In the age of public payrolls, some job seekers feel cheated
After seeing published pay ranges, some workers become frustrated with what appear to be low salary offers. Recruiters say candidates are reading the numbers wrong.
In October, Mary submitted an online application for a communications position at a large multinational company. You have met or exceeded all requirements for the role, so ask for a number in the top quartile of the salary range listed in the job description. Within 24 hours, Mary was notified of her rejection via an automated email.
A few days later, she got a piece of advice from an acquaintance in the company’s recruiting department: The asking salary she wrote down was too high, and the company had no intention of honoring the full range she mentioned in the job posting. The algorithm used to scan apps simply eliminated them.
Since 2020, seven US states and several localities have enacted pay transparency laws, which require employers to post salary ranges for open positions, or make them available upon request. More than a dozen others have proposed similar legislation. Lawmakers have pushed for it Salary transparency laws in the United States To discourage pay discrimination by publicly holding companies accountable for specific salary ranges for all candidates. These laws may also help simplify the job search process for workers, which could eliminate interview rounds before the paycheck arrives.
Job seekers have welcomed the changes, but many employers have expressed discomfort — or even aversion — to the new requirements. A 2023 survey by job search platform ZipRecruiter showed that 44% of employers are concerned Disclosing pay ranges discourages applicants from submitting resumes when their competitors advertise higher rangesMany believe that such publicly available information limits their ability to negotiate starting salary with candidates.
Amid these concerns – and a patchwork of state and local laws, all of which set different standards for disclosure and accountability – many employers have taken advantage of the ambiguous language of pay transparency legislation, which gives them discretion in how they interpret disclosure rules. In some cases, this has meant that salary ranges are so wide that they are practically meaningless; In other cases, job applicants found their listed numbers shrinking once they reached the interview stage — if they got past the algorithms screening their answers at all.
The candidates are angry. Recruiters say they only follow standard practices.
Companies aren’t trying to be sneaky, some recruiting experts say — the problem is that candidates often don’t understand what the salary range on the list represents. It’s common for companies to list the full pay scale for a role, not the scope of employment, he says Bonnie Dilberhiring manager at automation software company Zapier.
For example, if the range published in the job description is $70,000 to $100,000 (£56,4000 to £80,550), a new employee may start the job at $85,000 (£68,500), but receive up to $100,000 when they receive raises and bonuses throughout their time in that position. In short, the company never intended to hire a new worker at a salary of $100,000 — that’s simply the maximum wage for the position.
She says most companies aim to hire in the middle of the advertised range, leaving room for increases as employees prove themselves over time, and that “not everyone is meant to be at the top of the range, just the strong performers.”
“I find that anyone who has done some hiring themselves and been involved in setting compensation, which many hiring managers do, understands this,” Dilber says. “While for job seekers who are seeing salaries being advertised for the first time, there is a learning curve.”
Kirsten Griggs, a former corporate recruiter who now runs her own recruitment consulting firm in the Washington, D.C., area, agrees that this approach can be vague to people who haven’t worked in recruitment. It often leaves applicants misinterpreting the numbers on the list.
Now that pay transparency laws are on the books, many workers feel cheated when they are extended a job offer that does not reflect the stated range.
Theresa McFarlane, a technology project manager in her 40s, in Vancouver, Washington, has been looking for work for several months. After getting burned in nearly a dozen interviews, she now expects it to be low-key. If a job is posted for $50 to $60 (£41 to £48) an hour, she estimates she will be offered much less – as much as $5 to $10 (£4 to £8) further down the list.
McFarlane says companies that post unrealistic salary ranges take advantage of desperate job seekers.
“It’s a red flag for a low-quality employer that’s not getting their act together,” she says. “It’s unprofessional. It’s very frustrating sometimes. And it can be frustrating when it happens with one employer after another.”
LinkedIn is full of posts by similarly exasperated job seekers, who learned while screening calls — or late in the offer stage — that at least the top quarter of the advertised salary range was never on the table. Many say they were never told why the full pay range was not available, leading some workers to write off companies or lose confidence in salary transparency laws.
However, alongside these jobs, there are recruiters who insist that published pay ranges are misunderstood, and that applicants are simply expecting too much.
“This is neither bait-and-switch nor disingenuous,” he wrote. A talent acquisition professional. “The offered salary range — $68.1 to $93.7 — is the salary range for the position. Not the starting salary range…. At many companies, going beyond the midpoint requires additional levels of approval and additional justification.”
If she’s in the market for a new job, Zapier’s Dilber says she wants to see the full pay scale, not just the hiring range. “If I needed the top of the range to get a job, this probably wouldn’t be a job I would apply for because I don’t see any room for growth.”
As an employer, if you’re going to list a pay scale rather than a hiring range in a job posting, you need to make that clear, she says. Zapier added language to its job postings indicating that the posted range is not necessarily what a new hire can expect, explaining that the top half of the listed range is “typically reserved for individuals who have consistently demonstrated a high level of employee job knowledge and skills.” Their current role and level while at Zapier.”
Ambiguous new laws
As problematic as misguided expectations can be, the ambiguous nature of the laws themselves adds to the frustration.
California law requires employers to include in a job description “the salary or hourly wage range that the employer would reasonably expect to pay for the position”; In New York, the requirement is the “compensation or scope of compensation” for a “job, promotion, or transfer opportunity.” There is no federal mechanism that standardizes or enforces what the payroll should or should not be.
“In many paid transparency laws there is a lack of specificity,” he says. Leslie Green, professor of law and director of the Civil Justice Clinic at Georgetown Law. “If you can give a range of $100,000, that doesn’t provide a lot of information to applicants.”
Some laws, such as Colorado and New York, contain a “good faith” clause, which ostensibly means that the published range is what the employer expects to pay for the job. But for a language like this, “it doesn’t mean much until it’s defined,” Green says.
Until the agency designated to enforce the rule — which varies depending on each law — issues more detailed guidance to employers or a lawsuit is filed alleging that the law has been violated, the meaning of “in good faith” remains open to interpretation. So far, there have been no major challenges to the country’s emerging pay transparency laws. “It creates a little loophole for the employer in terms of having to provide useful information to the employee,” Green says.
Some companies list ranges so wide that the intent can only be to meet compliance laws, not to set realistic expectations for applicants, Griggs says. She finds that not only is it easier to list the full pay scale, but it also makes the role look more attractive. The solution, she says, is simple: Publish the range that the company actually expects to pay a new employee.
Currently, job seekers can only modify the way they apply if employers do not specify the way they include compensation ranges, either voluntarily or by law.
Project Manager McFarlane is now submitting applications for jobs whose published pay ranges are well above her target. Mary – who told her friends about her experience – also changed her strategy. She’s become more conscious about the jobs she applies for, and is now less likely to cite a specific ideal salary when asked.
Instead, Mary plans to be mysterious to avoid being pulled from the pool of applicants. “Something within the stated range” could do the trick – perhaps giving the employer a taste of its own mystery.
Mary’s surname has been withheld due to job security considerations