Adding to the frustration, many of them expect job-seekers to name the salary they're looking for – some even requiring it before an application can be submitted online. This, of course, puts applicants in an incredibly unfair position, and makes most of them worry that they'll lowball themselves or ask for so much that they'll be removed from the running. It's particularly infuriating when you consider that most employers have a salary range budgeted for the position. They just won't disclose it.
So why do employers make such a secret out of what they're willing to pay? What not just list a salary range up-front in the job ad?
Employers who play coy on salary will tell you that it's because if they list a salary range, all candidates will assume they should be at the top of the range … and will then get upset or be disappointed if their offer comes in lower because of the level of their qualifications. In other words, if an employer advertises that a job pays $50,000 to $60,000, they fear that every applicant will think, "Great, low 60s. That works for me." But if an applicant ends up getting an offer for $52,000 because that's where his or her experience places him or her, he or she will feel that he or she is being lowballed because, after all, he or she knows the employer is willing to pay up to $60,000. The applicant may have been happy with that offer if he or she had never heard about the full range available.
Now, a good employer will be able to explain how the scale works and why the candidate fits into it where he or she does. But employers who don't want to disclose their full range believe that too many people still won't be satisfied, and that they'll be creating dissatisfaction that otherwise wouldn't exist.
And that's not all employers worry about. Sometimes they don't want to list a range in their ads because they'd be willing to pay more for the right candidate – but not for most. For instance, if they list a salary range of $50,000 to $60,000, the candidate who won't consider anything below $70,000 might never apply. And if that person is good enough, the employer might be willing to meet those salary demands. But since they wouldn't pay it to most candidates, they don't want to put it in the ad. As a result, they conclude it's better not to list a range at all.
So what can candidates do in the face of so many employers who won't reveal the salary for a job, when salary happens to be a major consideration for most job-seekers? One key is to know what jobs like the ones you're applying for typically pay. You can often get a solid sense by talking with recruiters, checking with professional organizations in your industry and even just bouncing figures off of other people in your field. Once you come up with a range for your experience level and in your geographic area, you can feel more confident naming a salary figure first, without the worry that you'll be wildly off in either direction.
And second, assume that at some point the employer is likely to ask you about what salary you're looking for, without telling you their own range first. Too often, job-seekers assume that the employer will name a figure first and they can then respond to it – but by knowing that often isn't the case, you'll be better prepared, less likely to be caught off-guard, and more equipped to negotiate a fair salary for yourself.
Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results, and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.