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2/26/23 - Advertised salary ranges are not set in stone. That’s why you still have to negotiate

By Jeanne Sahadi 

 Now that more and more states are requiring companies to advertise salary ranges for open roles, you may assume the range is the range and you can’t negotiate for more.

Not true.

While the new pay transparency laws mean you’ll have more information about what an employer is willing to pay, the ranges advertised likely won’t give you an accurate picture of what you might be paid for the actual role you’re applying for. So unless you do your own research, ask questions and then negotiate, you might shortchange yourself.

“I’ve seen people deterred from negotiating because they think [the advertised pay range] is set in stone. We haven’t found that to be the case,” said Brandon Bramley, founder of The Salary Negotiator, which provides one-on-one consultation for people seeking to improve their pay packages and online courses in salary negotiation.

What you need to know about published ranges
Here are three reasons why a published salary range is hardly the whole story:

1. The range may not be the “full” range: Some employers only publish ranges between, say, the 25th and 75th percentiles of what they pay for a given position, said Lulu Seikaly, a senior attorney and pay transparency expert at Payscale. “A lot of organizations won’t post the entire range. It just has to be a good faith estimate.”

What’s more, Seikaly added, even if an employer publishes the full range for a job, employers are legally allowed to pay more to the right candidate.

“There’s always flexibility to offer more than the top of the range,” she said.

2. The published range may be very wide: It’s not hard to find advertised salary ranges so wide you could drive a truck through them. Think yawning gaps of $100,000 or more between the minimum and the maximum.

Some employers may do so because they’re using one posting to attract applicants for a few roles under the same general function — such as a software engineer. But each role is suitable to people at different levels of experience (such as a junior engineer, a mid-level engineer or a senior one), Seikaly noted.

Similarly, an employer may publish the same wide range for each of several jobs with different responsibilities.

And sometimes, it’s not clear what an employer is thinking. Companies are in the trial-and-error stage of compliance since pay transparency laws are quite new and vary from place to place. The oldest one on the books, in Colorado, has only been in place for two years. Pay transparency laws in California and the state of Washington went into effect on January 1. And employers in New York City only started advertising pay three months ago, while employers in the rest of New York State won’t have to do so until September.

When a range is laughably broad — Seikaly cited one posting that included a range of $90,000 to $900,000 — she believes the company is making “a very big branding mistake” because it appears as if they are not offering a good faith estimate and potential applicants might well be wary. “It’s a big red flag that they don’t value employees,” she said.

3. The range typically reflects base salary only: There is a lot more to your compensation than your regular paycheck.

The published range for an open role usually just reflects your base pay, not bonuses, equity and annual increases.

And all those parts are often negotiable for the candidate a company wants most, even if a hiring manager or recruiter asserts that they’re not, Bramley said.

What’s more, there are other negotiable parts of compensation that can augment your pay package, such as tuition reimbursement, a home office stipend and additional paid time off.

Negotiating the best number for you
Don’t take advertised ranges as gospel. Instead:

Do your own compensation research: Bramley recommends getting pay averages from three pay data aggregators such as Payscale and Comparably.

That way you’ll be able to gauge whether the employer’s published range is within reason for the role you’re seeking.

Get more information on the employer’s published range: If you’re considering applying for a job with a wide pay range, ask the recruiter what specific role the employer wants to slot you into and what the specific pay band is for that role. Then ask what skills and experience justify their offering a candidate pay at the top of the range.

Some companies may most typically offer to pay candidates at the midpoint of the range unless the candidate is more junior or senior, said talent hiring executive Rachel Levine.

An employer may choose to pay a candidate above the top of the advertised range if someone brings additional value or an exceptional skillset to the role than what current employees in that role have, Levine said.

Avoid sharing your pay expectations prematurely: Many states and localities ban organizations from asking job applicants what they’re currently making. So instead recruiters early on will ask you what your pay expectations are.

“You get a lot of pressure to share,” Bramley said. The risk is you will offer a number below what an employer is actually willing to pay the right candidate, thereby limiting what you might get in the end.

“Flip the script when asked about your salary expectations,” Bramley suggested. “Ask what range they had in the mind for those who are best qualified.” Or, he added, you might say, “To be honest, my expectation may be near the top [of the advertised range]. But it’s hard to say right now because I want to learn more about the company, the role and its compensation structure.”

It pays to ask for more: Once you have an offer in hand, you will be in the strongest position to negotiate for more because you know they want you, and most of the time you can secure something extra, Bramley said. But even if you can’t, he has never seen an offer rescinded because someone tried. “The worst case is they say ‘No’,” Bramley said.