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Why do some job ads keep the salary secret?

Companies often don’t reveal salaries to allow themselves wriggle room to attract the best candidates.

Companies often don’t reveal salaries to allow themselves wriggle room to attract the best candidates. Photo: Getty

Applying for a job can seem a bit like trying to buy a house.

Firstly, it takes a lot of time, effort and resilience. And often, you have no idea who you’re up against – or even how much money you’re talking about.

So, just like a property’s reserve price, why is a salary often kept under wraps, at least initially?

The Salary Coach founder Catherine Heilemann says employers are all about profitability.

“They want their business to do well, and so therefore whatever they can do to remove costs from their business they will,” she said, noting that remuneration is also strongly tied to performance – whether real or perceived.

Wriggle room

However if an employer really wants to woo a jobseeker, keeping schtum on the salary might allow them to find some extra dollars.

Graham Wynn, founder and director of Superior People Recruitment, agrees that leaving some financial wiggle room to attract a stand-out candidate is definitely one reason why salary details are held back.

“If we put the salary on there, they may not have applied because it’s slightly under what they’re looking for.”

He says an employer will usually provide a recruiter with a range they’re willing to pay, and it’s the recruiter who decides to keep that secret until interview stage.

More applicants

By not advertising a salary, Wynn says it entices more candidates, of varying levels, to apply.

“Realistically, we don’t want to discount people and we don’t want people saying, well, ‘I want the higher end’ all the time because sometimes your experience or skillset doesn’t justify that. But you may be OK for the lower end of the range.”

Plus, says Wynn, if money is a job seeker’s only motivation, that usually puts off an employer.

“If you’re the right for them and they’re the right fit for you, you’ll work it out between you, money wise,” he said.

“But if money’s your driver, employers tend to stay away which is why at first interviews, we tell candidates to never bring up money.”

Negotiation signal

Michelle Brown, a professor in human resource management at the University of Melbourne, says a lack of transparency around salary can deter some would-be candidates from applying.

She points to a 2020 study that explored how employees respond to the absence of salary information.

“What happens is that people don’t apply if there’s no pay information. And the reason that they don’t apply is because it says that they’re going to have to negotiate and a lot of people don’t want to do that,” Professor Brown said.

“But they also see it as a signal of potential unfair treatment, so two people would be doing the same job but not getting the same amount of pay.”

If you do still want to apply though, and aren’t sure how to navigate the process, Brown has some tactics to keep in mind.

As interviews take place, she says an employer will often ask a job seeker what their pay expectations are.

“And that’s really dangerous, especially where we know that women typically get paid less than men,” she said.

“What happens is that you’re underpaid in the current job, and they ask ‘What are you getting paid now?’. You might get that and a little bit more but still be paid less than a bloke.”

Tactics to consider

Brown suggests keeping your cards close to your chest for as long as possible, while gathering more information about the role that may affect what you should be paid.

For instance, does it involve night work or weekend work? Are there any extra responsibilities than those stated in the job description?

Speaking to employees or ex-employees from that company can also give you a better idea on salary, while websites such as Payscale, Glassdoor or the Hays Salary Guide may also shed some light.

Meanwhile, Heilemann says the money conversation often begins when a recruiter puts you on a longlist or shortlist, and calls for a chat. Usually they’ll want to know what you’re earning.

“And that’s where you start to do the dance,” Heilemann said.
“Because the first number that’s mentioned is the anchor. You have to be ready for the anchor and be ready to say the number that you would like to be earning at that point.”

However her recommendation is to also hold off talking about the dollars for as long as you can, and even then, keeping an “open conversation”.

“You want them to buy you first. Therefore your job is to sell your value, and that’s not about the things you’ve done – it’s the bottom-line value you’ve brought to the organisation,” she said.

“If you really work at that, and you know how to articulate your value and you’ve put the work in to do that, you’re going to put yourself in a far, far stronger position.”

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