You can spend all the time you like writing a fancy job description, but when it comes to effectively attracting candidates, you need some hard data. Some of this data will make or break whether or not a given candidate wants to apply to a job. Is the position in a location they’re willing to work at or re-locate to? Does it have specific experience requirements that the majority of candidates don’t have?
Some of this data is more optional than other data – the location and type of role are both essential, but one such piece of data might not be. Specifically, we’re talking about putting the salary range in your job description.
Including a salary range in your job listings can be beneficial, but it can also be detrimental. You need to make a decision on whether or not you want to list it, and as such, you need to know the pros and cons of both sides.
Pro: Some Candidates Won’t Apply if Salary is Missing
Employers love to talk about how they hire the best people for a role given culture fit, experience, and skill, not just whoever they can get for the money they’re willing to pay. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people on the job market who believe that if a company isn’t willing to list their salary range, they’re going to under-pay. This isn’t always true – there are a lot of reasons why a company might not list the salary range for a job – but it’s a popular impression amongst job seekers.
In particular, a lot of high quality, experienced candidates will avoid applying to jobs that don’t list a salary, because they want to make more than their current role, and they don’t want to waste time applying to jobs where that raise isn’t available. A recent study from Paychex found that a low salary was the #1 reason 70% of respondents cited for leaving a job; if you aren’t listing your salary range, you aren’t attracting people who want more than they currently make.
Pro: Many People Value Job Transparency Today
In the old days, it was almost taboo to discuss salary and compensation with others, whether it was inside or outside of your organization. These days, discussing salary openly is much more common and accepted, even encouraged. Millennials in particular are very open about their compensation, both to help each other and to hurt companies that try to suppress that information. The idea is that many companies hide salary information because they want to under-pay as much as possible, and by sharing salary information, they can help prevent that from happening.
According to Stephanie Penner, a senior partner at consulting firm Mercer:
“About 17% of private companies practice pay transparency, while 41% discourage and 25% explicitly prohibit discussion of salary information.”
There are plenty of reasons to hide salary information from job listings that have nothing to do with under-paying applicants, but that stigma is going to be at the front of mind for many candidates.
Pro: You Can Focus More on Important Candidate Attributes
You only have so much time available during an interview. Candidates are always going to want to see the salary range in your job description. So if you haven’t listed it publicly, candidates are going to ask for it in the interview.
This sets up for awkward scenarios where you have to use buzzwords or non-specific terms like “available to negotiate once an offer has been made” or “depends on experience”, and worst of all, it takes up time. You would much rather be asking your candidates about their work history and their experience, and leave salary discussions for later. If the candidate already knows roughly the salary range they can expect, they don’t need to ask about it.
Pro: Salary Range May Be Available Regardless
Let’s be honest here; if you’re hiding salary range, you’re only partially hiding it. Salary range is still available on sites like Glassdoor, and more generally from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Candidates are going to cross-reference data sources like these to figure out what kind of salary they should expect, regardless of whether or not you list it.
In fact, listing your salary publicly can help in cases where the data from these sources is old or not representative of your organization as a whole. Not everyone is going to post their data to Glassdoor, after all; if you’re offering a higher salary than what is publicly listed, it can make your open role appear that much more attractive.
Pro: Helps Minimize Bias and Keep Salary Ranges Fair
It’s illegal to pay people different amounts of money when the sole difference between them is a protected characteristic, like race, gender, national origin, disability, religion, and so on. When you hide your salary range, it’s harder for other people to keep you accountable to this equal pay, and it’s easier for subconscious biases to come into play when you extend an offer. If you already have a publicly listed salary range, your candidates will expect something within that range, and it will be harder – though not impossible – to fall victim to bias in compensation. Stephanie Bronner from Mercer, a consulting firm, has seen this happen internally as well:
“Pay transparency could spark jealousy among employees and reduce the number of staffers a company can hire. Pay transparency is still relatively rare in the private sector”
Obviously, we recommend that you have a firm range in mind whether or not you list it publicly, and ignore protected characteristics when making your decision. Otherwise, you open yourself up to lawsuits, and nobody needs that.
In broad strokes, that’s more or less it for the benefits of listing a salary range in your job ads. We believe that there are more reasons not to than there are to do it, so here are the downsides to listing salary in your ads.
Con: Some Candidates Won’t Apply to Low Salary Positions
Virtually everyone, when looking for a job, has money at the forefront of their mind. Many high-quality candidates filter by salary first and will look for other qualities of a role later.
What this means is that, if your salary is lower than they would normally want, they won’t look any further, despite advice to the contrary.
If you don’t make your salary range public, applicants will be forced to look at and analyze other potential benefits of taking the position. These benefits range from company culture and reputation to benefits packages and can outweigh the purely monetary compensation a lower salary might entail. They may also be able to negotiate upwards and get the best of both worlds, but it’s not something they would think to try if the initial number dissuades them.
Con: Existing Employees Might Feel Slighted
Keep in mind that the public information you list about your salaries is just that: it’s public. When word gets out that you’re hiring for a position, people who are currently in that position may take a look at the job listing to see what kinds of qualities you’re hiring for. If they see that you’re hiring at a starting salary that is higher than their current salary, they’ll feel very put off.
At best, you’ll have to negotiate a raise to keep your existing employees in that role. At worst, they labor in sullen silence while looking for a new job, jumping ship at the first opportunity, and forcing you to go through the hiring process for another new employee, likely at that same new, higher starting salary.
Con: It’s Harder to Attract Candidates With More Qualifications
As mentioned above, one of the first things many candidates look for in a job listing is the salary information. Salary information is first and foremost in the minds of most job seekers.
There are a lot of qualified, excellent candidates who will turn away when they see the salary number they don’t like. This applies both to salary ranges that are too low and too high. After all, if the pay rate is high enough, the candidate might feel like they aren’t qualified to earn it, even if they are. You lose out on a lot of valuable talent.
If you leave out the salary range from your job listing, you can attract new candidates based on culture, role, and benefits, and use the salary as yet another benefit added on top of the list once they get around to asking about it.
Con: High-End Positions Assume Salary Negotiations
One of the biggest reasons to keep salary information secret in the listing is the power and flexibility it gives you in negotiations. In fact, as Liz Ryan writes on Forbes:
“Most job ads don’t include a salary range because employers want to keep the salary range private. It gives them a negotiating advantage when they do.”
At a certain point, salary has to be tailored to the applicant, their past experience, their skills, and their connections. Low-end, entry-level positions don’t need to worry as much about this, but high-end positions in your management and executive teams need to pay a lot more attention to what the candidate brings to the table. If the candidate has a lot of potential value above and beyond meeting the job requirements, compensating them more makes sense. They’re valuable, so you want to hook them before someone else does.
Con: Salaries with Commissions Aren’t Reflective of Total Pay
Sometimes, the salary itself doesn’t tell the whole story. There are a lot of positions, in sales in particular, that rely on commissions for full compensation. The base, starting salary of these roles often looks very low when it’s listed, though the potential to earn can vastly outstrip much higher-paying roles.
Unfortunately, on job search sites, it’s easy to filter based on salary. Those jobs with low base salaries and commissions just look like jobs with low base salaries and are thus filtered to the bottom of the list. A great, talented sales employee would earn several times the listed salary easily, but they won’t even see the job opening because they aren’t looking at roles with salaries that low.
Of course, if your role has a commission structure, that in turn can turn away plenty of candidates. Some people view commission-based roles as excessively cutthroat and vicious, or have had bad experiences with them before, and won’t consider them. That’s simply a reality you have to deal with when you’re hiring for a commission-based position.
Con: Negotiations Give You an Advantage
Susan Heathfield cuts to the heart of the issue when she says:
“Some employers also believe that the first party to supply a number in a salary negotiation is in the weaker negotiating position.”
While the goal of hiring someone should be a partnership with mutual benefit to one another, salary negotiations are often adversarial, and the culture of interviews necessitates careful positioning, jockeying for advantage, and feeling out what number range the other side is thinking before they say it.
If you offer less than they want, you turn them off and have to fight harder to get a high-quality candidate. If you offer more than they expected, you can hook them much more easily, but you are then left wondering if you’re over-paying. It’s a tricky situation to line up.
Con: Deciding on Salary Range Requires Time and Monitoring
One of the lesser-known cons to listing a salary range is a question you’ll confront when it comes time to fill it out: what even is a good salary range for that position?
You have to consider the salary range of your existing employees, and the salary range for comparable roles in other companies, both in your location and in other locations across the country. You have to figure out what is a geographical standard, what is an industry-standard, and what is a role standard. Are you paying to much, or offering too little?
Keeping track of all of this information requires someone to be monitoring and collating all of that data. You have to cross-reference it with your financial department to make sure you have the budget for an employee in that salary range, all before you can even write a number in your job listing.
Now, sure, you need some of that information on hand to make an offer to a qualified candidate. It’s not quite as important, though, because at that point you’re working with an individual, and can come up with a combination of salary and benefits that suits them and your budget more easily.
Overall, we figure that there are more drawbacks to listing a salary than there are benefits to listing it in your job ad. There’s a reason over half of the companies don’t list salary information, after all.
The decision to include a salary range in job descriptions is nuanced and depends heavily on the specific context and goals of the employer. While listing a salary range can attract candidates who prioritize transparency and fair pay, it also comes with potential downsides, such as deterring highly qualified candidates who might perceive the salary as too low or too high.
Additionally, public salary listings can impact current employees’ perceptions and negotiations. Employers must weigh these factors carefully, considering their recruitment strategy, company culture, and the competitive landscape of their industry.
Ultimately, over half of companies choose not to list salary information, suggesting that the cons often outweigh the pros. However, each organization must assess its unique situation to make the most effective decision for its hiring needs.
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Page updated on December 20, 2023.