue for “discriminations”.

  15. @Raptor: My advice to show what you’re worth in the interview is not incompatible with my suggestion that employers should publish salaries of jobs they’re trying to fill. In general, knowing what a company expects to spend doesn’t interfere if you choose to apply for a job that pays less than you think you’re worth. You can still apply and try to change their mind. But knowing the company’s numbers can help you avoid wasting your time most of the time. Would you apply for a a bunch of jobs listed at $50K if your goal was $60K?

    A law requiring employers to post salaries does not “standardize” wages for any job. That’s a separate matter altogether. In that case, the law would have to require all employers to set the salary for Job X at the same number. It’s a totally separate issue. I’d never advocate that. I agree with you that for any Job X the work varies from company to company — thus the salary likely does, too.

    I think the issue here is that employers have a budget for Job X and they want to stay within that boundary. Nothing wrong with that — unless they hide it from job applicants. If an applicant can sway the employer to a higher salary because they can show their work would produce enough profit to cover the difference, that’s great. But I believe an applicant should know what they’re getting into before they apply or interview.

  16. I’ve not come across that avenue. Similar was just getting approval (non trivial) exception.

    • @Lucille: Alison is just covering what we’ve been discussing. Ghosting has come back around to bite employers that have abused job applicants. Is anyone surprised?

  17. Here are some of my common responses:

    Employer: We’re willing to pay for the right person.
    Me: How much will you pay for the wrong person?

    Employer: We’re flexible.
    Me: I am also flexible. Some years I will need more money. Other years less.

    Employer: What are your salary requirements?
    Me: All other requirements for this position are well-defined. Why not the salary requirements?

    Employer: We pay market rates.
    Me: What market? The free market?

    Employer: The salary range is between $60,000 – $120,000.
    Me: The amount of time I can spend on this job is a range between 20-80 hours per week.

    Employer: Just send us your resume.
    Me: Why do you need a resume when you have my LinkedIn Profile?

    Employer: You are a great fit for this position.
    Me: Based on what? My experience and qualifications do not match anything that is listed.

  18. @Lucille and @Nick: Nope. Not surprised at all. After all, employers have taught people (i.e., prospective job candidates) how to treat them by example. After decades of ghosting behavior by employers, now all of a sudden it is “rude” and “unprofessional”, and they don’t know what to make of it? Seriously? Message to employers: Take a look in the mirror, and change your own behavior/how you treat those who inquire about jobs and who apply for jobs with basic courtesy, dignity, and respect, and only when you’ve repaired your own reputations will you begin to get the same basic courtesy, dignity, and respect in return.

    Gotta love it (what is good for the goose is good for the gander)!

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