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Why don’t job ads contain salary information?

I’ve seen this question posed a few times recently in different venues from LinkedIn to blogs. Whether the criticism is aimed at agencies or employers the message from candidates is loud and clear: show us the money!

So why do advertisers hold back? In my view there is no one reason. It is more complicated than that.

Firstly we have to recognise that it is called a recruitment “market” for a reason. As in any market, buyers (i.e. employers) want to get resources (in this case people) at the lowest economic cost that doesn’t compromise quality. By contrast sellers (i.e. candidates) want to get the highest possible price for their commodity (i.e. themselves). The ultimate price reached depends on the usual variables like supply and demand.

My experience – based on my time working in-house – is that if you advertise a salary it creates an immediate expectation amongst candidates. Basically if that’s what the advert says, that’s what I’ll get. Which may not always be the case…

Often the figure is expressed as circa or up to. That’s the price the buyer is prepared to pay for someone who is a very, very close match to the specification. Sadly the “perfect” candidate rarely comes along. Somewhere along the line, be it on experience, qualifications, competencies etc a compromise has to be made. And that means the final salary offered might not be at the top of the range.

The problem is that by that point the candidate can be fixated on the figure originally quoted. Despite feedback and explanation they can’t always accept why the offer is below what was originally stated. Putting ranges in doesn’t always help either. Candidates can have a tendency to focus on the top number not the bottom.

The “first rule of negotiation” is often to make the other side commit first. Whoever does show their hand setting the broad parameters of the subsequent negotiation.

Often employers can find that what a candidate actually wants may be higher, or lower, than they might have advertised. By putting a salary in they might put off applicants that want more – and which they could, on reflection, be willing to pay. Equally it could raise expectations above what is actually required to make the hire.

Perhaps the biggest reason of all for not publishing salaries is this. There is often a marked difference between what it costs to retain talent versus what it takes to recruit it on the open market.  Your existing, home-grown HR Business Partner community may be very happy to stay for £50K. However getting someone to join from outside could cost a lot more… There’s often no quicker way to cause “rumblings in the ranks” than make it known to the world you will pay a newcomer more than them.

I suspect the recession has made this even more of a problem for some businesses. Years of low/no pay rises exacerbating the difference between the “stay” and “join” rates for many jobs.

Yes, of course you can advertise confidentially – which is often why people use an agency. Even then word can and does get out. That ex-college friend from your CIPD course who applies for the job, recognises it is where you work and then rings you up to tell you they’ve applied… However advertising without salaries does mitigate the risks in the eyes of many.

My final reflection is this. Our Riding The Career Carousel research highlighted how people who are primarily motivated by money are typically the least loyal part of the workforce. They are the most likely group to want to leave the organisation and say bad things about you. So you could ask: who wants to hire people whose first question is “how much does that pay?”

Ultimately each employer will make their own mind up about whether or not to advertise salaries. Candidates clearly prefer it. And that, in itself, might be reason enough.

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