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Published: Jan 03, 2022 7 min read
Cheque and envelope is transparent where held up to screen - data helping provide pay transparency.
Pete Ryan for Money

This article is part of Money's January 2022 digital cover, which features 22 ways to make 2022 the best money year of your life. Browse all 22 articles here.

If pay isn’t included on the job listing, conventional wisdom says you should turn to salary estimation tools on sites like Indeed or Glassdoor to get an idea of what a company might pay. But even if you manage to dig up some details, all you have is a ballpark estimate when it comes time to negotiate.

“Many online salary estimates come with significant limitations,” says Kevin Harrington, the CEO of the careers website Joblist. “They could be inflated due to self-reporting [or] outdated and no longer relevant in the current market.”

In this all-too-common scenario, the lack of salary information puts applicants at a disadvantage.

“Especially women,” says C. Nicole Mason, president of the non-profit Institute for Women’s Policy Research. “There’s an enormous amount of power on the other end because there’s a lack of [salary] information.”

The good news is that a new wave of salary transparency laws is beginning to level the playing field. While salary-transparency legislation is in effect in only a handful of states (see below) it's inciting a ripple effect that benefits job seekers across the U.S.

These laws, which generally require companies to disclose salary details to job applicants, can help you unearth real salary examples to use in pay negotiations — so you don't have to rely on self-reported or estimated wages from salary sites.

You just have to know where to look.

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First, find out if your state has salary transparency laws

Here are the states that have passed pay transparency legislation.

In most cases, companies in these states are only required to provide salary details “upon request,” though the specifics vary by location. In Cincinnati, Toledo and Washington, it’s at the time of a job offer. In California, it’s after the first interview. And in Maryland, you can request it any time after you’ve applied.

In three states, employers must automatically provide salary information to you — again, exactly when that is varies by location. In Nevada, employers are supposed to tell you after the first interview, and companies in Connecticut must let you know when they’re offering you the job. Rhode Island’s forthcoming rule requires employers to automatically tell you the wage range of the position “at the time of hire,” or upon request any time during the application process.

That leaves Colorado.

Next, look at Colorado job listings (even if you’re not in Colorado)

Colorado’s new salary transparency law, which went into effect Jan. 1, 2021, requires employers to include salary and benefits information within the job description itself.

It’s the first law of its kind, and it affects all employers with at least one staff member in Colorado. So if a company has any kind of presence in the state, it is legally obligated to include salaries on its job listings. It also applies to national companies that are hiring remotely.

In other words, thanks to Colorado’s new law, salary details at many national employers are now available publicly, and you can benefit from that information no matter where you live.

Already, major employers like Amazon, Apple, IBM and others have begun adding salary figures to their remote job listings.

Take this remote job listing for a copywriter role at the fintech company Chime for example. Chime is based in San Francisco, but since the listing is national and the job is remote, the salary is there for all to see.

“For Colorado-based roles: In accordance with applicable law, this role has an annual starting salary of $111,000 plus bonus, a competitive equity package, and benefits,” the listing says.

Not all companies make their salary information readily available — some create separate versions of their remote job listings for Colorado residents and only include pay on that version of the listing.

If that’s the case, here’s a workaround to find how much they’re paying:

  • Go directly to the hiring company’s website.
  • Scroll to the bottom of the home page, and look for a link or tab that says something along the lines of “Jobs,” “Careers,” or “Work with us.”
  • Once you’re in the company's own job board, search for the title of the remote job opening and include the keyword “Colorado” or the postal abbreviation “CO.”

If you find a remote listing that’s open to Colorado residents, it should include salary to be in compliance with the state's new law. If it doesn’t, you can report the company to Colorado’s Labor Department using this pay transparency complaint form.

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Put that information to good use

If the initial offer comes in lower than expected, Harrington says, reiterate your excitement about the role. “Then, be earnest and direct about your salary goals.”

Make sure to keep your location’s standard of living in mind — especially for local positions. Chime’s $111,000 salary might not be very useful if you’re applying for an on-site copywriter gig in, say, Bloomington, Indiana. In this case, try to dig up salary information from a similar role in a similar-sized city.

For remote roles, though, you may be able to aim high.

Before you negotiate, try to find out what the company’s remote work policy is. Some companies, like Google, have said they might lower the salaries of remote workers who have relocated to smaller cities. But that’s not the case for every company.

“Many remote-friendly companies are not adjusting compensation by location,” Harrington says, “and you can potentially use this to your advantage.”

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