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Calum Heath for Money

Job ads tend to leave out one key detail: How much they pay.

High salaries don’t necessarily lead to high job satisfaction, research shows. Still, everyone has to make ends meet — without a salary range, how do you know if an opening is even worth applying to?

Conversations about pay can be uncomfortable and emotional, especially in the interview stage (this might be your new boss, after all). Check out these tips from experts.

Why many job ads don’t mention salary

Withholding information about pay in a job ad is a “relic of a prior generation,” says Johnny Taylor Jr., CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management. Until very recently, salary has been considered a confidential issue to be discussed privately, especially when you’re at work.

Things are changing. Younger generations are conscious of how limiting salary discussions can lead to wage discrimination and other disparities, and are much more willing to talk about pay with their peers. Still, the average CEO is 59 years old, according to research from the consulting firm Korn Ferry, so it makes sense that this tradition has carried on.

Sometimes, companies leave out salary details to save money, says Anna Bray, executive and career coach at Jody Michael Associates. If a candidate is in the dark about how much a position is budgeted for, the thinking goes, you might be able to fill a $100,000 position with an $80,000 salary (so do your due diligence, people!).

Competition also makes organizations wary of publicizing their salary information.

“It may give some insight to competitors who can take away some of their talent,” Bray says.

Come up with a range on your own

People apply for jobs for different reasons, Bray explains. They may want to break into a new industry, practice interviewing skills or quickly find a job — any job. In these cases, it may be worthwhile to apply without knowing the pay.

You’ll still want to do some research to find out what the salary might be. Glassdoor’s salary tool and wage data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics are good places to start, but talking to former or current employees will give you the most accurate information, Bray says.

“Have some numbers in terms of what's competitive in the market and what the market is paying for your services,” she says.

When is the right time to ask about pay?

It may be tempting to talk salary during the initial job interview, but Alison Sullivan, career trends expert at Glassdoor, suggests saving money talk for the second or third interview, once it’s clear you’re progressing to a job offer.

“Job seekers should go into the application process having a salary question game plan,” she says.

Some online applications require you to include a desired salary range before you can even apply. In these cases, Bray recommends offering a range based on your research into the job’s pay, experience, location and salary needs.

At this stage, “You’re seeing what a valuable asset you would be, so it can make sense to wait a little longer," she says.

How to bring up the conversation

Be blunt but tactful, Bray says.

She suggests saying something like, “I see some real potential here. I’d love to continue the conversation. At what point do we talk about compensation?”

If the employer shies away from the question, Bray says an appropriate comeback might be, “I do have a strong number that I feel is commensurate with my background and my experience. I'm sure you have a number in mind as well.”

Don't get fooled into thinking your salary history is indicative of your worth — especially if you're a woman or a person of color. In some places, including New York, New Orleans, Massachusetts and California, it’s illegal for hiring managers to even ask how much you've made in the past.

“There are easy ways to flip the script by asking, ‘What is the salary range limits you’ve discussed with the hiring manager?’” Sullivan says. “If that range fits within your own, you can acknowledge that your expectations are aligned.”

Ask if salary is negotiable, and if there's any wiggle room with time off or benefits.

These conversations provide a sense of how much companies value their employees, Bray says. If that doesn’t align with your needs, experience and worth?

“Walk away," she says.


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